A few years ago Re/Search founder V. Vale asked who the next William S. Burroughs or J.G. Ballard are. “Who are the people alive on the planet who are predicting the future as well as Burroughs and Ballard?” he pondered. What follows is an expansion of my response at the time.
The Next Burroughs or Ballard Won’t Come from an Anglophone Country
The most relevant writers of the 21st century will be those with a unique perspective. Perhaps they’re emerging from nations facing great turbulence, such as Greece, Thailand, Egypt or Honduras. Or maybe they’re from one of the emerging superpowers, Brazil, China and India, who are starting to see the world and its possibilities in a new way. Or maybe they’re from some pocket of the world that we (well, I) don’t think of often, like Bhutan.
The Anglophone world has historically exported more culture than it has imported (or at least imported directly, as opposed to through the lens of cultural appropriation). That was especially true of the pre-internet, pre-social media age. Authors like Umberto Eco, Jorge Borge, Italo Calvino and Haruki Murakami broke through the language barrier, but how many great authors has the world produced whose work quietly went out of print, untranslated and un-exported? The next Philip K. Dick or Ursula K. Le Guin could already be decades into their career and we wouldn’t even know!
The Next Burroughs or Ballard Won’t Necessarily Be a Novelist
Burroughs and Ballard took what had previously been seen as trash media and elevated them to new levels. Burroughs wrote pulp paperbacks. Ballard wrote for sci-fi magazines and pulp paperback publishers. Coum Transmissions, tired of the limited audience for performance art, took on the form of a rock band and subverted it as Throbbing Gristle. Later, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Art Spiegelman, Los Brothers Hernandez and many others did the same with comics.
Video games are the obvious next frontier, and there are already countless experimental indie games out there, enraging reactionary gamers with bizarre new takes on what games can be— a response not unlike academia’s attempts to keep literature “pure” of genre novels.
Brazilian psychotherapist Nicolau Chaud’s disturbing games have a particularly Burroughian or Ballardian flavor. Even the way you play a game could be a work of art, such as Vincent Ocasla’s SimCity solution.
But there’s no reason to think the next great subversive visionary thinker will be a game designer. They could work in any medium, including novels.