The Electric Sheep Nightmare. J. G. Ballard and the Perverse Use of Technology

  • Andrea Chiurato IULM University, Milan
Keywords: J. G. Ballard, Science Fiction, Postmetropolis, Non-lieu, Gated Community, Inner Space


The aim of this paper is to investigate the role played by “machines” and technological innovation within James Graham Ballard’s literary production.

Since his debut as a novelist, Ballard devoted particular attention towards the human-machine connection, under the charm of both its immediate impact on the human psyche and the forms of representation in literature indirectly influenced by the human psyche itself. For these reasons, and in his attempt to escape from the traditional science fiction rules, in the mid-Sixties he suggested the notion of inner space: a new and innovative life, useful in the process of restoring the relation among the Self, the urban space, and the new forms of domination created by the post-modern world.

The analysis will be carried out in a historical perspective, highlighting the subsequent stages of such an extreme redefinition of the new ways of representing subjectivity. The present study will be inspired by the crucial period of transition of the Sixties, after which Ballard definitively abandoned the initial post-apocalyptic settings he had favored at the beginning of his career. He started placing his characters within suburban scenarios – far from those foreign worlds, explored by the numerous followers of Isaac Asimov over glorious Space Age years.

The second section of the study will focus on the way in which this shift mirrors Ballard’s intention to turn the science fiction novel into an anthropological reflection projected on the present time. Starting from the examples in Crash (1973) and Super-Cannes (2001), two features will be taken into consideration: on the one hand, the expanding gap between the categories of technique and morals; on the other hand, the dangerous ideological deviations to which such a gradual split may lead to.

Linking these two aspects, the study will attempt to show how the never-ending debate on technological innovation led Ballard not only to an adjustment of  science fiction motives and traditional topics, but also, more generally, to a reinterpretation of both the limits and cognitive possibilities of the genre.


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Author Biography

Andrea Chiurato, IULM University, Milan

Research fellow.

Department of Comparative Art, Culture and Literature


Primary Bibliography

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Ballard, James Graham, The Drowned World, London, Berkley Books, 1962.

Ballard, James Graham, The Burning World, London, Berkley Books, 1964.

Ballard, James Graham, The Crystal World, London, Cape, 1966.

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Ballard, James Graham, Kingdom Come, London, Fourth Estate, 2006.

Secondary Bibliography

Augé, Marc, Non-Lieux: Introduction à une Anthropologie de la Sur-modernité, Paris, Seuil, 1992.

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How to Cite
Chiurato, A. (2014). The Electric Sheep Nightmare. J. G. Ballard and the Perverse Use of Technology. Between, 4(8).
Narratives of the Technological Imagination