Category Archives: j.g. ballard

The Pornography of Infinity

China MiƩville on JG Ballard:

More than a quarter-century later, Ballard inverted the conceit with “The Enormous Space,” in which a man’s refusal to leave a suburban house bloats it until, psychotic, he perceives it as a universe. (In a slighter variation, “Report on an Unidentified Space Station,” the entirety of our cosmos exists within one set of rooms.) The pornography of infinity is a longstanding science fiction trope. H.G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke and Olaf Stapledon, among many others, counterpose the vasty deeps of the universe, the interplanetary sublime, with a specklike human subjectivity to produce a by-now rather well-worn satori of unconvincing humility. (This is brilliantly and affectionately parodied by Douglas Adams in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, with its Total Perspective Vortex.) In “The Enormous Space,” Ballard’s skewed fidelity to the trope transforms the banal topography of a living room or a kitchen into something unthinkable, and we respond with genuine awe at the narrator’s lunatic Scott-of-the-Antarctic explorations of his kitchen. Whether they contract or expand, Ballard’s rooms never change, and never let us go.

Effective at Destroying the Last Vestiges of British Morality

Harper’s nice essay on JG Ballard is liberated from behind the pay wall. Enjoy:

Sometime in the 1960s, however, a rawer Britain emerged. One way out of dying Britishness was ribaldry or irony, and at this the novelist Kingsley Amis, the dramatist John Osborne, and the critic Kenneth Tynan excelled. Another less obvious but equally effective route is evident in the strange, half-underground career of J. G. Ballard, who went from being a science-fiction writer through to avant-gardism of a sort, ending up as a national sage. Like the Orwell of 1984, as well as Daniel Defoe and Thomas Hobbes, Ballard was an arch-dystopian, making his debut amid the postwar British scene of cracked Bakelite, chipped teacups, and squadrons of bombers on the flatlands of East Anglia, readied for Armageddon. He didn’t believe that human actions were rational or easily fathomable, and it was probably this, more than any view of history or aesthetic theory, that led him away from what he regarded as the staleness and artificiality of contemporary literature. He was to prove formidably effective in destroying the last vestiges of the British official morality of cheeriness and stiffened upper lips, and you can still see people reading Ballard in the crowded, ramshackle carriages of the London Underground, absorbing a whiff of catastrophe between the familiar, blandly named tube stations, as their forebears must have done when turning the pages of H. G. Wells’s end-of-civilization fantasies.

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