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JG Ballard is not really dead

On the Santa Fe Plaza April 13 I suggested to Jeremy Deller that his trailering a bombed Iraqi car across America was a Ballardian act. “Ballard! hes a genius, hes crazy genius”, enthused Deller. We talked about the writer we both admired, neither Jeremy nor I imagining that prostate cancer would kill Ballard within the week. (Ballard died April 19, age 78.)

Reading Robert Smithson first turned me on to J. G. Ballard. From there I bought RE/SEARCH publication #8/9, Vale and Junos collection of Ballard writing, interview and commentary. Reading that led me quickly to Ballard novels CrashThe Atrocity Exhibition,  the early story collection Vermillion Sands and so on. Ballards motifs resonated: the marriage of flesh, machine, eroticism and death in Crash; the struggle between the organic and the crystalline and ultimate transcendent vision in The Crystal Land; media spectacle, war and politics in The Atrocity Exhibition. A story in Vermillion Sands captured my imagination.  The Thousand Dreams of Stella Vista tells of a real estate tour of a house touted to adjust its shape to its owners dreams and desires. The house, built of flexible “plastex” is programmable by its owners – as if this were a smart house – to mirror their narcissism. Greg Lynns Embryo House? More like Vito Acconcis Bad Dream House… In the course of the tour the house runs amok, deforming “like a tortured flower”, nearly crushing its visitors. The old owners subconscious, like psychological malware, has subverted the program to project torqued dreams into a residential carnivorous plant. House tour as torture. I imagine perversely animated Bruce Goffs.

Ballards characters live in worlds constructed of information, of facts and artifacts.
Pirate Radio. There were number of secret transmissions to which Travis listened:(1) Medullary: images of dunes and craters, pools of ash that contained the terrace faces of Freud, Eatherly, and Garbo….
From The Atrocity Exhibition. Note the elisions of anatomy and geology, of psychiatry and celebrity.

Images and objects mediate human relations:
Was Elaine trying to provoke him? She hated his forced absentmindedness, his endless playing with bizarre clocks and architectural follies, and above all his interest in pornography. This sinister hobby had sprung out of his peculiar obsession with the surrealists…..
From Myths of the Near Future

The camera obscura frames perception:
I am looking into a silent world. Through the viewfinder of this cine-camera, set at its maximum field, I can see the Hotel Coral Playa three hundred yards along the beach, covered by a desert light so glazed that it would embalm Pharaoh.
From The Sixty Minute Zoom.

Ballard, like some creepy psychiatrist, autopsies the corpse of the imagination, remains of the death of affect. When, we might ask, did affect die? With Machiavelli? With Newton? With Darwin? With Dale Carnegie? With Hitler or with Tokyo Rose? Unlike most doctors, Ballards work brings the corpse back to life.

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