What I Believe by J.G Ballard

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Paul Delvaux-The Mirror 1939 (Reproduction by Brigid Marlin from a commission by J.G Ballard)
The incantatory prose poem What I Believe from 1984 is a crystallised distillation of Ballard’s artistic credo. Here are all the signature trade-marks and obsessions: car crashes, deserted beaches and abandoned hotels as well as his extraordinarily odd musings on the real appeal of celebrities. It is, as always with Ballard, idiosyncratic, bizarre and strangely beautiful.

The above image is Brigid Marlin’s reproduction of Paul Delvaux’s 1939 painting The Mirror that was destroyed in WWII. After the commercial and critical success of Ballard’s semi-autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun and the subsequent film adaption by Steven Speilberg, he commissioned Marlin to copy two of Delvaux’s lost paintings for his home in the London suburb of Shepperton.

What I Believe

I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world, to release the truth within us, to hold back the night, to transcend death, to charm motorways, to ingratiate ourselves with birds, to enlist the confidences of madmen.

I believe in my own obsessions, in the beauty of the car crash, in the peace of the submerged forest, in the excitements of the deserted holiday beach, in the elegance of automobile graveyards, in the mystery of multi-storey car parks, in the poetry of abandoned hotels.

I believe in the forgotten runways of Wake Island, pointing towards the Pacifics of our imaginations.

I believe in the mysterious beauty of Margaret Thatcher, in the arch of her nostrils and the sheen on her lower lip; in the melancholy of wounded Argentine conscripts; in the haunted smiles of filling station personnel; in my dream of Margaret Thatcher caressed by that young Argentine soldier in a forgotten motel watched by a tubercular filling station attendant.

I believe in the beauty of all women, in the treachery of their imaginations, so close to my heart; in the junction of their disenchanted bodies with the enchanted chromium rails of supermarket counters; in their warm tolerance of my perversions.

I believe in the death of tomorrow, in the exhaustion of time, in our search for a new time within the smiles of auto-route waitresses and the tired eyes of air-traffic controllers at out-of-season airports.

I believe in the genital organs of great men and women, in the body postures of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Princess Di, in the sweet odors emanating from their lips as they regard the cameras of the entire world.

I believe in madness, in the truth of the inexplicable, in the common sense of stones, in the lunacy of flowers, in the disease stored up for the human race by the Apollo astronauts.

I believe in nothing.

I believe in Max Ernst, Delvaux, Dali, Titian, Goya, Leonardo, Vermeer, Chirico, Magritte, Redon, Durer, Tanguy, the Facteur Cheval, the Watts Towers, Boecklin, Francis Bacon, and all the invisible artists within the psychiatric institutions of the planet.

I believe in the impossibility of existence, in the humour of mountains, in the absurdity of electromagnetism, in the farce of geometry, in the cruelty of arithmetic, in the murderous intent of logic.

I believe in adolescent women, in their corruption by their own leg stances, in the purity of their disheveled bodies, in the traces of their pudenda left in the bathrooms of shabby motels.

I believe in flight, in the beauty of the wing, and in the beauty of everything that has ever flown, in the stone thrown by a small child that carries with it the wisdom of statesmen and midwives.

I believe in the gentleness of the surgeon’s knife, in the limitless geometry of the cinema screen, in the hidden universe within supermarkets, in the loneliness of the sun, in the garrulousness of planets, in the repetitiveness of ourselves, in the inexistence of the universe and the boredom of the atom.

I believe in the light cast by video-recorders in department store windows, in the messianic insights of the radiator grilles of showroom automobiles, in the elegance of the oil stains on the engine nacelles of 747s parked on airport tarmacs.

I believe in the non-existence of the past, in the death of the future, and the infinite possibilities of the present.

I believe in the derangement of the senses: in Rimbaud, William Burroughs, Huysmans, Genet, Celine, Swift, Defoe, Carroll, Coleridge, Kafka.

I believe in the designers of the Pyramids, the Empire State Building, the Berlin Fuehrerbunker, the Wake Island runways.

I believe in the body odors of Princess Di.

I believe in the next five minutes.

I believe in the history of my feet.

I believe in migraines, the boredom of afternoons, the fear of calendars, the treachery of clocks.

I believe in anxiety, psychosis and despair.

I believe in the perversions, in the infatuations with trees, princesses, prime ministers, derelict filling stations (more beautiful than the Taj Mahal), clouds and birds.

I believe in the death of the emotions and the triumph of the imagination.

I believe in Tokyo, Benidorm, La Grande Motte, Wake Island, Eniwetok, Dealey Plaza.

I believe in alcoholism, venereal disease, fever and exhaustion.

I believe in pain.

I believe in despair.

I believe in all children.

I believe in maps, diagrams, codes, chess-games, puzzles, airline timetables, airport indicator signs.

I believe all excuses.

I believe all reasons.

I believe all hallucinations.

I believe all anger.

I believe all mythologies, memories, lies, fantasies, evasions.

I believe in the mystery and melancholy of a hand, in the kindness of trees, in the wisdom of light.

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42 thoughts on “What I Believe by J.G Ballard

    1. No problem, I only recently discovered and it is so wonderful I had to share. I have been on a bit of a Ballard kick lately, written about High Rise, Crash and excerpts from the Atrocity Exhibition. Hope you enjoy.

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  1. Love the painting. An excellent reproduction, I immediately recognized the style of Paul Delvaux (thanks to you) – a shame about the original. And the poem: Ballard definitely had his obsessions. I love the paragraph about Margaret Thatcher. Also the anthropomorphism of trees and stones and the like. It has a certain beauty to it. I’m glad you’re on a Ballard kick. Thanks for sharing this. I will tell you more of my thoughts on Crash as I make progress. Things are busy this week – playing catch up with work.

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    1. As to the Ballard kick, well opinion is very sharply divided between his admirers who think he reveals fundamental truths that other writers avoid or ignore and those he think he is over-rated and that people are not like that. A common criticism in reference to High-Rise and Crash is that the scenario is unrealistic, the characters are flat, the writing too detached. To which I would answer that they are missing the point. Ballard is not a realistic novelist, he belongs to the Swiftian tradition, a satirist and a erotic of fantastic fiction. He can only be judged by the conventions of the genres he wrote in. Gulliver is an Everyman, Alice is a typical Victorian child. As C S Lewis noted, you cannot have an extraordinary person in extraordinary circumstances, they cancel each other out. So you have ordinary representatives in an extraordinary place to highlight the strangeness of the surroundings. Hence my earlier question regarding genre.

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      1. I agree with that completely. I wasn’t thinking of genre in those terms – from the standpoint that Ballard’s work would be unfairly judged against fiction outside the realm in which he writes. When you asked how important genre is I thought of it in the manner of tucking books into neat little categories that trap them in with other books that are nothing alike. Do you know what I mean? So yes in the way you mean it, genre is important. I’m up to chapter 8. Just after the near crash with Dr. Remington in the car.

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      2. I am on chapter six in the breakers yard when he first mets Dr Remington. I know what you mean about pigeon holing, but the realists often chastise and dismiss works which are fantastic, visionary etc, works whose aim is not to show realistic people doing realistic actions in a recognisable world, but aim (though only the stand outs ever achieve) a mythic truth. Some of the criticism I have read is really on the level of ‘well rabbits can’t talk’ dismissal of Alice in relation to High-Rise.

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      3. Well in Crash’a case I think the genre is pornography, and I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. It has only one subject, any other emotion unrelated to that subject is banished, the characters are not shown in the round, there have no other emotion demands apart from their perverted sexual drive. But this is the nature of pornography, only the sex matters. But as Ballard noted pornography is also the political of art-forms. Question is does Ballard’s extreme metaphor tells us something about the nature of how we exploit and use other people I am a super quick reader when I get going.

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      4. I’ve thought about that – the idea that everything we do is inevitably selfish, self serving if not necessarily exploitative (that is the extreme end of the spectrum). Even the good that we do is somewhat self serving in that we get a sense of satisfaction in knowing that we were the reason for the easing of suffering or pain. That sounds cynical…. I’m really not that bad.

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      5. Well satirists position themselves on the extreme end of the spectrum. I think Ballard was also fed up of the self serving clap trap from the safety brigand. The characters in Crash are bored beyond belief and seek transcendence through transgression.

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      1. I really love his work, a thought provoking and weird artist! But it is funny because last night while perusing blogs I came across Delvaux’s work posted in another blog I follow. Today, right after reading yours, I came across an analysis of the novel 1984. (Coincidence not coincidence!) So yes, they are haunting me! In good company 🙂

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