Thanks to Mike Holliday for finding this 1988 interview.
More Stories about Buildings and Mood
By J.G. Ballard, as told to Richard Kadrey
Last issue we published J. G. Ballard's thoughts on the death of Salvador Dali. During Richard Kadrey's phone conversation with Ballard, the topic veered away from Dali into surrealism and modern architecture. These paragraphs seemed inappropriate for the Dali elegies, so we decided to run them in this issue.
“The world is continuing to grow more surreal. The external world is now a kind of huge surrealist novel that we all inhabit, and we look more and more to our own imaginations to find reality. That's a complete reversal, of course, since the heyday of surrealists in the 1930's. The surrealists set out to remake the external world using the interior world of fantasy, and that's been reversed. You treat reality now as if it's a huge dream. That's the way you can make sense of, let's say, somebody like Ronald Reagan. You've got to treat the landscape of television, of advertising, of politics conducted as a branch of advertising, of your friends and the way they furnish their homes, and yourself, as if you're a figment in a dream. That's the classic surrealist approach.
“I can't see this trend reversing itself, simply because as the prosperity of the world increases people have more leisure time, so we're moving into what will be a wholly entertainment culture. And the world of work, in the traditional sense, will have passed into oblivion. People will live for the hours of recreation and entertainment. Increasingly, everything in life begins to mimic the entertainment industries. We see the traditionally serious professions such as medicine and architecture moving into the realms of show business, with show business lawyers who behave like film stars. The whole of postmodernist architecture is an off-shoot of surrealism: the use of architectural forms to express fantasy. When I was in Miami on my trip to the U.S., I saw that famous building -- the office block with the hole in the middle and the palm tree growing in it, which is a very witty and clever building. But that is pure surrealism -- to cut a five-story hole in a building and then have a palm tree growing in. Philip Johnson's Smirnoff building in New York with the Chippendale roof; that's surrealist gesture. During my trip around the States, I was constantly being delighted by post-modernist buildings which are absolutely in the tradition of the classic American folk art where the hamburger stand is in the shape of a hamburger. But now these surrealist jokes are now in the form of hundred-million dollar office blocks.”
Collages by Stephen P. Brown