Above: A portrait of J.G. Ballard by Brigid Marlin. Credit: NPG.


I think we’re living in a landscape of enormous fictions ... reality now is a kind of huge advertising campaign ... I think we have seen the invasion of almost every aspect of our lives by fictions of one kind or another ... reality is now a fiction [and] given that reality is now a fiction, it’s not necessary for the writer to invent the fiction. The writer’s relationship with reality is [now] completely the other way around. It’s [now] the writer's job to find the reality, to invent the reality, not invent the fiction.--J.G. Ballard

What is the meaning of Ballard's inversion? (Which happens to be very close in spirit to several statements by Jean Baudrillard.) There is no one answer of course. I think that each person reflecting on this statement can gain something unique from considering it in relation to their own experience and art practice. For me Ballard's comment/inversion is a reminder: these carefully sanitized, idealized, glamourized scenes which we see posted to the Gram and elsewhere are just a wafer-thin surface, an epidermis, a front. They are a staging, a set-up, or, in film-studies jargon, a mise-en-scene. We could say that they are authentically staged. Many such stagings offer up perfected examples of living-the-dream--meaning the materialist, consumerist dream. Everything offered up has to be just beautiful, enviable, wondrous, pleasing. Even posts found on Reddit mostly conform to this framework of sanitizing, idealizing. (The Reddit ethos is dressed up as cool-and-clever but its core is a familiar agreeable humanitarianism.) For me, Ballard's point is that fiction/art which offers up more glamour, more sanitization, more idealization is not really needed, it's redundant ... we are permanently knee-deep in these things. A good example of a creator who is caught up inventing the fictions is Michael Mann: his presentations of super-airbrushed high-end lifestyles often feel like watching deja-vu. The same goes for the work of Steven Meisel and Tim Walker; it's all too obvious, like a Louis Vuitton advert. Whatever has been perfected is already inert. Also, visually, the global elite lifestyle is always already an airbrushed mediocrity ... luxury reiterated as a series of stereotypes is very deadening. We know so well those leather-upholstered, super sanitized lifestyles. The Ballardian question is: what lies beneath? We can compare it with Benjamin's interest in all that is "unremarked, forgotten, cast adrift."

(10 January 2019)