Historical & Cultural Violence

Pippa Tandy
J.G. Ballard and the Call Sign of Sputnik-1

19 Minutes


The paper will be an analysis of J.G. Ballard’s writing in the context of Cold War iconography. 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 a reading of a selection of his texts, and a set of interventions in the form of projected images, I will observe how Ballard uses his science fiction as a critical documentation of technological change. I will trace the ways in which he uses strategies of experimentation and simulation informed by Freudian theory and Surrealist theory and practice and adapts these to Cold War conditions. I will analyse his obsessive engagement with the dynamic and compelling technological-cultural landscape — in which ‘the call sign of Sputnik-1 could be heard on one’s radio like the advance beacon of the new universe’ — and his persistent pursuit of a kind of writing that is the measure of his times.

Biographical note: Pippa Tandy completed a doctoral thesis titled ‘Writing World War III: J. G. Ballard’s Field Guide to the Cold War’ in 2005, and is currently preparing her research for publication. She is particularly interested in the ways that images can be used critically to investigate and comment on Ballard’s work. This interest has led her to a photographic investigation of the technological landscape of her environment in East Perth, Western Australia, and she has shown her images in a number of exhibitions in recent years. She is Head of English at Perth College.