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'Cult of enthusiasts'

Author: • Dec 15th, 2008 •

Category: Ballardosphere, Jean Baudrillard, Stanley Kubrick

Ballardian: Diane Johnson

I’m somewhat flattered. Diane Johnson, novelist and co-writer of the script to Kubrick’s The Shining, references ballardian.com in a review of Miracles of Life:

“Ballard’s novels, especially the early ones, have been treated by a range of serious critics, most notably in France. The late Jean Baudrillard, for example, wrote: ‘After Borges, but in a totally different register, Crash is the first great novel of the universe of simulation, the world that we will be dealing with from now on: a non-symbolic universe but one which, by a kind of reversal of its mass-mediated substance (neon, concrete, cars, mechanical eroticism), seems truly saturated with an intense initiatory power’.

In fact this initiatory power was to wane along with the avant-garde itself, which, also like Ballard, simply got appropriated by the antiwar movement and eventually absorbed into an accepting, even welcoming mainstream. Though he, Burroughs, Thomas Pynchon, and others were striving for and finding a personal manner or experimental view, the Sixties mood of experiment seems to have had no legs. The experiments of the Sixties, like the experiments of the Thirties, were widely welcomed, and acceptance is after all a kind of abandonment, perhaps because if an experiment fails to generate a meaningful critical dialogue that can interest the writer himself, he has no context. He’s left alone with his manner, free to perfect it, refine it, parody, imitate, or discard it in relative isolation, and returns to find an audience that has conveniently broadened its views to include as readable and fashionable what was hard or odd at first. This is what seems to have happened to Ballard, now the center of a cult of enthusiasts who comment in the “Ballardosphere,” in books and articles, or via the Web site ballardian.com and elsewhere.”

Although I’m disinclined to agree with her later point that Ballard ‘has been embraced by the mainstream’. In England perhaps, but elsewhere?

[ archived at The Terminal Collection; original article at the New York Review of Books ]

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5 Responses »

  1. It is not as if he was embraced by mainstream, but the other way instead: he has embraced mainstream, or so it seems to me.

  2. A few hurried comments here:

    The issue here is the divide betwen the literary mainstream and popular literature. A number of the academics at ANU(Canberra) with whom I have discussed issues relating to Ballard would certainly agree that Ballard has entered the English literary canon. However, simply because an author might be regarded as canonical, it does not follow that the public will follow. I have seen posts on some sf-fan websites that are vigourously opposed to their beloved genre having anything to do with literature (Sorry, I did not keep details of the websites as the commentary contained was to puerile for me to even consider referencing).

    I think the argument I am trying to put is that I think Diane Johnson is correct: the problem is that in Australia the great reading public are not interested. Given the current socio-political climate in Australia I would also suggest that the situation is unlikely to change for the better in the foreseeable future, and may indeed worsen with the gung-ho approaches to censorship currently being pursued.

    Promoting Ballard may be more difficult than it appears. Works such as Crash and The Atrocity Exhibition are wilfully provocational, and such a stance is increasingly less tolerated in the arts in Australia. There is a rather more scope for debate in the UK, Europe and the US.

  3. I will promote my reading of Ballard’s Crash here in Coimbra (Portugal) next thursday, significantly at a bookshop inside a football stadium. I will be embraced my mainstream, not him.

  4. I live in Oklahoma,U.S.A.(thank you Ray Davies) and I have also lived in Los Angeles and I can tell you that Ballard is definitely not considered mainstream here, if he’s even read at all. His last three books have not even been published here. I conducted a little experiment a few years back (perhaps a tad Ballardian?) where I spent several hours in my local Borders bookstore over a week’s time and hung out close to the JGB section (fiction, not sci-fi) and there were 4 people that looked at one of his books, 3 of them women! The only titles there were Crash and Super-Cannes and Crash was the unanimous choice. No purchaes, though. For a writer that is perceived to be a misogynist, I found this fascinating. By the way, no video store where I live even carries Cronenberg’s Crash and hasn’t for some time.

  5. I think we all know my position on the arts in Australia…

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