A big influence on my poetry and other stuff. Like Magritte, he was a radical surrealist and avant guardist who lived an ultra conventional suburban life.
This marriage of dryness, conventionality, and imaginative excess made him an unlikely, yet all the more plausible figures of the literary counterculture. It gave his audacity wings: one would not have suspected, having met the man, that he would have been the author of a short story called “Why I Want To Fuck Ronald Reagan” – and that was in 1969.
Beneath the façade of a benign, convivial suburbanite (he lived in what was, in essence, the opposite of Bohemia: a detached house in Shepperton, as affectless as his prose and as characterless a neighbourhood as any contrived), he mapped and plotted the nightmares of the contemporary world with a precision that has come to be seen as prophecy.
“The author of this work is beyond psychiatric help, do not publish,” was the verdict from a publisher’s reader after he had submitted the manuscript for Crash, in which he proposed a link between eroticism and car crashes; yet few people seemed as little in need of psychiatric help as he did. He was a generous friend and encourager of the younger writers whom he inspired, such as Will Self.
I haven’t the slightest sympathy for movements in favour of disarmament, especially our CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). I share the view of the Americans on the matter of nuclear armament. And that goes back to the events I survived in the Far East. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki explosions quite simply saved our lives! Without them, the Americans would have had to invade Japan and the territories in the region of Shanghai. None of us would have escaped that. That’s without a doubt. Since then, far from being an instrument of death, the atomic bomb has become for me an instrument of protection. It doesn’t embody the forces of destruction, but on the contrary, those of life and creation. It would be an error of interpretation to read the nuclear intervention in my works as a calling-into-question.
The America of cinema, of television, of magazines, of publicity — in a word, the ‘models’ seem to me more important than this or that aspect of concrete reality, of the type ‘the smell of the fields of wheat in Iowa’. No need to travel: these models are sent to us direct by satellite! These days, journeys are practically pointless.
But for me — as well as, I suspect, most Ballardites — the signal text remains “The Atrocity Exhibition,” a book so strange it’s nearly impossible to describe. Collecting 15 “stories,” all of them so compressed and fragmentary as to render traditional concepts of narrative or character moot, it provoked its own kind of violent reaction: After the book was published in 1970, notes the 1990 RE/Search Publications edition, “Nelson Doubleday saw a copy and was so horrified he ordered the entire press run shredded.”
According to Ballard, the story that pushed Doubleday over the edge was a piece about Ronald Reagan, the title of which I can’t reproduce here. This same story was the subject of a 1968 British obscenity trial, after the Unicorn Bookstore in Brighton published it as a pamphlet; when asked by his attorney why it was not obscene, Ballard replied “that of course it was obscene, and intended to be so.” Needless to say, he did not appear as a witness in his own defense.
Watch the blog The Ballardian for updates.