Four Text Collages [Project for a New Novel], by J. G. Ballard © J. G. Ballard. Reproduced by permission of the J. G. Ballard Estate. All rights reserved. You may not use this work for commercial purposes and the copyright holder must be credited.
J G Ballard created this series of four graphically experimental text collages in the late 1950s. The work was later titled Project for a New Novel.
Ballard formed the ‘novel’ from scientific and technical material cut from professional literature such as Chemical and Engineering News (Ballard then worked for the journal of the Society of Chemical Industry). Letters, words and sentence fragments are pasted onto backing sheets with glue. Their design visually references everyday media, with headlines, body text and double-page spreads suggesting a magazine layout. Originally Ballard planned to display the work on billboards, as if it was a public advertisement.
There are three recognisable characters – Coma, Kline and Zero. Time is a recurring theme, epitomised in headlines such as ‘TIME ZONE’ and ‘…Coma”, Kline murmured, “let’s get out of time”’. The work does not follow a traditional or coherent plot, challenging the reader to arrive at their own interpretation of the collaged text. Ballard declared it, ‘a deliberately meaningless text, the idea being that the imaginative content could be carried by the headlines and overall design’. Yet the combination of headlines and scientific source material give the work an air of plausibility. As Ballard commented, ‘Curiously enough, far from being meaningless, the science news stories somehow become fictionalized by the headings around them’.
If Project for a New Novel demonstrates Ballard’s experimentation in his early career, it also reveals much about his future work. Ballard incorporated certain characters and phrases – including ‘intertime’ – into later writing. Coma, Kline and Zero appear in the collage-like ‘condensed novel’, The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), while the phrase ‘terminal beach’ provided the title to Ballard’s breakthrough SF short story collection, The Terminal Beach (1964).
Project for a New Novel was first published in New Worlds, No. 213 (1978). The four collages can also be seen in the background of a photograph of Ballard taken in 1960 in his garden at Shepperton. In the 1950s and 60s Ballard created similar collages, now lost, as well as other text-image experiments such as Homage to Clare Churchill.
 J G Ballard, quoted in V Vale, RE/Search: JG Ballard 8/9 (San Francisco, CA: RE/Search, 1984), p. 38.