What does J.G. Ballard look like? - by Rick Poynor
February 4, 2011 9:29 PM   Subscribe

An examination of the cover design for the published works of J.G. Ballard, spanning five decades.

For a more focused look at the cover design of Crash, see this post from last month.
posted by dvorak_beats_qwerty (10 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
One of the more significant moments in the evolution of Ballard studies came with the publication of Re/Search’s special issue about Ballard in 1984. It remains an essential document, most obviously for its interviews.

After The Next Whole Earth Catalog, that issue was the most mind-expanding book I ever read. Wish I still I had the copy I bought on Telegraph Avenue.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:39 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Describe what J.G. Ballard looks like!

Say 'What' again!
posted by grobstein at 9:45 PM on February 4, 2011


I love the David Pelham ones... Penguin design from that period is so distinctive.
posted by Artw at 9:48 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of the more significant moments in the evolution of Ballard studies came with the publication of Re/Search’s special issue about Ballard in 1984. It remains an essential document, most obviously for its interviews.

Yes! I remember this book. I wonder what happened to my copy.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:49 PM on February 4, 2011


I'd have to say Pelham is the designer I associate most frequently with Ballard as well. That just might be a function of the period I was devouring Ballard and evangelizing about the man's work to excess. I think what I like the most about Pelham's take on Ballard is that there's a sense of humor to it and it's not as self-serious. A lot of the art for Ballard books leaves me cold, and I think many cover artist's don't really get Ballard or understand the subtext and the depth of the psychic states he creates and inhabits. Collage almost gets there, surrealism and post-modernism almost gets there too, but there's a documentary quality as well.

REsearch 6/7 The Industrial Culture Handbook, that remains to this day one of the most influential mindblowing books I've ever read. I devoured it. There was something about the thing that bordered on it's being a form of psychic guide to creating weaponary for the imagination through art and deviant thought. That book literally felt like a dangerous thing to own on the order of a bomb or a gun.

The Ballard REsearch (8/9) is incredibly comprehensive and is a must for anyone who wants to get the closest thing to being inside the guys head, and understand where he's coming from (Empire of the Sun and THe Kindness of Women also do a great deal in that regard, the first through the eyes of the fictionalized young Jim in China and the latter, as a memoir of his life).

A bit off topic, but one of the most impressive Ballardian studies I've seen lately is the German film The Baader-Meinhof Complex (Netflix Instant). Ballard was particularly fascinated by this group of affluent well educated Western young people who regress to a level of singular minded barbarity and violence. Ballard explored that sort of thing in his later works like Running Wild and Cocaine Nights, and I think another couple of books that were published after those works. In the movie, you really get the feeling for a charismatic cult figure like Vaugh in Crash, from the Baader character, and the movie itself is incredibly well done and the all star German ensemble cast puts on a spellbinding performance. It made me understand precisely how a terror group like the Baader Meinhof might come into existence.
posted by Skygazer at 11:16 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Joe Beese: "After The Next Whole Earth Catalog, that issue was the most mind-expanding book I ever read. Wish I still I had the copy I bought on Telegraph Avenue."

I am pleased to relate I was able to convey essentially that exact feedback one day in 1988 when I walked by the offices unaware (like on our way down the hill from Coit Tower, I think? Some tourist thing), did a doubletake, and burst in on them. They were delightfully accommodating and attempted to sneak my largely underage party (me, my sister, and her BF) into a spoken word thing at the I-Beam with Henry and Lydia Lunch, to no avail. Oh, yes, just like that, no BS.
posted by mwhybark at 12:01 AM on February 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


but aside from the derail, uh. yers. Ballard. Obsessively reread. I have some oddities, a 1970s graphic novel of "The Drowned World" being high among them. I *really* adore the Empire of the Sun book, it's like a cipher key to his imagery. I must note in passing that the very young Christian Bale plays the Ballard character in the movie, and it has amused me since to imagine Ballard proper as various Bale characters, obviously including, uh, "the Batman."

I'm derailing again but I sure hope Malkovich gets to play a bad guy in a Nolan/Bale batman flick.
posted by mwhybark at 12:08 AM on February 5, 2011


... and now that i have finished reading the essay itself, dvorak_beats_qwerty, thanks for posting this! What a beautiful piece of exploration and analysis.
posted by mwhybark at 12:23 AM on February 5, 2011


Skygazer: "The Ballard REsearch (8/9) is incredibly comprehensive and is a must for anyone who wants to get the closest thing to being inside the guys head..." You are 100% correct in saying this. The collection of essays and interviews really help to expand upon the ideas and symbols that Ballard uses throughout most of his stories, and I would say that it is necessary reading for anyone who wants to understand the underlying framework of his themes.

RE/Search's publication of "The Atrocity Exhibition", which is mentioned in the main link, is also extremely well done due to the inclusion of Ballard's notes in the sidebars of the pages as a running commentary on the "novel".

You'd mentioned the Baader-Meinhof group and film as being Ballardian as well. As you know, the story thread of The Atrocity Exhibition is basically, to quote Wikipedia, "Suffering from a mental breakdown, the protagonist -- ironically, a doctor at a mental hospital -- surrenders to a world of psychosis." The Baader-Meinhof group was a model for the SPK (Socialist Patients' Collective), "...a leftist German psychiatric patients' group active in 1970/71, fighting against medicine and doctors as enemies of the "patients' class", seeing capitalism as the reason for illness and practicing illness as a weapon against capitalist society. (...) [M]embers of the SPK believed that to cure their own personal mental disorders they had to execute violent attacks on 'society'." In my opinion if this isn't Ballardian, then nothing is as they seem to be following the novel and are taking the war that exists in their heads and putting it back into the real world in order to defeat it and cure themselves.
I can't recall if Ballard was influenced by this or not as the book was published at the same time the SPK were in operation, but the SPK is where the industrial band SPK got their name from, which makes all of this a perfect Ballardian creation in and of itself. Again, that's my opinion, but as Ballard said in the notes to the RE/Search edition, "The Atrocity Exhibition's original dedication should have been "To the insane." I owe them everything."
posted by Zack_Replica at 1:50 PM on February 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I forgot the background to SPK's (the band) namesake, shame on me. The SPK section in The Industrial Culture Handbook (REsearch 6/7) is brilliant, perhaps the best part of the book.

SPK/ Graeme Revell put one of my favorite records of all time: Zamia Lehmanni: Songs of Byzantine Flowers. It's in incredible collection of traditional chants and found sounds and all sorts of incredible stuff. It unfolds like an incredibly strange and beautiful surreal film.

When I initially saw The Baader Meinhof Complex, I mistakenly thought the actual film was made in the 70s and I was amazed as I was seeing because, suddenly I felt this strange vertigo, as if my whole conception, and reverence for Ballard was misplaced and this was the Rosetta Stone to Ballard's post-Crash ouevre. It made much more sense (and was a great relief) to stop the film and check to see when the film was made (ie: 2008).

The REsearch edition of The Atrocity Exhibition was something I avoided, namely because I did not like the artistic interpretation of Ballard's work which was decidedly more intense in my head, and I had another edition I was reading, and actually read it before Crash, and was sort of non-plussed by Crash, having had the key to the work from reading AE. I ended up being much more taken in by his explorations of that ecstatic suburban psychic state of psychosis in High-Rise and The Concrete Island.

Anyhow, I need to find my copy of The Industrial Culture Handbook and re-read the SPK interview.
posted by Skygazer at 4:33 PM on February 5, 2011


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