Impulse Speaks With J.G. Ballard
Ballard interviewed by David Pringle, 14 November 1988: "And when I went to Canada for a fortnight in October, last year, for the Canadian launch of The Day of Creation... from the crack of dawn, often till quite late in the evening -- endless Empire of the Sun... So of course I repeat myself ad nauseam." Here's one of the more obscure interviews that kept JG going from dawn to dusk, this one from Impulse, The Magazine of Time and Space (Vol 14, No 1, Spring 1988). No publisher is mentioned, but the masthed reveals it's a government-funded arts magazine, with a pretentious global distribution. Obscure and rare, too, as the unidentified interviewer doesn't once talk about a specific book or character, unlike JG's other questioners. Pretty good lineup of articles, too. Click on the cover to see a large version.
J.G. Ballard was born in Shanghai in 1930 and was interned by the Japanese from 1942 to 1945. Combining a visionary intensity with a powerful narrative flow, Ballard has called the most imaginative living British fiction writer today.
Impulse: Do you believe there is a conscious connection between nature and dream?
J.G. Ballard: Yes. I assume that it is no accident that human beings have been endowed with prodigious imaginations and a remarkable capacity to enter various hallucinatory or delusional states -- as in dreams, hypnagogic imagery, flashes of deja vu, etc.
Bearing in mind the difficulties that a wholly rational being would have in coping with a largely hostile environment, there must be enormous evolutionary advantages in possessing a powerful imagination, contrary to what one would assume, or the pressures of natural selection would long since have eliminated anyone handicapped by this confusing ability to invent an imaginary alternative to the world presented to us by our senses. And that, I take it, is the vital function which the imagination performs for the central nervous system and a brilliant stratagem for dealing with crucial limitations in the brain's picture of reality.
This would accord with the view of modern psychology that the brain presents us with only a ramshackle view of reality, a partial construct imperfect in numerous ways, from the more trivial -- the geometry of the rooms we inhabit -- to the more serious -- our sense of time, memory, our hopes, ideals and private mythologies. The more we can engage our imaginations, therefore, the better, and the most important task for each of us is to test the imperfections of reality against the perfectibility of the dream.
Impulse: Is nature, by its very essence, apocalyptic?
Ballard: Yes. Everything is in a state of continuous tumult, and from the standpoint of the central nervous system the most commonplace acts describe a state of imminent crisis -- does the angle between two walls have a happy ending? Does the cheek placed on a pillow make time retreat from us? Do the stairs to the next floor lead to infinity? Are all the objects in our rooms a set of coded messages? How does one decipher a chair, a ceiling, a mirror? Only the imagination can turn these keys.
Impulse: Do you feel that one method of transcending nature in a metropolitan environment is to immerse oneself in a subculture?
Ballard: No. Each of us already forms a subculture of one. Add another, and you have, not a subculture, but a crowd -- a far smaller entity.
Impulse: Do you see any correlations between the extreme conditions of certain phases of your psychological life and the literature that you have produced?
Ballard: I take it that the correlation is total. My novels and short stories constitute a series of snapshots of my central nervous system, a set of extreme hypotheses, a collection of documents describing a mysterious cerebral event.
Impulse: Do you have a moral stand or position? Your characters are fighting against forces so powerful that they seem doomed to fail.
Ballard: No -- in fact, insofar as my characters are true to their own imaginations, they are doomed to succeed -- I can't think of a single one of my characters who is a failure -- they all embrace the logic of their obsessions and pursue them to the end. That is why I think of myself as the most optimistic of present-day writers.
Impulse: Images of death have haunted your work; what is your relationship with death?
Ballard: A minor member of his family, who in due course will inherit a small share of his estate.