Book Review : J.G Ballard - Crash (1973)
It's difficult to remember a world without the internet. Back then, computers were luxury items and things like highways, apartment buildings and television symbolized our fear of the future. It was like a different century. A century from which British author and personal favorite of mine J.G Ballard foresaw many of the deeply-rooted anxiety that was going to undermine my generation. He, among others, wrote the famous novel Crash, where people become aroused by car crashes and fuck hurt. That is what we're going to talk about today.
Crash is the story of James Ballard, a jaded copywriter (or something equivalent, it's never explicitly stated), who gets involved in a deadly car crash. One person is killed, his kneecaps get shattered and a special bond with other survivor Dr. Helen Remington emerges. Ballard also meets Robert Vaughan, who he first believe to be some kind of forensic photographer. But Vaughan is the leader of a small sex cult that reenacts famous car crash for sexual arousal. So Ballard, his sex-fiend wife Catherine and Helen Remington become all obsessed with the idea and with Vaughan too.
This novel is ultra-pornographic, even by today's standards. J.G Ballard must've been dodging torch-wielding priests back in the days, because this is a dirty, dirty book. It's filled with sexy, deviant descriptions of sever wounds, wrecked cars and hardcore sex. Crash is definitely not for everybody, but it's not just provocative for the sake of being so. There's a powerful Freudian contradiction at the heart of this novel: people are having sex (eros) while facing a probable death (thanatos). They're celebrating life while heading towards death. Why do they do this? Why does it turn 'em on? It's complicated.
In Crash, men become machine and machines become sexualized, like I said in my review of the movie adaptation. Ballard, Vaughn, Remington and the others symbolically embrace the future and forfeit their humanity to it. They objectify themselves. Crash is not only about fucking, it's also about people using one another with consensual disregard for their humanity. That's why the novel becomes increasingly more sexual and everybody starts fucking one another. In J.G Ballard's vision of a disconnected future, people become commodities to each other. It's fucked and it's by design.
Crash is a highly pornographic novel, but it's not arousing. It's filled with dirty, ugly sex and people obsessed with their own desires. It's not as sophisticated and spiritually challenging as his magnum opus High-Rise, but it's a powerful enough novel. It's definitely not for everyone and it gets hostile at times, but J.G Ballard is that kind of writer. He's not someone you can read casually. You're either into his work or you'll spend a lifetime blissfully ignoring his existence. Crash is twisted, disturbing and wonderfully prescient. There's a lot of stuff in there that echoes how we live now.