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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Crash (1973) by J.G. Ballard


Book Review
Crash (1973)
 by J.G. Ballard

     Poised at the intersection of Freudian death wish theory, technology and sex,  J.G. Ballard's Crash is an enduring classic of the 20th century canon of transgression.   An obsession with arousal derived from a staged disaster is called "symphorophilia,"  although the term "car crash fetish" is probably closer to what a modern reader would call the obsessions of Vaughan and "James Ballard,"  the 40 year old narrator, who shares a name with the author but works in television and film as a producer of some sort.

Image result for vaughan crash cronenberg
Elias Koteas as Vaughan in the David Cronenberg movie version of Crash by J.G. Ballard.
     Elias Koteas played Vaughan in the 1996 David Cronenberg directed movie version.  In Crash, Dr. Robert Vaughan is a formerly famous "television scientist" who has lost himself to driving around in a heavy Lincoln Continental and arranging various combinations of sex with prostitutes, staged car accidents that replicate famous car accidents and actual car accidents, specifically photographing them, photographing the injuries caused by those accidents and seducing and having sex with the surviving accident victims.  Although Vaughan is a memorably creepy presence, you can't fault the man for knowing what he wants, and his affect is as anti-Freudian as the rest of the book is under-girded by Freudian related theory regarding Thanatos or the "Death Wish."

    Ballard does not stint on the mechanical automobile side of the equation.  It is clear that the author was intimately familiar with the technical description of automobile accidents in all their gory detail.   Ballard was not the first author to link sex, technology and death.  In fact, some of the sexually perverse details of Crash notably remember the writing of the Marquis de Sade in his pre-Freudian 120 Days of Sodom.   In that book, the vile aristocrats adopt a very mechanistic approach to defiling their victims, with an emphasize on exploring multiple permutations.   This obsession is echoed in a scene where narrator Ballard has sex with auto accident victim Gabrielle, placing his member sequentially in each wound on her body.

  De Sade is also echoed in the elaborate plotting between Vaughan and his deranged co-conspirator Seagrave, a stunt driver with a specialty in portraying female drivers.  Over and over again, Vaughan and Seagrave recount minute details regarding the real life automobile deaths of actresses like Jayne Mansfield, which they then re-stage for live audiences.  J.G. Ballard was a huge victim in the first revision of the 1001 Books project, losing five of his original seven titles.  Of those seven only this book and Empire of the Sun remain.   That is a pity I think-  Ballard is the first among the authors who get slashed between the first two editions who I would take a stand for.

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