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Posts Tagged ‘J.G. Ballard’

The Pram in the Hall

January 29, 2014 | by

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Photo: Silver Cross UK, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most popular quotations about creativity and parenthood is Cyril Connolly’s: “There is no more somber enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.” This aphorism, snobbish in its dismissal of human distraction, has been passed down through generations of artists as a black warning banner—Have Children, Be Creatively Screwed Forever.

Having a child isn’t easy, of course. When my son, Julian, was born sixteen months ago, I became intimately acquainted with sleep deprivation and time constraints. The third night after we’d brought him home, I remember being in bed, so mentally and physically exhausted that when I looked up at where the ceiling and the wall met, I saw the seam crack open, revealing a horizon of white light and red lava.

I slept in naps, and although I found the first several months to be brutal and strange and basically a new realm of reality, my role as a father worked as a kind of energizer. The pram in the hall was no “somber enemy”—rather, because I was baggy-eyed, vein-drenched in coffee, and blindly stepping into the new world of fatherhood, producing work had never felt more important to me. I was creatively explosive, if a little loose and wild. I can’t remember showering or looking in the mirror for weeks. Given the sudden constrains on my time, the pockets in which I could work were like mines where I hacked away with a speed I’ve never experienced before, discovering and polishing work.

What’s been most difficult, really, is balancing the weird mix of father and writer online, where the community I know is mostly childless. This online world, which I love and cherish, is also detached and ironic and so image-based that being a dad doesn’t seem to fit. To age out, a writer must pass through three stages: First, you turn thirty, thus becoming “online old.” Second, you get married. Third, you have a child. I’ve done all three, and now I’m having to define myself online: Am I a writer or a dad or a husband? Can I be all three? Read More »

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Lost in Translation: Notes on Adapting Ballard

December 9, 2013 | by

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The first sentence of J. G. Ballard’s High-Rise ranks, in my estimation, among the most striking ever written. It begins with a characteristic bit of misdirection:

Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the usual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.

It’s a singular accomplishment: one word into the novel and the reader is already disoriented, groping for the context of time, left to wonder what precisely constitutes the implied before. This is typical of the sensations incited by reading Ballard’s prose. His writing throbs with vigor and curiosity, springing forth the recesses of his vision, every sentence wound into curlicues of imagination. It’s rich, robustly literary stuff—which is to say intensely literary stuff, difficult to envision translated faithfully to the silver screen. An aesthetic medium, the cinema seems ill-equipped to convey the density of great prose, to illustrate externally the inner life articulated with nuance by words. Film is bound to a certain literalism: the indexical relationship between the image and what it communicates is direct, unavoidable. A film can’t describe—it can only show.

We refer to this as medium specificity—those qualities which distinguish the art of literature from the art of cinema, as well as from theater, painting, poetry, and so on. When a literary work is adapted as a film, the specificity of the art must be translated: it may be about the same thing, but, to paraphrase Roger Ebert, how it’s about what it’s about needs to be reconceived. Now, a variety of screenwriters and directors have sought to realize a film version of High-Rise since its publication in 1975, including Paul Mayersberg, Nicolas Roeg, and, much more recently, Canadian filmmaker Vincenzo Natali, whose take came perhaps the closest to fruition. Only now has it finally seemed underway: British director Ben Wheatley, the radical auteur responsible for Kill List and Sightseers, has been confirmed as the project’s new lead and is set to begin shooting in early 2014. We will learn soon enough how he has dealt with the issues of translation. Read More »

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Turkey in a Suitcase

October 8, 2013 | by

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“To define terms at the outset, this will not be a novel so much as a series of notes toward one. Nevertheless pay attention.” —Barry N. Malzberg, Galaxies, 1975

I began vomiting somewhere over Turkmenistan. But it was not until the second day on the ground in Benares that I became desperately ill, losing a quarter of a pound an hour every hour for forty hours. “I figured you would be all right in the end,” Jamie told me after the ordeal was over. “Then again, I have seen patients die, and that is more or less what it looks like.”

From my India notebook:

A pair of mouse turds on the table. Amazing to think that I ever planned to write about this place. Why not spend ten years becoming better acquainted with my own country. And spend more time with S, you fool, what is it you think life is about. The river priest, dressed in brilliant orange, gives me his blessing, custom-tailoring my reincarnation: “Not come back as parrot, not come back as mosquito, not come back as dog.” Malzberg for TPR: The Falling Astronauts, In the Enclosure, his Kennedy books, Galaxies. Just because I like it doesn’t mean it isn’t crap.

That’s how much I wanted to write my Malzberg thing. And I would have done it, too, if I had lived.

* * *

I first encountered Barry N. Malzberg in my twenties during a confused summer spent with David Pringle’s Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels. Malzberg’s Galaxies was number seventy-seven.

Malzberg—author of Horizontal Woman and The Masochist and Oracle of the Thousand Handsand Screen and In My Parents’ Bedroom and many other books; aka K. M. O’Donnell, author of Final War, Universe Day, Gather in the Hall of the Planets, and so on; aka Howard Lee, who wrote novelizations of the 1970s television series Kung Fu, starring David Carradine; aka Mike Barry, author of Night Raider, Bay Prowler, Desert Stalker, Boston Avenger, etc.; aka Eliot B. Reston, author of The Womanizer; aka Claudine Dumas, author of Diary of a Parisian Chambermaid; aka Mel Johnson, writer of I, Lesbian and Instant Sex and Nympho Nurse and The Sadist and Do It to Me—was unquestionably a hack, God knows. He knew it, too. But what a workhorse! Read More »

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Chamber of Secrets: The Sorcery of Angela Carter

October 17, 2012 | by

Illustration by Igor Karash

Fairy tales were reviled in the first stirrings of post-war liberation movements as part and parcel of the propaganda that kept women down. The American poet Anne Sexton, in a caustic sequence of poems called Transformations, scathingly evokes the corpselike helplessness of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, and scorns, with fine irony, the Cinderella dream of bourgeois marriage and living happily ever after: boredom, torment, incest, death to the soul followed. Literary and social theorists joined in the battle against the Disney vision of female virtue (and desirability); Cinderella became a darker villain than her sisters, and for Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, in their landmark study The Madwoman in the Attic, the evil stepmother in “Snow White” at least possesses mobility, will, and power—for which she is loathed and condemned. In the late sixties and early seventies, it wasn’t enough to rebel, and young writers and artists were dreaming of reshaping the world in the image of their desires. Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan had done the work of analysis and exposure, but action—creative energy—was as necessary to build on the demolition site of the traditional values and definitions of gender.

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