Monday, May 18, 2009

J. G. Ballard story

I read an amazing story in The New Yorker the other day: "The Autobiography of J.G.B." by J.G. Ballard. It's a very short story, only one page. In it, the narrator wakes up to find himself alone in an otherwise intact modern world. One would think he might panic or be upset, but in fact he's rather happy, and at the end, "B was ready to begin his true work."

The protagonist, like Ballard himself, lives in a suburb of London. He finds plenty of food in the shops. He takes a motor boat to France; it is also empty of humans. His only companions are birds. It reminds one a bit of The World Without Us, a recent book by Alan Weisman, which is nonfiction, and imagines how the Earth would change if humans suddenly disappeared. Except in this case, there is one remaining witness to the newly empty world.

So, what is this "true work" that the lone surviving human can now begin? The work of writing perhaps? It is a solitary kind of work.

I think the pleasure of this story comes from the fact that it acknowledges, somewhat covertly, the fact that sometimes we fantasize about an absence of other people, about being entirely alone, not subject to the demands of anyone. Artists especially sometimes have this guilty fantasy. "L'enfer, c'est les autres," as Sartre put it. Imagine how much time you'd have to work on what you really want to do! But of course this idea raises the question: for whom are you doing it? Can you write without readers?

No comments:

Post a Comment