Tuesday, April 21, 2009

J.G. Ballard, Dead at 78

"Given that external reality is a fiction, the writer's role is almost superfluous. He does not need to invent the fiction because it is already there." - J.G. Ballard.

This past weekend witnessed the passing of another literary legend, the cult legend J.G. Ballard, who finally succumbed to
what was described by his agent, Margaret Hanbury, as a prolonged illness of several years.

J.G. Ballard is mostly recognized for the David Cronenberg film adaptation of his novel Crash, and Steven Spielberg's film adaptation of his novel Empire of The Sun. At least, that is what most news organizations will be listing in the titles of their articles about his demise. The actively reading portion of the world population is still exceedingly small ('actively reading' in this case excludes people who only read Times Bestseller List titles and Oprah's Book Club selections), and so films by famous or controversial filmmakers based on the author's works is undoubtedly a "better sell", so to speak.

While it is a shame that such a prolific author is remembered in headlines for a film he had little to do with, I'm not so sure that Ballard would have minded.

"Any fool can write a novel but it takes real genius to sell it." - J.G. Ballard

Ballard knew the importance of publicity and how to sell material to a large audience. He was also fascinated by the way that the perceptions of modern people and societies have slowly evolved into something twisted and distant. In this respect, he probably would have appreciated
the irony of announcing the death of an author of fifteen novels by listing movie titles.

While I have not read all of Ballard's works, my favorite at the moment is Concrete Island, in which a wealthy architect that finds himself stranded on a highway median like a bizarre modern day Robinson Crusoe. A fantastic yet convincing allegory of humanity's isolation in the increasingly chaotic cityscape of the industrial age, Concrete Island is a great example of why Ballard's work is so highly regarded. With roots firmly planted in the sci-fi genre, his later novels have a way of presenting futuristic settings not as possibilities to come, but realities already recognized and achieved by a world quickly out-pacing its own existence.

"Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century." - J.G. Ballard

J.G. Ballard was a rare brand of visionary, the kind that exposed us to the future that had already arrived and made itself at home within the confines of our own reality. He will be dearly missed, but his literary achievements, and even the films based on them, will never be forgotten.

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