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An immodest proposal

Stephen Barber

A War of Fragments: World Versus America
J.G. Ballards last-planned novel

Published: 11.12.2017


J.G. Ballard’s self-declared ‘Immodest Proposal’ for a global war-­alliance to exact the destruction of America demonstrates the provocatory zeal of his last fiction plans, as well as their enduring prescience. As Ballard emphasises several times in the World Versus America notebooks, he is utterly serious in his concerns and visions.
Although the Ballard ­estate declined permission for any images of pages from the World Versus America archival notebooks to accompany this essay, any member of the general public interested to do so can readily visit the British Library and view the notebooks in their entirety in the freely-­accessible manuscripts collection there.

At the very end of J.G. Ballard’s work, his preoccupations intensified and sharpened, rather than diminished. Those preoccupations possess an invaluable archival residue in the form of several notebooks (located in time by Ballard’s archivist, Chris Beckett, as dating from around 2005-06) outlining a potential new novel, World Versus America. The notebooks provide unique insights into the processes by which Ballard, towards the end of his life, instigated and developed his work, evidently unconcerned by any furore which it could unleash, if taken to publication form. The notebooks also constitute distinctive visual artefacts which resonate with Ballard’s visual collages and experimental art-works of the late 1950s to the early 1970s (notably those created for Ambit magazine).

The World Versus America notebooks are, in many ways, mysterious documents; it cannot be ascertained exactly when Ballard worked on them, nor whether he intended or not to take the meticulously outlined project to the form of completion and to publish it (however, the notebooks make explicit that he envisaged that a feature film could potentially be developed from the project). Similarly, it is unknown whether Ballard worked in the period following Kingdom Come on other final fiction projects (one such project or initial idea is mentioned in the World Versus America notebooks), but what is certain is that the notebooks of World Versus America contain the sole project from that era which has survived in archival form. Within that array of unknowns, any attempt to position Ballard’s World Versus America as his ‘last’ work in fiction, or as one definitely intended for eventual publication, is presumptuous, interpretative speculation. The reasons why any project becomes ‘abandoned’ are often multiple and contradictory, and there is no evidence either that Ballard intentionally abandoned World Versus America, either for personal or work-related reasons,...

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Stephen Barber

is the author of twenty-five books, including seven novels, most recently Berlin Bodies (Reaktion) and Guyotat: Revolutions and Aberrations (Vauxhall&Co). He has received several awards for his books, which have been translated into many languages, such as Japanese and Chinese. The Independent newspaper (London) once called him “the most dangerous man in Europe.”