interview by J.G. BALLARD
J.G. BALLARD — You were born in the Panama Canal Zone?
RICHARD PRINCE — Yes. In 1949.
J.G. BALLARD — Panaman? Panamerican?
RICHARD PRINCE — Yes. Something like that. I left with my mother and sister after my father had been detained for presumably stockpiling arms and munitions for what I imagine now was the 19th nervous breakdown invasion in Cuba—this was in 1958. He was later released, moved to Hawaii and from there has been moving to and from the city of Saigon (what is now Ho Chi Minh City).
J.G. BALLARD — Aren’t children born in the Canal Zone called Zonians?
RICHARD PRINCE — Yes. For some years now the canal has represented the concept of unlimited possibility. This year, eleven years after I left Panama, I tried to return.
J.G. BALLARD — You’re eighteen?
RICHARD PRINCE — Yes.
J.G. BALLARD — The newspapers said your flight to Panama originated from Hawaii. How did that happen?
RICHARD PRINCE— I’ve been living with my father in Honolulu all summer. “Blonde on Blonde,” Jimi Hendrix, The Doors. There’s an aesthetic revolution on. Class systems seemed to have disappeared. Things are opening up. I’m sure the new liberation will be brief. My father has become involved in introducing a defoliant in Vietnam. Someone wants the jungles to disappear so US soldiers can see the enemy. The death of affect I think they call it.
J.G. BALLARD — Your father sounds like someone who guarantees hostility and incomprehension. A jungle is a hard thing to get rid of.
RICHARD PRINCE — He would say something like he’s interested in the hard light of contemporary reality. He’d say his task is to invent reality, not fiction. He talks like that. What some people dream of and write about, he actually does. He loves Vietnam. He loves Vietnamese women. I remember him saying something about how he works with a group that call themselves Team Strange.
J.G. BALLARD — Why return to Panama?
RICHARD PRINCE — I was about to turn eighteen. By law I have a choice to become either a Panamanian or an American, or both. My father still has contacts with government officials in Panama, and we thought it might be smart, for the future, to secure a dual citizenship. The security required me to show up in person. He put me on a PBY B-Moth and I landed in Panama three days before my eighteenth birthday. I was following in my father’s footsteps.
J.G. BALLARD — I read in the paper that your troubles started with improper, or I think it was, “the lack of sufficient identity.”
RICHARD PRINCE — It was really stupid. I didn’t have a photograph of myself in my passport. Somehow the photograph that had been in my passport became unglued and fell out. I don’t know how it happened. All I know is that when I opened my passport in customs, it was gone. The agents there just looked at me, and started shaking their heads.
J.G. BALLARD — They kept you there for four days.
RICHARD PRINCE — Five. At the airport.
J.G. BALLARD — They treat you ok?
RICHARD PRINCE — Psychic jujitsu. That’s all.
J.G. BALLARD — Then what?
RICHARD PRINCE — I became a citizen of British Airways.
J.G. BALLARD — What I read in the newspapers sounded like you were living inside an enormous novel.
RICHARD PRINCE — I’ve spent the last three weeks on jumbo jets crisscrossing the Caribbean and Atlantic five times because no country will admit me.
J.G. BALLARD — British immigration officials finally admitted you and held you in custody while trying to arrange admission back to the US, right?
RICHARD PRINCE — Yes. British Airways has spent more than $13,500 feeding me and flying me around. I’ve racked up 20,000 miles in eight consecutive days of jetting back and forth between London, Jamaica, Bermuda and the Bahamas.
J.G. BALLARD — According to immigration authorities, the Panamanians flew you to the Bahamas on August 8th, but then you were detained twelve days and put on a British Airways flight to London.
RICHARD PRINCE — Yes. I was never clear why I was sent to the Bahamas from Panama. I have my own ideas. My own suspicions. But someone’s orders put me on a plane from the Bahamas to London, and when London wouldn’t admit me, they sent me to Kinsgston, Jamaica. Jamaica refused me entry and send me back to London. London again turned me back to Kingston, which promptly flew me to London again. En route, I was refused entry in Bermuda. On Wednesday, I landed here for the third time and was allowed to remain in detention on British soil.
J.G. BALLARD — You’re still in detention?
RICHARD PRINCE — Yes. But I don’t know for how long. My father tells me he’s flying in, in a couple of days. I talked with him three nights ago. He sounded uncharacteristically light. Almost amused. He said something about wanting the exact details, hard information. My father likes to know what Charles Manson has for breakfast. That’s why I emphasize everything.
J.G. BALLARD — Earlier you said “your own ideas” – what do you mean, “your own ideas?”
RICHARD PRINCE — At first I thought my return trip to Panama backfired. Something like, someone couldn’t get to my father, so they go to his son. That kind of thing. My father’s one of those imaginative criminals who wakes up in the morning and makes a resolution to perform some kind of deviant or antisocial act, even if it’s just kicking the dog. He says he does this to establish his own freedom. What can I say? He’s got a lot of enemies.
J.G. BALLARD — What do you think your father really does?
RICHARD PRINCE — He’s interested in applying the physical facts of the environment upon people. What he calls the third revolution. The “facts” he says are the things that have come after the consumerism of the postindustrial revolution.
J.G. BALLARD — In other words?
RICHARD PRINCE — He invades people’s lives with the very products they produce.
J.G. BALLARD — He modifies the behavior of a particular group of people by the things they consume?
RICHARD PRINCE — Exactly. He uses things like TVs, microchips, computers, chemicals, tape recorders, cameras. He’s very advanced at how to undermine your situation with what you think you already own, and what you think you might control.
J.G. BALLARD — Like say, the film in your camera?
RICHARD PRINCE — Yes. Something as ordinary as a roll of Tri-X. He can very easily dismantle the convention of getting back your snapshots, by infusing those shots with an element of imagination and thus destabilize what was expected to be everyday pedestrian reality. Serious illness and trauma could result upon opening what you hoped to be pictures of your sweetheart, or the family barbecue. Once a friend of his told me how he had planned to prescribe a special type of contact lens for Castro—a kind that would produce dystopia. Imagine Castro putting on a shirt and thinking the shirt was alive. Sometimes his ideas are outlandishly absurd. Really funny. Some of them sound like a joke. Having you never knowing when to take him seriously is part of his design.
J.G. BALLARD — The joke, as you call it, is not that far from the joke that British Airways is pulling on you right now. Your present citizenship is almost like one of your father’s extreme hypotheses. What you find yourself in, is an extremity offered up and advanced by British Airways—an open-ended extreme where the moral and psychological conclusions have yet to be proven. They have this person, you, and they’re looking at you and asking themselves who he is—they’re treating your existence as if it were a huge invention.
RICHARD PRINCE — It’s true. They’re not taking me at face value. And that’s what surprises me. Maybe it’s a conspiracy. I mean, I know that who I am is an enormous accident, but I never thought they did. My father taught me that the position of the observer itself affects the behavior of electrons, or the fundamental particles that are being observed. And I accept that. My identity is a complete billion-to-one chance. But at the same time totally real. It’s a paradox we all have to live with, he says. But I’m beginning to see my situation is too ideal for accidents. In a way, my situation for the last three weeks has been classic. Something you read about in the newspapers. And if I can make any sense out of these weeks in the air, they won’t seem as random and meaningless as I first thought they were. That’s what I’m trying to do now. Make sense.
J.G. BALLARD — It’s almost like you’ve been in an atrocity exhibition. British Airways represents itself as another perfectable, meaningful world. You find yourself enshrined in this Homeric journey, having to test yourself against vast scientific and technological systems that began to unwind the moment you were born, and here you are trying to unwind them even more.
RICHARD PRINCE — Overdeter-mination. I should feel strange. Pissed off, or something. But I don’t. You know, if I think about my situation, it’s just another conventionalized reality. What’s happening to me is probably normal. Or going to be. A look at things to come perhaps. The people who have been flying me around haven’t exactly acted surprised. I guess this is why I didn’t get it… but am beginning to get it now. I’m beginning to get the sense that it’s the sensation of normality that might be the most extreme conclusion to the hypothesis.
J.G. BALLARD — Normality as the next special effect?
RICHARD PRINCE — Something like that.
J.G. BALLARD — How do you approximate the idea of sacrifice on British Airways? What do you do? What would your father do? Kill the stewardess?
RICHARD PRINCE — My father? He’d cut off her nipples and feed the steward his penis.
J.G. BALLARD — What would you do?
RICHARD PRINCErichard prince — I don’t know. British Airways is far too powerful to commit a genuinely evil or morally repugnant act. I simply lack the ability to impose myself to that extent on such an environment. I don’t think my being a monster would have any direct consequences on British Airways.
J.G. BALLARD — Do you think your father stole your photograph? Did he set up some kind of initiation rite for you? Father to son. A coming of age… a sort of test, pass or fail… a ritual?
RICHARD PRINCE — My father is a psychopath. Everybody knows, or maybe they don’t, that psychopaths never go out of fashion. That’s what I know. And I’m beginning to think that maybe my last three weeks was my birthday present. Love, Dad. You know, my birthday present from Dad? And if that’s true, I guess I’ll just have to thank him in some totally convincing style.
Extra-ordinary, Punch September 1967, reprinted in ZG, No. 13 Spring, 1985. This version was transcribed by Richard Prince from J.G. Ballard’s notes which were taken from a conversation between J.G. Ballard and Richard Prince in August 1967.
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