J. G. Ballard

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The happy think a lifetime short, but to the unhappy one night can be an eternity.
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James Graham Ballard (born 1930-11-15 in Shanghai) is a British novelist and short-story writer, who has moved from science-fiction to mainstream fiction.


  • All over the world major museums have bowed to the influence of Disney and become theme parks in their own right. The past, whether Renaissance Italy or ancient Egypt, is reassimilated and homogenized into its most digestible form. Desperate for the new, but disappointed with anything but the familiar, we recolonise past and future. The same trend can be seen in personal relationships, in the way people are expected to package themselves, their emotions and sexuality in attractive and instantly appealing forms.
  • The uneasy marriage of reason and nightmare which has dominated the 20th century has given birth to an increasingly surreal world. More and more, we see that the events of our own times make sense in terms of surrealism rather than any other view - whether the grim facts of the death-camps, Hiroshima and Viet Nam, or our far more ambiguous unease at organ transplant surgery and the extra-uterine foetus, the confusions of the media landscape with its emphasis on the glossy, lurid and bizarre, its hunger for the irrational and sensational. The art of Salvador Dali, an extreme metaphor at a time when only the extreme will do, constitutes a body of prophecy about ourselves unequaled in accuracy since Freud's "Civilization And Its Discontents". Voyeurism, self-disgust, the infantile basis of our fears and longings, and our need to pursue our own psychopathologies as a game - these diseases of the psyche Dali has diagnosed with dismaying accuracy. His paintings not only anticipate the psychic crisis which produced our glaucous paradise, but document the uncertain pleasures of living within it. The great twin leitmotifs of the 20th century - sex and paranoia - preside over his life, as over ours.
  • By the time I came to England at the age of sixteen I'd seen a great variety of landscapes. I think the English landscape was the only landscape I'd come across which didn't mean anything, particularly the urban landscape. England seemed to be very dull, because I'd been brought up at a much lower latitude - the same latitude as the places which are my real spiritual home as I sometimes think: Los Angeles and Casablanca. I'm sure this is something one perceives - I mean the angle of light, density of light. I'm always much happier in the south - Spain, Greece - than I am anywhere else. The English one, oddly enough, didn't mean anything. I didn't like it, it seemed odd. England was a place that was totally exhausted.
    • interviewed by James Goddard and David Pringle (1975)
  • I would sum up my fear about the future in one word: boring. And that's my one fear: that everything has happened; nothing exciting or new or interesting is ever going to happen again ... the future is just going to be a vast, conforming suburb of the soul.
    • interview (10/30/82) in Re/Search no. 8/9 (1984)
  • Everywhere - all over Africa and South America ... you see these suburbs springing up. They represent the optimum of what people want. There's a certain sort of logic leading towards these immaculate suburbs. And they're terrifying, because they are the death of the soul ... This is the prison this planet is being turned into.
    • interview (10/30/82) in Re/Search no. 8/9 (1984)
  • A widespread taste for pornography means that nature is alerting us to some threat of extinction.
  • In a totally sane society, madness is the only freedom.
  • For me the intentions of background music are openly political, and an example of how political power is constantly shifting from the ballot box into areas where the voter has nowhere to mark his ballot paper. The most important political choices in the future will probably never be consciously exercised. I'm intrigued by the way some background music is surprisingly aggressive, especially that played on consumer complaint phone lines and banks, airplanes and phone companies themselves, with strident non-rhythmic and arms-length sequences that are definitely not user-friendly.
    • quoted by Joseph Lanza in Elevator Music (1994)
  • I began to become an adult when I was 24 and got married and had children. That matures you, but I wouldn't say I was fully an adult until I was in my forties. The trouble with the whole adult debate is that if you're asking 18-year-olds to go out and fight wars for you then you can't deny them adult rights even though in sorts of other ways they wouldn't qualify until they were about 25. These days adolescence stretches much further into adulthood than it used to. There's no longer any encouragement to be mature.
  • I think the key image of the 20th century is the man in the motor car. It sums up everything: the elements of speed, drama, aggression, the junction of advertising and consumer goods with the technological landscape. The sense of violence and desire, power and energy; the shared experience of moving together through an elaborately signalled landscape.
We spend a substantial part of our lives in the motor car, and the experience of driving condenses many of the experiences of being a human being in the 1970s, the marriage of the physical aspects of ourselves with the imaginative and technological aspects of our lives. I think the 20th century reaches its highest expression on the highway. Everything is there: the speed and violence of our age; the strange love affair with the machine, with its own death.
    • Narration for Crash!, a 1971 short film by Harley Cokeliss

Crash (1973)

  • My brief stay at the hospital had already convinced me that the medical profession was an open door to anyone nursing a grudge against the human race.
  • After having…been constantly bombarded by road-safety propaganda, it was almost a relief to find myself in a real accident.
  • After the commonplaces of everyday life, with their muffled dramas, all my organic expertise for dealing with physical injury had long been blunted or forgotten. The crash was the only real experience I had been through for years.
  • We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind - mass merchandising, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the instant translation of science and technology into popular imagery, the increasing blurring and intermingling of identities within the realm of consumer goods, the preempting of any free or original imaginative response to experience by the television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. For the writer in particular it is less and less necessary for him to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer's task is to invent the reality.
    • "Introduction" to the French edition (1974) of Crash (1973)
    • reprinted in Re/Search no. 8/9 (1984)
  • Science and technology multiple around us. To an increasing extent they dictate the languages in which we speak and think. Either we use those languages, or we remain mute.
    • "Introduction" to the French edition (1974) of Crash (1973)
    • reprinted in Re/Search no. 8/9 (1984)

Cocaine Nights (1996)

  • Selfish men make the best lovers. They're prepared to invest in the women's pleasures so that they can collect an even bigger dividend for themselves.
    • spoken by the character "Paula Hamilton"
  • Our governments are preparing for a future without work, and that includes the petty criminals. Leisure societies lie ahead of us... People will still work -- or, rather, some people will work, but only for a decade of their lives. They will retire in their late thirties, with fifty years of idleness in front of them. ... [So] how do you energize people, give them back some sense of community? A world lying on its back is vulnerable to any cunning predator. Politics are a pastime for a professional caste and fail to excite the rest of us. Religious belief demands a vast effort of imaginative and emotional commitment, difficult to muster if you're still groggy from last night's sleeping pill. Only one thing is left which can rouse people, threaten them directly and force them to act together. ... Crime, and transgressive behavior -- by which I mean all activities which aren't necessarily illegal, but provoke us and tap our need for strong emotion, quicken the nervous system and jump the synapses deadened by leisure and inaction.
    • spoken by the character "Dr. Sanger"
  • Town-scapes are changing. The open-plan city belongs in the past -- no more ramblas, no more pedestrian precincts, no more left banks and Latin quarters. We're moving into the age of security grilles and defensible space. As for living, our surveillance cameras can do that for us. People are locking their doors and switching off their nervous systems.
    • spoken by the character "Bobby Crawford"
  • Everywhere you look -- Britain, the States, western Europe -- people are sealing themselves into crime-free enclaves. That's a mistake -- a certain level of crime is part of the necessary roughage of life. Total security is a disease of deprivation.
    • spoken by the character "Paula Hamilton"

A User's Guide to the Millenium (1996)

  • Human beings today ... are surrounded by huge institutions we can never penetrate: the City [London's Wall Street], the banking system, political and advertising conglomerates, vast entertainment enterprises. They've made themselves user friendly, but they define the tastes to which we conform. They're rather subtle, subservient tyrants, but no less sinister for that.
    • "Kafka in the Present Day", originally published in [London] Sunday Times (1983)
  • The history of psychiatry rewrites itself so often that it almost resembles the self-serving chronicles of a totalitarian and slightly paranoid regime.
    • "Magnetic Sleep", review of From Mesmer to Freud by Adam Crabtree, originally published in [London] Daily Telegraph (1994)
  • Perhaps our own fin-de-siecle decadance takes the form, not of libertarian excess, but of the kind of over-the-top puritanism we see in political correctness and the assorted moral certainties of physical fitness fanatics, New Agers and animal-rights activists.
    • "Back to the Heady Future", review of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls, originally published in the [London] Daily Telegraph (1993)
  • The technological landscape of the present day has enfranchised its own electorates - the inhabitants of the marketing zones in the consumer society, television audiences and news magazine readerships, who vote with money at the cash counter rather than with ballot paper at the polling boot. These huge and passive electorates are wide open to any opportunist using the psychological weaponry of fear and anxiety, elements that are carefully blanched out of the world of domestic products and consumer software.
    • "The Consumer Consumed", originally published in Ink (1971)
  • Lysenkoism: A forlorn attempt not merely to colonize the botanical kingdom, but to instill a proper sense of the puritan work ethic and the merits of self-improvement.
    • "Project for a Glossary of the Twentieth Century" originally published in Zone (1992)
  • [P]sychiatrists - the dominant lay priesthood since the First World War...
    • "The Lure of the Madding Crowd", review of The Faber Book of Madness, edited by Roy Porter], originally published in The Independent on Sunday (1991)
  • I find wholly baffling the widespread belief today that the dropping of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs was an immoral act, even possibly a war crime to rank with Nazi genocide.
    • "The End of My War", originally printed in the [London] Sunday Times (1995)


  • Modern technology offers an endless field day to any deviant strains in our personalities.
  • I wanted to rub humanity's face in its own vomit and force it to look in the mirror.
    • On the reasons why he wrote Crash
  • Electronic aids, particularly domestic computers, will help the inner migration, the opting out of reality. Reality is no longer going to be the stuff out there, but the stuff inside your head. It's going to be commercial and nasty at the same time.
  • 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.
  • The advanced societies of the future will not be governed by reason. They will be driven by irrationality, by competing systems of psychopathology.
  • The American Dream has run out of gas. The car has stopped. It no longer supplies the world with its images, its dreams, its fantasies. No more. It's over. It supplies the world with its nightmares now: the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, Vietnam.
  • Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century.
  • A car crash harnesses elements of eroticism, aggression, desire, speed, drama, kinesthetic factors, the stylizing of motion, consumer goods, status -- all these in one event. I myself see the car crash as a tremendous sexual event really: a liberation of human and machine libido (if there is such a thing).
  • Twenty years ago no one could have imagined the effects the Internet would have: entire relationships flourish, friendships prosper…there’s a vast new intimacy and accidental poetry, not to mention the weirdest porn. The entire human experience seems to unveil itself like the surface of a new planet.
  • The cine-camera and television set allow us to perceive slow motion. The concept of anything other than real time had never occurred to anybody until the first slow-motion movies were shown, and this radically altered people's perceptions of nature.
    • quoted in an information package from Time Recording (Emit Records) (c. 1996)


  • A story by J. G. Ballard, as you know, calls for people who don't think. One begins with characters who regard the physical universe as a mysterious and arbitrary place, and who would not dream of trying to understand its actual laws. Furthermore, in order to be the protagonist of a J.G. Ballard novel, or anything more than a very minor character therein, you must have cut yourself off from the entire body of scientific education. In this way, when the world disaster - be it wind or water - comes upon you, you are under absolutely no obligation to do anything about it but sit and worship it. Even more further, some force has acted to remove from the face of the world all people who might impose good sense or rational behavior on you, so that the disaster proceeds unchecked and unopposed except by the almost inevitable thumb-rule engineer type who for his individual comfort builds a huge pyramid (without huge footings) to resist high winds, or trains a herd of alligators and renegade divers to help him out in dealing with deep water.

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