J.G. Ballard, a hugely important writer and considerable influence on my own thought, has died.
I spoke to him once. In Leeds, 1994, I decided to start publishing a zine about dreams, and loved the mock-corporate feel that lifting its title from Ballard’s novel The Unlimited Dream Company would give it. Slightly naive about publishing law and etiquette, and probably looking for a little approval from an idol, I decided to give Ballard a call and ask if he’d be OK with it. Having no landline, I went out and phoned directory enquiries from a phone box.
“I’m trying to get in touch with a friend, and I’ve lost their details,” I lied. “The name’s Ballard, and they live in Shepperton—if you have a look and if there’s only one that’s probably them.” I don’t think they were supposed to, but they gave me the number, which I called straight away.
“Is that J.G. Ballard?” I asked. “Yes,” came the clipped, confident accent. “The writer J.G. Ballard?” I asked, I little dumbstruck. He was very courteous and when I told him about my zine and asked for his address to send him a copy, he complied. He sent me a postcard of the Wat Buddhapadipa Temple in Wimbledon, explaining that as long as I wasn’t planning on calling a novel The Unlimited Dream Company, I was fine legally, and wished me well with the venture.
Reading the book J.G. Ballard: Quotes when it came out (one of several essential Ballard volumes from RE/Search Publications), mostly on buses and tubes around London, the extent to which he has acted as the modern world’s most canny prophet sank in deeply.
Even though he was recognized to an extent within his lifetime, his death comes during a period when the relevance of his work has become quite crucial. Celebrity culture, media morbidity, the death of affect, the pathologies of sensationalism, ecological catastrophe… Terrible things to be so right about; but it was a monumental achievement to face them with stoicism and a relentless eye for possibilities.
Everywhere is infinitely exciting, given the transforming power of the imagination.