Crash – JG Ballard (1973)
A poetic if depressing view of our social evolution in the Twentieth century.
After an automobile accident the victim – a director of TV commercials – finds himself increasingly drawn to Dr Robert Vaughan, a man who calls himself a TV scientist, who haunts the sites of accidents like a vulture, taking photographs and making films of the aftermath and the wreckage.
The narrator, who appears to be Ballard himself, becomes gradually aware of the erotic charge held by the twisted wrecks of cars, where he feels he can sense connections between the shapes and angles of wreckage, the impacts themselves and the act of sexual congress.
The novel builds to its natural conclusion which is a collision, both literal and metaphorical, between the two characters.
Ballard’s incredible descriptive powers turn this, quite shocking in places, novel into a sort of poetic odyssey.
The narrator, already immersed in the illusory world of the media, his wife, Vaughan, and the wife of the dead victim of Ballard’s accident, drive through a world of tubular steel, films, photographs, modernist buildings, airports, motorways, cars and sex. As Ballard is drawn more and more under Vaughan’s influence he become hooked on the temptations offered by technology which is opening up a whole new language of sex, pornography and death.
Collisions and impacts are not merely a metaphor sexual climax, they become the sexual climax.
Death is the ultimate climax and Vaughan plans to die in a car accident with Elizabeth Taylor as the culmination (the climax) of his life’s work.
I found the idea of dedication one’s life to planning one’s death quite appealing. Vaughan’s concepts – he is a kind of Nineteen Seventies performance artist – are pretty revolutionary. He seems to think of his life as a work in progress, bound within the parameters of car wrecks and sexual gratification.
The car is seen here in various symbolic ways. As penile extension, the extension of the entire body, the status symbol, the exoskeleton…
The book seems to be written through an artist’s eyes. Much is made of the ‘geometries’ of this or that, and the relationship between shapes and spaces with regard to twisted cars or human bodies. But then, it’s also as if Ballard is attempting to create a new language to define the world into which Vaughan and his narrator have evolved.
At the end of the day it all conforms to a twisted kind of logic, but I’m not sure I can explain why.