Saturday, May 02, 2009

Ballard, appreciated

I've been reading J.G. Ballard on and off for years. The first thing I read of his was the short story My Dream of Flying to Wake Island, which was included in an anthology edited by (of all people) Frederick Forsyth. I remember vividly the weird, inspiring force of it. Much later I got into him seriously; our local library held a surprising amount of his science fiction.

It was permission to wonder at what mental processes underlay the bizarre things that powerful and respectable people were constantly doing, to treat the present in the same way that other SF writers treat the future and most other writers treat the past. (This is, of course, the distinctive achievement of the New Wave he co-founded.) And, no matter how weird and sinister this history of the future became, Ballard offered us no fear of the future.

I regularly complain that British culture is ridden with compulsory nostalgia. In fact, it seems to me that every citizen is required to complete a term of national service in the past and to remain on the reserve in case of a worrisome outbreak of futurity. I wonder what power relationships this nostalgia conscription serves. Ballard, at least, offered an opportunity to desert from compulsory nostalgia, and a compelling vision of reality-as-fantasy that actually seemed to respond to the forces that govern the future - who fucking cares, after all, about tedious British politics and official literature? (That the Grauniad Review asked Martin Amis of all people to reflect on Ballard is the final, confirming stamp on this.)

The Ballardian environment: someone asks Slashdot for advice about assembling a cluster of servers in tropical jungle, nobody seriously asks why. Brazilians borrow a US Navy tactical communications satellite, which turns out to operate entirely in the clear and unsecured, because who'd do that?

A right-wing US politician advises his colleagues to emulate the Taliban because they
"went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person's entire processes."
We know, meanwhile, that the people who did this were the CIA, working for the politicians he supported. As Ballard himself said, of course it's obscene and intended to be so.

Surprising numbers of people believe that spoof rightwing TV blowhard Stephen Colbert is a real rightwing blowhard.
Additionally, there was no significant difference between the groups in thinking Colbert was funny, but conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements.
Accident, or is he deliberately feeding them bad lines? Perhaps that's how Bush got elected.

Hedi Slimane photographs the cadets of Saint-Cyr; surprisingly basic drugs reactivate an immune mechanism we stopped using 7 million years ago - and what else? In California, people are knocking down houses that were built last year and the swimming pools are famously turning green.

Somali pirates pursue cocaine-white glassfibre Monegasque superyachts; pirates with media spokesmen, that is. RIP, JGB; if you prefer, that is.

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