Throughout Crash I have used the car not only as a sexual image, but as a total metaphor for man’s life in today’s society. As such the novel has a political role quite apart from its sexual content, but I would still like to think that Crash is the first pornographic novel based on technology. In a sense, pornography is the most political form of fiction, dealing with how we use and exploit each other, in the most urgent and ruthless way.
Needless to say, the ultimate role of Crash is cautionary, a warning against that brutal, erotic and overlit realm that beckons more and more persuasively to us from the margins of the technological landscape.
J. G. Ballard, 1995
Crash is not a cautionary tale. Crash is what it appears to be. It is a psychopathic hymn.
J. G. Ballard, 1994
If High Rise is a novel about what happens when middle class life gets boring, then in some ways Crash is a novel about what happens when the same thing occurs with middle class sex. The novel’s protagonist, James Ballard, gets drawn into a world of sexual arousal and automobile accidents following an accidental crash on a London motorway. Trailed by the psychopathic Vaughan, who is obsessed with car crashes and dreams of killing Elizabeth Taylor in the perfect collision, he begins an affair with the widow of the man he killed, aroused by her wounds and intercourse inside the car. As he becomes involved with Vaughan, he finds himself involved with his plans to kill Liz Taylor and sinks deeper into perversity.
Crash is pornographic, the sex scenes are described in vivid details, but they are in no way erotic. The language used by Ballard is mechanical, clinical, it reads like something out of a medical textbook, highlighting the fact that the sex is in no way about sexuality. In the novel’s most controversial scene, Ballard penetrates a paraplegic in the wounds she suffered in a crash, but it serves to illustrate the desire for new orifices after the vaginal, anal and oral ones have become mundane; something no doubt technology will one day be able to provide for us. In the collision, a person is smashed into the car, his bodily fluids drain into it and it is the closest the characters can get to becoming one with technology. This is what arouses them, not the sex which only seems foreplay for the consummate act.
The car also serves as a metaphor for the fetishism of death, as millions of people die in car crashes every year but we as a society still covet and desire them. Vaughan’s fantasies marry that to the obsession with celebrity as he is obsessed with the car crashes of James Dean, Albert Camus, Jayne Mansfield and Kennedy. He compiles photos of car crashes and the wounded victims and derives arousal from drawing imaginary wounds on celebrities and planning his fatal crash with Liz Taylor. It is Vaughan that pulls Ballard deeper into perversion, encouraging him by showing him his portfolios and introducing him to the paraplegic Gabrielle. After his death in his failed attempt to kill Liz Taylor, Ballard is willing to take his place in seeking out his own perfect death by collision.
Crash remains, without a doubt, Ballard’s most controversial novel. Upon its release in 1973, the New York Times wrote, “Sports Illustrated coverage of the round-robin eliminations at Ravensbruck would be somewhat less freakish” and Martin Amis (boo) wrote in the Observer that “it is hard not to see the book as vicious whimsy.” The book had its champions though in people like Michael Moorcock and William Burroughs and it has endured for over thirty years because of the relevance of what Ballard’s has to say. All the time we are getting closer to the marriage between the flesh and the technological. How long will it be until we can make it a physical part of us, how long before we can fuck it? Not too long now surely. As society becomes ever more obsessed with technology, Ballard’s nightmarish vision of the future looms just around the corner.
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