J.G. Ballard: The Literature of Happiness


J.G. Ballard’s most famous novel: another happy tale?

The late J.G. Ballard had a reputation as a glum and depressingwriter, obsessed with apocalypse and disaster. And it’s true that the subjects of his books — car crashes, life in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, world-destroying  catastrophes — are rather on the sober side.

But Ballard saw himself as something different, as a writer of happiness. As Ballard told Charles Platt in 1979 interview (available in Platt’s book Dream Makers):

Most of my fiction, whatever its settings may be, is not pessimistic. It’s a fiction of psychological fulfillment. Most people think that I write a fiction of unhappy endings, but it’s not true. The hero of The Drowned World, who goes south toward the sun and self-oblivion, is choosing a sensible course of action that will result in absolute psychological fulfillment for himself. In a sense — he has — sort of — hit the jackpot! He has; he’s won the psychological sweepstakes. I mean, the book makes no sense, and the hero’s behaviour is meaningless, if you don’t see it that way. It’s the same thing in Crash [his traumatic novel of perversion, violence, and the automobile]. The whole dynamic of that book, I suppose, leads toward the ultimate car crash, which we all celebrate; something like that. All my fiction describes the merging of the self in the ultimate metaphor, the ultimate image, and that’s psychologically fulfilling. It seems to me to be the only recipe for happiness we know.

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