Boyd Tonkin: Strange tales of a prophet and a prince

The Week In Books

Which guru of planetary menace and calamity would you rather read on the grave threats to our fragile home: the Sage of Shepperton, or the Worrier of Windsor? JG Ballard, who died at the weekend, so far exceeded and transcended every label attached to him that we will be mining his precious legacy in fiction for many years to come. At this point, I feel inclined to celebrate the "disaster quartet": four pioneering novels of catastrophe that Ballard published in the early 1960s. During that Mad Men epoch, many of his peers wallowed in fantasies of rampant growth on which the sun would never set.

If Prince Charles has never read early Ballard, he should do so soon. This week also saw the announcement by HarperCollins (Ballard's publisher, as it happens) that it has bought world rights to Harmony, "a book by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales" which will advocate our "sacred duty of stewardship of the natural order of things".

Before the prince ever buttonholed a brassica, Ballard had already heard the news of doom. As his cherishable late memoir Miracles of Life makes plain, he knew that his seemingly outlandish "trademark images" of pulverised city blocks, overgrown suburbs and crumbling infrastructure derived from what he saw a child in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. That imagination-shaping trauma gave him a blueprint for breakdown. Supposedly futuristic in scene and tone, early novels such as The Drowned World and The Drought drew their uncanny prescience from an ability not simply to envisage an apocalyptic finale to the status quo, but to show how stranded humankind would react to their loss. As a boy, his small world had ended suddenly in panic and terror. Unlike most writers, he had the evidence of how that looked and felt.

So, on top of his other distinctions, Ballard deserves an extra laurel wreath as the prophet of environmental doomsday who always enriches ecology with psychology. The addled protagonists of his urban dystopias – Crash, High Rise or Concrete Island - exist in a sort of entropic partnership with the cheerless landscapes of multi-lane motorways, tower blocks and wrecking-yards where their flaky sense of self frays and finally unravels. Like some back-to-front Wordsworth, with nature's consoling grandeur and plenty reversed out into visions of poisoned metropolises and flooded littorals, he matched the weather in the streets with the weather in our heads.

That is surely how "green" art and thought should work: royal scribes, take note. In a work promised for 2010, Prince Charles will argue that if we could "rediscover that sense of harmony; that sense of being a part of, rather than apart from Nature, we would perhaps be less likely to see the world as some sort of gigantic production system capable of ever-increasing outputs for our benefit – at no cost."

Yes, I know – don't trust the teller; trust the tale. The flagrant contradictions in the delivery of this message by this person do not invalidate the truth of what he has to say. All the same, I can't refrain from noting that the Prince of Wales will be represented in his book deal by living-legend Bob Barnett of Washington lawyers Williams & Connolly, the fixer-in-chief for the Democrats - thanks to him, Hillary and Barack made up - who also acts as agent for Obama, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

"Robert B Barnett has a diverse practice representing national and international corporations and individuals," his firm's profile informs us. Moreover, "Mr Barnett represents major corporations in litigation matters". Which ones, precisely? "His clients have included McDonald's Corporation, General Electric" - take a look at their green record, HRH - not to mention "Sunbeam, Toyota, Deutsche Bank". He should invite Charles to meet fellow clients at a DC soirée, even if Ballard himself – happy for decades in his relatively low-carbon suburban semi – could hardly have made this one up.

P.S.Two examples of how to make friends and influence people, Venezuelan style. At the Americas summit in Trinidad, Hugo Chávez presented Barack Obama with Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America: the Uruguayan author's damning chronicle of the continent's exploitation. Will Obama read it? Since the copy was in Spanish, perhaps not. Last weekend, I heard the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra at a Festival Hall gig that pulsed with enough energy and elan to light up London. Among their encores was as rhapsodic and impassioned a rendering of "Nimrod" from Elgar's Enigma Variations as you will ever hear. Maestro Abreu's fabled Sistema of musical education predated Chávez by decades and has survived several changes of government. But el presidente must grasp that this band is probably now worth as much as his entire diplomatic corps.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be Lonely Island's second Hollywood venture following their 2007 film Hot Rod
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Day-Lewis stars in the movie There Will Be Blood
music
Arts and Entertainment
Brush with greatness: the artist Norman Cornish in 1999
art
Life and Style
Stress less: relaxation techniques can help focus the mind and put problems in context
art
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment