Words in Pictures: J G Ballard

The prophetic author on changes in British society.

Among the many references in this week's Critic At Large piece -- Chris Petit on the rise of surveillance in Britain -- is one to J G Ballard's prophetic novella Running Wild (1988). In it, the novelist foresaw the growing obsession with security, attributing it to a latent social malaise that was both spawning and spawned by an increasingly feral populace.

As the likes of Will Self have noted, it is striking how sensitive Ballard was to changes in the popular British psyche. Here he is in a 1986 interview with the director Solveig Nordlund, discussing the rise of a sensationalist press.

And here, eight years later, is Ballard on what was driving change in the Nineties. Not politics, he says, but the consumer economy.

John Gray's tribute to the author (written after his death in April last year) can be read here.

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“The Hole-Up”: a poem by Matthew Sweeney

“You could taste the raw / seagull you’d killed and plucked, / the mussels you’d dug from sand, / the jellyfish that wobbled in your / hands as you slobbered it.”

Lying on your mouth and nose
on the hot sand, you recall
a trip in a boat to the island –
the fat rats that skittered about
after god-knows-what dinner,
the chubby seals staring up,
the sudden realisation that a man
on the run had wintered there
while the soldiers scoured
the entire shoreline to no avail –
you knew now you had been him
out there. You could taste the raw
seagull you’d killed and plucked,
the mussels you’d dug from sand,
the jellyfish that wobbled in your
hands as you slobbered it.
You saw again that first flame
those rubbed stones woke in
the driftwood pile, and that rat
you grilled on a spar and found
delicious. Yes, you’d been that man,
and you had to admit now you
missed that time, that life,
though you were very glad you
had no memory of how it ended.


Matthew Sweeney’s Black Moon was shortlisted for the 2007 T S Eliot Prize. His latest collection is Inquisition Lane (Bloodaxe).

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt