R.I.P. Writer J.G. Ballard, 78

April 19, 2009

There are writers who come along, see what others have done, and then do things differently.

And then there are writers who come along, don’t care what’s been done before, and go ahead and do what they want to do.

J.G. Ballard was the latter kind of writer.

I’ll leave it to others to do the long analyses.

I just want to focus on one point that I think many people don’t know.

Ballard pioneered a form of writing he called “condensed novels.”

A necessary ambivalence pervades these texts that makes them easier to quote than to paraphrase. The increasing compression of Ballard’s prose through the 1960s renders it even more resistant to summary, as it moved closer to the condition of the advertisement (“What can Saul Bellow and John Updike do that J. Walter Thompson, the world’s largest advertising agency and its greatest producer of fiction, can’t do better?”).

To this end Ballard developed the form of the “condensed novel.” As Pringle and James Goddard describe them, “the narratives are stripped of surplus verbiage and compounded until they are only skeletal representations of what they might otherwise have been.” The linear progress of the minimal narrative that remains is further broken by a division into separately headed paragraphs; the temporal and spatial relations between fragments are variant. As did the cut-ups, Ballard’s narrational style derives from the collage techniques of the surrealists: “The techniques of surrealism have a particular relevance at this moment, when the fictional elements in the world around us are multiplying to the point where it is almost impossible to distinguish between the ‘real’ and the ‘false’ – the terms no longer have any meaning.”

In 1958 Ballard created an entire novel designed to go on billboards.

Emphasis added by me.

All of the writers on Twitter squeezing fiction into that form are actually following in the invisible footsteps of Ballard.

Know your history. Say a prayer for the man even — especially — if you didn’t know.


Writer David Hewson On Publishing’s Future

April 19, 2009

Writer David Hewson: Parting thoughts: the state of publishing

I’m not qualified to offer advice to publishers or big book companies even if I had something useful to say. So let me focus on what I know and love: writing. Authors are, I think, on the brink of a new and exciting age. We will no longer be confined by the schedules and norms of the print industry. Those literary forms that once seemed so hard to get published – novellas and short stories – suddenly make sense because they match the instant release of digital. Backlists become resources to be revived, not lost titles that never again see the light of day. And there will, I’m sure, be new types of media and opportunities created in the years to come too.

Emphasis added by me.

There’s much more there. I extracted, of course, the bit that agrees with my own view of things.

Hewson sees independent bookstores as helping to keep publishing — read, I think, as printed books — alive. I don’t think so. Not if they don’t become independent eBookstores too.