Human Flower Project
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
In homage to J.G. Ballard, John Levett explores London’s Westway thoroughfare, dereliction making way for radicalism (or at least freedom).
Doll on a door below London’s Westway
Essay and photos by John Levett
If you could have been any writer and written what they wrote who would you choose?
It may be the kind of people I used to (still do) meet up with, but the choice has usually been ‘cult’ as if making the cult choice confers some measure of cultness upon the chooser. As soon as I got the hang of this self-anointment round about 1960 I couldn’t get enough. I stayed well off the pace for a couple of years—just couldn’t get hold of the ‘next-big-cult-writer’ technique. ‘Camus? How retentive.” “Sartre? How juvenile.” “Grass? How bourgeois.” “Golding? How petty bourgeois.” “Burgess? How neo-fascist.” “Lessing? Your mother’s a shop-keeper isn’t she?” A hard day’s night work was the getting of radical credibility.
Then I found Better Books in Charing Cross Road (just upwind from where Helene Hanff found her own fave bookshop at number 84 ). Bob Cobbing was (I think) the manager there for a while & Jeff Nuttall (I think) was his aider and abetter and much high-jinks did they get up to. They had radical credibility and much cult too. Bob and Jeff’s poetry did for starters; B.S. Johnson followed as did Christopher Logue, The Children of Albion, Alfred Jarry, Antonin Artaud & anyone I’d never heard mentioned in conversations. It never mattered about understanding them; familiarity was all plus fitting into the frayed pocket in fine and dandy fashion. I was still the grocer’s son but I’d got the titles. Then came J.G. Ballard.
Ballard stayed. I think I came to him via Yevgeny Zamyatin & We which combination must have come from Orwell. I believe it was through his short stories that I became hooked on Ballard—“The Wind From Nowhere” stays in my mind. As I recall it wasn’t until the ‘70s that Ballard took flight in public consciousness (much like Philip K Dick was to do in the ‘80s). The pricking of the long post-war boom and the consumerist beano that the ‘60s had become ushered in a decade in the UK of power cuts, strikes, clashes with fascist groups, Rock Against Racism, repression in Northern Ireland and bombings on the mainland. Ballard’s ‘science fiction of the near future’ suited the common consciousness.