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A User's Guide to the Millennium (1996)

Author: • Sep 5th, 2006 •

Category: advertising, architecture, bibliography, boredom, celebrity culture, consumerism, death of affect, deep time, dystopia, enviro-disaster, fashion, film, flying, humour, invisible literature, media landscape, medical procedure, non-fiction, photography, politics, psychogeography, psychology, Salvador Dali, science fiction, sexual politics, space relics, speed & violence, surrealism, television, urban decay, visual art, William Burroughs, WWII

Ballardian: A User's Guide to the Millennium

“In his prime the Hollywood screenwriter was one of the tragic figures of our age, evoking the special anguish that arises from feeling sorry for oneself while making large amounts of money”.
(from ‘The Sweet Smell of Excess’).

From the 1996 Harper Collins edition:

The first-ever collection of J.G. Ballard’s articles and reviews, published over the last thirty years. In a long and highly-acclaimed career, J.G. Ballard has established himself as one of Britian’s most distinctive and admired writers, the author of such influential novels as Crash, The Drowned World, High-Rise, Empire of the Sun and, most recently, Rushing to Paradise. Throughout his career he has also been a regular contributor to magazines and newspapers. Now, for the first time, he has gathered together the finest of these pieces and grouped them under themes such as film, lives, the visual world, writers, science, autobiography and science fiction.

Marlon Brando, Nancy Reagan, Elvis Presley, Deng Xiaoping, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, William Burroughs and Graham Greene are just some of the people who feature in the ninety articles, together with many of the themes familiar to readers of Ballard’s fiction, includign Shanghai, television, surrealism, cars, motorways and the atom bomb.

The result is an astonishingly varied and fascinating collection — a provocative and entertaining review of the modern world, as seen through the eyes of one of this country’s most original writers.”

I happen to think that some of Ballard’s best writing can be found in the non-fiction realm; in fact, there was a time, when I first chanced upon his work, that I was convinced he was a superior journalist than a novelist. Although it’s not in this collection, I especially savour Ballard’s phrasing in his lovely meditation on Helmut Newton:

A company of beautiful women moves through the palatial corridors or gazes into the opaque depths of ornate mirrors, waiting for a last act that will never unfold. Even those women who are naked seem scarcely aware of themselves, as if their sexuality is defused by the strange bedrooms where they wait for the rich and powerful men stepping from their limousines in the courtyards below.”

J.G. Ballard. ‘The Lucid Dreamer’.

The Edge features a typically acerbic review of User’s Guide, by Gerald Houghton:

In 1977 Ballard wrote one of his most experimental and most brilliant short stories, ‘The Index’. Did the attached book ever actually exist? Was it all a figment of some deranged imagination? All that remains of this autobiography is a collection of names and page numbers; tantalising nudges and winks, like a road-map with the motorways rubbed out. It’s a game we can play with A User’s Guide To The Millenium: Hitler nuzzles up to Mae West, Dali to Nancy Reagan, Derek Jarman with Walt Disney, Lee Harvey Oswald and the young Jim interred in the Japanese camp. What, if anything, do all these and the rest have to do with this rather unpresupposing British author?

Ballard is never less than urbane, but his best dinner party manners mask real teeth. Thus he adores the Surrealists, Henry Miller, Joyce and Genet, but is dismissive towards others (Warhol), occasionally outright scathing (Nancy Reagan). The Ballard in these pages is clearly in awe of Burroughs’ reupholstering of narrative form, while describing himself as an old-fashioned storyteller. (It’s fulsome praise that should be tempered with a reading of his superb interview with Will Self in Self’s recent Junk Mail.) He is mystifyingly rhapsodic over Dali, surely the most overrated artist of the century. (What, one wonders, would Ballard make of the comment that Dali is the ‘kind of artist you think is brilliant when you’re 15’? Are you listening Damien Hirst?).”


Casablanca, Brando and Mae West, Star Wars and Blue Velvet…

• ‘The Sweet Smell of Excess’ (1990)
• ‘Magical Days at Rick’s’ (1993)
• ‘Hollywood Sex Idols’ (1991)
• ‘Push-button Death’ (1991)
• ‘Hobbits in Space?’ (1977)
• ‘A User’s Guide to the Millennium’ (1987)
• ‘Courting the Cobra’ (1993)
• ‘The Samurai of the Epic’ (1991)
• ‘La Jetee’ (1996)
• ‘Blue Velvet’ (1993)

Nancy Reagan, Elvis, Howard Hughes and Hirohito…

• ‘The Chain-saw Biographer’ (1991)
• ‘Survival Instincts’ (1992)
• ‘Fallen Idol’ (1991)
• ‘The Killing Time’ (1979)
• ‘Mob Psychology’ (1991)
• ‘Closed Doors’ (1977)
• ‘Last of the Great Royals’ (1989)
• ‘Sinister Spider’ (1992)
• ‘Lipstick and High Heels’ (1993)

More contents to come.

• Filmography (coming soon)
• Artography (coming soon)


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2 Responses »

  1. Thanks for the mention, but actually that review is at


    Don’t see what’s ‘typically acerbic’ about it, myself…

  2. ‘He is mystifyingly rhapsodic over Dali, surely the most overrated artist of the century. (What, one wonders, would Ballard make of the comment that Dali is the ‘kind of artist you think is brilliant when you’re 15′? Are you listening Damien Hirst?)’

    You wouldn’t call a line like that ‘acerbic’?

    The ‘typically’ was reserved for Gerald Houghton; poor word order on my part.

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