In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section J. G. Ballard

  • Introduction
  • Longer Overviews
  • Shorter Overviews
  • Websites
  • Bibliographies and Reference Works
  • Collections
  • Interviews and Conversations
  • Ballard in Audiovisual Media
  • Ballard on Ballard
  • Biography, Memoirs, Obituaries, and Related Writings
  • General Critical Articles
  • Articles on Individual Works: Crash
  • Film Adaptations

British and Irish Literature J. G. Ballard
Nicholas Ruddick
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0152


James Graham Ballard (hereafter J. G. B.), was born in 1930 (d. 2009) into an English expatriate family and raised in the International Settlement, Shanghai, China. His childhood was interrupted by the Japanese invasion of 1937, and in 1943 he and his family were interned by the Japanese. Liberated at the end of WWII, the Ballards relocated to England, where J. G. B. always felt himself to be an outsider. At the Leys School, Cambridge, he began to pursue serious interests in film, aviation, Freudian psychoanalysis, and surrealist art. In 1949, he went to Cambridge University to study medicine, intending to become a psychiatrist. But though fascinated by anatomy, his vocation proved to be literary. Having briefly studied English at the University of London, he enrolled in the Royal Air Force (RAF) and trained for some months in Canada, where he discovered American science fiction magazines. In 1955, he returned to England and married Mary Matthews; they would have a son and two daughters. In 1956, J. G. B. debuted with two stories in British science fiction magazines. Insisting that it was the genre’s task to explore inner—not outer—space, he would become the leading writer of the British New Wave. In 1960, the Ballards moved to Shepperton, a quiet West London suburb, where J. G. B. would live until shortly before his death. In 1962, he published the potboiler The Wind from Nowhere and the acclaimed postapocalyptic novel The Drowned World, and thereafter supported his family through writing. In 1964, his wife died suddenly of pneumonia. Against the expectations of the time, J. G. B. raised his three children alone, never remarrying. During the late 1960s, his fiction began an experimental stage typified by The Atrocity Exhibition (1969) and culminating in Crash (1973), his most controversial novel, which marries sex, violence, and celebrity culture in the urban landscape of the near future, dominated by the automobile. In 1984, he published Empire of the Sun, a quasi-autobiographical novel set in wartime Shanghai. It was warmly received by a general readership, and J. G. B. began to be recognized as one of the leading writers of his time. In his later fiction, J. G. B. continued to explore technological developments and social trends as symptoms of the unconscious psychopathology of Western society. Just before his death, he published an autobiography, Miracles of Life (2008), finding positive meaning in the traumas of his earlier life. The adjective Ballardian has recently entered several dictionaries, suggesting that J. G. B.’s dystopian vision of the trajectory of Western civilization has been highly influential.

Longer Overviews

J. G. B.’s oeuvre, so large, various, and influential on so many areas of contemporary culture, does not lend itself easily to the overview, even when book length. Gasiorek 2005 is probably the best available, though as with Wilson 2017 and especially Luckhurst 1997, the application of poststructuralist literary theory often obscures rather than clarifies the works of a writer whose task was to make manifest what would otherwise remain latent in culture. Other overviews adopt particular perspectives with varying success: Stephenson 1991 an archetypal, Baxter 2009 a surrealist, Francis 2011 a psychological, Paddy 2015 a postcolonial, Oramus 2015 and Tandy 2015 a sociohistorical, and Cord 2017 a political.

  • Baxter, Jeannette. J. G. Ballard’s Surrealist Imagination: Spectacular Authorship. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2009.

    Argues that J. G. B.’s oeuvre, comparable in its radical vigor to the writings of De Sade and Bataille, constitutes a surrealist-inspired revision of post-WWII history and culture. The subtitle acknowledges, after Guy Debord, that J. G. B. views social reality as colonized by deceptive images. Many monochrome illustrations.

  • Cord, Florian. J. G. Ballard’s Politics: Late Capitalism, Power, and the Pataphysics of Resistance. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110490718

    Highly theoretical exploration of J. G. B.’s oeuvre as a work of urgent political resistance, as well as an introduction to J. G. B. for a German academic readership, who have so far relatively neglected him. Deals in particular with Crash, Concrete Island, Cocaine Nights, Super-Cannes, and Millennial People.

  • Francis, Samuel. The Psychological Fictions of J. G. Ballard. London: Continuum, 2011.

    On J. G. B. as a psychological writer who argues for the necessity of a benevolent psychopathology given the current state of Western civilization. Covers those short stories and novels that can be illuminated by exploring J. G. B.’s interest in Freud, Jung, and the antipsychiatry of R. D. Laing in particular.

  • Gasiorek, Andrzej. J. G. Ballard. Contemporary British Novelists. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2005.

    The best overview of J. G. B.’s oeuvre to date, though it does not attempt to cover his entire fictional output nor does it have a central thesis. It is intended for the academic market as it is very densely written and studded with references to European theorists. It usefully elucidates J. G. B.’s most difficult works; its chief weakness is a reluctance to gauge aesthetic success.

  • Luckhurst, Roger. “The Angle between Two Walls”: The Fiction of J. G. Ballard. New York: St. Martin’s, 1997.

    This study is above all concerned with the way that J. G. B.’s fiction seems to fluctuate generically. As its method is to connect the oeuvre to contemporary theorists that J. G. B. had no affinity with, the result disappoints. But chapter 1 is a searching attempt to explain why science fiction as a genre failed ambitious authors like J. G. B. who worked within it.

  • Oramus, Dominika. Grave New World: The Decline of the West in the Fiction of J. G. Ballard. Toronto: Terminal Press, 2015.

    Offers close readings of J. G. B.’s fiction as a register of the decline since WWII of Western civilization into a postapocalyptic state (though many do not realize it). J. G. B. is read in the context of sociologists and historians such as Toffler, Fukuyama, Baudrillard, Spengler, Toynbee, et al.

  • Paddy, David Ian. The Empires of J. G. Ballard: An Imagined Geography. SF Story Worlds: Critical Studies in Science Fiction. Canterbury, UK: Gylphi, 2015.

    A lucid study mapping J. G. B.’s oeuvre as a critique of imperialism and its post-WWII legacy, beginning with his boyhood reading, his experience of colonial Shanghai, and his affinity with deracinated novelists like Graham Greene who rejected parochial Englishness. Familiar with the J. G. B. papers in the British Library and strong on intertextual relations.

  • Stephenson, Gregory. Out of the Night and into the Dream: A Thematic Study of the Fiction of J. G. Ballard. Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy 47. New York: Greenwood, 1991.

    Monograph surveying J. G. B.’s fiction through Running Wild, informed by archetypal perspectives. The argument is clearly presented, though the identification of J. G. B. as a transcendentalist seeking authentic being in a world of illusion leads to some strained readings.

  • Tandy, Pippa. “Writing World War III: J. G. Ballard’s Field Guide to the Cold War.” In Deep Ends: The J. G. Ballard Anthology 2015. Edited by Rick McGrath, 178–294, Toronto: The Terminal Press, 2015.

    A monograph-length piece dominating this collection. Divided into nine chapters, it argues that J. G. B.’s oeuvre amounts to a thorough documentary analysis of the technological environment of the Cold War.

  • Wilson, D. Harlan. J. G. Ballard. Modern Masters of Science Fiction. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.5406/j.ctt1x76dhn

    Approaches J. G. B.’s oeuvre from a science fiction perspective. While generally judicious, it never quite attains the clarity of expression to which it aspires, and will appeal to the academic more than the general reader. Engages well with existing J. G. B. criticism and contains a useful bibliography of secondary sources.

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