J.G. Ballard's Crash Course and the Year 1973
by Takayuki Tatsumi
I started reading science fiction in the late 1960s, when Hayakawa's SF Magazine, the only professional sf magazine in Japan, began featuring the Anglo-American New Wave regularly. With the help of the distinguished translator/critic Norio Itoh, whose skilful translations include works by J. G. Ballard, Brian Aldiss, Kurt Vonnegut, Samuel Delany, James Tiptree, Jr, Cordwainer Smith and others, the Japanese sf community accepted the significance of the New Wave so keenly that writers like Koichi Yamano and Yoshio Aramaki began experimenting with Japanese speculative fiction, leading a heated controversy on the literary significance of sf. Yamano launched the heavily theoretical quarterly NW-SF (edited by Kazuko Yamada), and became known as a New Wave critic; his provocative essay "Japanese SF: Its Originality and Orientation" (1969), a scathing attack on contemporary Japanese science fictlon, was edited by Darko Suvin and reprinted in the March 1994 issue of Science- Fiction Studies (tr. Kazuko Behrens). Aramaki showed some Ballardian influence in his early short stories such as "Soft Clocks" (1968-70), his hard-scientific reinterpretation of Salvador Dali's surrealistic paintings, which later was Englished by one of the original Cyberpunks, Lewis Shiner, and reprinted in the January- February 1989 issue of Interzone (tr. Kazuko Behrens).
The greatest Japanese appropriation of the New Wave, however, was by Yasutaka Tsutsui, the winner of numerous awards in sf and the mainstream, whose masterpieces include a Ballardian surrealistic short story "The Standing Woman" (1974; tr. David Lewis, Ornni, January 1981), in which mammals melt into vegetables literally and figuratively. Tsutsui started his career as an sf writer in the mid-1960s, and during the 70s gradually came to transgress the generic boundaries between serious and popular literature. He established his own theory of "hyper-fictionality," which reflects back the nature of literary genres and foregrounds the fictionality they tried to repress: "I do not find it accidental that from the 60s through the 70s, just while the post-surrealist mode nurtured British New Wave and North-American Metafiction and Latin American Magic Realism, I was making every effort to develop my own theory of hyper-fictionality without knowing those western literary experiments" (unpublished remarks made in 1991).
Of course, I'm not sure if what was going on in the early 70s in the Japanese New Wave movement made much sense to junior sf fans such as me. The Japanese formation of a science-fiction market in the 60s, begun by the monthly publication of Hayakawa's SFM from February 1960, owed much to the Golden Age of Anglo-American hardcore sf; major Japanese sf writers constructed their careers by following the examples of Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, Sheckley, Bester, Bradbury and others. What the Anglo-American sf market developed between the 1920s and the 1950s had to be studied and emulated by Japan only in the 60s, too quickly and in too condensed a fashion. As with any movement in its high-growth period, Japanese writers attempted rapidly to assimilate and catch up with their Anglo-American precursors, skilfully reappropriating them. Thus, around 1970, we did not feel it to be a contradiction that we were attracted by both the moon landing of Apollo 11 and the Ballardian renunciation of outer space; in so far as "outer space" signifies an aspect of Americanism, we Japanese shared with J. G. Ballard ambivalent feelings towards the American Frontier Spirit and the space age. It is ironic that while we became fascinated with America through reading sf, it was also through sf that we found it necessary to criticize and defamiliarize that country later. Both the cult and the anti-cult of outer space constituted an Anglo-American cultural legacy that our own postwar Occidentalism drove us to acquire. In the early 1970s we did not yet anticipate the ascendancy of Pax Japonica in the 1980s, following Pax Americana in the previous decades, when our postwar Occidentalism came to be matched by "cyber-Orientalism" on the part of American.
Therefore, when the Tokyo publisher Atelier Peyotl assigned me in 1990 to write an introduction to the Japanese edition of Ballard's Crash (tr. Kiichiro Yanashita, 1992), it seemed impossible for me to complete the task without rethinking the relationship between the original publication of Crash in 1973 and what followed it later. Indeed, when Crash appeared, as the first of Ballard's "technoscape trilogy," it struck us as the deepest insight into the advent of techno-erotics as they began to encroach on the inner space Ballard had persistently explored. And yet, re-reading the text from a 1990 perspective caused me to recognize an otherwise unnoticed literary historical coincidence: 1973 was the year of both Ballard's Crash and Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow.