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Crash Site

A new book explores the words and wisdom of J.G. Ballard

By Gary Singh

FIND YOURSELF eternally intrigued with the suburban sprawl of places like San Jose and the South Bay? Ever feel like the entire social fabric of America functions by performing an autopsy on the corpse of the imagination? Need some cheering up? Turn no further than the always futuristic novelist J.G. Ballard—that master of deadpan humor disguised as rabid immoral imagination. Ballard's iconic witticisms comprise the new RE/Search publication J.G. Ballard Quotes: Does the Future Have a Future? Ballard, author of Crash, The Atrocity Exhibition and Empire of the Sun, has always been one of RE/Search Pubs' favorite scribes, and this book provides a keen insight into the mind of a 20th-century counterculture hero.

That's right—nothing but five decades of quotes from the author's interviews and creative works fill the book's 400 pages. At first, the idea of publishing a book of quotes from just one person comes off as nothing but a cheerleading exercise, and many of the quotes rehash the same ideas, but after delving into this volume a little further, one finds that it is a gold mine of futuristic insight, with passages about media landscapes, the death of reality, sex, technology, art, religion, time, car crashes, imagination, surrealism and—most fitting for Silicon Valley—the suburbs. Ballard describes suburban Dusseldorf in a 1982 issue of Heavy Metal, and it sounds exactly like he's talking about certain parts of San Jose: "There are all these immaculate, brand-new suburban houses in nicely wooded suburbs; every house has a boat and a BMW in the driveway. The schools are built according to the most advanced thinking about what a school should be like; there are recreation aids and sports facilities. ... And all this adds up to the death of the soul in the whole place. There's a desperation just waiting to be born there. If you live in a totally civilized society, madness is the only way you can express your own freedom."

Ballard has said numerous times since 1974 that sex times technology equals the future and that this equation will create a new value system. He envisioned sex with cars, computers and closed-circuit TV. In 1982, he predicted the rise of pornography as an extension of the Polaroid camera. "Morality covers our conduct—not what goes on inside our heads," he said. Since Ballard has always championed Surrealism and the imagination, allow me to insert San Jose where he talks about his own hometown of Shepperton, England: "There are people who are constantly rediscovering the world on a second-by-second basis, for whom every minute is a new excitement. Whether it's a sort of naiveté or not I don't know, but I've always been one of those. I wake up in the morning and look out at San Jose, and I'm always amazed and think, 'What is this?'"

J.G. Ballard Quotes is perfect high-quality reading for the bus stop or bathroom. You can flip to any page and descend into the future. If there is one.


J.G. Ballard Quotes, edited by V. Vale and Mike Ryan; 416 pages; $19.99; RE/Search Publications


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From the October 27-November 2, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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