JG Ballard eulogized by John Clute

Writing in The Independent, John Clute, an eminent scholar and historian of science fiction, eulogizes JG Ballard. I ran into Clute over the Easter weekend and he mentioned that as the designated writer of science fiction obits for The Independent, he keeps a file of pre-written -- and oft-updated -- obits for older writers and writers in poor health. I was shocked at this -- it seemed a little gruesome -- but John said, "The last thing I want is for a good friend to pass while I'm travelling or busy and for me not to be able to write them the good, full and complete obituary they deserve." Here's the results -- an obit every bit as good as a titan like Ballard deserved.
The most complete unfolding of his later sense of things can probably be found in a quite astonishing book-length interview published by the magazine Research as the self-standing Research No 8/9 (1984) but he remained unfailingly eloquent until the end of his life, as the interviews assembled in Conversations (2005) attest. "At times", he said in 2004, "I look around the executive housing estates of the Thames Valley and feel that [a vicious and genuinely mindless neo-fascism] is already here, quietly waiting its day, and largely unknown to itself ... What is so disturbing about the 9/11 hijackers is that they had not spent the previous years squatting in the dust on some Afghan hillside ... These were highly educated engineers and architects who had spent years sitting around in shopping malls in Hamburg and London, drinking coffee and listening to the muzak."

He continued to live in Shepperton. In 1985, he had a copy made of a lost Paul Delvaux painting - in truth, not a very good one - and kept it propped against the same wall in his work-room for the rest of his life. He refused an OBE in 2003, as the whole rackety world of gong-bestowing seemed to him a "Ruritanian charade" designed to "prop up" the Royals. He continued to act with dignity and insight the role of a public man of letters, publishing reviews and comments frequently - A User's Guide to the Millennium: Essays and Reviews (1996) assembles some of this work. Miracles of Life is a memoir of piercing clarity; a projected posthumous volume, Conversations with My Physician, may continue Ballard's engagement with the facts of his mortality.

His late novels never flinch from addressing the "elective psychopathy" that increasingly riddles the anaesthetised world we are now beginning to inhabit. It is a fate Ballard had been predicting for half a century. His fiction was perhaps too invariant for him to rank as the greatest literary figure of his generation but of all the writers of significance in the last decades of the 20th century, he was maybe the widest awake.

J.G. Ballard: Writer whose dystopian visions helped shape our view of the modern world (via Making Light)



  1. The difference being that the obit writers at “all newspapers” aren’t specialized to write the obits for a small group of people, all of whom are friends of the writer.

  2. There’s quite a readable novel with this obit storage idea as one of its conceits. Funny in parts, too. It’s called Death and the Penguin by Andrei Kurkov.

  3. “elective psychopathy”..mmmm
    i don’t think we realise how much we will miss(need!)
    Ballard.not for a while.

  4. Parishioners,

    “he mentioned that as the designated writer of science fiction obits for The Independent, he keeps a file of pre-written — and oft-updated — obits for older writers and writers in poor health”

    I just happen to be reading Hiaasen’s “Basket Case” at the moment…


    Le Rev Dr

  5. Clute is sort of a unique case though. If he’s writing an eulogy, you can bet it’ll be good.

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