Monday, 20 April 2009

NEXT POST
How awful have these past few months been for contemporary letters? Here’s a paragraph from the late David Foster Wallace’s review of the late, as of today, J.G. Ballard’s 1991 collection War Fever: J.G. Ballard is not a great fiction writer, but he is an important one. If that seems like an inconsistent judgment, be advised that American readers who know Ballard only via his moving, Spielbergable memoir Empire of the Sun do not know the real J. G. Ballard. The real Ballard has since the early ‘60s been a pioneer of a certain sort of literary science fiction I like to call Psy-Fi. Psy-Fi, often parodic, surreal and grotesque, and almost always set in some near and recognizable future, seeks to explore the psychopathology of post-atomic life, stuff like high technology, mass-media, advertising, PR, totalitarianism, etc. When he wrote this in 1991, Wallace himself had just started writing an “often parodic, surreal and grotesque” novel “set in [the] near and recognizable future” that sought “to explore the psychopathology of post-atomic life, stuff like high technology, mass-media, advertising, PR, totalitarianism,” and more than a little et cetera. I’d never considered my passion for both novelists related until I stumbled across this review a few months back. The coldness Wallace speaks of in Ballard’s prose is utterly unlike anything you find in Wallace’s own work. Even when his narrators speak, as he claimed Ballard’s do, in a “flat, scholarly narrative voice, [with] an air of lab technicians looking at stuff under glass,” the result never resembles the clipped, clinical speech of which Ballard was a master—for in Wallace, such disinterested precision is always affected. But without Ballard, there would have been no Wallace; in fact, without Ballard, contemporary literature would look very different. A British friend once told me that Ballard was “Our [meaning English-speaking] Borges.” I’m not sure he was right, but I’m not about to argue that he was wrong.

Become a Fan

Recent Comments