Obsession and Possession with our Alien future
This discussion with Simon Sellars is per definition the reason to love fanatically the dialogue with creators that are in open communication with the unavoidable Void. A metaontic flaneur who wants to travel to the unpredictability of future existence, Simon Sellars make clear in this interview why his kind of fiction is an unbounded rationalism of the next stage of evolution.
It’s a great honour to host here an authentic experimental thinker and creator as Simon Sellars, a deep analyst of postmodern architecture of outter and inner spaces of our age, a systematic researcher of the whole Ballardian impact in the way that we are writing and locating our thinking in this transitional reality.
In 2018, his ‘theory-fiction’ novel, Applied Ballardianism: Memoir from a Parallel Universe, was published by Urbanomic. The Guardian called it ‘a brilliantly written genre mashup, a wonderfully original mix of cultural theory, literary exegesis, travelogue and psychopathological memoir’. Applied Ballardianism was translated into Italian as Ballardismo Applicato.
Simon also writes for websites, magazines, newspapers and journals. Recurring themes include digital culture, architecture, travel, urbanism, film, animation, music, sound design and literature.
In a past life, he worked as an academic, specialising in literary representations of dystopia, particularly the work of J.G. Ballard. In 2005, he founded the website, Ballardian, which tracks the influence of Ballard on popular culture. In 2009, he graduated with a PhD that formalised the website’s focus. In 2012, he conceived and co-edited Extreme Metaphors: Interviews with J.G. Ballard (Fourth Estate). It was named a Guardian Book of the Year.
Check too his latest fiction ”Code Beast”, a mind-blowing synthesis.
Read and enjoy our chat!
Q/Applied Ballardianism: Memoir from a Parallel Universe and Code Beast. Share with us few words presenting these two books and if it’s possible highlight what is common and what is different between them.
Applied Ballardianism has been called ‘theory-fiction’ because it mixes fiction with theory to comment on the augmented nature of everyday life. But Code Beast is pure science fiction. Its obsessions are like AB, but they’re presented in a near future of virtual reality and digital hauntings.
I see Code Beast as an unofficial sequel to Applied Ballardianism. In AB, the narrator, in the final chapter, was in the clutches of an associate who did nasty things to the narrator’s brain. Without spoiling the ending, these experiments caused him to suffer extreme reality confusion.
The first chapter of Code Beast can be read as a continuation of the last line of Applied Ballardianism. I like to think of Code Beast as the first-person perspective of the narrator of Applied Ballardianism as he loses all touch with sanity andreality.
Q/The whole meaning in your theory world is to depict the virtual forms of the absolute Dystopia or you are searching for something more positive for the evolution of life from the human point of view?
I don’t think I have a theory world. I haven’t written theory since my PhD, and I have no desire to do so anymore. I maintain theoretical obsessions about the nature of reality, which these days are informed by the fringes of the occult and paranormal activity. I’m drawn to fiction more than anything as a vehicle to express this enquiry.
As for dystopian leanings, it’s funny. I did an interview recently where I was asked if I was for or against technology. The interviewer said that he couldn’t tell from my writing, which he thinks is ambivalent. My reply was that I’m just an observer.
I’m interested in the earliest moments when advanced technologies take hold and the momentary cracks in perception when the world is unsure where this evolutionary step will take us. Inside that sliver of time, I imagine all sorts of activity taking place: digital ghosts, hauntings, telepathy, time travel, you name it. To prise open consciousness with an earth-shattering technological miracle is to alter reality itself.
Q/Entropy, Fiction, Paranoid biographies and metaphysical machineries, micronations and archaic entities. Are you obsessed or possessed with a strong feeling that all these intellectual plasmas are already part of our world or do you prophetically announce the ecosystem of life’s Extinction?
So, I think you’re describing my career arc there. ‘Entropy’ was an obsession of the New Wave British Science Fiction, of which J.G. Ballard was a part, and Ballard of course was the focus of my PhD. ‘Fiction’ is the mode of writing I now engage in. ‘Paranoid biographies and metaphysical machineries’ could describe the theory-fiction of Applied Ballardianism.
‘Micronations’ was an earlier research interest, for which I achieved some recognition. ‘And ‘archaic entities’? Well, maybe that’s the occult flavour in Code Beast, the demons and spectres beckoning from the void.
It’s all linked in my mind. I hold a mental cosmology that connects everything I’ve ever written, whether fiction or theory, film criticism or architectural essays. That’s why I was able to effortlessly summon my previous non-fiction writing and massage it into a semi-fictional, quasi-autobiographical frame in Applied Ballardianism.
Probably, I’ll continue to recycle and re-engineer my body of work until the day I die, piling on new layers, revisiting echoes of the past, plummeting previous obsessions into the far future, all to be unravelled by some poor obsessive long after I’m gone.
Q/Urbanism and Art. You are writing and filming inspired from the way that Urban space is changing in postmodernity. Do you think that Hakim Bey’s idea about the Temporary Autonomous Zones is feasible on the grounds of Global Post/Metropolis?
I’m indeed interested in urban space. This derives from Ballard and his sense that it’s possible to maroon oneself in a large city, or indeed any large-scale technological environment. It also meshes with Marc Augé and his theory of non-space, where the transitional moments of urban space—spaces designed for passing through—engender inward hallucinations.
The net result is a type of cocooning, where we are more solitary than ever before despite connecting with one another via technology to an unprecedented degree. This is one of the themes of Code Beast, where the anti-hero is so enmeshed in virtual worlds, yet so alienated from the people around him,that he comes to see himself as a type of vapour.
As for Hakim Bey, his brand has become so degraded due to various factors that it has become impossible to place the TAZ within any kind of workable framework.
Q/According to our magazine’s opinion, we are living an ongoing struggle of the Noosphere to be autonomous from any element of the Anthropocene. Is realistic to speak for any kind of human traits as we used to know it in the future?
One possible future lies in telepathy. If I chat with you in real-time on social media, we’re reading each other’s thoughts, plus there’s a record of past conversations and predictive functions to generate new ones. Once neural implants become commonplace, this will happen instantaneously via thought, which is another strand in Code Beast. It’s telepathy by any other name.
So, in such a future, what happens when you forget to lock your neural feed, or it gets hacked and your brain is under remote control? I like to think about these things.
Q/Share with us your publishing projects and what’s next for your plans in the near future.
I have a few books in the planning stage. I’m working on a new novel loosely based on a famous UFO sighting that occurred in Australia, and later this year, I’ll be putting out an anthology of my science fiction short stories alongsideselected theory-fiction texts.
Then in 2024, I plan to publish a book of bleak photos that I’ve taken of urban ruins accompanied by miniature science fiction stories. I’ve been doing this on Instagram for years, and people seem to like the project, so it would be good to get it into print.
I’m also preparing a ‘Best of Ballardian’ volume. This will collect the best essays, reviews, interviews and artwork from Ballardian.com, the cult website about Ballard that I published for fifteen years.
If you want to keep up with all this, keep an eye on mynewsletter, Sleepy Brain: https://sleepybrain.substack.com.