Friday, 14 August 2015

JG Ballard on Surrealism

leading from
J G Ballard and Inner Space
(Still In development)

a) Early precursors of inner space
So the early precursors or even the iconographers of Inner Space were surrealist painters with their landscapes of the soul, he would mention the names of Tanguy, de Chirico, Dali and Max Ernst among others, all during their most creative periods were concerned with the discovery of images in which the internal and the external reality meet and fuse.  They were one of the few schools of thought of painting that embraced the imagination without any restraints whatsoever, but also embrace the imagination within the terms of the scientific language.

b) What Surrealism did
In Surrealism, the events of the interior world of the psyche are represented in terms of commonplace situations. In fantastic art, such as Breugel and Bosch, one had the nightmare represented extremely well, chariots of demons and screaming arch-angels and all the materials of horror, but what one doesn't have there is what Surrealism has, the representation of the inner world of the mind in terms of ordinary objects, such as tables, chairs and telephones
c) Surrealism as a creative reminder
There was the possibility in Ballard's view that his own writing was nothing more than the compensatory work of a frustrated painter. The works of the Surrealists were not actually an a great inspiration on his writings, but reminders that the interior landscapes extended beyond the borders of his own head, they were valid for a great number of people and they confirmed his own hazy views. Despite the fact felt that he would have written the same way with or without the Surrealist painters, he regarded surrealist painters as having a far bigger influence of him than any writers had done. Ballard assumed that he looked back on Shanghai and the war there as if it were part of some huge nightmare tableau that revealed itself in a violent and gaudy way that remade the world that one found in surrealism. Perhaps he had been truing to return to the Shanghai landscape, to some sort of truth that he glimpse there and in all his fiction, and so it seemed that he used the techniques of surrealism to remake the present into something at least consonant with with past

d) Salvador Dali's Surrealism
As for Dali, from Ballard's view, he had created a completely new landscape out of the concepts of Freudian psychology. No other painter that he knew of had so well represented the world of the Oedipus complex, of people's childhood anxieties, about memory, always done within the context of the 20th Century. Also Dali''s paintings with their soft watches and minatory luminous beaches, are of almost magical potency, suffused by a curious ambivalence that Ballard found that one could see only in the serpentine faces in the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci.  

e) Surrealism unlike dreams
It was for Ballard, a curious thing that the landscapes of these painters, and of Dali in particular, are often referred to as dream-like , when in fact they must bear no resemblance to the vast majority of dreams, which in general take place within confined indoor settings, a cross between Kafka and Mrs Dale's Diary, and where fantastic images, such as singing flowers or sonic sculptures, appear as infrequently as they do in reality. The false identification, and the awareness of the fact that the landscapes and themes are reflections of some interior reality within human minds, was a pointer to the importance of speculative fantasy in the Twentieth Century, an era of Hiroshima and Cape Canaveral. Back in the '40s and '50, he thought that the Surrealism was the most important enterprise that England had ever embarked on and he still did, to the point of considering it the biggest adventure of that century.  

f) Surrealism's relationship with science fiction
Surrealism may have seemed to be inspired by fantasy for many, but this was not true.  It seemed to him as if Science Fiction and Surrealism had a great deal in common. They both represented to him a marriage between reason and unreason. In both you have science as sort of quantifying elements. In both science fiction and surrealism the basic source of imagination is one's own mind rather than the external world. Both are the perfect model for dealing with the facts of the Twentieth Century and literally opened windows on the real world.  

g) Interests of the surrealists
The surrealists were all very interested in science, in optics, and photography and their main inspiration was psychoanalysis which to Ballard was the perfect scientific mythology for the investigation of the imagination. Ballard found that this combination of science and the imagination was very close to what he wanted to do as a writer and of it course had many affinities with science fiction itself. He was also found that the novels of writers like Kafka and Burroughs, were very much in tune with the surrealists, as well as films such as Alphaville and Last Year at Marienbad.  

h) References to Surrealists in The Drowned World
When he would come to write his book The Drowned World, he would come to make references to the Surrealists in his novel, but his publisher Viktor Gollancz wanted him to delete the references because it would demean what they thought was the seriousness of the book. It would have been okay to reference to Impressionists or even American Pop creators who were just coming up, but the Surrealists were considered digusting.
i) Late 20th Century Surrealism
However towards end of the 20th Century , he felt that the only surrealists around were the psychopaths.

Salvador Dali's Enigma of Desire
Source Quotes
  1. 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.
    (Writers in Conversation- J G Ballard)
  2. JGBallard: I've always been very interested in the Surrealists, I think primarily because they're one of the few schools of painting that embrace the imagination without any restraints whatever, but also embrace the imagination within the terms of the scientific language. The Surrealists were interested in optics and all sorts of scientific advances. This climaxed, of course, in psychoanalysis, which was the perfect scientific mythology, if you like, for the investigation of the imagination. And this marriage of science and imagination seemed very close to what I wanted to do as a writer, what 1 was doing as a writer. (
  3. JGBallard: If you look at that bottom row of books, apart from the Francis Bacon, that's my brain laid out there - all those surrealist texts. I still feel surrealism. In the '40s, '50s and even the early '60s, you could not mention the surrealists without laying yourself open (in certain literate circles) to the charge of of the crudest sensationalism. Take someone like Genesis P. Orridge, whom I don't know and never had met. By analogy. most people over here, whether  writing for the serious newspapers like the Observer or the Sunday or NME - would, let's face it, look down on him: 'boring freake who hasn't got anything to say... pain in the ass... why doesn't he go away. don't refer to him'.  (RE/SEARCH 8/9 p23)
  4. JGBallard: Now that's how most people in the '40s and '50s looked at the surrealists- there's no question about that, anybody will confirm that. I can remember that well into the mid '60s to many any reference to the surrealists was inviting reprehension. You still get a hint of that in references to Dali - in intellectual circles Dali is a sensation-mongering exhibitionist who works on a lurid and vulgar state. That's the attitude about all surrealists!  (RE/SEARCH 8/9 p23)
  5. JGBallard: Surrealism , which has a way of looking at the world as an imaginative enterprise, was regarded in the '40s and '50s in exactly that light. In my first novel, The Drowned World, I put in a number of references to the surrealists. I remember the publisher, Viktor Gollancz, wanted me to delete these references because they felt my novel was serious, and that diminished my book by referencing the surrealists. I mean it would have been quite all right to mention the Impressionists, or even the American Pop creators who were just coming up - you know, Warhol & Co - but the Surrealists were disgusting! In the '40s and '50s, I thought that surrealism was the most important imaginative enterprise this country has embarked on. And I still do. For me the paintings of the surrealists have opened windows on the real world and I don't mean that  as any literary conceit. I mean that literally. (RE/SEARCH 8/9 p23)
  6. JGBallard: My earliest three or four novel which are more explicitly science fiction or heavily influenced by the surrealists (Max Ernst, Dali) and also the symbolist painters like Gustav Moreau. Once you get to the Atrocity Exhibition, Crash, High Rise and so on, they're sort of technological books set in the present day - you've got all the imagery that the titles themselves are about. You name it everything from car crashes to Kennedy assassinations, to high rises to motorways.  (RE/SEARCH 8/9 p32)
  7. INTERVIEWER: Your work also seems tremendously influenced by the visual arts.
    BALLARD: Yes, sometimes I think that all my writing is nothing more than the compensatory work of a frustrated painter.
    INTERVIEWER: You’ve written about Salvador DalĂ­ and Max Ernst, and in particular the surrealists seem to have fired your imagination the most.
    BALLARD: Yes, the surrealists have been a tremendous influence on me, though, strictly speaking, corroboration is the right word. The surrealists show how the world can be remade by the mind. In Odilon Redon’s phrase, they place the logic of the visible at the service of the invisible. They’ve certainly played a very large part in my life, far more so than any other writer I know.
    INTERVIEWER: How did this interest arise? Were you taken to museums as a child?
    BALLARD: It has always puzzled me, because there were no museums in the Shanghai where I was brought up.
    INTERVIEWER: Perhaps Shanghai itself was a kind of museum?
    BALLARD: I assume that I looked back on Shanghai and the war there as if it were part of some huge nightmare tableau that revealed itself in a violent and gaudy way . . . that remade world that one finds in surrealism. Perhaps I’ve always been trying to return to the Shanghai landscape, to some sort of truth that I glimpsed there. I think that in all my fiction, I’ve used the techniques of surrealism to remake the present into something at least consonant with the past. (
  8. JG Ballard: The only surrealists around these days are psychopaths. (See: )

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