J.G. Ballard, the prescient, controversial bard of Shepperton, has died at age 78.
It is a huge loss, but as consolation we did not lose him four decades earlier, as he described in this article in the Times of London.
In 1970, I began to write Crash. This was more than a literary challenge, not least because I had three young children crossing Shepperton’s streets every day, and nature might have played another of its nasty tricks. I have described the novel as a kind of psychopathic hymn, and it took an immense effort of will to enter the minds of the central characters. In an attempt to be faithful to my own imagination, I gave the narrator my own name, accepting all this entailed.
Two weeks after I had finished, my tank-like Ford Zephyr had a front-wheel blowout at the foot of Chiswick Bridge. The car swerved out of control, crossed the central reservation and rolled onto its back. Luckily I was wearing my seat belt. Hanging upside down, I found the doors had been jammed by the partly collapsed roof. The car lay in the centre of the oncoming carriageway, and I was fortunate not to be struck by approaching traffic. Eventually I wound down the window and clambered out.
Looking back, I suspect that if I had died, the accident might well have been judged deliberate, at least on the unconscious level. But I believe Crash is less a hymn to death than an attempt to buy off the executioner who waits for us all in a quiet garden nearby. Crash is set at a point where sex and death intersect, though the graph is difficult to read and is constantly recalibrating itself.