An Interview by Paul Di Filippo
Illustrated by Ferret
INTERVIEWER'S NOTE -- The following exchange was conducted via the mails, over several weeks. Mister Ballard's responses took the form of energetic red penmanship across the pages containing my questions, supplemented by arrows pointing to and circles enclosing significant words. In lieu of reproducing this kinetic display, I've taken the liberty of using bracketed phrases where needed to clear up the meaning of an answer.
"Gray's Anatomy is the finest novel ever written." - J.G. Ballard.
I. PERSONAL IN/EXTRUSIONS
The SEMINAL VESICLES are two lobulated membranous pouches
1) Do you pronounce your name "BAL-lard' or "bal-LARD?"
Yes [to the former, "BAL-lard'].
placed between the base of the bladder and the rectum
2) You've mentioned elsewhere (RE/Search 8/9) a "maverick" side to your mother's father. Are there any other Ballard ancestors who exhibited artistic talents or obsessional attitudes, whom you might know of through family legends?
No -- but in Victorian and Edwardian England (and in the U.S., I imagine) there must have been an enormous amount of suppressed eccentricity. We, by contrast, can let everything hang out, and we can see how boring most of us are. Bourgeoisification threatens everything.
serving as reservoirs for the semen, and secreting a fluid
3) How do your own children react to your work? Do they read your books? Have they shown any inclinations toward producing "art" of their own?
I don't think they've ever read anything of mine -- they don't need to, as they know me so well. All have a great feel for the arts.
to be added to the secretion of the testicles. Each sac
4) Are you a grandfather yet? Any immediate prospects of becoming one? What do you feel your role might be in raising and/or educating any hypothetical grandchildren?
No. I would hesitate to try to teach anyone anything.
is somewhat pyramidal in form, the broad end being
5) Moving away from hearth and kin: Do you "enjoy" any local notoriety in Shepperton? Are you recognized by strangers on your walks and errands? In short, have you become a "celebrity?"
No. Writers in England enjoy no celebrity, unlike France. TV culture rules here. Tom Jones's son went to the same school as my son and Jones's parents were often seen in Shepperton. In a supermarket here I was once stopped by an almost hysterical woman who said: "Tom Jones's mother!!"
directed backward and the narrow end forward toward
6) Does the local library own any or all of your books? Out of curiosity, have you ever checked to see whether they are frequently borrowed?
Yes [to all]. I've never checked.
the prostate. They measure about 2.5 inches in length,
7) What kind of car do you drive nowadays?
A German-made Ford Capri.
about five lines in breadth, and two or three lines in thickness. They
8) Do you wash and polish your car yourself, or make use of a professional service?
Neither -- I rely on the natural rainfall of these islands. My car's bodywork is an accurate memory of the past month's weather.
vary, however, in size, not only in different individuals, but also
9) As of 1982, you did not own a VCR. Have you purchased one since? If so, what new kinds of movie-viewing patterns have you fallen into?
Yes -- I'm a keen renter of videos. I love U.S. thrillers -- Cop, The Hitcher, Cohen and Tate, etc... Also tough French gangster movies.
in the same individual on the two sides. Their upper surface
10) Now that Miami Vice is off the air, do you have any new favorite television shows, American or British ?
Miami Vice's departure is a great loss -- nothing seems to have taken its place. British-made TV is abysmally bad. The British tend to settle their differences through words, not actions, so have produced great drama (Shakespeare) and a great literature, but few great films!
is in contact with the base of the bladder, extending from near the
11) Were you a fan of Monty Python?
Yes. Surrealism ruled British life in the late '60's when they were transmitted.
termination of the ureters to the base of the prostate gland. Their
12) Do you prefer "serious" newspapers, or "trashy" ones such as those published by Rupert Murdoch?
I read The Times, Guardian and serious Sundays. British tabloids are pretty charmless -- though I do like the idea of popular journalism. I prefer French, German and Italian popular newsmagazines -- Oggi, Paris-Match, Quick, etc.
under surface rests upon the rectum, from which they are separated
13) Do you have a favorite Page Three girl?
All women are beautiful.
by the recto-vesical fascia. Their posterior extremities diverge
14) Do you consider yourself religious. I detect flavors of both Gnosticism and Zen in your work; the former in the belief that the world of the senses is merely a shadow of the hyperworld; the latter in a sense of mind as the ultimate reality.
No [I don't consider myself religious] but I accept that the world presented to our senses is very much an artificial construct and that the imagination can break through the conventional picture our central nervous systems have created.
from each other. Their anterior extremities are pointed, and
15) Do you really favor Freud's rather dogmatic and limited theories over what I see as Jung's deeper and richer philosophy? And what do you make of the many new revelations about Freud's "unethical" relationships with his patients?
I don't think they are rivals. [And] doctors have enjoyed complex relationships with their patients since time immemorial. Doctors are no more to be trusted than lawyers or estate agents.
converge toward the base of the prostate gland, where each joins
16) Have you ever had any bad treatment at the hands of medical doctors? Any medical horror stories, personal or otherwise, you would care to share with us?
No. I've rarely been ill, touch wood.
with the corresponding vas deferens to form the ejaculatory duct.
17) Have you thought any further about moving from Shepperton, now that your children are grown? Any new destinations in mind?
Yes. I would like to live in Miami or Los Angeles, but will probably have to settle for the French Riviera.
Along the inner margin of each vesicula runs the enlarged and convoluted vas deferens.
11. (UN)SOCIAL (T)ISSUES
DISSECTION OF THE ORBITAL REGION. To open the cavity of the orbit
1) Would you care to comment about the meaning of Ralph Nader's resurgent popularity?
If true, this suggests a period of uncertainty is upon us. Nader has always thrived during periods of falling national confidence.
remove the skull-cap and brain; then saw through the frontal
2) Are you aware of a public-service ad campaign in the US which utilizes talking auto-crash dummies to convince people to drive safely?
No. [It] seems a good idea, but the New Puritans here want to censor the news.
bone at the inner extremity of the supraorbital ridge, and
3) Would you care to comment about the iconography of Jackie Onassis becoming a book editor? Would you let her edit one of your novels?
I think she probably died in November, 1963, and has been trying without much success to resurrect herself, poor woman.
externally at its junction with the malar. Break in pieces the
4) You have said (RE/Search 8/9) that stars such as Monroe were larger-than-life in a way not enjoyed by modern media celebrities. Yet what do you make of both Madonna and Michael Jackson, who seem to embody some of the oldtime charisma?
They lack magic. For me they are as charismatic as last year's TV commercials: no style, no mystery, no threat, no promise. Where is the look that pierces walls?
thin roof of the orbit by a few slight blows of the hammer, and
5) Were the Sixties, as I believe, truly a unique time? If you agree, would you care to identify what promoted that curious synergy of music, politics, art and personal freedom of expression? Do you foresee such conditions recurring ever again?
Yes, [those years were] unique. They occurred at the border zone between two epochs: the pre-electronic [environment] and the total media environment. This tension produced the great excitements of the '60's.
take it away; drive forward the superciliary portion of
6) Do you feel that underground publications offer an alternative to domination of the culture by the mass media?
Yes, they often show far more vitality and originality than mainstream publications. The original Search and Destroy one could spend hours reading. It was full of new and exciting material. Of course, other underground publications are self-indulgent and can be flicked through in a moment.
the frontal bone by a smart stroke, but do not remove it, as that would
7) What do you make of "virtual reality," the simulation/ stimulation of sensual experience by means of goggles, headphones and even a bodysuit with pressure-nodes?
The domestic equivalent, when it comes, will transform the world. There is nothing else to look forward to.
destroy the pulley of the Obliquus superior. When the fragments
8) What are your current sources of scientific information? Do you read any of the popular science magazines such as Omni?
Omni isn't available over here. I read numerous scientific journals.
are cleared away, the perlosteum of the orbit will be exposed; this
9) What are your feelings about the current attention science enjoys in the media, the "celebritization" of science and individual scientists such as Sagan and Hawking?
Tiresome, but nothing so pervasive as it might be.
being removed, together with the fat which fills the cavity of the
10) Would you care to comment on the iconography/ symbolism of NASA's recent failures: the Challenger explosion, the botching of the deployment of the Hubble telescope, etc.?
I always prophesied that the Space Age was over. They should build spaceships of rice-paper and bamboo, decorated with poems.
orbit, the several muscles of this region can be examined.
11) What do you make of the Green Movement?
Touchingly naive, a special kind of infantilism. One might as well try to save the smallpox virus.
The dissection will be facilitated by distending the globe of
12) Would you care to comment on this equation: Iraq = oil petrol = cars?
Saddam's actions have something in common with Japan's at Pearl Harbor (provoked by the U.S. oil embargo in 1941). 1 think he should seriously think about buying a rickshaw. Oil is thicker than blood.
the eye. In order to effect this, puncture the optic nerve near
13) What subsurface impulses on the part of the consumer does the domination of the US car market by the Japanese represent?
Is this true? When I was in the U.S. in 1987 and '88 the roads seemed full of Detroit steel. I can't see America turning its back on its greatest icon.
the eyeball with a curved needle, and push the needle onward
14) Do you feel any affinity for modern Communist China? What are your thoughts on the recent events culminating in Tiannamnen Square? Would you care to visit China, especially Shanghai?
No [affinity felt]. [The recent events are] tragic, but always to be expected. China is as ruthless toward its own citizens as Asiatic despots have always been. The U.S.S.R. is predominantly an Asiatic nation. Yes, [I'd like to visit China and] I hope to next year.
into the globe; insert the point of a blowpipe through
15) After every US census, a point is picked to represent the population center of the country. It has been moving steadily south and west for decades, and recently crossed the Mississippi for the first time in history. What kind of psychic sea-change do you see this as marking?
A move toward perpetual leisure, when the machines and computers will get on with the work by themselves.
this aperture, and force a little air into the cavity
16) Do you like the new portrait of the aging Queen on the five pound note? What does this say about Great Britain?
I don't read my banknotes -- perhaps they constitute an invisible literature. U.S. banknotes have strange Masonic symbols, the pyramid and the eye.
of the eyeball; then apply a ligature round the nerve so as
17) Do you have any thoughts about two phrases much banded about recently: "The end of history" and "The end of nature?"
Both are true. Only the artificial can be completely real.
to prevent the air from escaping.
III. "WHENEVER I HEAR THE WORD 'ART,' I REACH FOR MY CHECKBOOK."
The TRIFACIAL NERVE may be affected in its entirety, or its sensory
1) Have you ever read a contemporary genre fantasy? If so, do you feel saddened by the degeneration of the fantasy mode from the work of such visionaries as George MacDonald and Charles Williams and David Lindsay to its current state of endless Tolkien-trilogy ripoffs?
I don't read either fantasy or SF anymore. Tolkien has had a disastrous influence.
or motor root may be affected, or one of its primary main
2) What do you think of the current state of SF?
Much healthier since the arrival of the so-called cyberpunks. They [are] An important sign that SF is returning to reality again. Most encouraging.
divisions. In injury to the sensory root there is anaesthesia of the
3) Do you find any validity in the term "postmodern," as applied to fiction, architecture, etc., or do you believe it is merely a facade for retrogressive techniques and concerns?
Yes, [it's retrogressive]. Bogus nostalgia and theme-parkism, as far as architecture is concerned. As for the novel, post-modemism represents a dead-end, a desperate admission that the author has nothing to say and can only think of evermore devious ways of disguising the fact.
half of the face on the side of the lesion, with the exception of
4) What has happened to the experimental urge among writers? Can you point to a single innovator equal to, say, Beckett, among contemporary authors?
Burroughs [is such an innovator]. [But] bourgeois life is crushing the imagination from this planet. In due course this will provoke a backlash, since the imagination can never be wholly repressed. A new surrealism will probably be born.
the skin over the parotid gland; insensibility of the conjunctiva,
5) Are you heartened by the resurgence of figurative painting, some of it rather surrealistic?
Yes. Most encouraging.
followed by destructive inflammation of the cornea, partly from
6) Do you like Balthus's work?
Yes. There should be far more eroticism in our lives.
loss of trophic influence, and partly from the irritation produced
7) Would you like to comment on Thomas Pynchon's observation: "Surrealism [is in part] combining inside the same frame elements not normally found together to produce illogical and startling effects. What I had to learn later on was the necessity of managing this procedure with some degree of care and skill: any old combination of details will not do."
True, how true ...
by the presence of foreign bodies on it, which are not perceived by
8) Speaking of Pynchon, could we begin a survey of your reactions to certain authors by asking what you think of his work, specifically his latest book, Vineland?
I have not read it. [Pynchon's work is] over-written in that American idiomatic way.
the patient, and therefore not expelled by the act of winking;
9) What about William Gaddis?
Unreadable. Post-modernism trapped inside an Escher staircase.
dryness of the nose, loss to a considerable extent of the sense of
10) Barry Malzberg?
Highly intelligent and always interesting.
taste, and diminished secretion of the lachrymal and salivary
11) Philip K. Dick?
One of the most original American SF writers.
glands. In injury to the motor root there is impaired action of the
12) Umberto Eco?
Unreadable. A marketing triumph, not intelligent and original enough. I much prefer Baudrillard, especially his America.
lower jaw from paralysis of the muscles of mastication on the
13) Italo Calvino?
Interesting. But I sense more marketing.
affected side. The TRIFACIAL NERVE is often the seat of neuralgia,
14) Could I get your reaction to the rather bizarre assertion that your work bears secret affinities to that of the cult horror writer, H. P. Lovecraft, with its emphasis on "alien geometries," "the outsider," and landscapes as symbols of mental states?
I've never read him, but there may well be correspondences.
and each of the three divisions has been divided or a portion of
15) 1 understand David Cronenberg is filming Crash. What has your involvement been with this project?
I've met Cronenberg and had an interesting meeting. He impressed me as extremely thoughtful and intelligent. Of course, he is an original film maker. Scanners is a masterpiece of its kind.
the nerve excised for this affection. The supra-orbital nerve may
16) Do you feel you've had a major impact on younger writers? Do you see yourself leaving any literary heirs?
I've no idea.
be exposed by making an incision an inch and a half in length along
17) Do you like the work of famous mythophile Joseph Campbell? What do you make of the fact that his rather challenging studies have, since recent television exposure, become immensely popular in the U.S.?
Back in the early 1950's I was very impressed by Hero With 1000 Faces. The TV series was a pale imitation, fatally damaged by the talkshow presenter, who once had been a U.S. Presidential press spokesman -- I believe the worst possible training to convey Campbell's ideas. Sadly, for once, American TV showed its limitations -- or perhaps the limitations of [all] TV.
the supra-orbital margin below the eyebrow, which is to be drawn
18) Regarding the current spate of censorship in the US and around the World: In terms of sheer numbers, for every writer who is banned, there are several artists in other media who garner more publicity and outrage. Does this point to the diminished influence of the written word in today's culture?
The written word is under threat, and has been for a long time, but is unique in a vital respect: a relationship of unparalleled closeness between reader and writer. Almost everything else -- film, drama, ballet, even painting and sculpture -- are produced by committees.
upward, the centre of the incision corresponding to the supra-orbital notch
IV. THE BALLARD EXHIBITION
The LABIA MAJORA are two prominent longtitudinal cutaneous folds extending downward
1) Does the new edition of The Atrocity Exhibition presage further illustrated editions of your work? Would you like to retroactively illustrate other of your older novels?
No. RE/Search's Atrocity Exhibition is a remarkably brilliant piece of design and publishing, as are all RE/Search publications.
from the mons Veneris to the anterior boundary of the perinaeum, and enclosing the common
2) In the annotation on page 9, you mention that TAE should have borne the dedication "To The Insane." Would you subscribe to Dali's statement that "The only difference between me and a madman is that I am not mad!"?
Yes. I would say that the only difference between me and a madman is that I am mad.
urino-sexual opening. Each lablum has two surfaces, an outer, which is pigmented and
3) Did the paragraph "titles" precede the writing of the individual paragraphs, or follow them? Were you working from free-association here also?
[The titles] followed [the composition].
covered with strong, crisp hairs; and an inner, which is smooth and
4) The terror of the inorganic is a constant theme in TAE, and the rest of your work. In this light, how do you regard the quest for Artificial Intelligence, and the possibility that humanity may soon be supplanted by its silicon creations?
[It's] inevitable. As others have suggested, the biological phase of intelligent existence may be only a brief one belonging to the more primitive epochs.
is beset with large sebaceous follicles and is continuous with the
5) Do you feel that your short paragraphs presaged the diminished attention span of modern readers and television viewers, that they correspond to "sound-bites?"
genito-urinary tract; between the two there is a considerable quantity of
6) On page 74, you mention Buddy Holly and his death. What are your thoughts on the nearly identical demise of musician Stevie Ray Vaughan in a recent helicopter crash? It seemed, from what I saw personally, to evoke a reaction akin to that attending John Lennon's death, although on a much smaller scale. Will Vaughan enter that realm of immortalized victims of modern technology?
Scarcely any connection. Vaughan chose his death.
areolar tissue, fat, and a tissue resembling the dartos of the
7) Assuming the US and the USSR ever cooperate on a joint venture to Mars, do you anticipate such a mission evoking the same psychic tides as the Apollo missions which form so large a part of TAE?
No. The Space Age is over for the moment. Space Age II will probably have to wait until the virtual-reality systems can recreate the mystery and excitement of space travel in the domestic living room.
scrotum, besides vessels, nerves and glands. The labla are thicker
8) Why have assassinations of famous figures practically ceased in the US? Psychic readjustments, or simply success of the previous murders in maintaining the status quo? It seems that with a disintegrating, uncertain environment such as we are experiencing today, the number of attempted murders of authority figures should have risen. Instead, we see more mass murders of innocent bystanders, patrons of McDonald's, schoolchildren, and the like.
An intriguing question. I think the nature of celebrity has changed: it is perceived today as rather false and synthetic (Madonna, Prince, etc. -- no light) and therefore the famous are not seen as worthy of the assassin's attentions. By contrast, innocent bystanders, by virtue of their innocence and anonymity, seem all the more desirable. Their very anonymity makes them a special kind of celebrity.
in front, where they form by their meeting the anterior
9) Has the public -- the racial subconscious, if you will -- finally assimilated Einstein's nearly century-old revelations about the nature of time and space? If not, then how are we ever to deal with even newer bombshells from quantum physics, chaos theory and the like?
No, [the true nature of space and time have not been assimilated]. Relativity lies beyond the horizon of popular comprehension.
commissure. Posteriorly they are not really joined,
10) Has the issue of Vietnam -- which permeates TAE -- finally been integrated into the mass mind? What role has Hollywood played in this?
Hollywood is trying to restart the war in Vietnam. But the experiment is likely to be a failure. War has never touched the U.S. at first hand, and the conventions of the entertainment movie can't cope with the realities of war. Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, and Full Metal Jacket are all disasters. The best [war] film (apart from the Japanese Fires on the Plain and The Burmese Harp) is Klimov's Come and See, about Russian partisans. One of the twenty best films ever made.
but appear to become lost in the neighboring integument,
11) Do the cyclical weight losses and gains of Elizabeth Taylor mimic any personal upheavals in your own life?
No. Actually, she isn't my type. A pity. But she is the last of the oldstyle Hollywood stars. I prefer Cher, or the young Ingrid Thulin (in Mai Zetterling's Night Games).
terminating close to, and nearly parallel with, each other.