From a ‘metallized Elysium’ to the ‘wave of the future’: J.G. Ballard’s Reappraisal of Space

Jarrad Keyes

Abstract


This essay argues that the ‘concrete and steel’ trilogy marks a pivotal moment in Ballard’s intellectual development. From an earlier interest in cities, typically London, Crash ([1973] 1995b), Concrete Island (1974] 1995a) and High-Rise ([1975] 2005) represent a threshold in Ballard’s spatial representations, outlining a critique of London while pointing the way to a suburban reorientation characteristic of his later works. While this process becomes fully realised in later representations of Shepperton in The Unlimited Dream Company ([1979] 1981) and the concept of the ‘virtual city’ (Ballard 2001a), the trilogy makes a number of important preliminary observations. Crash illustrates the roles automobility and containerisation play in spatial change. Meanwhile, the topography of Concrete Island delineates a sense of economic and spatial transformation, illustrating the obsolescence of the age of mechanical reproduction and the urban form of the metropolis. Thereafter, the development project in High-Rise is linked to deindustrialisation and gentrification, while its neurological metaphors are key markers of spatial transformation. The essay concludes by considering how Concrete Island represents a pivotal text, as its location demonstrates. Built in the 1960s, the Westway links the suburban location of Crash to the West with the Central London setting of High-Rise. In other words, Concrete Island moves athwart the new economy associated with Central London and the suburban setting of Shepperton, the ‘wave of the future’ as envisaged in Ballard’s works.


Keywords


J.G. Ballard, Automobility, Urban Problematic, Suburbia, Technology and Globalisation

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