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


  • Jarrad Keyes


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


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.


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