"...Ballard is arguably best-known to a wide audience because of his relatively “straight” novel, Empire of the Sun, and the resulting movie by Steven Spielberg. Some of his devotees were depressed by the literalness of the subject matter, which is a quasi-autobiographical account of being 13 years old and an inmate in a Japanese internment camp in Shanghai. It’s not possible to read that book, however, and fail to see the germinal effect that experience had on Ballard the man. To see a once-thriving city reduced to beggary and emptiness, to live one day at a time in point of food and medicine, to see an old European order brutally and efficiently overturned, to notice the utterly casual way in which human life can be snuffed out, and to see war machines wheeling and diving in the overcast sky: such an education! Don’t forget, either, that young Ballard was ecstatic at the news of the atomic obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an emotion that makes him practically unique among postwar literati. Included in this collection is a very strong 1977 story, “The Dead Time,” a sort of curtain-raiser to Empire—Ballard’s own preferred name for his book—in which a young man released from Japanese captivity drives a truckload of cadavers across a stricken landscape and ends up feeding a scrap of his own torn flesh to a ravenous child.
Readers of Ballard’s memoir, Miracles of Life (a book with a slightly but not entirely misleading title) will soon enough discern that he built on his wartime Shanghai traumas in three related ways. As a teenager in post-war England he came across first Freud, and second the surrealists. He describes the two encounters as devastating in that they taught him what he already knew: religion is abject nonsense, human beings positively enjoy inflicting cruelty, and our species is prone to, and can coexist with, the most grotesque absurdities. What could have been more natural, then, than that Ballard the student should devote himself to classes in anatomy, spending quality time with corpses, some of whom, in life, had been dedicated professors in the department. An astonishing number of his shorter works follow the inspiration of Crash, also filmed, this time by David Cronenberg, in morbid and almost loving accounts of “wound profiles,” gashes, fractures, and other inflictions on the flesh and bones. Fascinated by the possibility of death in traffic, and rather riveted by the murder of John Kennedy, Ballard produced a themed series titled The Atrocity Exhibition, here partially collected, where collisions and ejaculations and celebrities are brought together in a vigorously stirred mix of Eros and Thanatos. His antic use of this never-failing formula got him briefly disowned by his American publisher and was claimed by Ballard as “pornographic science fiction,” but if you can read “The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered As a Downhill Motor Race” or “Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan” in search of sexual gratification, you must be jaded by disorders undreamed-of by this reviewer. Both stories, however, succeed in being deadpan funny."""
When Hitchens is not waving his flag for one cause or another, he's a fairly entertaining scribe, tho' not quite the eloquent connoisseur of chaos that was Master Ballard--as with Crash, a wild ride into auto-dystopia, tho' perhaps a bit British for most 'Mericans (at least the book worked. The movie was not bad. Or, shall we say, Rosanna A--topless, or in casts and bandages...pain-tastic! Jimmy Spader apparently didn't quite it make through Stanislavski 101, alas).
Class, today we will be covering “The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered As a Downhill Motor Race”, and please be so good as as to turn to page 187 in your Ballard Reader. Be sure to make a note for next week's sed-joo-wull: Vermillion Sands, mescaline, and aria-singing Orchids.
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