Crash – J. G. Ballard

Written By Ciaran Dermott

“I wanted to rub the human race in its own vomit, and force it to look in the mirror.”

In a disturbing blend of violence and eroticism, Ballard achieves a near flawless work of postmodernism. Blending the line between fiction and reality, this vividly self-aware novel delivers a sexually charged series of statements on society, technology, and art. As the novel reaches a sickening crescendo, the three collide and spatter like one of the explosive car crashes described within the narrative. Once the debris has cleared, not much in our modern landscape survive. Psychology, sexuality and characterisation are burned to the ground by the deeply sociopathic mind of Ballard.

Our narrator is, bar one instance in which the author makes the postmodern leanings of the text painfully clear, nameless. After surviving a car crash on the busy motorway near London airport, he begins to see the cars around him, and the violent accidents that occur frequently within them, as acts of human sexuality. The wounds inflicted become orifices designed for sexual conduct and the crashes themselves phallic symbols representing penetration.

The narrator reconciles his increasing motor fetish with the wife of the man he crashed into, starting an affair with the woman he has just made a widow. As they relive the mechanical actions of the crash during erotically charged episodes of driving and love making, the protagonist melds his sexual identity to the road. Eventually even his wife Catherine becomes entwined in this fetish, using the scars caused by his accident as access points to a deeper sexuality within him.

“After being bombarded endlessly by road-safety propaganda it was almost a relief to find myself in an actual accident.”

Enter Robert Vaughan, a TV personality who specialised in programmes about automobile collisions. Horrifically scarred by a crash of his own, Vaughan leads a ragtag bunch of car accident survivors through a series of violent and explicit episodes around London.

Joining the fun, our narrator, his wife, his lover, and of course Vaughan, conduct a series of bizarre experiments; having orgies in the back of parked cars, using the police radio to cruise car crash scenes, and craving the ultimate self-destruction in a perfectly designed motor collision. This is a perfect fusion of biology and technology, through sexually charged destruction.

In a manner that shows shades of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, Ballard observes the events of his narrative from a detached cerebral never region that hovers around the world it projects but never quite interacts with it. Like a lot of postmodern works, to try to interpret this as a traditional narrative would be to miss the point. Every line is a comment on the relationship between art and technology, and its surreal premise is a stage on which the author can explore the subtleties of the novel form. The story is not the most important thing here.

This type of art is not completely new, but what sets Ballard’s Crash apart is the way in which it is so critically aware of itself at all times. There are times in which the narrator describes his growing fetish of car crashes with the analysis of a literary critic writing about the protagonist of a novel who has a growing fetish of car crashes. The openly metafictional nature of the prose means that this is an exceptionally academic resource, but it does alienate anyone looking for a casual read. Prepare to have your brains, and your sense of moral virtue, pushed to the limit.

“The enormous energy of the twentieth century, enough to drive the planet into a new orbit around a happier star, was being expended to maintain this immense motionless pause.”


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