positively sunny suburbanite
June 9, 2011, 12:59 am
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , ,

As a child, British author J. G. Ballard lived through the Japanese internment camps in occupied China in what he called ‘a huge slum family.’  And during that time, he witnessed more human degradation than we might think healthy.  Later, ensconced with his family in a suburban house outside of London, he wrote many strange, dystopian novels.

Though a generation younger, Martin Amis was his sometime friend and wrote these remarks -below – when Ballard died in 2009.  Recalling time spent together, Amis found him happy and full of life, in obvious contradiction to his sinister fictional creations.

Writers, says Flaubert, should be predictable so they can be savage in their work.  The devil’s workship is neat as a pin; it makes accomplishing chaos that much more efficient.  Ballard was suburban and normal in his appearance and daily life, which allowed him to be sinister in his books.  Critical balances struck.

Besides balance, the other emphasis of Flaubert’s axiom is also it’s underlying assumption:  that writing should be savage.  Most people today might think writing is for entertainment first, and then maybe information; savagery just doesn’t come to mind.  But Ballard’s fiction shows us how our modern lives, the freeways, shopping, porn and technology leads us into evil – extreme perversity, says Amis.

It’s the same with conversation:  understanding to what degree friends assembled will tolerate savagery is high art. In some places, people are cautious, the bar is low and you can hardly let the dogs out.  In better places, you can cultivate an orderly and predictable life at home, and come the evening, step out, order a drink and open again Pandora’s box.

The excerpt from Amis’s essay:

Ballard brought to this all his shamanistic skills. He kept asking: what effect does the modern setting have on our psyches – the motion sculpture of the highways, the airport architecture, the culture of the shopping mall, pornography and technology? The answer to that question is a perversity that takes various mental forms, all of them extreme.


Ballard was a great exponent of the Flaubertian line – that writers should be orderly and predictable in their lives, so that they can be savage and sinister in their work.

He told me that “Crash freaks” from, say,the Sorbonne would visit him expecting to find a miasma of lysergic-acid and child abuse. But, in fact, what they found was a robustly rounded and amazingly cheerful, positively sunny – suburbanite.

From outer space to inner space, Martin Amis, The Guardian, April 2009

1 Comment so far
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As they say: It’s always the quiet ones…
Thanks for the interesting post.

Comment by blackwatertown

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