Tuesday, 11 August 2015

JG Ballard and the Inner Space

Still being developed

a) The Idea of Inner Space
J G Ballard with his idea of Inner Space, he came up with it as a sort of a slogan, but he thought that Science Fiction should turn itself towards the sort of areas, where its readers were living in their ordinary lives and Inner Space became an area of reality remade by the mind. It is the internal landscape of tomorrow that is a transmuted image of the past, and one of the most fruitful areas for the imaginative writer. It is particularly rich in visual symbols, and he felt that this sort of speculative fantasy played a role very similar to that of the surrealism in the graphic arms

b) Ballard on Surrealism

de Chirico, "Piazza d'Italia

c) The Drowned World scenario
When he came to write the book, The Drowned World . People were accusing him of stealing from Carl Gustave Jung those who didn't accuse him of that were accusing him of stealing from Joseph Conrad.

One of the themes of the book were that the world has regressed in time, because of enormous temperature changes and the environment had become close to that of the Triassic era around 250 to 200 million years ago.

The landscapes began to emerge from the character's dreams, which were landscapes of great reptiles, huge primitive plants and so on and their own psychological needs became of those of sort of pre-human beings.

They realize that the uterine sea around them, as if it were a dark womb of the ocean mother, was as much a graveyard of their own individuality as it was the source of their lives, and perhaps their fears might have reflected his own uneasiness about re-enacting the experiences of his childhood and attempting to explore such dangerous ground

The hero re-mythologises himself in terms of this quest for the sun and in the end of the book, he sets of south looking for greater and greater heat and light and the kind of materials from which basic forms of life had generated.

Illustration of a Late Triassic scene

d) The Past of The Drowned World
The question for him was about how far do the landscapes of one's childhood, as much as its emotional experiences, provide and inescapable background to all one's imaginative writing?  When he wrote his first novel The Drowned World in 1960, he didn't at the time realise it, but a lot of the landscapes in that novel, such as the apartment houses and office blocks of London rising out of a swamp, were very close to the memories he had of the apartment houses of the French Concession in Shanghai, rising out of the flooded paddy fields which he views every day from the prison cam about eight miles south of the city. It was only in hindsight that he begin to see that he was feeding elements of that landscape,

Certainly his own earliest memories were of Shanghai during the annual long summer floods, when the streets of the city were two or three feet in a brown silt-laden water, and where the surrounding countryside, in the centre of the flood-table of the Yangtze, was an almost continuous mirror of drowned paddy fields and irrigation canals stirring sluggishly in the hot sunlight. On reflection, it seemed to him that the image of an immense half-submerged city overgrown by tropical vegetation, which formed the centre piece of The Drowned World, is in some way of fusion of his childhood memories and his last ten years then in London.

Among the characteristic fauna of that age were the crocodiles and alligators, amphibian creatures at home in both the aquatic and terrestrial worlds, who symbolize for the hero of the novel the submerged dangers of his quest. Reflecting on his own past, Ballard could remember an enormous ancient alligator housed in a narrow concrete pit, half filled with cigarette packers and ice cream cartons in the reptile house at the Shanghai Zoo, who seemed to have been jerked forwards reluctantly, as if so many tens of millions of years into mankind's 20th Century.

The French Concession

Another street in the French Concession, early 1920s

e) Fusing dream with reality
In many respects, this fusion of the past and present experiences, and of such disparate elements as the modern office buildings of central London and indeed the alligator in a Chinese zoo, resembled to him the mechanisms by which dreams are constructed, and perhaps the great value of fantasy as a literary form is its ability to bring together apparently unconnected and dissimilar ideas. So, to a large extent, all fantasy served this purpose, and he believed that speculative fantasy, as he preferred to call the more serious fringe of science fiction, was a potent method of using one's imagination to construct a paradoxical universe where dream and reality become fused together, each retaining its own distinctive quality, and yet in some way assuming the role of its opposite, and where by an undeniable logic, black simultaneously became white.

Without in any way suggesting that the act of writing is a form of creative self-analysis, he felt that the writer of fantasy has a marked tendency to select images and ideas which directly reflected the internal landscapes of his mind, and then the ready of the fantasy must interpret them on this level, distinguishing between the manifest content, which may seem obscure, meaningless or nightmarish, and the latent content, the private vocabulary of symbols drawn by the narrative from the writer's mind. The dream worlds, synthetic landscapes and plasticity of visual forms, invented by the writer of fantasy are external equivalents of the inner world of psyche, and because these symbols take their impetus from the most formative and confused periods of a person's life, they are often time-sculptures of terrifying ambiguity.

Source Quotes
  1. See: http://www.jgballard.ca/non_fiction/jgb_time_memory_innerspace.html
  2. See: http://jgballard.ca/media/1970_oct_friends_magazine.html
  3. Dr Christopher Evans: Is this phrase, Inner Space, you coined it, I think, it's talking about er, inward looking rather than outward looking, that's an over simplification
    J G Ballard: Yes, I was interested, I was, partly it was a slogan, I mean it was a sort of, I flew a few,  you know, I was flying a kite, ahm, but I, I meant it seriously. What I meant was, that, I, I thought that these sort of areas, that, that science fiction should turn its attention to, were, was, well, the sort of areas, in which, where its readers, er, were in fact, were, were living in their ordinary lives, that I was, I was talking, I was talking about a world... by Inner Space, I meant a world, um, or, or those areas of reality that have been, as it were, remade by the mind and I mean, you see, a sort of an early precursor if you like of Inner Space, you'd see, um, the novels of Kafka, let's say or various very much the same surrealist, surrealist painters, where there's the landscapes of the soul and so on, um , in films like (Last Year At) Marienbad and er,  Alphaville, in the novels of William Burroughs, um
    Dr Christopher Evans: The first novels, you, you, after you produced three , very clearly marked trilogy. Erm, the first is actually still one of my favourite books in fact, not just one of my favourite science fiction books, that's Drowned World, in which you see the world as being, totally, more or less completely, inundated and it's er, lots of Jungian overtones to it,  seems to me, and er
    J G Ballard: Unconsciously, of course
    Dr Christopher Evans: The unconscious
    J G Ballard: Oh no sorry, none of, none of the overtones were sort of deliberate, and various people accused me at the time of stealing the book from Jung, those who didn't accuse me of stealing the book from Jung accused me of stealing it from Conrad, um.
    Dr Christopher Evans: One of the themes really, that you, as the world almost regressed in time, because of these enormous temperature changes, that, that the environment became close to the environment of millions of years ago
    J G Ballard: Yes, the triassic period, I think, yuh
    Dr Christopher Evans: And, people therefore people began to find themselves being drawn back
    J G Ballard: Right, yuh, they began to dream of, I mean they they, they sort of, they began, landscapes began to emerge from their dreams, which were the landscapes of, of er of the trias, of great reptiles and huge primitive plants and all the rest of it, and the, their own sort of erm, their own sort of biological and psychological needs became those of, of, of a var, of the sort of a pre human beings, so that the sort of, these sort of, the hero in the novel as it were re-mythologises himself in terms of this quest for the sun, so he sets off in the end of the book, he sets off south looking for greater and greater heat, and light and the kind of materials that from which basic forms of life had generated ( The Book Programme Interview, 4th February 1978)
  4. J G Ballard: There's no doubt that the surrealist painters have had a far bigger influence on me than any writers have done. I regard Surrealism as really the greatest imaginative adventure of the Twentieth Century. I think that the surrealist movement is very misunderstood. People think it, it's, ah, a movement in painting, inspired by fantasy, but in fact that's not true. Um, the surrealists were all very interested in science, in optics and photography, um, and their main inspiration of course was psychoanalysis, ah, and I think, um, that combination of science and the imagination is very close to my own writing and of course has many affinities with science fiction itself. In many ways I believe that science fiction is the authentic literature of the 20th Century. I think it's unfortunate that that science fiction is boxed off into its own little compartment. (Future Now, Interview with J.G. Ballard by Solveig Nordlund 1986 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SS6MWpFX_N0)
  5. J G Ballard: Well, ever since I started writing, which was longer ago than I care to remember, nearly 30 years ago, I planned to write a book about, the wartime period in Shanghai, but, for some reason had not go around to it. I think, um, part of the problem I had was, I came to England in '46, and I knew I would never go back to China, um. I had to remake my own entire life here, cope with this very strange country as it certainly was to me in the late forties. Recently in a peculiar way, it started to get strange again, but that may be because my children have grown up and when I had, when i got married and had children, I tried to put roots down, and erm, now that they have grown up, it's possibly why I was able to write, start writing the book about three years ago, because my children had entered adult but for whatever, whatever reason, I had to remake my life here and it seemed a necessarily confusing to to try to recreate this this city at a at a at a wartime period that had vanished forever because almost nothing was known about the war in China, um, very, Shanghai and all the um all the important cities of China vanished in 1949 when the Communists arrived behind, vanished into total obscurity from which, it's only just begun to to reemerge. There seemed no point in in, using my wartime and childhood experiences directly, but I think, what I was doing of course, what, although I was writing, uh, something nominally called Science Fiction, set in the future, I was really in many ways writing about the past and that there are elements in all my novels
    Interviewer: Yes, I think

    J G Ballard: In in, of of my, you know, of my China background.
    Interviewer:Yes, that's what came through to me, I mean, having read through some of your earlier novels and then reading Empire of the Sun, it was though I had found the hidden springs of some of these Ballard-esque landscapes. There were the airplanes, there were the shattered cities, shattered people, um the life led at extremity. Were you conscious of that when you were previously writing?
    J G Ballard: No, I mean, to tell the truth, when I wrote my first novel the Drowned World, um,  in 1960, uh, it's, it's only with the benefit of... , I , I didn't at the time really realise that, that a lot of the landscapes I described in that novel, um, the sort of apartment houses and office blocks of London rising out of a, out of a swamp, ah, in fact, were very close to the memories I had of the apartment houses of the French Concession in Shanghai, rising out, apparently, of the flooded paddy fields which I viewed every day from our camp, er, about eight miles south of the city. It's only in the benefit of hindsight that I begun to see that I was feeding in elements of, of that landscape, which come out explicitly in this book. (Writers in Conversation- J G Ballard)

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