Tuesday, April 21, 2009

J.G. Ballard Is Dead

J.G. Ballard is dead. There is no-one left now, no-one we can trust for news of the world. Burroughs, Dick, Baudrillard, they're all gone. And who is here to take their place? Not me. Somewhere along the road I took a detour. I'm part of the twittering blogging classes now. Fuck. Those photos I took of my friend Chris in drained swimming pools. .. where are they?

And where is the dossier I prepared for Ballard? It contained a cassette tape of strange music and overheard conversation, along with some mimeographed sheets of paper, collage art, scattered writings, scattered thoughts. But I froze when the moment came and defaulted to asking him to sign a book. It must have been The Atrocity Exhibition, the most incredible "novel" ever written. So I put the folder back in my briefcase and left the room.

I read everything he ever wrote. It was all a revelation, a joy, a source of wonderment. Disaster stories in which the protagonist desires the disaster. Tales of flying and crashing. Death, not in outer space, but the death of outer space. I resisted some of those ideas even as I enjoyed the fiction. After all, I'd been reared on Asimov and Sagan. But later, after I'd found Debord, Baudrillard and Virilio, it all made total sense. Every other science-fiction writer (almost) became so much rubbish.

Did I ever tell you my Crash story? Chris and I met up in Edmonton; I think it was the only time I was in that city. It was a Friday, opening night of David Cronenberg's new film in Canada. Which is a big deal.

We went to West Edmonton Mall, an amusement park disguised as a city disguised as a mall disguised as a... sure, yeah... an amusement park. It seemed the perfect place -- so Ballardian as we say (and will keep saying, forever). But given that it was a Friday and opening night the place was crawling with teenage couples. They must have heard that Crash was going to be a great date movie. What with the sex and mutilations and car crashes and all. Yeah.

We got there early to ensure a seat. The cinema was sold out -- that used to happen. Once upon a time films used to sell out. (Evidence I am old.) Chris and I had half an hour to talk in the twilight. I told him how, a few years previously, I had met Cronenberg at the University of Western Ontario after he had appeared to present one of his early films. I started talking to him about Crash as if he would be familiar with it and its author J.G. Ballard. It just seemed so obvious. But no, David Cronenberg had never read any Ballard. I told him he absolutely had to get the book and read it... that it was perfect for him.

So he did and later got the rights and made the film. I told this story to Chris and he was an attentive listener. Though he did have a somewhat odd look on his face. After I had finished he said: "No, it wasn't you that got Cronenberg to make Crash, because that same summer in Toronto I talked to him and gave him a copy of the book and said he had to make the film."

There you go: Chris and I, partners to the end. We both got Cronenberg to make Crash. Probably one oddball lurching out of the audience to tell him about a demented book would not have been enough. But two of us, in the same few weeks, both insisting he read a book about perverse sexuality. .. yes, that did it.

Maybe someday I'll meet Cronenberg again and he'll be big enough to remember events the way they were and not pretend he knew about Ballard from the crib. And he'll shake my hand.

Until then I'm compiling a dossier.

It's a history of an atrocity.

You can read all about it when I die.


1 comment:

robin said...

After some misunderstandings, I should point out that the last few lines are meant metaphorically. My life will be the work. It's not like I have some mammoth volume lying in wait, that will see print only after I'm gone. :-)

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