“The Politics of the Visionary Present: J. G. Ballard’s Surrealist Liberalism”
Duncan Bell (University of Cambridge)
J. G. Ballard is often described as one of the most original writers of the postwar era. Although he has drawn considerable attention from scholars across various fields, the character of his political thinking remains a puzzle. He has been claimed as both a revolutionary and a conservative, while others suggest that his work expresses no distinct political stance. Drawing on a wide range of materials – interviews, essays, reviews, novels and short-stories – I argue that from the 1960s to the early years of the twenty-first century, Ballard developed a bold and intriguing account of liberalism grounded in insights drawn from surrealism and psychoanalysis. In the paper, I sketch the contours of this sociopolitical vision, focusing in particular on his account of human nature, social reality, totalitarianism, and the power of the imagination.
Duncan Bell is Professor of Political Thought and International Relations at the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Christ’s College. His most recent books are “Dreamworlds of Race: Utopia, Empire and the Destiny of Anglo-America” (Princeton, 2020) and a volume co-edited with Bernardo Zacka, Political Theory and Architecture (Bloomsbury, 2020). His next book will be on H. G. Wells as a political thinker and public intellectual.