I just dug out an old copy of The Paris Review (Winter 1984, issue 94 to be precise) featuring an interview with JG Ballard. The interviewer, Thomas Frick, asks Ballard if he has any advice for young writers. Ballard replies, “A lifetime’s experience urges me to utter a warning cry: do anything else, take someone’s golden retriever for a walk …”
I don’t know how much of a walker Ballard was. His house in Shepperton was within easy walking distance of a park (below), two pubs and the railway station, so I imagine he at least walked to these places. I bang on about this quite a bit in the UK edition of my book The Lost Art of Walking.
Now I discover, that earlier this year Time Out Shanghai organized a couple of Ballard walking tours. The first one (and I’m quoting here) “traversed the leafy pavements of Panyu and Xinhua Lus to discover Ballard’s former residence and more genteel early years.” The second took place in “the Longhua area south of Xujiahui where Ballard and his family were interned during the Japanese occupation and which today features swathes of dusty construction.”
I’m a sucker for these kind of literary excursions, though somehow walking doesn’t seem absolutely the right mode of transport for a Ballard expedition. A Lincoln convertible with suicide doors might be more appropriate.
Ballard has influenced all manner of artists, painters, musicians, including Jake and Dinos Chapman. Here’s a quotation from one or other of them (unless they’re speaking as one these days) from a conversation with Charlotte Cripps of the Independent. They’re discussing their work The tragiK Konsequences of driving KareleSSly (2000). “With its spectre of contorted steel and female genitalia, Ballard’s Crash was my primary motive for taking up driving lessons as an adolescent. I subsequently failed the practical test on three separate occasions, but I did manage to contort an aluminium rear bumper. Female genitalia came much later on in life.” Really? By the time most of us are old enough to drive I'd have thought female genitalia were much on the minds of many of us, still ...
I love the Chapman brothers work, its weird compulsive obsessiveness, and of course I know they’re not writers, but I can’t help thinking how very different their work might be if the simply taken someone’s golden retriever for a walk. They did however have a 2006 exhibition at Tate Britain titled When Humans Walked the Earth. The Tate website says, the work “contests the distinctions we make between man and machine and assumptions about historical progress. Cast in the traditional medium of bronze, these objects evoke the heroic tradition of monumental sculpture. However their scatological imagery, subversive intent and complex associations suggest a sense of impending collapse.”
Yep, it’s not so easy to walk away from the old Ballard influence.