Yes, indeedy. After the events of this week, who can deny that J. G. Ballard is enjoying a wry chuckle from the grave? His final novels, Cocaine Nights (1996), Super-Cannes (2000), Millennium People (2003), and Kingdom Come (2006), along with earlier works such as High-Rise (1975) and Running Wild (1988), pretty much laid out the full scenario for the four days and nights of rioting, looting, and arson which convulsed London and other English cities this week.
As soon as news of the London rioting hit CNN, I held my breath and began counting down the seconds before some British journalist would fill in the dots between the civil unrest and the oeuvre of England’s most acclaimed and significant postwar writer. It didn’t take long. (I was never in danger of self-suffocation.)
Readers familiar with Ballard’s final quartet of novels, all of which feature middle class professionals either diving into or being pulled into revolutionary, nihilistic violence due to ennui, boredom, or a cancerlike consumerism which has replaced religion and patriotism at the center of their psyches, will certainly nod with recognition at this article from The Daily Mail, which reveals that arrested looters and rioters included a law student, a social worker, a ballerina in training, and the school-age daughter of a millionnaire.
Coincidence or karma? Ballard’s penultimate novel, Millennium People, published in the U.K. in 2003, was finally released in a U.S. edition just last month. It features middle class professionals in suburban London instigating terrorism and revolution in an effort to shock a sense of meaning back into their lives. Several reviews appeared in major U.S. newspapers, including The Washington Post and The Seattle Times, just a day or two before the London riots broke out. I’m sure the reviewers whacked their foreheads with their palms and wished their deadlines had been just a couple of days later so that they could have infused their articles with the weightiness of current world events. Here’s Ballard himself talking about what he was up to with Millennium People, plus a lengthy, insightful, but unfortunately undated review from Open Letters Monthly called, presciently, “On the Barricades with the Bourgeoisie.”
There don’t appear to be any plans to soon publish Ballard’s final novel, Kingdom Come, in the U.S., although that may change following this week’s events. I suppose it will hinge on the sales performance of Millennium People. If the book doesn’t appear in the States, that would truly be a shame, because I think it features some of Ballard’s funniest and wittiest writing since Crash, which, if you read it in the right way, is a snarkingly funny book. Here’s a fairly recent review of the novel, focusing on the book’s savage critique of consumerism. And here’s Rob Latham’s in-depth look at Ballard’s final three books, including Kingdom Come, The Complete Stories, and Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton: An Autobiography, nicely entitled “A Malaise Deeper Than Shopping.”
Theodore Dalrymple, author of Our Culture, What’s Left of It: the Mandarins and the Masses, has been writing about the slow decline of the English peoples for as long as there’s been an Internet. In 2008 he wrote an impassioned article for City Journal on the connections between Ballard’s visions and the state of English society. He focused on a key element to understanding Ballard’s take on social psychopathology: Ballard’s experiences as a boy prisoner in the Lunghua concentration camp in Japanese-occupied China, a micro-society where feral children exercised much more autonomy and power than their authority-stripped parents could. This week, he wrote another article for City Journal, this time commenting on the English riots. Anyone who enjoys a strong dose of “I-told-you-so, damn-it!” owes it to himself to read this piece. It tracks fairly closely with my own observations and musings, posted yesterday.
Here’s an academic paper drawing connections between one of Ballard’s earliest novels, the classic The Drowned World, and the Hurricane Katrina flooding disaster in New Orleans. And here’s an examination of a mid-career Ballard novel, High-Rise, which directly presages his final quartet of “English anarchic revolution” books.
I did entitle this post “Friday Fun Links,” so here’s a little fun:
For travelers to Shanghai, a guide to visiting sites mentioned in Ballard’s Empire of the Sun
For those of you who simply can’t get enough Ballard (and I hope that’s most of you), here are some additional goodies:
Three websites which offer a smorgasbord of Ballard bits–JGBallard.com, JGBallard.ca, and, my favorite, Ballardian.com (which features a stupendous article on Ballard’s literary obsession with Elizabeth Taylor)
Links to excerpts from Re:Search Publications’ marvelous selection of books on Ballard, including Re:Search 8/9: J. G. Ballard, J. G. Ballard: Conversations, and J. G. Ballard: Quotes
Have a Ballardian weekend!