PUBLICITY BANDWAGON ROLLS ON
Well, the advertisement which I've reproduced on page one of this newsletter says it all. JGB News can scarcely compete with Gollancz's publicity department...
One thing they have forgotten to mention is Colin Greenland's interview with Ballard which is due to appear in City Limits any time now. Colin has kindly sent me his tape of this, and I may transcribe extracts from it at a future date.
The “Book Four” TV interview with JGB was conducted by Hermione Lee on Monday 20th August, but it will not be broadcast until late October. I visited Ballard on the following Thursday, 23rd August, and he was full of praise for Ms Lee.
The extracts from Empire of the Sun appeared in The Times on Monday 27th, Tuesday 28th, and Wednesday 29th August. They were followed on Saturday 1st September by a letter from a reader, Mrs Irene Duguid Kilpatrick, who was also an internee at Lunghua Camp near Shanghai. She takes exception to JGB's portrayal of “the facts” - “it was very well run -- like a small town, with a school, hospital, churches, clubs for entertainment, study, sport and games and we turned the rough ground into productive and beautiful gardens... The majority worked hard with little food... there were grumblers, but the British always grumble; it is their safety valve and keeps people calm.”
Martin Amis's Observer profile of JGB appeared on Sunday 2nd September. It features a large photograph of Ballard wearing a candy-striped shirt. It's a slightly flippant piece, as one might expect from Amis, but nevertheless lively and interesting.
I understand that the total number of copies of the novel which Gollancz now have in print is 21,000 (that's a 15,000 initial printing plus a 6,000 pre-publication reprint).
THE BOOK OF THE NINE-HOUR INTERVIEW...
Re/Search 8/9, the special issue devoted entirely to J. G. Ballard, is now definitely out. I received my advance copy in mid-July (just a few days after I mailed JGB News 12). I'm expecting a sea-mailed shipment to come any day -- I'll put a Stop Press at the end of this newsletter if it arrives before I finalize the issue.
It's a book of about 180 pages, 11 inches by 8 inches in size, and it's fully illustrated with imaginative photographs and drawings. It contains:
“Introduction” by Vale; “Interview” by A. Juno and Vale (“upon arriving we immed?iately began recording the conversation and didn't stop until nine hours later”); “Interview with Martin Bax”; “Interview” by Graeme Revell; “Myths of the Near Future”; “Crash (Excerpt)”; “Notes Towards a Mental Breakdown” (the 1976 Bananas story); “The Atrocity Exhibition”; “The Index”; “Why I want to Fuck Ronald Reagan” (a reproduction of the version which was distributed around the Republican Convention in 1980); “Plan for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy”; “The 60-Minute Zoom”; “Introduction to Crash”; “Fictions of Every Kind”; "Time, Memory and Inner Space” (the rare 1963 mini-essay which I mentioned in the first of these newsletters); “La Jetee”; “The Coming of the Unconscious”; “Alphabets of Unreason”; “Myth Maker of the 20th Century”; “Killing Time Should be Prime-Time TV”; “Things I Wish I'd Known at 18”; “From Shanghai to Shepperton”; “The Fourfold Symbolism of J. G. Ballard” by David Pringle (somewhat cut from the version which appeared in my Borgo Press monograph in 1979); “Critical Excerpts”; “The Noble Neurotic” by Joseph Lanz; “Preface” by W. S. Burroughs (to Love and Napalm...); “Critique” by Graeme Revell; “Collages by Ballard”; “Quotations by Ballard” (snippets from dozens of interviews, book reviews, etc.); “Bibliographies”; “Some Books from Bal?lard's Library”; and “What I Believe” by Ballard.
Each page contains about twice as much type as a normal book page, so it's really like a 360-page tome. And the illustrations! There are photos of Ballard at the ages of 6 and 19 and 30; photos of his wife and kids; pictures of his wrecked car; reproductions of all his advertisements and his 1958 collages; a painting (in homage to JGB) by Ed Ruscha; photos of Burroughs, Martin Bax and Jackie Kennedy; photographs by Ana Barrado and Bobby Adams of freeways, high-rises, drained swimming pools, and space rockets; drawings by Paul Mavrides; and more...
The nine-hour interview is really the most remarkable new item in the book. It covers everything (except science fiction: this publication is the compleat non-sf fan's guide to Ballard). Here are the sub-headings of the various sections of the interview, just to give you the flavour: “The New Puritanism”; “W. S. Burroughs”; “The Replica Concept”; “Deviance”; “The Future is... Boring”; “The Mental Library”; “The Information Channel”; “The Warren Commission Report”; “Crash Injuries”; “Publishing History”; “Crash: The Movie”; “Family”; “Manson, Moors Murderers”; “Crime and...”; “Bookstores”; “Shepperton”; “From Suburbs to Baader-Meinhof”; “Video Game Nostalgia”; “Schools”; “Chinese”; “Movies”; “Television”; “Video”; “Imagination, Obsession”; “Revelation”; “The Village Theory”; “Significant Relationships”; “Sex and...”; “Cats vs. Dogs”; “Surrealism”; “Grace Jones”; “Helmut Newton, Diane Arbus”; “Playboy”; “Barcelona”; “LSD”; “Suicide”; “Nuclear Disarmament”; “Video Magazine”; “Film”; “Fragmentation”; “France”; “The Media Landscape”; “Publishing”; “Photography”; “The Car Crash”; “Archivism”; “Corruption”; and “Writing, Obsession.”
So what else is new? Quite a lot, actually...
Hard on the heels of my G. K. Hall-published bibliography (see last issue for details), Bernard Sigaud has produced his own “Francophone” checklist of Ballard's works. It's entitled Hard Copy Special No. 1: Bibliographie de J. G. Ballard, and it consists of 75 closely-typed A pages. Most of the citations are in English, though Bernard's introduction and copious notes are in French.
His bibliography has one big advantage over mine: it's two years more up to date. It also contains mention of a few (very minor) items from earlier years which have only come to light recently -- e.g. Ballard's contribution to the Public Lending Right debate which appeared in the New Review in 1975. In addition, it contains listings of Ballard criticism which has appeared in French and other languages. It even contains a few illustrations!
'THE LAST BATTLE'
Chris Fowler has sent me some cuttings of reviews of a film called Le Dernier Combat, made in 1983 but just recently shown in London. It is written and directed by a very young French film-maker, Luc Besson, and it sounds extremely Ballardian, featuring high-rises, home-made aircraft, deserts and auto-wrecks...
Philip Strick says, in his Monthly Film Bulletin review: “Cinemascope images of buildings swathed in sand and decrepit outcasts living in the hulks of abandoned vehicles offer the initial prospect of a J. G. Ballard novel at last brought to the screen. But Le Dernier Combat quickly proves to have different survival-story affiliation. Where Ballard's lyrical disaster areas, with their dreaming and elusive heroines, are metaphors of poetic isolation, twenty-three-year-old Luc Besson's first feature is an adolescent fable of the winning of spurs, told like a mixture of Quest for Fire and The Bronx Warriors...”
Giovanni Dadomo writes in Time Out: “An engaging addition to the post-holocaust barbarism boom... Unlike most Mad Max spin-offs, this is much more than a transplanted Western... It's a very welcome addition to that all too slim sub-category, intelligent science fiction, and a cinematic equivalent to Aldiss or Ballard at their mordant best.” I haven't seen it yet, but I hope to run some sort of review of the film in a future issue.
THE COLD AND SOUND BARRIER: NEWS FROM THE SUN
Page four of this newsletter is a collage/drawing by John Mottershead. He sent it to me shortly after he discovered JGB News, and says that the piece “was prompted by my reading 'News from the Sun' when it was first published in Ambit. That story gave me almost the same indescribable feeling that 'The Voices of Time' generated.”
I'm grateful to John for providing a bit of visual interest herein. (It should be pointed out, though, that the text he has used is from M. John Harrison!)
'THE OBJECT OF THE ATTACK'
Interzone 9, containing Ballard's latest short story, has now appeared. “The Object of the Attack” is about a mysterious young man who attempts to assassinate a prominent public figure. It bears a thematic resemblance to JGB's 1962 short story “The Insane Ones.”
The new story will be reprinted in Interzone: The First Anthology, due from J. M. Dent and Sons in April 1985. The book will also contain pieces by Angela Carter, Keith Roberts, Cherry Wilder and others, plus a completely new long story by Geoff Ryman (author of “The Unconquered Country,” recently praised by the Times Literary Supplement). Interzone is going from strength to strength. It has gone up another eight pages in size, has a redesigned heading, and generally looks more professional. And it has recently received a cash donation from Arthur C. Clarke!
BOOKER PRIZE, ETC.
Thanks for another very interesting JGB News. The Booker Prize bandwagon gives me very mixed feelings. I don't believe the long-term record of the Booker is particularly impressive in selecting outstanding lasting novels, and I'm not all that keen on the general idea of choosing one novel out of many other good works. If Empire does win, no doubt the prices of JGB's out-of-print books will go even higher, though to judge by certain dealers' catalogues that would be pretty difficult.
-- Rodney O'Connor, Kenley, Surrey
I get the feeling that there are now three Ballards, three public images of the man. The first, and longest-established, is Ballard the science-fiction writer: the author of The Drowned World, The Crystal World and all those brilliant short stories which appeared in Carnell's New Worlds. The second is Ballard the avant-garde producer of “freaky lit”: the author of The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash, the inspirer of Grace Jones lyrics and the subject of the Re/Search special. The third and most recent incarnation is Ballard the Major English Novelist: author of Empire of the Sun, the subject of profiles in the Observer magazine and double-page ads in the Bookseller. This last image may overtake and swallow up the first two. Will the “real” JGB please stand up? As for the Booker Prize: whether or not Ballard wins is entirely dependent on the whim of the judges, and they may be a fickle lot (I can't even remember the names of this year's judges: I saw them listed somewhere, but they seemed very obscure). The winner should be announced on the 18th October: “Melvyn Bragg will front television coverage for Channel 4 of the 1984 Booker McConnell Prize for Fiction presentation... The award will be made at the Guildhall, London... Last week Mr Bragg presented a detailed proposal to the Booker management committee for a 60-minute programme combining live coverage of the presentation dinner with recorded elements including coverage of the shortlisted titles, writers and judges” (Bookseller, 25th February). We shall see, we shall see...
David Elworthy, who is a student at Cambridge, has done some burrowing in the library there. He sent me a copy of “The Violent Noon,” Ballard's first published story which appeared in the student newspaper Varsity in May 1951. I had already seen this (it is listed in my bibliography) but I had not seen the brief “judge's report” which appeared in the following week's issue of Varsity, dated 2nd June 1951. Here it is, surely the very first published piece of criticism of J. G. Ballard: “'Violent Noon' was the most mature story; it contains patches of high tension, the characters come to life, and the ending is brilliant in its cynicism. The author should, however, avoid a tendency to preach.”
David has also very kindly sent me a copy of Kingsley Amis's review of The Drowned World which appeared (with a picture of JGB) in the Observer, 27th January 1963, p. 22.
JGB AND THE SURREALISTIC NOVEL
Terry Dowling, who describes himself as “a 37-year-old Australian writer/teacher,” has sent me details of the 113,000-word thesis on Ballard for which he was awarded a first-class MA in 1981. He is hoping to find a publisher who will turn it into a book. It is entitled Beguiled Into Crisis: J. G. Ballard and the Surrealistic Novel, and Terry Dowling describes it as “a close examination of Ballard's themes and motivations, looking at all of his major fiction from 'Prima Belladonna' (1956) through to High-Rise (1975), doing so in the light of his own special interest in the themes and techniques of surrealism. The suggestion is made that although the novel form was officially disapproved of and dismissed by Andre Breton and the Surrealist Movement in the early decades of the century, Ballard is one of the few major writers to have revitalized the novel in English and made it once again an effective and, more to the point, representative instrument for examining the nature of reality... The thesis is laid out as follows:
“Introduction: to show that a new and 'inverted' form of surrealism now exists as an inevitable extension of the ideas and discoveries of classic Surrealism...
“Chapter One: Recognizing the Spider. An examination of the basic doctrines of Surrealism... justifies a view of Ballard as a surrealistic writer in a traditional sense before attempting to demonstrate how he has developed surrealist methods for his own use -- methods which represent a development and not just an adaptation.
“Chapter Two: Imagination Response and Reality Crisis. A look at science fiction as that branch of literature most open to the use of the marvellous as praised by Breton... While Ballard is not an sf writer in any conventional sense, he does, however, use many of the trappings of sf to achieve his own ends.
“Chapter Three: Laboratories of the Psyche. Noting Ballard's strong visual/pictorial approach to writing; his use of actual paintings as models and tone-settings... An examination of Vermilion Sands and other key short stories as pointers to method and theme.
“Chapter Four: Reaccommodating the Unaccommodated Man. A close look at Ballard's first “disaster trilogy,” showing how these novels are not tales of doom and disaster but stories of metamorphosis and fulfilment -- closer to many of Patrick White's novels in terms of the mundane world transformed by an individual's perception of it.
“Chapter Five: A Box of Many Bottoms. Dealing with The Atrocity Exhibition as a work using different methods to render the author's view of a complex, multilevel reality, and to highlight the modern crisis he has called 'the death of affect.' Also goes on to establish once again why the term 'surrealist' continues to be more appropriate than more recent terms like 'pop' in coming to grips with Ballard's work.
“Chapter Six: The Private Jungle, Alternative Reality and Deviant Logic. An analysis of the “second disaster trilogy,” in which Ballard leaves traditional surrealism behind altogether and refines his own views of a concealed and more complete reality which simply appears to be surreal in its incredible and unassimilable aspects.
“Chapter Seven: The Horizons of the Real. Drawing together the strands of evidence supporting the claim for a new surrealism and giving an overview of Ballard's position as one of the most important novelists currently working in the language.”
All opinions expressed herein are those of the editor or of the named correspondents: this is not in any sense an official publication. The newsletter now goes to about fifty people. If you wish to receive the next issue please send me a letter of comment or some usable news (cuttings of Ballard reviews, etc., are always welcomed) or two 17p stamps or two international reply coupons. I don't wish the circulation to grow much larger, so I shall be strict about not sending the newsletter to people who fail to respond...