The voices of disaster – introduction



J.G. Ballard is now one of the major English literature writers and his popularity is constantly growing. Since the great artistic and commercial success of his 1984 novel, Empire of the Sun he has entered the canon of the 20th century most prominent novelists and the number of critical essays and monographs devoted to his oeuvre is increasing.

It is worth noticing that Ballard’s career began as early as the 1950s and that before becoming a distinguished mainstream author of classics his style went through numerous metamorphoses. He was in turn a science fiction writer, a member of an avant-garde literary group ‘New Wave’, and a postmodernist Pynchon-like experimenter.

My aim in the essays collected in this book is to show that the common denominator of Ballard’s early career (from the 1950s to the early 1980s) is his fascination with the disaster story tradition. In the part I I juxtapose his early catastrophes with the novels of the best-known British author of disaster fiction, John Wyndham. In the part II I show that Ballard’s stories written in the ‘New Wave’ period of his career are also disaster fictions of a kind. In the part III I present metamorphoses of disaster themes in his short fiction written throughout the decades and, finally, in the part IV I read his most acclaimed postmodernist novel The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) as an example of a disaster novel.

The four below essays read together point to the fact that Ballard is consistent in his literary poetics and only the external world ‘outside’ his fiction keeps changing. As the social-cultural contexts in which people read his books change from a decade to a decade Ballard is judged differently. Thus in the 1950s his stories were read as science fiction and in the 1970s his artistically and stylistically similar fictions were considered sociological comments on the disastrous state of our civilisation.

Dominika Oramus, 30 XII 2004

1) The most comprehensive short introduction to Ballard is Michel Delville’s J.G. Ballard, 1998, Plymouth, Northcote House, edited in the British Council sponsored series “Writers and their Work”. A very interesting and much more thorough account is Roger Luckhurst’s ‘The Angle Between Two Walls’. The Fiction of J.G. Ballard, 1997, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press; it is also worth mentioning shorter and older book by David Pringle earth is the Alien Planet. J.G. Ballard’s Four-Dimensional Nightmare, 1979, San Bernardino, Borgo Press.