J. G. Ballard

J. G. Ballard

Infobox Writer
name = J.G. Ballard

imagesize = 225px
birthdate = Birth date and age|1930|11|15|df=y
birthplace = Shanghai, China
birthname = James Graham Ballard
deathdate =
deathplace =
occupation = novelist, short story writer
genre = science fiction, dystopia
movement = New Wave
notableworks = "Crash"
"Empire of the Sun"
"The Atrocity Exhibition"
influences = William S. Burroughs, Surrealism, Sigmund Freud
influenced = Lee Killough, Bruce Sterling,
Will Self, Alex Garland,
Ken MacLeod

James Graham Ballard (born 15 November lty|1930 in the International Settlement in Shanghai, China) is a British novelist and short story writer. He was a prominent member of the New Wave in science fiction. His best known books are the controversial "Crash", and the autobiographical novel "Empire of the Sun", both of which have been adapted to film.

The adjective "Ballardian", defined as "resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J. G. Ballard's novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments", has been included in the "Collins English Dictionary". [ [http://www.ballardian.com/about Ballardian.com] ]

A January 2008 interview in "The Sunday Times", promoting Ballard's autobiography "Miracles of Life" (2008), revealed that Ballard was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in June 2006. [cite news |first=Stuart |last=Wavell |authorlink=|title=Dissecting bodies from the twilight zone: Stuart Wavell meets JG Ballard |url=http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article3215274.ece |work=The Sunday Times |publisher=Times Newspapers |date=2008-01-20 |accessdate=2008-01-21]



Ballard's father was a chemist at a Manchester-headquartered textile firm, the Calico Printers Association, and became chairman and managing director of its subsidiary in Shanghai, the China Printing and Finishing Company. Ballard was born and raised in the Shanghai International Settlement, an area under foreign control and dominated by American and British cultural influences. He was sent to the Cathedral School in Shanghai. After the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Ballard's family were forced to temporarily evacuate their suburban home and rent a house in downtown Shanghai to avoid the shells fired by Chinese and Japanese forces.

After the Pearl Harbor attack, the Japanese occupied the International Settlement. In early spring 1943 they began interning Allied civilians, and Ballard was sent to the Lunghua Civilian Assembly Center with his parents and younger sister. He spent over two years, the remainder of World War II, in the internment camp. His family lived in a small area in G block, a two-story residence for 40 families. He attended school in the camp, the teachers being inmates from a number of professions. These experiences formed the basis of "Empire of the Sun", although Ballard exercised considerable artistic licence in writing the book (notably removing his parents from the bulk of the story). [ [http://film.guardian.co.uk/features/featurepages/0,,1722984,00.html Guardian article] ] [http://www.rickmcgrath.com/jgb.html JGB Portal] . Retrieved March 11, 2006.]

It is often supposed that Ballard's exposure to the atrocities of war at an impressionable age explains the apocalyptic and violent nature of much of his fiction. [ [http://books.guardian.co.uk/reviews/generalfiction/0,6121,587000,00.html Guardian review] ] [http://www.spikemagazine.com/0697lard.php Spike Magazine article] ] [ [http://www.spikemagazine.com/0899ballard.php second Spike Magazine article] ] Martin Amis wrote that "Empire of the Sun" "gives shape to what shaped him." However, Ballard's own account of the experience is more nuanced: "I don't think you can go through the experience of war without one's perceptions of the world being forever changed. The reassuring stage set that everyday reality in the suburban west presents to us is torn down; you see the ragged scaffolding, and then you see the truth beyond that, and it can be a frightening experience." (Livingstone 1996) But also: "I have—I won't say "happy"—not unpleasant memories of the camp. [...] I remember a lot of the casual brutality and beatings-up that went on—but at the same we children were playing a hundred and one games all the time!" (Pringle 1982)

England and Canada

In 1946, after the end of the war, Ballard went to England with his mother and sister on the "SS Arrawa". They lived in the West Country outside Plymouth, and he attended The Leys School in Cambridge. After a couple of years his mother and sister returned to China, rejoining Ballard's father, and leaving Ballard to live with his grandparents when not boarding at school. In 1949 he went on to study medicine at King's College, Cambridge, with the intention of becoming a psychiatrist.

At university, Ballard was writing avant-garde fiction heavily influenced by psychoanalysis and surrealist painters. At this time, he wanted to become a writer as well as pursue a medical career. In May 1951, when Ballard was in his second year at King's, his short story [http://www.ballardian.com/collecting-the-violent-noon-and-other-assorted-ballardiana "The Violent Noon"] (a Hemingwayesque pastiche written to please the jury) won a crime story competition and was published in the student newspaper "Varsity".

Encouraged by the publication of his story and realising that clinical medicine would not leave him time to write, Ballard abandoned his medical studies in 1952 and went to the University of London to read English Literature. However, he was asked to leave at the end of the year. Ballard then worked as a copywriter for an advertising agency and as an encyclopaedia salesman. He kept writing short fiction but found it impossible to get published.

In 1953 Ballard joined the RAF and was sent to the RCAF flight-training base in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada. There he discovered science fiction in American magazines. While in the RAF, he also wrote his first science fiction story, "Passport to Eternity", as a pastiche and summary of the American science fiction he had read.

Ballard left the RAF in 1954 after two years and returned to England. In 1955 he married Helen Mary Matthews and settled in Chiswick. Their first child (of three) was born in 1956, and his first published science fiction story, "Prima Belladonna", was printed in the December issue of "New Worlds" that year. The editor of "New Worlds", Edward J. Carnell, would remain an important supporter of Ballard's writing and would publish nearly all of his early stories.

From 1957, Ballard worked as assistant editor on the scientific journal "Chemistry and Industry". His interest in art led to his involvement in the emerging Pop Art movement, and in the late fifties he exhibited a number of collages that represented his ideas for a new kind of novel. Ballard's avant-garde inclinations did not sit comfortably in the science fiction mainstream of that time, which held attitudes he considered philistine. Briefly attending the 1957 Science Fiction Convention in London, Ballard left disillusioned and demoralised and did not write another story for a year. By the late 60s, however, he had become an editor of the avant-garde Ambit Magazine, which was more in keeping with his aesthetic ideals.

Full-time writing career

In 1960 Ballard moved with his family to Shepperton, outside London. Finding that commuting to work did not leave him time to write, Ballard decided he had to make a break and become a full-time writer. He wrote his first novel, "The Wind from Nowhere", over a two-week holiday simply to gain a foothold as a professional writer, not intending it as a "serious novel" (in books published later, it is omitted from the list of his works). When it was successfully published in January lty|1962, he quit his job at "Chemistry and Industry", and from then on supported himself and his family as a writer.

Later that year his second—breakthrough—novel, "The Drowned World", was published. It established his stature as an exciting science fiction writer in the fledgling New Wave movement. Collections of his stories started getting published, and Ballard delivered more, with frantic productivity, while pushing to expand the scope of acceptable material for science fiction with such stories as "The Terminal Beach".

In lty|1964 Ballard's wife Mary died of pneumonia, leaving him to raise their three children by himself. (The autobiographical novel "The Kindness of Women" gives a different, apparently fictional account of her death.) After this profound shock, Ballard began in lty|1965 to write the stories that would become "The Atrocity Exhibition", while continuing to produce stories within the science fiction genre.

"The Atrocity Exhibition" proved controversial (it was the subject of an obscenity trial, and in the United States, publisher Doubleday destroyed almost the entire print run before it was distributed), but it also marked Ballard's breakthrough as a literary writer. It remains one of his seminal works, and was filmed in fy|2001.

One chapter of "The Atrocity Exhibition" is titled "Crash!", and in lty|1970 Ballard organised an exhibition of crashed cars at the New Arts Laboratory, appropriately called "Crashed Cars". The crashed vehicles were displayed without commentary, inspiring vitriolic responses and vandalism. (Ballard 1993) In both the story and the art exhibition, Ballard explored the sexual potential of car crashes, a preoccupation which culminated in the novel "Crash" in lty|1973.

The main character of "Crash" is called James Ballard and lives in Shepperton (though other biographical details do not match the writer), and curiosity about the relationship between the character and his author gained fuel when Ballard suffered a serious automobile accident shortly after completing the novel. (Ballard 1993) Regardless of real-life basis, "Crash" proved just as controversial as "The Atrocity Exhibition", especially when it was later filmed by David Cronenberg.

Although Ballard continued to write throughout the seventies and eighties, his breakthrough into the mainstream came only with "Empire of the Sun", based on his years in Shanghai and the Lunghua internment camp. It established Ballard's name in the literary mainstream and was awarded the lty|1984 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, although the books that followed failed to achieve the same degree of success. "Empire of the Sun" was filmed by Steven Spielberg in fy|1987, starring a young Christian Bale as Jim (Ballard). Ballard himself appears briefly in the film, and he has described the experience of seeing his childhood memories reenacted and reinterpreted as bizarre. [ [http://film.guardian.co.uk/features/featurepages/0,,1722984,00.html Guardian feature] ]

Ballard continues to write (of his recent novels, "Cocaine Nights" was particularly well received), and also contributes occasional journalism and criticism to the British press. His latest book as of 2008 is his autobiography "Miracles Of Life", written after he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer (which has spread to his spine and ribs) in June 2006.

Dystopian fiction

Those who know Ballard from his autobiographical novels will not be prepared for the subject matter that Ballard most commonly pursues, as his most common genre is dystopia. His most celebrated novel in this regard is "Crash", in which cars symbolise the mechanisation of the world and man's capacity to destroy himself with the technology he creates; the characters (the protagonist, called Ballard, included) become increasingly obsessed with the violent psychosexuality of car crashes in general, and celebrity car crashes in particular. Ballard's disturbing novel was turned into a controversial – and likewise disturbing – cerebral film by David Cronenberg.

Particularly revered among Ballard's admirers is his short story collection "Vermilion Sands", set in an eponymous desert resort town inhabited by forgotten starlets, insane heirs, very eccentric artists, and the merchants and bizarre servants who provide for them. Each story features peculiarly exotic technology such as poetry-composing computers, orchids with operatic voices and egos to match, phototropic self-painting canvasses, etc. In keeping with Ballard's central themes, most notably technologically mediated masochism, these tawdry and weird technologies service the dark and hidden desires and schemes of the human castaways who occupy Vermilion Sands, typically with psychologically grotesque and physically fatal results. In his introduction to "Vermilion Sands", Ballard cites this as his favorite collection.

In a similar vein, his collection "Memories of the Space Age" explores many varieties of individual and collective psychological fallout from –and initial deep archetypal motivations for– the American space exploration boom of the 1960s and 1970s.

In addition to his novels, Ballard has made extensive use of the short story form. Many of his earliest published works in the 1950s and 1960s were short stories.


On 13 December ytv|1965, BBC Two screened an adaptation of the short story "Thirteen to Centaurus" directed by Peter Potter. The one-hour drama formed part of the first season of "Out of the Unknown" and starred Donald Houston as Dr Francis and James Hunter as Abel Granger.

In ytv|2003, Ballard's short story "The Enormous Space" (first published in the Science fiction magazine "Interzone" in lty|1989, subsequently printed in the collection of Ballard's short stories "War Fever") was adapted into an hour-long television film for the BBC entitled "Home" by Richard Curson Smith, who also directed it. The plot follows a middle class man who chooses to abandon the outside world and restrict himself to his house, becoming a hermit.

Critique and influence

Ballard's fiction is sophisticated, often bizarre, and a constant challenge to the cognitive and aesthetic preconceptions of his readers. As Martin Amis has written: "Ballard is quite unlike anyone else; indeed, he seems to address a different - a disused - part of the reader's brain." Because of this tendency to upset readers in order to enlighten them, Ballard does not enjoy a mass-market following, but he is recognised by critics as one of the UK's most prominent writers. He has been influential beyond his mass market success; he is cited as perhaps the most important forebear of the cyberpunk movement by Bruce Sterling in his introduction to the seminal "Mirrorshades" anthology. Also, his parody (or psychoanalysis) of American politics, the pamphlet "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan" (subsequently included as a chapter in his experimental novel "The Atrocity Exhibition"), was photocopied and distributed by pranksters at the 1980 Republican National Convention. In the early 1970s, Bill Butler, a bookseller in Brighton, was prosecuted under U.K. obscenity laws for selling this pamphlet.

According to Brian McHale, "The Atrocity Exhibition "is an essentially post-modern text operating with sci-fi topoi. [Brian McHale, "Postmodernist Fiction" ISBN 978-0415045131]

In "Simulacra and Simulation", Jean Baudrillard hailed "Crash" as the first great novel of the universe of simulation.

Lee Killough directly cites his seminal "Vermilion Sands" short stories as the inspiration for her collection "Aventine", also a backwater resort for celebrities and eccentrics where bizarre or frivolous novelty technology facilitates the expression of dark intents and drives.

Popular music

Ballard has had a noticeable influence on popular music, where his work has been used as a basis for lyrical imagery, particularly amongst British post-punk groups. Examples include albums such as "Metamatic" by John Foxx, various songs by Joy Division (most famously "The Atrocity Exhibition" from "Closer") and "Warm Leatherette" by The Normal. Trevor Horn credits Ballard's story, "The Sound-Sweep," with inspiring The Buggles' hit, "Video Killed the Radio Star", and Buggles' second album included a song entitled "Vermillion Sands."

Jawbox frontman J. Robbins has cited J.G. Ballard as his favorite writer, and used the phrase "concrete island" in the Jawbox song "Grip". The Jawbox song "Motorist" is also heavily influenced by the Ballard novels, "Crash" and "Concrete Island".

On their "PXR5 "album, the English psychedelic rock band Hawkwind included the song "High Rise", inspired by both the novel of the same name, and by the short story "The Man on the 99th Floor".

UK Dubstep pioneer Kode9, founder of the influential Hyperdub label, cites Ballard's fiction as a main musical influence as well.

The 2007 album by the English 'new rave' act the Klaxons takes its name from Ballard's collection of short stories "Myths of the Near Future".

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke posted extracts from Ballard's anti-consumerist novel "Kingdom Come" on the band's blog, Dead Air Space, in the months leading up to the release of their 2007 album, "In Rainbows".

Andrew Eldritch, frontman of rock group The Sisters of Mercy has posted his favourite works of Ballard on his site, which contains "Crash, The Atrocity Exhibition, High Rise, Low-Flying Aircraft, The Unlimited Dream Company" and "Myths Of The Near Future". Some of Eldritch' lyrics can be compared to Ballard's world of technology, dystopia and deranged eroticism. ("Crash and Burn" and "Doktor Jeep").



Short story collections


*"" (lty|1996)
*"Miracles of Life" (Autobiography; lty|2008)



*When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970) dir. Val Guest
*Chronopolis (1982) dir. Piotr Kamler
*Empire of the Sun (1987) dir. Steven Spielberg
*Crash (1996) dir. David Cronenberg
* [http://www.reel23.com The Atrocity Exhibition] (2001) dir. Jonathan Weiss
* [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0190975/ Aparelho Voador a Baixa Altitude] (2002), dir. Solveig Nordlund. A Portuguese adaptation of the short story "Low Flying Aircraft".


*Thirteen to Centaurus (ytv|1965) dir. Peter Potter (BBC Two)
*Home (ytv|2003) dir. Richard Curson Smith (BBC Four)




*Ballard, J.G. (1984). "Empire of the Sun". ISBN 0-00-654700-1.
*Ballard, J.G. (1991). "The Kindness of Women". ISBN 0-00-654701-X.
*Ballard, J.G. (1993). "The Atrocity Exhibition" (expanded and annotated edition). ISBN 0-00-711686-1.
*Ballard, J.G. (2006). " [http://film.guardian.co.uk/features/featurepages/0,,1722984,00.html Look back at Empire] ". "The Guardian", March 4, 2006.
*Baxter, J. (2001). " [http://www.litencyc.com/php/speople.php?rec=true&UID=235 J.G. Ballard] ". "The Literary Encyclopedia". Retrieved March 11, 2006.
* [http://www.collins.co.uk/books.aspx?book=30590 Collins English Dictionary] . ISBN 0-00-719153-7. Quoted in [http://www.ballardian.com Ballardian: The World of JG Ballard] . Retrieved March 11, 2006.
*Cowley, J. (2001). " [http://books.guardian.co.uk/reviews/generalfiction/0,6121,587000,00.html The Ballard of Shanghai jail] ". Review of "The Complete Stories" by J.G. Ballard. "The Observer", November 4, 2001. Retrieved March 11, 2006.
* Gasiorek, A. (2005). "J. G. Ballard". Manchester University Press. ISBN 9780719070532
*Hall, C. " [http://www.spikemagazine.com/0697lard.php Extreme Metaphor: A Crash Course in the Fiction of JG Ballard] ". Retrieved March 11, 2006.
*Livingstone, D.B. (1996?). " [http://www.spikemagazine.com/0899ballard.php Prophet with Honour] ". Retrieved March 12, 2006.
*Luckhurst, R. (1998). "The Angle Between Two Walls: The Fiction of J. G. Ballard". Liverpool University Press. ISBN 9780853238317
*McGrath, R. [http://www.rickmcgrath.com/jgb.html JG Ballard Book Collection] . Retrieved March 11, 2006.
*Pringle, D. (Ed.) and Ballard, J.G. (1982). "From Shanghai to Shepperton". "Re/Search" 8/9: J.G. Ballard: 112-124. ISBN 0-940642-08-5.
*V. Vale (Ed.) (2005). "J.G. Ballard: Conversations" ( [http://www.researchpubs.com/books/jgbctoc.php excerpts] ). RE/Search Publications. ISBN 1-889307-13-0
*V. Vale (Ed.) and Ryan, Mike (Ed). (2005). "J.G. Ballard: Quotes" ( [http://www.researchpubs.com/features/jgbqu.php excerpts] ). RE/Search Publications. ISBN 1-889307-12-2

External links

* [http://www.ballardian.com Ballardian: The World of JG Ballard] Current and archival Ballard-related news and information, essays and reviews on Ballard and interviews with Ballard.
* [http://www.jgballard.com jgballard.com] Unofficial site with extensive Ballard links
* [http://www.city-journal.org/2008/18_1_otbie-ballard.html The Marriage of Reason and Nightmare, "City Journal," Winter 2008]
* [http://www.cronenbergcrash.com JG Ballard with Cronenberg: Crash] Site about Crash, and the movie based on the novel.
*contemporary writers|id=11
* [http://www.rickmcgrath.com/jgballard/jgb_secondarybiblio.html The Critical Exhibition] - JGB's Online Secondary Bibliography
* [http://www.rickmcgrath.com/jgb.html Terminal Collection] - Scans of JGB first editions, essays and reviews on Ballard and interviews with Ballard.
* [http://photoimg.enjoyjapan.naver.com/view/enjoybbs/viewphoto/phistory/48000/47854.gifJ. G. Ballard and his family on the list of the interment camp] at [http://www.jacar.go.jp/english/index.html Japan Center for Asian Historical Records]
* [http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/the_tls/article3537987.ece "Miracles of Life" reviewed by Karl Miller] in the [http://www.the-tls.co.uk TLS] , March 12th 2008
* [http://research.hrc.utexas.edu:8080/hrcxtf/view?docId=ead/00305.xml&query=ballard&query-join=and Manuscripts for "The Unlimited Dream Company"] at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin
* [http://www.nybooks.com/articles/21852 J.G. Ballard: The Glow of the Prophet] Diane Johnson article on Ballard from "The New York Review of Books" (sub. req.)

NAME= Ballard, J.G.
ALTERNATIVE NAMES=Ballard, James Graham
SHORT DESCRIPTION= British novelist, short fiction writer
DATE OF BIRTH= Birth date and age|1930|11|15|mf=y
PLACE OF BIRTH= Shanghai, China

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