Magazine article The Spectator

Homage to the Sage of Shepperton

Magazine article The Spectator

Homage to the Sage of Shepperton

Article excerpt

Extreme Metaphors: Interviews with J.G. Ballard, 1967-2008

edited by Simon Sellars and Dan O'Hara

Fourth Estate, £25, pp. 503,

ISBN 9780007454853

L'Arenas, between Cote d'Azur airport and a dual carriageway patrolled by prostitutes, is a banal stretch of concrete, steel and glass offices, malls and hotels that seems always to be deserted. A few weeks ago, I watched an 18-month-old Korean boy playing on an iPad by a hotel pool there. 'Ballardian' was le mot juste.

As with Kafka, Borges, Pinter, Orwell and others who have earned an adjective, the mental landscape conjured up by J.G.

Ballard's work is instantly recognisable - though to have been fully Ballardian, the pool should have been drained and overtaken by vegetation, zebras, wrecked Pontiacs and rusting B-29s.

In a review of Hello America in 1981 (in Foundation 23), Michael Moorcock provided a list of these characteristic images, describing a classically surrealist vision of the American dream in which the gigantic figures of John Wayne and Charles Manson bestraddle a jungle-bound Las Vegas where robot gunships shoot to ribbons giraffes and alligators populating the city streets and 46 presidents of the United States attempt an assault on a War Room which has at its centre a roulette wheel on which are marked the names of cities to be destroyed by Cruise missiles buried in the mysterious jungles of Nevada and Arizona.

Even as metaphors go, these are extreme enough. Yet Ballard's most notorious imaginative connections, such as the association of motor accidents and sexual desire or the final chapter of The Atrocity Exhibition, 'The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race' (a title that nods to Alfred Jarry), strike his admirers as both prescient and peculiarly suitable for the world we now inhabit.

From the late 1960s enthusiasts, beginning with the poet George MacBeth and figures from science fiction fandom, made their way to the Sage of Shepperton. Later visitors brought more mainstream attention: Lynn Barber of Penthouse (on the 'deviant sexual future'); the political philosopher John Gray; the art critic Hans Ulrich Obrist; writers upon whom his influence is evident, such as Will Self, Iain Sinclair and Toby Litt; and, towards the end, Radio 4's James Naughtie.

This is, strictly, a book of interviews, conducted entirely in question-and-answer format, although several were published in different forms. …

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