We must mark Ballard’s passing, and this is a fine book for doing so. There could be no better candidate. As the legacy volume it sadly is, The Complete Stories is more than the stories it contains. Ballard’s “introduction” is not really anything of the sort: it is a brief throat-clearing. That is entirely appropriate; authors are rarely the most interesting people to talk about their own works. But one is left hankering for something more substantial to mark this Ballardian moment. In Martin Amis’s introduction we do not have it.
It is not a good piece. There are two main faults, and it should be stressed that Amis cannot in fairness be held responsible for one of them. By some unfortunate meander of history, we have reached a place where it is not considered vulgar, tacky, embarrassing or out of place to conduct interviews with other people, write introductions to their books or even their obituaries, all filtered through the prism of oneself.
A rummage in the bookshop through the introductions to novels reveals a thicket of “I”s and “me”s. I first read, I first met, I first came across, have always found, have always believed and so on. One can easily imagine, with a slight kink of cultural politics, a world in which the etiquette of the introduction is to start from the assumption that its writer is almost certainly not a particularly interesting aspect of this other person’s book, and that absent a strong counterargument, she or he should therefore be invisible.
This is not the world in which we live.
Read more: “In Disobedient Rooms: On J.G. Ballard.”