Project For A New Novel
Project for a New Novel

In 1958 JG Ballard created Project For A New Novel -- an entire novel reduced to look like two-page magazine spreads, and planned to be posted on billboards. According to Ballard’s friend and Ambit editor, Dr. Martin Bax, “It’s eight frames photocopied with famous Ballard characters like Coma and Kline. Most of the text you can’t read because when you see things on billboards you don’t read the small print, so the text is deliberately blurred – you can only read the headlines and some remarks. I don’t know why I never published it… I had it framed some years ago. It hangs above my mantelpiece”.

As Ballard himself describes the Project: "(These are) a series of four facing-page spreads that were specimen pages I put together in the late 50s... sample pages of a new kind of novel, entirely consisting of magazine-style headlines and layouts, with a deliberately meaningless text, the idea being that the imaginative content could be carried by the headlines and overall design, so making obsolete the need for a traditional text except for virtually decorative purposes... The pages from the Project For A New Novel were made at a time when I was working on a chemical society journal in London, and the lettering was taken from the US magazine Chemical and Engineering News  -- I liked the stylish typography. I also like the scientific content, and used stories from Chem. Eng. News to provide the text of my novel. Curiously enough, far from being meaningless, the science news stories somehow become fictionalized by the headings around them."

But more than that, the content of the Project must have struck a deep psychological chord with Ballard, and many of the characters and concerns in Project have resurfaced over the years, most notably in the 1964 short story, The Terminal Beach, and from 1965 to 1968 when Ballard wrote the first seven “chapters” of The Atrocity Exhibition. Ballard’s “collage of things” spawned such characters as Coma, Kline and Xero, and such phrases as “the terminal beach”, “Mr F is Mr F”, “thoracic drop” “intertime” “T-12” and many more Ballardian tropes now familiar to his readers today. Moreover, in July 2008, a new discovery was made at the “J.G. Ballard: Autopsy of the New Millennium” exhibition at Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Culture. The exhibition organizers had obtained Dr Bax’s framed copy of Project For A New Novel, and precisely 50 years since it was created it was discovered it was comprised of not four double-page spreads, but five such layouts. The newfound spread is reproduced below: