‘The Index’ by J. G. Ballard

J. G. Ballard conceptualizes the book index as an autobiography in ‘The Index’. A brief prefatory note from an editor designates the index as all that remains of a autobiography by “Physician and philosopher, man of action and patron of the arts, sometime claimant to the English throne and founder of a new religion, Henry Rhodes Hamilton.” Immediately, the mystery of Hamilton’s person draws us into reading the index creatively, and engaging it narratively. Ultimately, Hamilton is who you make him, depending on how you connect references as disparate as:

“Berenson, Bernard, conversations with HRH, 134; offer of adoption, 145; loan of
Dürer etching, 146; law-suits against HRH, 173-85
Bergman, Ingrid, 197, 234, 267
Ecclesiastes, Book of, 87
Eckhart, Meister, 265
Hiroshima, HRH observes atomic cloud, 258
Hitler, Adolf, invites HRH to Berchtesgaden, 166; divulges Russia invasion plans, 172; impresses HRH, 179; disappoints HRH, 181”

A play on paranoia and conspiracy, this is Ballard at his disruptive best, challenging post-Enlightenment notions of individual selfhood by forcing us to define a person entirely by his quoted relations to others.

Published in The Paris Review, 1991 and available to subscribers here. Collected in The Complete Short Stories of J. G. Ballard: Volume 2, Fourth Estate, 2014

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