Sunday, April 19, 2009

R.I.P. Writer J.G. Ballard, 78

There are writers who come along, see what others have done, and then do things differently.

And then there are writers who come along, don't care what's been done before, and go ahead and do what they want to do.

J.G. Ballard was the latter kind of writer.

I'll leave it to others to do the long analyses.

I just want to focus on one point that I think many people don't know.

Ballard pioneered a form of writing he called "condensed novels."
A necessary ambivalence pervades these texts that makes them easier to quote than to paraphrase. The increasing compression of Ballard's prose through the 1960s renders it even more resistant to summary, as it moved closer to the condition of the advertisement ("What can Saul Bellow and John Updike do that J. Walter Thompson, the world's largest advertising agency and its greatest producer of fiction, can't do better?").

To this end Ballard developed the form of the "condensed novel." As Pringle and James Goddard describe them, "the narratives are stripped of surplus verbiage and compounded until they are only skeletal representations of what they might otherwise have been." The linear progress of the minimal narrative that remains is further broken by a division into separately headed paragraphs; the temporal and spatial relations between fragments are variant. As did the cut-ups, Ballard's narrational style derives from the collage techniques of the surrealists: "The techniques of surrealism have a particular relevance at this moment, when the fictional elements in the world around us are multiplying to the point where it is almost impossible to distinguish between the 'real' and the 'false' – the terms no longer have any meaning."

In 1958 Ballard created an entire novel designed to go on billboards.

Emphasis added by me.

All of the writers on Twitter squeezing fiction into that form are actually following in the invisible footsteps of Ballard.

Know your history. Say a prayer for the man even -- especially -- if you didn't know.

1 comment:

Arjun said...

Ballard was a giant. The world is a better place for having had him. Thanks, Mike, for posting this.