< 1990 Jeremy Lewis interview with JG Ballard

An Interview with J.G. Ballard

Transcription by Mike Holliday

From the Mississippi Review, Volume 20 Numbers 1 & 2, published 1991 by the Centre for Writers, The University of Southern

By Jeremy Lewis

J.G. Ballard's fiction stands at the forefront of postmodern aesthetics. His surreal journeys into the hi-tech, televisual and concrete environments that constitute a present time for us stand as some of the most provocative and imaginative works of the past thirty years.

Ballard's writing career began in a number of science fiction magazines in the late 1950s. Most notable were his contributions to Michael Moorcock's landmark "New Worlds", a magazine which helped define a new science fiction sensibility for readers and writers on both sides of the Atlantic. After moving from the overtly sci-fi nature of his early works, Ballard, in the early 1970s, wrote a series of novels that stand as some of the most pertinent insights into our contemporary media-drenched, imagistic epoch.

"Crash", "Concrete Island", and especially "The Atrocity Exhibition" are perfect examples of Ballard's vision -- highly technical and affectless worlds ruled by the interconnectedness of science and pornography -- the two disciplines, as Ballard keenly stresses, "moving together on a curious collision course." The author's surreal and cut-up experiments with narrative, which he perfectly demonstrates in "The Atrocity Exhibition", gained him a cult reputation as something of an English equivalent to William S. Burroughs, and it was not until Steven Spielberg's film adaptation of Ballard's novel "Empire of the Sun" in 1984 that the author achieved a more widespread recognition.

He has lived in England since moving there from Shanghai when he was fifteen, and has lived at his present home in Shepperton, an anonymous backwater of London lying under the shadow of Heathrow Airport, for the past thirty years.

It was at his home that I met J.G. Ballard on a sunny afternoon in the summer of 1990.

Jeremy Lewis: I find "The Atrocity Exhibition" requires an entirely new approach to reading.

J.G. Ballard: What you have got to do is not read more than a chapter at a time, and don't try to read it as if you are trying to read a conventional short story, or a conventional narrative. The dramatic connections between the characters and events are all very important and all have a strong story, oddly enough.

JL: "The Atrocity Exhibition" has a different title in the States. What was the background of that?

JGB: It was first published as "The Atrocity Exhibition" in I think 1970 by Doubleday, but they pulped the entire edition three weeks before publication. I'm told that one of the senior members of the Doubleday firm, Nelson Doubleday, actually opened a copy and saw the Ronald Reagan story and he just sent the order out to destroy the entire edition. Only about six copies survived, of which I'm glad to say I have one, and then one or two other firms thought of publishing it and then finally Grove Press (which had a checkered publishing career) published it in something like 1972 or '73.

They re-titled it "Love and Napalm: Export U.S.A." for some reason -- against my wishes. They wanted to cash in on the Vietnam War, but I didn't really have much choice in the matter. I protested strongly that was the wrong title, totally wrong. That edition, of course, has been out of print for years.

But I think over the years that the British paperback editions of my books have been available in the States. In fact I was amazed during my book tour in 1988, to find the British editions which shouldn't be there by rights. It doesn't worry me, I'm only too glad.

JL: You've referred in the past to the connections between science and pornography - what you have termed "the science of pornography." This connection is central to your fiction, and especially "Crash" and "The Atrocity Exhibition" where you attempt to interpret such an affect on your characters.

JGB: I like to think of "Crash" as the first pornographic novel based on technology. By technology one means science in its practical applications to everyday life. In the case of "Crash" that has to do with the technology of, literally, the vehicle, for the pornographic imagination. But on another level there is a sense in which science and pornography are moving together on a curious collision course. Science is now more and more taking its subject matter not from nature as in the traditional physical sciences, but from the obsessions of its own practitioners -- particularly in the soft sciences, psychology above all.

This would be true of the last fifty years, but it's much more advanced now. Psychologists decide to develop a form of hypothesis for everything! Let's say, there's one in vogue here right now that says watching television dulls the emotional life, or watching images of violence dulls the emotional life. So they set up an experiment in which subjects are exposed to endless images of violence and then they submit them to tests which -- surprise, surprise! -- reveal that their human responses have been dulled by exposure to images of violence!

The same thing is being done by researchers in all sorts of other human fields. The very famous case about ten years ago in which some American psychologist set up a kind of mock experiment in which groups of students were asked to interrogate other groups of students and were given permission to inflict small doses of pain on these students, if they weren't telling the truth. This experiment was designed to test the core of human compassion. Of course it revealed that gripped by the power of the pain button, young students will lose their heads and become Gestapo-like tormentors.

Now, it seemed to me in all these examples (there are thousands of them) science is moving into an area where its obsessions begin to isolate completely its subject under the lens of its microscope, away from its links with the rest of nature. This is always the risk with science as a whole. The pornographic imagination detaches certain parts of the human anatomy from the human being and becomes obsessively focussed on the breast or the genitalia, or what have you. That sort of obsession with what I call quantified functions is what lies at the core of science; there is a shedding of all responsibility by the scientist who is just looking at a particular subject with a tendency to ignore the contingent links.

JL: It's an isolation of certain functions outside of time and space...

JGB: Yes, outside of time and space, and outside the social and human - effective links that normally constrain our behavior and imaginations.

JL: How can people learn to deal with this, which seems to be everywhere around us, and retain any individual humanist elements?

JGB: Scientists are always running the risk of becoming dehumanized. Doctors don't see their patients' faces, they are only concerned with treating the complaint at all cost. I'm told that people who work with laboratory animals admit that, however kindly they may try to feel towards the animals, the time comes where they start to get impatient with the rabbits or guinea pigs or whatever it may be and cross the borderline between sensitivity and insensitivity. That's inevitable.

On a larger field, one sees that tendency underpinning almost the whole of western life today. The various ecological and green movements are in part a reaction against that. People want to save the whale and the seal because they know that sooner or later the human being is probably going to be next on the list.

The vast commercial, industrial, bureaucratic organizations of the world that virtually run this planet and define everyday reality have no time for the individual, which is inevitable. It isn't necessarily a deliberate callousness. If you design a hundred story office block, whatever it is -- the World Trade Center for example -- you put in the best possible ventilation system. But if the damn ventilation system konks out, about twenty thousand people are going to be suffocated. I won't say that this becomes an "acceptable risk"; it's rather like the casualties on our roads. There is a built-in tolerance that is the effect of these systems.

About twenty thousand people a year are killed on the roads in America. Of course, every death is deplored, but collectively it's manslaughter on a gigantic scale; and it's tolerated as part of the price to be paid. Similar tolerances (acceptable casualties) run through the whole of life. There is a sort of built-in deadening of human feeling that is inseparable from the sort of lives we've opted for in the late twentieth century.

You've got to remember to some extent that the communication/ media landscape sets the agenda: a media landscape dominated by TV that thrives on sensation. This itself has a numbing effect. One saw this very much during the Vietnam War. And whenever there is a major tragedy -- something like the Lockerbie plane crash or famine in Ethiopia -- one sees that these images exhaust their own potential to evoke pity in a very short space of time. With repetition the audience of course becomes bored. The whole thing has a numbing effect.

One also gets the hidden agendas beginning to emerge -- the sub-texts that begin to write themselves into the script. Inevitably you see images of an actress making love followed by an injured child being carried from a crashed car, followed by some African prime minister being shot down, followed by an advertisement for a martini. On the unconscious plain, what sort of scenarios are we stitching together out of these events?

These are the hidden agendas that "The Atrocity Exhibition" is about. Just as the sleeping mind extemporizes a narrative form of the random memories veering through the cortical night, so our waking imaginations are stitching together a set of narratives to give meaning to the random events that swerve through our conscious lives. A roadside billboard advertising something or other, to TV programmes or news magazines or the radio or in-flight movies, or what have you.

We are bombarded by this absolute deluge of fictional material of every conceivable kind and all this has the affect of...

JL: Killing affect?

JGB: Yes. And of preempting our own original response to anything. All these events are presented to us with their pre-packaged emotions already in place, so if you are shown an earthquake or airliner crash you are told what to think.

JL: So again how does one become "objective" or more "individualized"? In your fiction you draw upon the concept of inner space consistently.

JGB: One has to foster one's own imagination to a very intense degree, far more than most people realize. Most people have a huge capacity for imaginative response to the world that is scarcely tapped.

I'm not stressing that we should become a nation of short story writers, novelists, painters and filmmakers, but it may be that the information technologies of the near future are going to make possible the tapping of the individual imagination in a way that highly complex, craft-demands of home video systems and home cine-cameras have never allowed the individual before. I remember my parents had a cine-camera back in the thirties, but they hardly ever used it. Even the technology of that was too complicated for convenient use.

Video cameras are remarkably commonplace now. This may be only a further step along that road, and I hope they will become even more commonplace because people will really need to look inward far more. One will not be able to trust the external environment to provide all the necessary cues for a rich and fulfilling life. This has already happened. One sees the way people these days have retreated far more into their own homes, because much less depends on public forms of entertainment, and so on.

The retreat is not just necessarily their own homes, but a retreat into their private lives far more than they used to, say in the forties and fifties, when the home was a place where one slept and serviced one's body, while generally speaking one went out to find paid entertainment.

You went to the movies or visited a theme park or went on a package tour
to somewhere. People are now pulling back from that sort of thing. They want something that expresses their own taste more, and the range of diversity of hobbies and leisure activities is just fantastic. There are huge industries that are satisfying every conceivable whim.

If people are going to survive they will need to do this on the plane of the imagination much more than they have done. Otherwise, they'll simply become a mark on some consumer chart. This has already happened.

JL: The biological function of sex has been changed to become, like everything else, a function of power, money, domination. So sex becomes a reflection of the external landscape.

JGB: This is something I cover in "The Atrocity Exhibition". I point out there in my marginal annotations that the landscape we live in is absolutely saturated with sexual imagery of every conceivable kind.

There's a sense in which we are all taking part in sexual activity, whether we want to or not, and whether we are aware of it or not. We are constantly bombarded by films and TV commercials, magazine advertising, et cetera.

Sex has become a sort of communal activity. It's an explicit element in all sorts of other activities -- advertising, publicity, sales promotion as well as in film and TV, every conceivable thing you can think of.

Elements of sexual imagery are constantly being jolted into the psychological space we inhabit. One has to be aware of these things and the unconscious role they play.

JL: Such excessive imagery that stimulates a character like Vaughan in "Crash"?

JGB: Vaughan represents the nth point or terminal destination in the process. It's very important to realize that there is a normalization of psychopathology taking place. Elements of psychopathic behavior are tolerated and are annexed into normal life in a way that we are scarcely aware of. I don't mean this in a complicated sense: if you go to a motor racing track, or a boxing match, or any physical contact sport, or things like demolition derbies and so forth, you take for granted a very high level of violence that would be genuinely shocking if it occurred outside those particular arenas.

But in Europe and in the States one sees in film and television a range of violent and sexual imagery being tolerated that would have been inconceivable thirty years ago. On the continent (not so much in this country where it is heavily censored ) you have hardcore porn films, books and magazines more or less freely available and being distributed to the population at large.

The general effect of all this is to normalize the deviant and perverse. We should accept this and not try and fight against this particular tide; instead, to quote Conrad's phrase, we should to some extent immerse ourselves in this destructive element ourselves. This is the environment in which we are immersed, and we might as well keep our eyes open, and try to swim through all this so we get to the other end of the pool, maybe some way will be found of moderating these strains that are present.

JL: You certainly trace this idea of exercising the perverse and deviant in the imagination in all your fiction. This leads to a Nietzschean sense of a new morality and a sense of freedom. The people you've cited as influences -- Celine, Burroughs and Genet -- were doing the same thing.

JGB: That's true. There is a sense in which a "new morality" (if you would like to call it that) has already started to emerge. People accept moral discontinuities in their lives in a way that older generations would not have done.

Before the Second World War, one felt a continuous spectrum of moral responsibilities ruling one's life in a way that isn't true anymore. People are capable of the highest morality in certain areas of their lives, but of complete blanks in others. To some extent this is encouraged by the media landscape. This has always happened -- a thoroughly upright parson can deliver a sermon on Sunday morning and then go out on Sunday afternoon and shoot fifty pheasants out of the sky without a moment's thought.

All of us who eat beef steak know damn well what goes on in the slaughterhouse; the sort of people that are horrified by the bullfight (at least the bull has a chance), think nothing of millions of cattle going to their deaths in grim circumstances. That's always been the case, but I can see the same sort of moral discontinuities coming in peoples' lives more and more in the future, producing a rather unsettling world where one will need educated feet to be able to make the crossovers from one moral plane to the next. One already sees...

JL: This radical increase of freedom also makes us all capable of doing anything at any point, exemplified in the cases of mass murderers wreaking havoc on crowded places.

JGB: The functional freedom that anybody can buy a gun and go out and murder a lot of people at a McDonald's is prevalent, yes. But through the effects of TV and interactive video systems and so forth, we'll also have the freedom to pretend to be a mass murderer for the evening. I've seen descriptions of advanced TV systems in which a simulation of reality is computer controlled -- the TV viewer of the future will wear a special helmet. These sorts of virtual reality projects are obviously going to overpower the viewer. You'll no longer be an external spectator to fiction created by others, but an active participant in your own fantasies/dramas. Obviously these things could lead to all sorts of (one can imagine) nightmarish outcomes, but one might as well be aware of them and not try to fight against them, maybe do something positive with them.

JL: All this strikes me as being very appealing and at the same time
very alienating.

JGB: Absolutely. Which is a pretty good summary of the late twentieth
century, isn't it?

JL: That's why "educated feet" help a lot.

JGB: Yes, they're essential. These are not just abstract, academic matters. People/parents are worried about the way their kids are no longer literate, no longer reading, and just living for a diet of the transient. They're interested in pop music and fashion, not interested in vocational training. They're living in an endless present of clothes, fashions and pleasant sensations. Waiting for a rude awakening.

There is also no doubt that the levels of urban violence have risen enormously. This isn't just a matter of violence being over-reported.

There are huge underclasses who have nothing to lose. Big cities, or specifically their restricted areas, have always been violent; but now you can be mugged walking down Piccadilly in broad daylight. There have been horrendous cases recently in London. A young woman was actually raped on a tube train at four o'clock in the afternoon with other passengers present near Hammersmith. I was concerned because my woman friend lives in Hammersmith and a daughter of mine lives in Chiswick, not far away.

JL: What's the fiction scene like in Britain these days? Is it still dead here?

JGB: Of course it's dead. With a few exceptions.

JL: Not as many as in the States?

JGB: I'm not sure if there are any exceptions there either.

JL: What are you reading these days?

JGB: I'll admit I don't read much fiction. I read pretty widely. I read marginally in the sciences, political history, a fair amount of psychology and biography. But it's a pretty scattered gun. Let's see what I've got here, we'll do a spot test! -- "The Science of Art"; Robert Graves' "White Goddess" (a classic); "Primitive Art in Civilized Places"; and a book on the history of wine! That gives you an idea.

JL: Do you see yourself as a "science fiction" writer?

JGB: Not really. The scientific imagination is obviously very, very important in my fiction, which tends to suggest that I am an SF writer.

The problem is that SF exists, out there, and has changed enormously since I first began writing. It's pretty hard to escape these labels, but they are rather misleading in a way. I certainly don't think of myself as a science fiction writer anymore. Back in the late fifties and sixties, I was writing a fair amount of science fiction, most of which was published in SF magazines. I've never regretted that. My early novels, like "The Drowned World" and "The Crystal World" and the short stories I wrote at that time, (my early collections) were pretty close to SF, even by the most stringent definitions of what SF is. But they could also be read outside the SF field.

But by the time I got to "The Atrocity Exhibition" in the late sixties, and then went on to "Crash", "Concrete Island" and "High Rise", and then at the end of the seventies, "The Unlimited Dream Company", I had left behind science fiction completely. Nobody, in fact, ever called "Empire of the Sun" a science fiction novel, but other novels of mine that were not are termed SF ("Crash" is still referred to as a science fiction novel -- which is silly, of course).

If you think of the mainstream novel, say, of the last hundred years from Henry James onwards, it has been dominated by realism and various offshoots of realism -- the naturalistic consensus sustained the novel throughout the modern movement.

JL: You've obviously been working outside that tradition. Your work has more in common with another lineage -- people like Burroughs, Genet and Kafka.

JGB: Yes. Parallel with the modern movement and threading its way through the modern movement, of course, have been a few mavericks who've been drawing their inspiration from the imaginative fiction of the past three or four centuries. I don't know if Burroughs is the last of the writers of the modern movement or the first of the next postmodern epoch. But Burroughs has more in common with, say, Dean Swift, than he has with the naturalistic writers of the nineteenth or twentieth century.

A few of these mavericks have tended to parallel the main naturalistic movement of the last hundred years. Naturalism itself began to break up about twenty or thirty years ago because it just wasn't adequate to come to grips with the realities of either the Second World War or the post-war world. Today naturalism has completely faltered. You only find it in middle-brow fiction. Magic-realism gave a whole new lease of life to the novel: other inputs have come from classic surrealism and film, pop art, Andy Warhol and so on.

But the most important novelists are not working within naturalism anymore -- you think of people like Burroughs, or novels like "Catch 22", "A Confederacy of Dunces". What else is happening? That's the problem.

My mind tends to go blank when I think of other writers. Pynchon. None of these writers are working in the sort of classic naturalistic space, and quite rightly so. I like to think that I am in with those.

JL: In the past, writers would go to certain cities -- Paris, New York, Rome -- and find a sense of community. It's not like that anymore.

JGB: The obvious cities to go to are now almost unlivable. A lot of American writers seem to be based around New York, but I can't imagine working in New York. It's too oppressive. I think it would be impossible.

One could work in low-rise cities. Something about the horizon, the literal horizon that greets the eye as you look out the window; the horizon is generally visible, down at the end of streets in low-rise cities, according in some way with the larger horizons of the imagination. A high-rise city like New York (I know it is said there that you can see the horizon at the end of every vast canyon, but actually, you can't), exhilarating though it was, I found very oppressive. The physical mass of the buildings and the discontinuity between street life that existed -- the two dimensions of the plane on the city floor and the hidden, concealed life going half way up to the sky is very constraining.

JL: I would imagine you feel much less of this in Los Angeles.

JGB: I loved Los Angeles. I really felt at home there. I regret that I did not make a life for myself in Los Angeles thirty years ago, when I might have done so. It's an infinitely mysterious city, right on the edge of the Third World really, almost bisecting it, practically the capital city of the Third World.

Driving around there I felt that the Mexican/American border, roughly speaking, ran along Wilshire Blvd. That's not an exaggeration. White Los Angeles or Anglo-Saxon Los Angeles (whatever you'd want to call it) lies north of Wilshire Blvd., and Hispanic and black Los Angeles lies to the south. And it is a low-rise city, of course.

JL: Why have you never moved from here?

JGB: To be quite honest, until I wrote "Empire of the Sun" in 1984, I'd found that, although I'd made a reasonable living, my income wouldn't adequately furnish such a move. I was bringing up three children you see. I set out originally to be a doctor. Oddly enough, my career and income have more or less matched that of the English GP (until 1984,) and English doctors are not that well paid. I could get by and send my children to private schools and through universities, but I didn't have anything left over after that. If I had taken them to Malaga or L. A., it would have handicapped them, they wouldn't have received much of an education. So I just couldn't re-locate.

Since "Empire of the Sun", I've had the financial freedom to go and live anywhere, and I have been seriously thinking about it. I may well head for the Mediterranean, but I'm too old to go and live in the States now; I'd have no friends there, I wouldn't know anybody. I'd step off the plane into a completely alien city and the few contacts I have in the film world wouldn't sustain any sort of social life. But the Mediterranean is very attractive.

JL: My own sense is that five or six years in southern California is enough.

JGB: Doesn't one get a sort of beach fatigue setting in? It's a slight mental numbing which you notice among British ex-pats living on the Mediterranean. They are marooned in a curious way.

JL: You maroon yourself into a form of found utopia.

JGB: One's wits are not sharpened or honed on any kind of whetstone, that's the danger. The danger of living in places like that -- at least for someone of your age, rather than mine -- is finding the material that can be turned into fiction. Whether you can find something to write about in the Algarve is anyone's guess. You might, who knows?

JL: A lot of your fiction, particularly that written in the '70s and onwards (like "Crash" and "High Rise"), seems to have been inspired by the Shepperton area.

JGB: "Crash" is set not in Shepperton but in the area around London
airport which I see as a paradigmatic landscape of the late twentieth century. Wherever you go in the world, the road from the airport is always the same, and that's very peculiar. It doesn't matter whether you are driving away from Madrid airport, or any airport anywhere in the world, what you find is constituted by certain well-defined means: the same facilities, slip roads, architecture, three-storied office blocks, all the support services - you name it. They go on for miles and create the same sort of communities around them, composed of dormitory areas for the airport staff and the same transient world of people working in airport catering services, etcetera, etcetera.

My novel "The Unlimited Dream Company" is set here. I've spent a lot of time in Shepperton which in a way is a paradigm for the late twentieth-century suburban life. Shepperton isn't anywhere, you see. It exists to some extent in the shadow of Heathrow Airport (a lot of people here work there) and also in the shadow of the film studios. So it's interesting from that point of view.

JL: It's a sort of in-between world. In that sense, it's very like southern California. You don't feel, as in England, that you are really connected to history and its so-called culture. At the same time, this sense makes you feel lost in some ways.

JGB: Yes. In the spring of 1988 I did a classic six city American book tour, promoting my novel "The Day of Creation". Fascinating, in fact. It wasn't the first time I had been in the States, but it was the first time I had visited cities I had never been to previously -- Miami, Chicago, Seattle. I was tremendously impressed by the strength and variety of the whole country. At the same time, there were one or two moments when I stood in those vast shopping malls in suburban Chicago and Seattle and the sense of planetary loneliness came over me, and you realize that this just goes on forever, unchallenging, across a continent. It sends a small chill through the heart. But that may just be a European's observation.

JL: But don't you think this sort of thing is being reproduced in Europe as well?

JGB: It's coming. But, of course, Europe is so balkanized, made up of so many small nations with very strong local traditions, that you have a sense of historical past inert in the present. But I have no doubt that it is coming here as well. A large part of my writing is about just that -- about the superimposition of our auto-route, motorway, airport, hyper-market, suburban shopping mall culture on everything else. Also TV landscapes, which are terribly important to me.

JL: Europe seems to be evolving into a totally homogenized culture. I get the impression that Europe will become a united Europe in a sense of the States.

JGB: That will happen, but it will take infinitely longer to iron out. I doubt that it will ever become a wholly homogenized culture like the United States. Superficially it will be. Flying into Athens airport (I'm looking ahead thirty or forty years) you will see a landscape, superficially, indistinguishable from flying into the one at Barcelona airport. But once you get below the superficial, you'll find national identities - because of the languages, as these are immensely ancient countries with long-standing traditions. There will be a new two-tiered reality here: the old core nations with their languages and cultures superimposed onto this second tier, which will be this homogenized, internationalized, TV, airport culture. It's already come to some extent.

JL: Have you read Baudrillard's "America"? It's a wonderful book.

JGB: Yes, a wonderful book, yes. A lot of Baudrillard that I've tried to read, I've found rather heavy going. He actually wrote a very complimentary essay on "Crash". I found what he said incomprehensible, and I wrote the book!

But I thought "America" was brilliant. I don't think I've ever read such concentrated brilliance, anywhere! The only rival is something like Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" in terms of brilliance. Every sentence, and if not, every paragraph. I've read it about three times, and each time it gets better. "America", I thought, was tremendous. I don't know what Americans make of it, because of course, what is absent from the book is, and I imagine this is rather irritating to Americans themselves, is a single American.

JL: I have some American friends who felt he was taking too critical an outlook on the country.

JGB: I didn't see too many criticisms. I thought it was a wonderful celebration of the United States and its great strengths. Some of his ideas were brilliantly original -- his notion that the United States is the only primitive society on earth in the sense that is the only primitive forerunner of the advanced societies of the future. Everywhere else today is irrelevant, but at least the United States represents the early foundation of a stage of the future.

It's very difficult to put one's finger on what the successful formulas of American life are, but it certainly is based upon a whole cascade of successful formulas that together place the United States really on a superior plane to anywhere else. Much as I love France and Italy, there is no question that they, or even West Germany (which in a way is the most American of all European countries), are nowhere near the United States.

Size has something to do with the creation of modern America, but it
isn't just size. New York would not be the extraordinary city it is if it were not also the commercial capital of a continent. On the other hand, Seattle is a pretty remarkable city too, and so is San Francisco.

There is something about the States that does represent a quantum leap forward.

Bibliographic details: Mississippi Review, Volume 20 Numbers 1 & 2, published 1991 by the Centre for Writers, The University of Southern
Mississippi. The JGB interview is on pp. 27-40. The interviewer, Jeremy Lewis, is described as "a native of Wales, [he] got his M.A. from San Diego State University but hopes to return soon to the U.S. to live and continue his writing."