Monday, April 20, 2009

Notes from the back garden

Just some meaningless fragments...and a nice photo series at the Guardian on J. G. Ballard.

I think my favourite two are the ones showing Ballard as an ordinary bloke in his garden.

Although often lionized as an avatar of the extreme, one of the things I've always found most intriguing -- and most appealing -- about Ballard was his rootedness in the normal and routine.

It was his ability to so effortlessly traverse this seeming chasm between the banal and the weird that makes him so interesting.

Perhaps perversely, he was a poet of the weirdly ordinary.

From Justine Jordan's review of Ballard's last book published during his lifetime, Miracles of Life:

His literary career has been conducted from one "warm domestic nest", the Shepperton house he declines to leave because it reminds him of the family room in Lunghua. After the destruction of the war and two years of dissection, procreation was a magical act for Ballard, and he writes movingly about his three children, "miracles of life" whom he brought up single-handed after the early death of his wife from a sudden bout of pneumonia.

Domestic confinement enabled his imagination to run wild: "My greatest ally was the pram in the hall." The fragmentary meditations on geometry, psychosis and "celebrity sex death" of The Atrocity Exhibition were composed between the school run and Blue Peter, while anatomies of solitude such as Concrete Island came from the man who could now say, "Thankfully, I had long forgotten what it was like to be alone."
From David Pringle's Guardian books obituary:

On a family holiday in Spain in September 1964, his wife contracted an infection and swiftly died of galloping pneumonia. As Aldiss was later to say: "It unhinged Jimmy for some while." He wrote nothing for about six months and drank too much. Nevertheless, resisting suggestions that he farm them out, he continued to care for his three children. "It was an extremely happy childhood," his daughter Fay said later. "Daddy sacrificed everything to bring us up. We had a lady who came in to change and wash the sheets every Friday, but apart from that he did everything, and he did it brilliantly. Our home was a nest, a lovely, warm family nest."

One doesn't have to be a parent, I think, to appreciate his comment that "My greatest ally was the pram in the hall."

There are many kinds of ways of anchoring oneself in domestic tranquillity and human ordinariness, and such regularised order can be a tremendous aid to creativity.

I think the notion that the artist must be a personal extremist is a very tired one.

Thinking along these lines brought an association with John Gray's description of Arthur Schopenhauer.

I wouldn't for a minute agree with much of Schopenhauer's philosophy (which, in any case, only has a tenuous relationship to Ballard, except perhaps for both men's appreciation of the animal nature of human beings) or some of his biography, but he was certainly a productive and imaginative guy.

Gray summarises his lifestyle as follows:

He had a love of habit. During his later life in Frankfurt he followed an unvarying daily routine. Getting up around seven, he would write until noon, play the flute for half an hour, then go out to lunch, always in the same place. Afterwards he returned to his rooms, read until four, then went for a two-hour walk, ending up at a library where he read the London Times. In the evening he went to a play or a concert, after which he had a light supper in a hotel called the Englischer Hof. He kept to this regime for nearly thirty years.

(John Gray, Straw Dogs, 2002, p. 40)
I may be a freak, but I find something tremendously appealing about this.

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