06 December 2007

J. G. Ballard. The Atrocity Exhibition, 1970.

Watching his right-wing speeches, in which he castigated in sneering tones the profligate, welfare-spending, bureaucrat-infested state government, I saw a more crude and ambitious figure, far closer to the brutal crime boss he played in the 1964 movie, The Killers, his last Hollywood role. In his commercials Reagan used the smooth, teleprompter-perfect tones of the TV auto-salesman to project a political message that was absolutely the reverse of bland and reassuring. A complete discontinuity existed between Reagan's manner and body language, on the one hand, and his scarily simplistic far-right message on the other. Above all, it struck me that Reagan was the first politician to exploit the fact that his TV audience would not be listening too closely, if at all, to what he was saying, and indeed might well assume from his manner and presentation that he was saying the exact opposite of the words actually emerging from his mouth...

Ballard on Reagan. Re/ Search 1990 (Re-issue of 'The Atrocity Exhibition.')

J. G. Ballard. THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION. Cape, London & Doubleday New York, 1970.

Current Selling Prices
$400-$10000 /£200-£5000

Ballard has been much in the British media in the last year mostly because of his new book 'Kingdom Come'. Melvyn Bragg, the adenoidal duff novelist, came to call for ITV and a respectful looking chap from the BBC also profiled the Sage of Shepperton. Both can be seen on YouTube. On ITV Will Self claimed (with a few caveats) that JGB was the most significant post war novelist. Certainly in terms of knowing what is really going on (and often well before it happens) he is the supreme figure-- his novels and short stories have demonstrably foreshadowed global warming, environmental disasters, the grotesque rise of celebrity culture, science parks, 'retail therapy', even the death of Princess Diana (Crash).

There is a rumour in France that his superb novel 'Super Cannes' is to be filmed--when it came out in 2000 it was described as the first 'essential' novel of the 21st century. There have been rumours before - it was optioned in 2002 by producer Jeremy Thomas and director John Maybury with nothing doing so far. His new book 'Kingdom Come' was a slight let down and received flat reviews (although it has its fans and may read better decades down the line). One reviewer felt that Ballard, once so ahead, had been overtaken by events--' history has caught up and passed the old motorist, his late vision – of consumption as Fascism out of uniform, or at least as a precondition for the full-blown, full-dress kind – seems simultaneously unassuming and cranky.'

I have chosen 'The Atrocity Exhibition' because it was a breakthrough book in terms of shock value and also because it is his most valuable book by a long chalk. A 'stopper' for any determined completist. You need the U.S. Doubleday 1970 first. Most of the stories that make up the book had been originally published in the late 1960s in SF magazines (which by the way are rarely of value) others appeared in regular journals like Encounter, Transatlantic Review, etc., - also small change to buy. The first English-language publication was in the U.K. by Cape in 1970. The publication history is best told by Mike Holliday at the definitive J. G. Ballard - A Collector's Guide site.
"The first U.S. edition was to have been by Doubleday, also in 1970, but the entire edition was destroyed just prior to publication, with the exception of a few advance review copies and file copies. Senior management at Doubleday had taken exception to the contents, which included Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan and Plan for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy. It isn't clear exactly how many copies still survive (perhaps around a dozen), but this is certainly the rarest of Ballard's books; there was a copy for sale in 2006 by bookseller Lloyd Currey for $7,500. In addition to the fifteen stories that comprised the Cape edition, Doubleday had included drawings by Michael Foreman, a dedication 'To the insane', and an interview with Ballard by George Macbeth (which had originally been broadcast on BBC radio, and which subsequently appeared in print in the book The New SF, edited by Langdon Jones). Had this edition been released on its scheduled date, then it would have been the first English language publication, preceding the Cape edition by one month.  

Following the pulping of the Doubleday edition, E. P. Dutton took the book up, but eventually decided against publication after advice from their lawyers. The first U.S. publication was therefore not until 1972 when Grove Press published the book under the revised title Love & Napalm: Export U.S.A., with a preface by William Burroughs. This edition went out of print fairly quickly, and the book did not reappear in the U.S. until 1990 when Re/Search brought out a large format, extensively illustrated, paperback edition. This reverted to the original title and retained the Burroughs introduction; it also added sidebar annotations by Ballard, as well as four additional pieces - three of Ballard's 'surgical fictions' from the 1970s, Princess Margaret's Facelift, Mae West's Reduction Mamoplasty, and Queen Elizabeth's Rhinoplasty, and (rather incongruously) a story from the late-1980s, The Secret History of World War 3. At the same time, Re/Search brought out a signed hardback edition, limited to 400 un-numbered copies; or at least, that what it says on the limitation page ... but the copyright page says that it's limited to 300 copies. Odd! "

Thanks Mike! The US 1972 Grove Press 'Napalm' edition is only worth about $50. The 1968 Brighton / Unicorn printing 'Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan', a pamphlet, is worth nearly £1000 in the signed edition of 50 and about half that in the unsigned edition of 200. There are no copies on the web. The 1990 Re/Search signed edition of 400 gets priced between £100 and £200 on ABE but can probably be picked up way cheaper at Ebay - also Re/Search themselves still have copies for sale. The UK first in its surreal jacket (below) can be found between £100 and £200. Note that the red lettering on the spine of the dust jacket of this edition is particularly prone to fading and unfaded copies are prized.

A serviceable copy of the US rarity in a chipped and nicked jacket is currently on sale for the carefully considered price of $11, 900. It is obviously howling rare but it is just possible more escaped the pulper's tank than was previously thought. Ballard mentions 'signing one or two copies that somehow escaped the Doubleday thought police.' SF overlord (pace George Locke) Lloyd Currey reckons there are ten copies around*. The rarity of pulped, seized and 'disappeared' editions can sometimes be overstated - vide the 3rd edition Ulysses where 499 of 500 were said to have been seized and destroyed by customs--there have been at least a dozen of those in commerce in living memory. If copies of 'Atrocity' are going to surface New York is the place. In the late 1990s we cleared 3000+ books (mostly novels, mostly file copies) from Doubleday's London office, sadly 'Atrocity' was not among them.

* His exact words were - 'If I recall correctly, I've sold a total of four and they all came from publisher employees or reviewers. Frankly, I don't think there are too many out there. ... I would guess there are somewhere between 10 and 25 copies extant. Number depends on how soon the order to stop distribution came down from Nelson Doubleday. Doubleday, in those days, sent out a fair number of review copies, at least 25 and sometimes more.'

No comments: