Saying Goodbye to J. G. Ballard

J. G. Ballard died today. He was 78 years old.

There’s not much I can say about Ballard that hasn’t already been said. He was definitely a Coilhouse patron saint. Because so much has been written about Ballard’s influence on everything from cyberpunk (check out this rich article, which buzzes with the excitement of the genre’s earliest memories of itself) to modern music (as this article asserts, Ballard could be credited for having “inspired the entire genre of industrial music”), I’m going to make this obituary very subjective and leave you with my favorite Ballard memories.

The first one was watching Empire of the Sun with my parents. I didn’t know at the time that this movie, starring a 13-year-old Christian Bale, was actually based on Ballard’s autobiography. But I remember that even then, watching that film, I wondered: how would this kid, with his confused Stockholm Syndrome identification with the Japanese who kept him prisoner, his fetishization of aircraft and explosions, turn out later in life? Later, a friend helped me put 2 & 2 together, and I found out exactly how he turned out. He wrote Crash. And it all made perfect sense. Here’s Young Ballard in Empire of the Sun; haunting to re-watch on this day:

My second favorite Ballard moment is actually a famous quote of his. This was his response to a question in Re/Search 8/9 on October 30, 1982:

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.

Suburb of the soul. It still makes me shudder.

Post your favorite Ballard memories/impressions/quotes in the comments. We honor his influence, and we will miss him.

16 Responses to “Saying Goodbye to J. G. Ballard”

  1. Zoetica Says:

    I’ll be feeling a bit hollow for a while.

  2. Shay Says:


    Added to the ever-growing list of dead personal heroes.

  3. Tequila Says:

    Empire of the Sun had a huge impact on me as a kid. I must have seen that film near a hundred times before I hit high school. There was always something to respond to, see a different way, or in the book…read a different way. For some reason unlike so much else it made sense…a chaotic world made sane through the pure will to survive.

    As an adult I still enjoy the book and film and while it’s not quite as potent as it was then…it’s remains the only real link I have left to that part of my life. Not a bad link to have. I did enjoy The Kindness of Women later on…and I try to read at least one of his books a year. Crash was a fantastic as a book also…definitely achieved its intent.

    He’ll be missed but thankfully he leaves so much behind it’ll take a lifetime to go through it as is. R.I.P good man…

    Still…first Marilyn Chambers and now him…bit of a sad week to say the least.

    If one goes on iTunes and searches for The South Bank Show in the podcast section you’ll find a very entertaining episode with Ballard and it’s free too. Worth checking out.

  4. Jerem Morrow Says:

    Fuck. Don’t think I’m up to more than that.

  5. R. Says:

    His physical body may be gone but his influence won’t cease to exist. I’ll have a drink in his honor tonight.

  6. DavidS Says:

    I’m going to go put on “Hallogallo” by Neu! and think motorik thoughts.

    Ballard’s famous introduction to the French edition of Crash is still the best primer for understanding the late 20th century, particularly the complex relationship between media, mediated experience and the loss of affect.

    But that makes him sound too much like homework. Though his ideas are profound, there’s great pleasure to be had in Vermilion Sands, Crash, High Rise, The Drowned World, The Atrocity Exhibit, Empire of the Sun, the Kindness of Women (his second, less read but still amazing memoir).

  7. Jon Munger Says:

    Like much of the influences in my life, I was exposed to Empire of the Sun and Crash at completely different times in my life and had no idea the same man was behind both. That’s a testament to his craft; Ballard could fly between genres and maintain the emotional truth to whatever he wrote.

    There is a scene in Empire of the Sun I dimly remember: two thieves are emptying their pockets of rice. I can’t understand why, but that image is etched into my head.

    Years later, I learned who Ballard was, and found a used copy of The Voices of Time. I read and reread each story, trying to find the joints and gears in his machinery. His meaning was transparent, but his craftsmanship was utterly opaque.

  8. Mer Says:

    Cheers, Nadya. Big love for old man Ballard. No other 20th century writer was quite as brilliantly, horrifically clairvoyant.

    Tonight I’m drinking Cuervo, setting things on fire and playing some Ballardian music. Should anyone care to join me…

    *clink clink SMASH*

  9. Zoetica Says:

    Raising a glass of red with you, Mer.

    Then smashing it.

  10. Rip Says:

    The Atrocity Exhibition deserves a mention, yes? I remember rereading “Why I Want To Fuck Ronald Reagan” in celebration of Ronald Reagan’s final sexdeath. He was never so very fuckable.

  11. MissSpite Says:

    “I believe in the beauty of all women, in the treachery of their imaginations, so close to my heart; in the junction of the disenchanted bodies with the enchanted chromium rails of supermarket counters; in their warm tolerance of my own perversions.”

  12. Ana Droid Says:


    I just began reading “High Rise” last week, and read that he was ill with cancer, as well.It’s strange, but I wondered what he was thinking once he knew he’d die…or what the last thought of that sort of brain would be. I really don’t even know what I think of the bits I’ve read thus far, whether I find it funny, or abnormal,or stupid, or pretentious or accurate.

    That adds another layer of off to an off day.

  13. Paul Komoda Says:

    I’d be hard pressed to think of of a more fascinating thought provoking series of interviews than those in the Re/Search volume devoted to Ballard.

    I had started reading Crash in ’89 while experiencing a horrendously protracted state of intense paranoia accompanied by sensations of physical distress and revulsion resulting from a singularly ghastly drug experience.
    It was, to say the least, difficult to ingest in that state, but after things had leveled off, I continued reading, and found myself richly rewarded for the effort.
    His writing and way of thinking got me through the early 90’s, I feel.
    I recall something he said about the future of alternative lifestyle modalities,suggesting that with sensibilities having come full circle, it will soon be considered more outre to purposefully choose to live the conservative,suburban family life with the office job.
    To paraphrase Ballard, it would be perceived as being as adventurous as Gauguin going off to Tahiti.

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  16. meardearna Says:

    When I heard the news yesterday I was so sad that I couldn’t speak for a long time.

    And then I became furious.

    A day later, I am still raging inside. I am going to re/read a lot of his work now and pour my rage out into making works of my own.

    My favourite quote of his: “I want to rub the human face in its own vomit. And force it to look in the mirror” is the kind of sentiment I shall carry with me when I make my works.

    For those interested, here’s a video of Ballard reading from Kingdom Come:
    Other links on the page contain reviews of his works by famous writers and politicians on the Beeb.