JG Ballard Criticism & Analysis

1973: Krafft-Ebing Visits Dealey Plaza
Jerome Tarshis reviews The Atrocity Exhibition and interviews JGB about same in this obscure 1973 piece from The Evergreen Review. "In a sense the whole book is about violence," Ballard told me in an interview at his home, near London. "I mean, about violence as a spectator pastime. I see that people's lives these days are saturated with images of violence of every conceivable kind. The strange thing is that although in the past we perceived violence at our nerve endings, in terms of pain and pumping adrenalin, now we perceive violence purely intellectually, purely as an imaginative pastime."

1973: Essay on The Crystal World
Nick Perry and Strathclyde University Professor Roy Wilkie explore "The Crystal World as a novel of self-discovery -- the story of how one man, Sanders, is prepared to explore the hitherto hidden corners of his mind, the multiple facets of his personality ... in the quest for a more meaningful or "authentic" existence."

1975: Essay on The Atrocity Exhibition
Nick Perry and Strathclyde University Professor Roy Wilkie submit a long and interesting analysis of AtrocityX. "The imaginary natural landscapes of the future have become the artificial landscapes of the present. And yet what is the “real” continues to be problematic. As Karen Novotny explains, “We’re all in the movies.”

1979: Bruce Franklin Asks: What Are We to Make of J.G. Ballard’s Apocalypse?
More than any other writer, J.G. Ballard incarnates the apocalyptic imagination running riot in Anglo-American culture today. Ballard began projecting multiform visions of the end of the world in the late 1950s, even before these became the rage, and he has been consistently, in fact obsessively, at it every since. Along with other British and, somewhat later, American purveyors of literary gloom and doom, Ballard has been a symbol of the ascendancy of the "New Wave" in science fiction. And the "New Wave" has been a leading force in the broad and deep expansion of a doomsday mentality in our culture.

1979: Peter Brigg Plunges Into The Drowned World
Professor Peter Brigg of the University of Guelph, Canada, had this article published in the 1979 Survey of Science Fiction Literature. "The sophistication of Ballard's storytelling is perhaps why he is not given credit for strongly original ideas. Yet there is a breathtaking moment when, at some point in The Drowned World, each reader suddenly grasps the daring of the concepts being carried to their true resolution." Wade in.

1985: You, Me and the Continuum: David Pringle Searches For JG Ballard's "Lost" Novel
Evidence points to the possibility that two JGB's of early works have gone missing. One JGB wrote at Cambridge, the other he says he hoped to finish by the end of 1956. Whatever happened to that work?

1985: Joe Milicia on The Drought - Dry Thoughts In a Dry Season
In fact, both The Drowned World and The Drought go beyond much mainstream symbolist fiction in an apparent effort to approach the condition of painting -- to convey meaning as much as possible through the look of the landscape. He may be compared in this respect to a filmmaker like Antonioni (particularly Red Desert).

1990: Article by Paul Di Filippo
Nowhere, I believe, is the nature of Ballard's art more evident than in the simultaneous junction and disjunction between one of his oldest works, The Drowned World, and one of his latest, The Day of Creation. What I would like to do here is, first set forth the similarities... in a kind of catalog for our hypothetical exhibition, and then deal with the differences between the two works -- which, in the end, are almost more important than the recurrent themes and patterns.

1990: "Tales From The Darkside" NYT article by Luc Sante
From his first book... Ballard has been depicting the dark underside of civilization, a darkness that seems to increase in the human psyche in inverse proportion to what we call progress. His novels are complex, obsessive, frequently poetic and always disquieting chronicles of nature rebelling against humans, of the survival of barbarism in a world of mechanical efficiency, of entropy, anomie, breakdown, ruin.

1991: The Atrocity Exhibition reviewed by Richard Walls
The Atrocity Exhibition is Ballard's most recondite book and his most controversial, attacked for being both maddeningly obscure and perfectly obscene. It would seem at first that the qualities would be mutually exclusive -- how could something provoke both incomprehension and arousal?

1991: Julian Symons reviews The Kindness of Women
Such level realism could become dull, but never does because the book is also a nightmarish adventure story. The boy’s Christian name carries an echo of Jim Hawkins and even perhaps Jim Dixon — although this is an unlucky Jim. Throughout the book the vivid fantasy of Jim’s imagination colours the darkness and drabness of actuality. He imagines himself a pilot, Japanese and not American because he admires the Japanese.

1993: Fact & Fiction in The Kindness Of Women
The Kindness of Women was published in 1991, and in 1993 David Pringle published an article in which he sorts out the facts and the fictions in JGB's quasi-autobiographical novel.

1993: Scott Bukatman on J.G. Ballard and the Mediascape
Stanford prof Scott Bukatman, in his book Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction, spends six pages analysing JGB in terms of what he calls the Mediascape – "Reality becomes an extension of the mass media – television especially, but also color magazines, billboards, rock and roll radio, and even cinema and newspapers (TRAK news agency – "We don't report the news – We write it"). First the public's response to reality and finally reality itself are affected." Turn on and tune in

1993: A Jungian Analysis of Vermilion Sands by William Schuyler Jr.
the best reason for accepting my explication is the benefits deriving from it. Ballard's stories have an hypnotic power to them. Despite the fact that in ordinary terms they make little or no sense, the reader gets the distinct impression that there are good and sufficient reasons why all these weird things are happening, usually without getting any notion of what those reasons might be. Found & transcribed by Mike Holliday

2000: The "Second Wave" of JG Ballard Short Stories
JGB scholar John Boston picks up Ballard's trail in 1959 and discusses the four short stories that got him back into writing science fiction: Now: Zero (SCIF 12/59), The Sound-Sweep (SCIF 2/60), The Waiting Grounds (NW 11/59), and Zone of Terror (NW 3/60).

2000: White Light: J. G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun as a War Story
"War narratives as a rule follow a logic that is based on a paradoxical premise. War is depicted as a set of circumstances or a condition of existence that is the opposite of peace, that is, of ordinary existence: it is extreme and excessive, unreal, distorted, the opposite of what goes on in a civilised human community. On the other hand, war is seen as an ontologically superior realm or condition inasmuch as it allows an insight into something “deeper” than normal existence." This article by Tamás Bényei was first published in The Anachronist: The Literary Journal of the Department of English Studies, (Online journal of the University of Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary) Issue 2000, and found its way here by the usual nefarious means.

2001: The Portals Of Hell: Ballard and the Gated Community
This fascinating study by Sarah Blandy was presented to a Housing Studies Conference a week before 9/11, 2001. I've edited it down to the cogent Ballard bits, but you can access the whole paper, as well.

2001: Reconstructing High-Rise
A night patrol creeps along a dark hallway past a barricade of desks; a flash of white birds leap into the air like a fluttering flag of surrender; a dog lies drowned in the middle of a community pool... welcome to High-Rise, JG Ballard's deeply subversive study of a society in transformation. It had been almost 30 years since I read this mid-70s masterpiece. When I read it again I couldn't believe its complexity and paradox -- not the least of which is feeling good about running amok in an expensive building and cooking dogs on the balcony.

2005: "A Secret Code of Pain and Memory”: War Trauma and Narrative Organisation in the Fiction of J.G. Ballard
"It seems likely that J.G. Ballard sustained some degree of psychological trauma as a result of his incarceration in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. My aim in this paper, however, is not to attempt to establish the nature or extent of Ballard’s putative psychopathology. I want to suggest that there are striking affinities between the changing role played by his wartime experiences in his writing, and the ways in which trauma is registered and 'worked through' by its sufferers." JGB scholar Paul Crosthwaite takes a look at JGB's fiction in light of his wartime incarceration.

2005: You and Me and the Continuum: Doorman To The Atrocity Exhibition?
"Instead of the code music of the quasars, the sky now reveals the iconic presences of 1960s cultural figures, looking forward to the later sections of The Atrocity Exhibition." JGB scholar Mike Holliday takes a look at You and Me and the Continuum.

2006: The Work of Emotion: Ballard and the Death of Affect
Postgrad scholar Matt Smith has written an outstanding thesis which examines four novels of J.G. Ballard: The Atrocity Exhibition, Crash, Concrete Island and High-Rise. Citing these novels and several of JGB's seminal short stories, Matt examines the notion of a ‘Death of Affect’, charts its contours and movements, and comes to a very interesting conclusion. Comes complete with a comprehensive critical bibliography.

2006: Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Ads Be Run
For some particular reason, they call it shopping -- Richard Pearson. Other reviewers have looked at JGB's latest novel, Kingdom Come, from its main themes of suburban fascism, consumerism, and violence, but because of my career with advertising agencies, I have decided to look at a specific aspect of this novel: the character of (m)adman Richard Pearson, and the crucial ad campaign he creates which brings the book to its ultimate resolution.

2006: Is JG Ballard A (Gasp) Reactionary?

Benjamin Noys is Lecturer in English at the University of Chichester. He is the author of Georges Bataille (2000) and The Culture of Death (2005). In this essay for Sage Publishers he addresses the question of whether J.G. Ballard is reactionary. He uses the work of the psychoanalytic thinker Slavoj Zizek to analyse the ways in which his recent fiction -- Cocaine Nights (1996), Super-Cannes (2000), Millennium People (2003), and Kingdom Come (2006) -- poses disturbing questions concerning order, community and transgression within contemporary capitalist society. The analysis traces the shifting and ambiguous political effects of Ballard’s attempts to provide warnings concerning emergent cultural pathologies. This leads to an examination of how Ballard puts the generic conventions of contemporary fiction under pressure by his subversion of the crime/thriller novel. The conclusion focuses on the relative lack of controversy aroused by Ballard’s provocative fiction in Britain.

2006: Terminal Tapes: From Shanghai To Shepperton: The First International JG Ballard Conference
I managed to record about half the presenters at this fantastic two-day conference at the University of East Anglia, Norwich.

2006: Kingdom Come BBC TV Newsnight discussion
Rosie Boycott: "
Oh, incredibly cardboard-cutout characters, no emotion in it, you don't care about the characters. And I thought it was extraordinary to write a whole novel, which is really about the effects of consumerism — and a lot of the stuff, say, that professor Layard's been writing about — the study of happiness, the weakness of consumerism, and that it doesn't emotionally fulfil you or satisfy — and yet there's nobody in the book who is an actual consumer — and that he's very, very weak on his sense of product..." Text transcribed by Mike Bonsall

2008: Diane Johnson's 2008 review of Miracles of Life
He seems to be a mostly unreconstructed Sixties person, suffused with his sense of himself as an artifact of that purer and more honorable time, a member of a countercultural generation that moved through society, in someone's phrase, "like a rat through a python," a bulge discernible in the smooth musculature of the rest; but this position can now seem a valuable, even cherishable corrective.

2008: JG Ballard's Experimental Fiction
JGB has forayed into the experimental on a number of occasions, most notably his famous Ambit "advertisements" of 1967-1971. Did you know he also wrote a novel for billboards in 1958? Well, he did.

2011: Review of John Baxter's JGB Biography by David Pringle
"Baxter states that Ballard "solicited Storm's help in finding some examples of 'automobile pornography' -- not as research, but for his private delectation." In my view, the phrases "not as research" and "for his private delectation" are completely unwarranted by anything in the Ballard letter to Storm."

2011: The JGB Chat Group discusses John Baxter's JGB Biography: Part One, Part Two
Everyone on the Yahoo JG Ballard chat group had for months been keenly anticipating the arrival of John Baxter’s biography of J.G. Ballard, scheduled to be officially published on 8 September 2011. Books have a way of arriving early, however, and initial reports from the field were not encouraging. When the Sunday Times published an article based on the book it set off the following discussion on August 21, 2011…

2011: Some Random Thoughts on John Baxter's Ballard Bio
Ultimately, I think we must note Baxter’s background as a less-successful competitor to Ballard in the SF world. This bile-ography has more holes in it than the Albert Hall, none the larger than Baxter’s book-long fantasy that Ballard was both a psychopath and some kind of prescient adman who spent his entire career burnishing his reputation through constant re-writes.

2012: Pippa Tandy's PhD thesis on Ballard: Writing World War III: J.G. Ballard’s field guide to the Cold War
This thesis argues that the British writer J. G. Ballard invents a form of writing that uses a set of experimental instruments — obsessive and audacious language, images, and situations — to chart the delivery of a new, technologically constituted subject in the Cold War period during the mid to late twentieth century. This ‘science fiction’ is, according to Ballard, ‘the body’s dream of becoming a machine’. Through readings of a selection of his texts, I observe how Ballard uses his science fiction as a critical documentation of technological change. I trace the ways in which he uses strategies of experimentation and simulation informed by Freudian theory and Surrealist theory and practice and adapts them to Cold War conditions.

2012: Review of Sam Francis' The Psychological Fictions of J.G. Ballard
Serious readers of J.G. Ballard looking to expand and enhance their enjoyment of the enigmatic author’s obvious interest in and use of the psychological in his lifelong output of novels, short stories and essays will be very pleased with The Psychological Fictions of J.G. Ballard, a new academic study by Samuel Francis. Their pleasure will derive from Francis’ insights, yes, but also from his academic style, which sometimes drifts off to that conceptual wordlock of academic obscurity, but generally he maintains an accessibility open to readers with a basic knowledge of the major Freudian and Jungian principles — without coming across as condescending.

2012: Review of Mark Dery's I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
I’ll be honest: the first thing that attracted me to I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts is Mark Dery’s rather poetic dedication: “To J.G. Ballard/ Pathologist of the postmodern/ astronaut of inner space/ matchless stylist, generous mentor. He sought the gold of time.” I’m not sure about Dery as a mentor, but everything else he praises about Ballard I can re-use to praise this collection of essays, including his clever use of Andre Breton’s description of surrealism as the ‘gold of time’.