Monday, April 20, 2009

JG Ballard, 1930 - 2009


The novelist JG Ballard, who conjured up a bleak vision of modern life in a series of powerful novels and short stories published over more than 50 years, died today after a long battle with cancer.

Inspired by the popular science fiction magazines he came across while stationed in Canada with the RAF, Ballard began publishing short stories evoking fractured landscapes full of wrecked machinery, deserted beaches and desolate buildings.

Novels of disaster and experimentation, including 1962's The Drowned World and 1973's Crash, later made into a film by David Cronenberg, garnered him a growing reputation as an anti-establishment avant garde writer. Crash, in which a couple become sexually aroused through car crashes, was written as a motorway extension was being built past the end of his street in Shepperton, west London.

In 1984, Ballard reached a new level of public recognition with Empire of the Sun, a straightforwardly realist novelisation of his detention as a teenager in a Japanese camp for civilians in Shanghai.

His later work continued to subject modern life to its own extremes, with a sinister corporate dystopia in 2000's Super Cannes, a middle-class revolution in 2003's Millennium People and a descent into consumerist fascism in 2006's Kingdom Come. But the label of science fiction writer still stuck, much to Ballard's irritation, partly as a way of "defusing the threat". "By calling a novel like Crash science fiction, you isolate the book and you don't think about what it is," he explained.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Dossier On Virna Lindt

Hey, it's Virna Lindt performing "Wild Strawberries"! I haven't heard this in ages and keep meaning to dig it out. Your tolerance for icy Swedish synth pop may vary.


Wednesday, April 01, 2009


I have driven miles out of my way and become hopelessly lost.

I’m trying to find this doctor’s office and I call them up and try to get them to help me, but they seem just as confused as I am.

If I could ascend suddenly into the sky to get the lay of the land, I figure I’d have a better shot. I go to that place a lot when my eyes are closed. Endless expanses of sky in front of me, nameless acres below me and the delicate ambient buzzing of an airplane off in the distance.

It reminds me of when I’d close my eyes at the public pool while laying on a towel. I couldn’t identify any individual sound, but I found the random murmuring to be very relaxing, the way that white noise is. I can hear it and feel it still: the bright, sticky-wet thunder of summer as it lay in the distance, meditative and timeless, and the damp in the crooks of my arms.

When I finally find the specialist’s office, I pull into a handicapped spot and hang up my permit. I grab my cane and lock up the car with the electronic key. I take one of those sad looking lonely elevators that is about large enough for three and get out at the next floor.

The cane is named “Harris,” by the by. It is so named because of the autograph of artist Tony Harris in silver on the side. I like to look at it sometimes and marvel at how someone’s signature can seem to contain everything about them, in this case all of Mr. Harris’s style. Something in its lines and curves seems to sum up what’s individual about him. It’s autograph as art.

I enter the waiting room with Harris and find myself shoulder to shoulder with many other patients, most of whom I assume are older than I am. It’s the old joke about aging – how did I end up here with all these old people? Yet there I am and unfortunately for me, I am unprepared. My paperwork needs some straightening out, so I take a seat and settle in for the long wait.

I put my head down and let Harris support it. I just freeze that way, not wanting to move or argue about paperwork or check the time. I am not interested anymore. Let it happen as it happens.

After some time has passed, I find I’ve become increasingly grumpy sitting there in my unmoving and petulant pose. The receptionist had irritated me, but I realize that she’s the one that’s been cracking all the jokes and generally making the atmosphere less oppressive for everyone. That used to be me, I think, before I gave up. I’d be trying to cut up the concrete, trying to force some humanity into the injectable plastic molds, trying to be the girl in the bathing suit in John Updike’s A&P.

Now I’m just there, sitting and waiting and getting angry at nothing.

I’m finally ushered in and the retinal specialist has a look at my right eye and decides that there’s no tear to be seen. I had all at once been bombarded by streaks of light in my peripheral vision and an abundance of new floaters, all in the same eye. It usually means that the gel in the eye is pulling away from the retina and there can be danger of tearing as it goes. Having given me the all clear on that, I ask if there’s anything I can do about all the new visual annoyances.

They tell me it should clear up in a couple of months and I should come back then. It’s good news but as the days go by it seems to me that it’s getting worse. The effect is something like peering through a glass of dirty water, along with some wire mesh that keeps dangling down from the top of my sightline. I swat at insects that aren’t there until I remember it’s just these shadows in my eyeball.

Give it time, I think. Give it time.

The sunshine hits my dilated eyes as I leave and I quickly put on my sunglasses, over which I put the plastic protective visor they’ve given me. Using both seems to work better than either one does separately.

I throw Harris in the back seat, take down the permit and get out of there. At least now I know where I’m going and I head there with all deliberate speed. It feels good to move, good to breathe and good to be going home, where I will hang Harris on the towel rack and dream my windy flying dream, buildings solitary and solid below me as I wheel past them all with grace and ease, the sky full of treasure and the sun beating down on me like on that half-remembered day at the pool, eternally malleable and eternally living, unencumbered and unknown.