Salvador Dali & J.G. Ballard

Lately I’ve been reading a great little book, J.G. Ballard Quotes. As one might expect, it’s a collection of quotes from interviews and writings from one of my favourite authors, J.G. Ballard – you may know his work such as the Atrocity Exhibition, Crash, or Empire of the Sun. I’ve read all of his novels and his collected short stories, and never cease to find his work inspiring.

James Graham Ballard (15 November 1930 – 19 April 2009) was an English novelist and short story writer. […] The literary distinctiveness of his work has given rise to the adjective “Ballardian”, defined by the Collins English Dictionary as “resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J. G. Ballard’s novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.” […] The author Will Self describes Ballard’s work as being occupied with “eros, thanatos, mass media and emergent technologies”.

In J.G. Ballard Quotes, the quotes are broken up into sections, one entirely on surrealism. It turns out Ballard was particularly inspired by Salvador Dali, especially the Persistence of Memory.

You could almost reconstruct the inner landscapes of the 20th century from [Salvador Dali’s painting, “The Persistence of Memory”] …It’s a familiar landscape made from everyday things… soft watches, the string, dead embryo, fused sand extending forever, the rocky headland that we’ll never reach. There’s a strange sort of rectilinear section of the sea, as if the brain had decided to slot it off. This is a world beyond clock time, a world where everything has happened. There’s nothing more to be done. This is where the human race beaches itself. [Art Newspaper, 1999]
J.G. Ballard Quotes p. 290

Salvador Dali - The Persistence of Memory - 1931

Salvador Dali – The Persistence of Memory (1931) 24 cm × 33 cm, oil on canavas (MOMA NYC)

In Surrealism, the events of the interior world of the psyche are represented in terms of commonplace situations. In fantastic art, Breughel, and Bosch, you have the nightmare represented extremely well … chariots of demons and screaming archangels and all the materials fo horror. What you don’t have is what Surrealism has: the representation for the first time of the inner world of the mind in terms of ordinary objects – tables, chairs, telephones. [Friends, 1970]

…the classic Surrealist paintings of Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, Giorgio de Chirico and Paul Delveaux, where the laws of time and space are being constantly suspended, and where reality is decoded in an attempt to discover the superreality that lies behind the facade of everyday life. And that means everything from the world of politics and mass merchandising to something as trivial as the fabrics people have in their homes. [Rolling Stone, 1987]

J.G. Ballard Quotes pp. 291-292

So yeah, J.G. Ballard. Something of a fan. It’s funny that the Surrealist greats are considered quite respectable nowadays, as at the time they were considered quite shocking. Strange as it may seem to many of us in the internet age, before the counterculture took off in the late 50’s and early 60’s, the average citizen actually cared quite a bit about fine art. Popular magazines such as LIFE frequently ran articles on what was going on in the art world. That said, Surrealism was not received well at all. Until after WWII, that is, when American audiences became enamoured of the movement – in no small part because of all the surrealist artists that fled to the US to escape wartime Europe.

The critical establishment absolutely disdained Surrealists, and World War II seemed to confirm their hostility. [Art Newspaper, 1999]
J.G. Ballard Quotes p. 287

If you’re interested in reading more of J.G. Ballard’s musings on topics such as surrealism, psychopathology, celebrity, writing, and sex, I strongly suggest that you hurry off and pick up a copy of J.G. Ballard Quotes for yourself. If you’d like to see more of Dali’s work you can always wander off to any art museum with a decent modernist collection, or if that’s not possible, Salvador Dali 1904-1989 by Gilles Neret is a good place to start.