"Ballard is probably the most original English writer of the last century"
February 25, 2010 8:49 PM   Subscribe

"He surely had an indispensable role in the morphing of suburbia into disturbia in the cultural imagination, the real conception underlying the pretend-naïveté about the Sheppertons of the city and the mind--not only in the simple and tediously scandalous fact of his living there but in the power of his depicted suburbs too." China Mieville reviews J. G. Ballard's posthumous collection of short fiction.
posted by bardic (23 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I've not had time for Mieville since his frankly desperate Iron Council but this was a great read about a great collection from a great author.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:05 PM on February 25, 2010

I haven't read Mieville, but have to agree with the title completely.
posted by cannboys at 9:40 PM on February 25, 2010

Ballard - like many writers - always felt to me that he was writing the same book, over and over again.

Unfortunately - unlike some writers (like Philip K Dick for example) - I found that book was really only worth the one read.

They were all so predictable:
1) well-meaning protaganist attracted to seemingly perfect, magnetic leader/community and his/its hot girlfriend/wife/acolyte
2) something seems over-ripe or not right; protagonist is torn between disgust and titillation, helped in no small part by aforementioned girlfriend/wife/acolyte
3) leader turns out to be messianic sociopath; but it's too late for protagonist, who succumbs to temptation/fetish/whatever.

Crash, Running Wild, Cocaine Nights or other - you get to decide!
posted by smoke at 9:40 PM on February 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Related: AVClub's Gateways to Geekery on Ballard.
posted by bardic at 9:46 PM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

smoke: "Ballard - like many writers - always felt to me that he was writing the same book, over and over again"

Like many websites, MetaFilter often has the comment thread, over and over.

1) something interesting from the internet
2) some easy joke that threatens to derail the discussion
3) some snark from the haters
4) beanplating
5) epic two poster back and forth hate-fest

But seriously, that formula does not apply to some of his best work (in particular his short stories):

Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan.
The Secret History of World War Three.
Unlimited Dream Company.
The Atrocity Exhibition.
War Fever
Jane Fonda's Augmentation Mammoplasty
The Index

Off the top of my head (with the help of google for some of the titles).
posted by idiopath at 10:03 PM on February 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

Not that I've read Ballard for a while, but The Crystal World, The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race and The Comfort of Women strike me as very different works.
posted by Wolof at 11:02 PM on February 25, 2010

Perhaps because Ballard's stories are not new to me, and nor is Mieville's work, I found Mieville's rehashing of the Ballard's various stories to be the least interesting part of the piece. Which is problematic when it comes to a review. Sure, Mieville is absolutely correct in taking various other reviewers and critics to task for their attempt at cultural appropriation with regard to Ballard (by removing him from the genre ghetto) but as he himself notes, this is not a new discussion and this piece adds little to it. His critique of Amis is, again, spot-on. But also obvious. Is there anyone who does not recognize Amis as a pretentious blowhard?

In other words, I'm ambivalent. Ballard is absolutely worthy of analysis. Mieville has the wit and power to do it. Yet I didn't find much new in this piece. Oh, sure, I'm always up for another go at guys like Amis but after a while it gets tiresome.
posted by Justinian at 12:31 AM on February 26, 2010

Ballard - like many writers - always felt to me that he was writing the same book, over and over again.

Agreed, and I've said as much myself before. But his short stories are a treasure trove.
posted by turgid dahlia at 1:51 AM on February 26, 2010

You're right, Idiopath, et al. I really wasn't being fair, and was o'erhasty in my remarks. I've almost exclusively read only his later novels, from the late eighties (except empire of the sun + the drowned world) onwards.

I can see my formula certainly doesn't hold true for his early work, even with the later stuff the man obviously had something, I read like ten of the fuckers. I just feel like he really squandered the later years of his career (I forgot Supercannes and the other one that's practically the same in my original list, too). Whether this was by choice or no, I don't know, I just always came away disappointed from those novels.

Interesting with your comment about Mieville, Turgid Dahlia, in some ways I had the same feeling with his work; glorious potential used for pedestrian purposes. His latest book, The City and The City is meant to really break out of this, so I will be most interested to read it. I love Mieville's fervid imagination, but he seems to always put it in service of a Michael Bay-like plot (despite his awesome [un-Shetterly like!] determination to keep class in his works.
posted by smoke at 1:57 AM on February 26, 2010

cannboys: “I haven't read Mieville, but have to agree with the title completely.”

I've never read Ballard, though I'd been meaning to, but I have to say that the title actually makes me want to sit down and read his stuff just so I can rip it to shreds. It's a ridiculously audacious claim that probably makes no sense, although if it's true I'll be altering whole chunks of what I believe about literature. But I sincerely doubt it.

Luckily I'm an open-minded reader, so I'll still be able to engage with Ballard even if he isn't more original than Joyce, Faulkner, McCarthy, et al. However, most people aren't like me. It's a bloody unfortunate post title, because it's likely to make more people roll their eyes and never take a second look, or at least read him and say 'ah, he's not all that' and walk away. Making the claim that J G Ballard is the most original English writer of the last century is like making the claim that the Fall is the greatest group of musicians that has ever existed - sure, they're magnificent, but even on the off chance that it's true, saying it in a ridiculously overblown way like that doesn't do them any favors.
posted by koeselitz at 2:31 AM on February 26, 2010







They can be more original than Ballard and the post title can still be quite right.
posted by WPW at 2:39 AM on February 26, 2010

Ah. "English" ≠ "writing in English." Simple mistake.

Still, I should read him.
posted by koeselitz at 2:49 AM on February 26, 2010

I don't necessarily agree with the post title but I think fixating on it is a mistake, given that this is a well-crafted appraisal of a brilliant, multifaceted and original writer.
posted by WPW at 3:46 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately - unlike some writers (like Philip K Dick for example) - I found that book was really only worth the one read.

I think the comparison to Dick is apt because, for me, they are both writers who plugged away at a singular vision for decades. The result is a huge body of work that does repeat itself but only because it is constantly re-addressing itself. Although admittedly Ballard never saw the pink light of God and hence didn't have a late burst of gnarly brilliance like Dick. His last period of work is the only time I think it is fair to say he was re-writing the same book and nothing more. (I've written about the distinctive periods of his work previously on MetaFilter.)

By the way, The City & The City is awesome and I say this as someone who thought Mieville had completely lost his way after The Iron Council and Un Lun Dun.
posted by ninebelow at 5:05 AM on February 26, 2010

I've never been able to get through any of Ballard's novels. I recognize that they have substance, but I just can't get past the opaque prose. I once got about a third of the way through The Unlimited Dream Company but just couldn't bring myself to pick it up again for years. Eventually I gave it away.

His short stories were a revelation to me, though. I think the first one I read was in the Semiotext(e) #14 SF collection. Highly weird stuff.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:04 AM on February 26, 2010

I think Ted Hughes was more original than Ballard. Does he count as English?
posted by bukvich at 6:17 AM on February 26, 2010

Er, yes. What else would he count as?
posted by ninebelow at 6:46 AM on February 26, 2010

Ballard - like many writers - always felt to me that he was writing the same book, over and over again.

This is my problem with Chuck Palahniuk. Ballard, though, I like.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:58 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

i am sort of amused that you can buy it from WALMART but i doubt i could walk in and pick up a copy.
posted by Hammond Rye at 11:22 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

People who feel like Ballard or Palahniuk write (wrote) the same book over and over should never, ever read Jonathan Carroll. Stay away!
posted by Justinian at 11:23 AM on February 26, 2010

Love the short stories. Novels leave me a bit cold. See this comment for why.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:00 PM on February 26, 2010

For what it's worth, this collection was only released posthumously in the US. I believe it was first released in the UK around 2001, but wasn't published here until after his death.
posted by mikeh at 8:58 AM on March 1, 2010

From the review: "The volume's ninety-eight stories (including two written for this edition) are printed in chronological order of publication, which illuminates Ballard's trajectory." So it is slightly different.
posted by ninebelow at 9:14 AM on March 1, 2010

« Older 4chan memes? On my money?   |   Georgia O'Keefe goes mixed-medium Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments