J. G. Ballard: 1930-2009

The British author J.G. Ballard, who published more than thirty books of fiction, short stories, and essays over nearly five decades, died yesterday. His pessimistic and prescient meditations on technology and modernity would be hugely influential for everyone from David Cronenberg to Joy Division to William Gibson. Famously, the Collins English Dictionary came to include an adjective, "Ballardian," defined as "resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard's novels & stories, esp. dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes & the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments."

In early books like The Atrocity Exhibition, Ballard wrote about characters fragmenting under the stress of a sped-up, media-saturated society. One notorious story in that book: "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan." Crash (1973), the novel Ballard is best known for, came next. The sight of a small cult of sexual perverts reenacting famous car crashes for kicks (and, uh, having sex with each other's flesh-wounds) would later be adapted for the screen by Cronenberg, whose 1996 movie led to a resurgence of Ballard worship in all sorts of young impressionable teenagers who saw the movie, including yours truly. Incongruously, the other director to adapt Ballard was Spielberg, whose 1987 treatment of Ballard's semi-autobiographical Empire of the Sun (featuring a tiny Christian Bale) capped a long postponed return by the author to internment days of his childhood in Shanghai, where he was born in 1930--"20 years to forget, and then 20 years to remember," as he would later say.

In January 2008, Ballard told an interviewer that he'd been battling prostate cancer since 2006, and though his estate has yet to announce a cause of death, it seems a safe assumption that this was what finally overcame him. Ballard's agent, Margaret Hanbury, who released a statement yesterday noting Ballard's passing--"His acute and visionary observation of contemporary life was distilled into a number of brilliant, powerful novels which have been published all over the world and saw Ballard gain cult status"--apparently had been shopping a manuscript from Ballard at last year's Frankfurt Book fair. Its tentative title? Conversations with My Physician: The Meaning, if Any, of Life.

"Author J.G. Ballard Dies at 78" [New York Times]


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