Geoff Manaugh is the author of BLDGBLOG and the forthcoming BLDGBLOG Book, previewed on Omnivoracious last week. I thought his unique perspective would be of interest to readers curious about J.G. Ballard and his worldview. I hope you enjoy his short essay. It encapsulates a lot of the elements I find fascinating about Ballard. - Jeff VanderMeer
Between the Tower and the Parking Lot: A Spatial Appreciation of J.G. Ballard
by Geoff Manaugh
J.G. Ballard, who died on Sunday at the age of 78, leaves behind far more than his status as a "cult author," science fiction novelist, or agent provocateur. Although most of his novels are still all but impossible to find in the U.S., I would argue that Ballard is one of the most important writers on architecture in the last century. But what do I mean by architecture, and why would that be the source of much of his works' continued relevance?
Ballard is best known for his look at the erotic nature of car accidents (Crash) and his semi-autobiographical account of a childhood spent in a Japanese internship camp during the Second World War (Empire of the Sun), but it's also worth looking at the settings of his less well-known novels: the architectural structures and urban landscapes in which they take place. Among other things, what makes Ballard's fiction so spatially valuable is that he explores the psychological implications of everyday non-places--like parking lots, high-rise apartment towers, highway embankments, shopping malls, well-policed corporate enclaves, and even British suburbia--without resorting to the flippant condemnation one might expect. Instead, Ballard describes these spaces in terms of their effects: how they mutate and rearrange the mental lives of their inhabitants.