When I found out this morning that James Graham Ballard had died yesterday I was shocked and deeply sad. It almost felt like a distant, but beloved family member was dead. A strange reaction towards the passing of a person I have never met in my life. On the other hand: JG Ballard´s writing and his thoughts have accompanied my life and shaped my world view for the last 25 years.
I constantly re-visit his amazing short-stories, one of which gave the name to this blog. His novels pushed open windows in my mind that would never close again. His interviews provided a constant stream of brilliant insights into the mind of a person who had the ability to see right through the veneer of the human condition. As an admirer of surrealism and pop-art, he was one of the first to understand, decipher and describe the psychological effects the all surrounding media-landscape, technology and architecture are having on our "inner space".
In "The Intensive Care Unit", written in the late 60s or early 70s, he describes the first family meeting of people who live in a future society where physical contact has grown out of fashion. Communication and intimacy is only possible via a closed circuit TV-screen.
What sounds like a drab premise for a thinly disguised parable turns into a gripping story thanks to Ballard´s fantastic imagination. The way he describes the couple´s intimate moments as a series of expertly montaged close-ups of their bodies (private parts are blurred with filters), their honeymoon being spent by watching the same documentaries of some foreign holiday-resort, is written so well that one almost anticipates this hilarious dystopia.
Another brilliant short story from "Myths of the near future" is the wonderfully titled "Motel Architecture". Here we meet a "film critic" who has retreated to live in a self-contained "solarium", where he has devoted himself to analyse the famous "shower scene" from "Psycho" over and over again.
Sitting in a glorified wheelchair, he re-plays the sequence on multiple screens, hoping to finally reveal the hidden geometry that the scene supposedly contains. Only looked after by a cleaning woman, he is totally secluded from any outside reality. Soon he believes that a strange intruder is hiding inside his solarium. He can hear him breath and he catches glimpses of the stranger on surveillance videos.
The conclusion to the story doesn´t come as a big surprise, but Ballard follows the nightmare logic of his visions to the inevitable end. Written in 1978, years before the home-video revolution was sweeping the western world, he painted a bleak but perversely attractive picture of a society that could hardly wait to retreat into their homes and heads, eagerly devoting themselves to their private obsessions.
That was one of Ballard´s remarkable aspects: He never came across as a finger pointing, grumpy man who intended to change our silly ways. Like his protagonists, he embraced the present and the future, knowing that the age of reason had already come to an end.
10 Years ago I moved temporarily into a house that was designed by Le Corbusier. It was like living inside JGB´s "High Rise". Although the sporadic acts of violence never seemed to occur, I was aware of Ballard 24/7. I was prepared to climb to the top!
Here is a couple of obituaries, essays and clippings I gathered today:
The Guardian´s obituary by David Pringle.
The most dedicated and sophisticated Ballardian has an obituary by site owner Simon Sellars.
Re/Search publisher Vale notes his first thought upon hearing of Ballard´s death: “There’s no thinker left alive that I can totally trust. They’re all dead.”
"Cult" is certainly a questionable attribute. BBC NEWS: Cult Author JG Ballard dies at 78
A good article from Filmmaker Magazine.
This is what IFC had to say.
Another obituary from The Telegraph
A very touching collection of readers comments from BBC News: Have your say. Your memories of JG Ballard
Megablog Boing Boing is also deeply influenced by JGB.
Here is a Canadian info/fan site dedicated to the man himself: JG Ballard.
More Thoughts on the death of JG Ballard by Robin Brown
A Personal Obituary by Vicky Lamburn
How the pitiful NME sees it. (They are, of course, forgetting to name "Warm Leatherette" and "The Comsat Angels")
Last but not least, on the lighter side of things: Total Film dreams up pitches for 9 Ballard Stories That Must Be Filmed
"Enslavement designed as mass entertainment."