When a Writer Becomes an Adjective

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Kafka. Joyce. Woolf. Dickens. Nabokov.

All of these writers have become adjectives. (Arguably, “Kafkaesque” is the most overused one of the mix.  And “Nabokovian” the least-earned moniker.)

Just last April, a prolific and prophetic English writer by the name of J.G. Ballard died.

At some point in the cultural multiverse, he too became an adjective and perhaps an adjective the most applicable to our own time.

“Ballardian”, according to the custodians of his extensive fansite, means “resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard’s novels & stories, esp. dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes & the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.”

Just a month ago, I read one of Ballard’s earlier novels, The Unlimited Dream Company which is essentially a two hundred plus page surrealist fever dream about a crazy fake stunt pilot who crashes his stolen Cessna into the provincial English suburb of Shepperton. Thought dead by the town’s citizens, he instead is miraculously and mysteriously revived and becomes something of a pagan-sexual Christ figure for the populace.

Thus he begins to transform the dull suburbs into an overgrown and demented Garden Of Eden.

Now after I finished the book I had to proclaim: this is the supreme fantasy. Especially for any of us who grew up in towns that were too boring for them, towns that hid their secrets all too well.  Interestingly enough, Shepperton, England is a real suburban town and the place where Ballard lived for most of his later life.

The good people at Ballardian have created a fascinating photo essay of Shepperton in light of Ballard’s own writings. Here is part one. And, a year later, we are treated to part two.

I think Shepperton is critical in understanding and appreciating the idioms of Ballard’s own dystopian vision. Perhaps as important as his early life in Shangahai. And I often wonder how much of my own creative vocabulary has been inspired by my childhood spent in the desert burbs of San Diego where sprawling freeway canyons crossed paths with deserted military training bases and drained reservoirs.

This week also sees the release of the 1200 page long The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard.

And if you missed it, a week ago, Jonathan Lethem wrote a typically stirring appreciation of Ballard’s works, especially his short stories.


Michael Berger is a barely-published writer and book-seller living in San Francisco. He is one of the founding Corsairs of the Iron Garters Bike Club and is currently pursuing a degree in applied pataphysics. He sometimes eats oatmeal for dinner. More from this author →