J.G. Ballard, R.I.P.

J.G. Ballard “Obituary”
by V. Vale
April 19, 2009

J.G. Ballard with V. Vale

I particularly hate it when “rebels” die – there are already so few of them/us. Sometimes it seems like virtually everyone you meet these days in the world is a slave to the profit motive/capitalist imperative: “What’s the meaning of life?” “To make money!” J.G. Ballard, and another of my relatively recently deceased role models, W.S. Burroughs, both refused to prostitute their writing, and they both refused to shmooze and “network” merely to further their “careers.” Both had a hatred of bourgeois hypocrisy and phony politeness, while at the same time being deeply polite and courteous, almost to a fault “¦

But for now, let us think of ways to publicly mourn one of the greatest thinkers and poets of the past century. By some irony, The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard is reportedly soon to be published in the United States, complete with two additional stories not included in the U.K. edition. Short stories, more than novels, may appropriately suit the trend of the increasingly shorter attention span of the human populace, who demand more flash ads, tiny videos and music quotations as they read their two-minute, two-page articles on the Internet. I suggest that for the next month (or year), readers shut out everything else and read ONLY J.G. Ballard novels, short stories, essays, interviews and reviews. Your mind, language, and outlook are guaranteed to be permanently altered”¦

“Death always presents the face of surprised recognition,” wrote William S. Burroughs. He also advised all of us to “Stay out of hospitals,” and “Avoid Doctors.” Well, even though I had been concerned about J.G. Ballard’s health after hearing two years ago that he had been diagnosed with “advanced” prostate cancer, I still felt a kind of unthinking complacency mixed with my concern: “Almost every human male has prostate cancer when he dies; it acts very slowly and can take decades to kill a man.” To be honest, having seen him recently in October 2008, I really didn’t think he would die THIS SOON. And when I found out he had died – I had arrived home from a 9-hour bus journey to hear the news on our answering machine – well, my first thought was, “There’s no thinker left alive that I can totally trust. They’re all dead.”

For the past two or more years Ballard had been undergoing state-of-the-art, high-tech treatment from a young doctor who reportedly was trying every new medical breakthrough remedy or procedure which promised “hope” for Ballard’s condition. Recently, however, Ballard had been rushed to a hospital, and after sustained care there had returned to the home to his longtime (40-plus years) companion, Claire Walsh. The latest word was that he had recently required around-the-clock care by visiting professional nurses, which sounded somewhat alarming. Still, I maintained calm. Now I wish I had tried to telephone him and talk one last time, even if just for a minute. I think I expected Ballard to live at least as long as Burroughs, who reached the age of 83, even after having been “a junkie” for years of his life. By a strange logic, I felt that since Ballard hadn’t been a junkie, he should live even longer than 83. Well, I was wrong. And now the world will miss his unique, witty, and sometimes acerbic commentaries on itself. We miss him and are grateful for his dark sense of humor and generous output.

Articles by and about J.G. Ballard:

  • The Autobiography of J.G.B., by J.G. Ballard, The New Yorker (fiction), May 11, 2009
  • ‘Seeing him arrive, always smiling, ready for anything, was wonderful’, Interview with Claire Walsh by Tim Adams, The Observer, April 26, 2009
  • My dad, the perfect mum, by Bea Ballard (his daughter), Timesonline.co.uk, April 26, 2009
  • Lament for J.G. Ballard, Prelinger Library Blog, April 23, 2009