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The Wind from Nowhere is now a wind from somewhereAuthor: Simon Sellars • Sep 2nd, 2007 •
From the Observer:
Nicola Barker Toby Litt ‘critically rehabilitates’ (to use the parlance of our times) J.G. Ballard’s first novel…
[ via Feuilleton ]
Sunday September 2, 2007
How did we miss these? Far from the fame and glamour of the Booker and bestsellers is a forgotten world of literary treasures – brilliant but underrated novels that deserve a second chance to shine. We asked 50 celebrated writers to nominate their favourites.
The Wind From Nowhere (1961)
Thousands of books are undervalued by the general public. Far rarer are those undervalued by their own authors. And rarer still are those the authors dislike so much that they suppress them. Graham Greene wouldn’t allow his first four novels to be reprinted. And Jeanette Winterson has done her best to turn her second novel, Boating for Beginners, into an unbook. Harder to understand is JG Ballard, who always refers to The Drowned World as his first novel, whereas it was, in fact, The Wind From Nowhere. His reluctance to admit authorship is almost certainly due to having knocked it out in a mere two weeks. But it’s not a bad book – recognisably Ballardian in subject and form. Also, it stands as the first part of Ballard’s Disaster Quartet. Each of these books – The Drowned World, The Drought (aka The Burning World) and The Crystal World are the others – is based on one of the four classical elements: air, water, fire and earth. By refusing to admit The Wind From Nowhere into his corpus, Ballard leaves this quartet maimed. But maybe that’s the whole point.
Nicola BarkerToby Litt NicolaToby says this ‘unbooking’ is a rare phenomenon, but I can think of a similar example in music: Kraftwerk. They went even further than Ballard, burying their first three albums, refusing to release them on CD and wincing in horror whenever an interviewer dares to mention them.
But not even Ballard or Ralf or Florian can resist the recombinant power of late capitalism, where every ‘dog’ must have its day (even ones that have been kicked by their owners as much as these ones have).
UPDATE: It’s Toby Litt who brings us this snippet, as John Coulthart informs me. I was so fixated on nabbing the Ballard stuff, I didn’t even notice Toby’s name above the entry. Apologies all round. Anyway, it’s no surprise — Toby waxed lyrical about ‘Wind’ in the interview Gwyn and I did with him, saying this:
[The Wind from Nowhere] seems to be very much the start-point for his oeuvre, if you want to call it that. It’s certainly not comparable to, say, Graham Greene’s disowned novels — which, from what I’ve read, aren’t only very badly written but are also acutely anti-Semitic. As Ballard started with the four elements [in his first four novels], it seems odd and imbalancing to leave one of them out. Everyone realises it’s an early novel.
By the way, Ballard’s archivist David Pringle would take exception with Toby’s repeated assertion that Ballard’s first four novels are patterned after the four elements. Here’s what David said about that notion in a recent discussion:
Looking again at that Wikipedia entry on JGB, here is an example of a myth which, in my opinion, really ought to be killed:
“Several of Ballard’s earlier works deal with scenarios of ‘natural disaster'; most notably a quartet thematically based on the four Classical Elements of Aristotle, featuring The Wind From Nowhere (Air), The Drowned World (Water), The Crystal World (Earth), and The Drought (Fire).”
In what sense does _The Crystal World_ represent earth? Crystals are earthy, are they? What makes them more earthy than, say, the sand of _The Drought_?
Ballard has never, anywhere, to the best of my knowledge, stated that those four novels were based on the four classical elements. Apart from anything else, such a schema would give far too much prominence to _The Wind from Nowhere_, a quickie hack novel which he has effectively disowned (as the Wiki entry in fact makes clear elsewhere).
The notion that the “four elements” underlay those four novels comes from a specific, dubious source — an article by one Anthony Ryan entitled “The Mind of Mr J. G. Ballard” (the title is an allusion to Edgar Wallace’s _The Mind of Mr J. G. Reeder_), published in _Foundation_ no. 3 in March 1973. It’s not a very good article, but it was Ryan — who, as a critic, has not been heard from
since, as far as I know — who tossed out the notion that in some way JGB’s first four novels were based on the four classical elements of Aristotle.
My own essay, “The Fourfold Symbolism of J. G. Ballard,” written quite independently of Ryan’s (which I hadn’t seen), was published in the following issue of _Foundation_ — no. 4, dated July 1973. The fourfold symbolism I talked about had nothing to do with the four classical elements. Inspired in part by Northrop Frye and his studies of Blake, I was talking about the symbolism in Ballard’s fiction, as I saw it, of Water, Sand, Crystal and Concrete — as best exemplified in _The Drowned World_, _The Drought_, _The Crystal World_ and _The Atrocity Exhibition_. (I paid no attention to _The Wind from Nowhere_.)
My essay, and Ryan’s slightly earlier essay, swiftly became confused in some people’s minds — and the myth was born that Ballard’s “fourfold symbolism” was somehow based on the four classical elements.
Not true! I never said it. Ballard never said it. Only Ryan said it (or he said something like it).
I wish now I hadn’t used the word “fourfold” in the title of my essay!
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