Always Crashing In The Same Car

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Andy Warhol-Red Car Crash 1963
J. G Ballard’s 1970 collection of interlinked ‘condensed’ novels, The Atrocity Exhibition had been the cause of considerable controversy. One of the short stories, Why I Want To Fuck Ronald Reagan was issued as a separate booklet that had resulted in the prosecution for obscenity of the publisher. The American edition of The Atrocity Exhibition had been printed by Doubleday & Co when the company’s president Nelson Doubleday, Jr. ordered the entire run pulped as he feared potential legal action from the many celebrities featured within its pages.

Undeterred Ballard wrote Crash, a novel even more controversial and transgressive. One publisher’s reader verdict was simply, “This author is beyond psychiatric help. Do Not Publish!” As Ballard express intention in writing Crash was to, “rub the human face in its own vomit and force it to look in the mirror” and considering its extreme and disturbing content, the reader’s comment is understandable.

The narrator of Crash is an advertising executive named James Ballard (a bold, daring move: no authorial distancing to be seen here) who after being involved in a serious traffic accident that causes the death of the driver of the other vehicle, becomes obsessed with the sexual possibilities inherent in car crashes. He meets Vaughan, a rogue scientist and former television presenter, the ‘nightmare angel of the expressways’, who is the leader of a clique of similarly affectless crash devotees. Vaughan has one over-riding ambition: to stage the ultimate sex death with the actress Elizabeth Taylor.

The style of Crash is hypnotically detached. As I noted in my previous post on J. G Ballard Living The High Life its hallucinatory cadences render it a prose poem of twisted metal, broken glass and wound patterns, as can be seen from the following quote. It is also, without doubt, spectacularly deranged.

I think now of the other crashes we visualised, absurd deaths of the wounded, maimed and distraught. I think of the crashes of psychopaths, implausible accidents carried out with venom and disgust, vicious multiple collisions contrived in stolen cars on evening freeways among tired office workers. I think of the absurd crashes of neurasthenic housewives returning from their VD clinics, hitting parked cars in suburban streets. I think of the crashes of excited schizophrenics colliding head-on into stalled laundry vans in one-way streets: of manic-depressives crushed while making pointless U-turns on motorway access roads; of luckless paranoids driving at full speed into brick walls at the ends of known cul-de-sacs; of sadistic charge nurses decapitated in inverted crashes on complicated interchanges; of lesbian supermarket manageress burning to death in the collapsed frames of their midget cars before the stoical eyes of middle-aged firemen; of autistic children crushed in rear-end collisions, their eyes less wounded in death; of buses filled with mental defectives drowning together in roadside industrial canals.

The novel soon achieved cult status in France, unsurprisingly as the French have a long tradition of intellectual, transgressive pornography dating back to De Sade (see Philosophy in the Boudoir) and carrying on through Bataille to The Story of O. Most editions include the Introduction to the French Edition which carries Ballard’s spirited defence of pornography, as he notes “pornography is the most political form of fiction, dealing with how we use and exploit each other in the most urgent and ruthless way.”

Crash was later filmed by David Cronenberg in 1996 and was itself the subject of further controversy.

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96 thoughts on “Always Crashing In The Same Car

      1. Eliphas Levi-Baphomet Goat-1856As well as containing erotic poems that led to Baudelaire being prosecuted for insulting public decency, Les Fleurs …
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        Liked by 1 person

      1. The mystique is there even with Bowie being dubbed into Italian. Loved that he starts smoking while singing Heroes. The 70’s were so experimental, we have been in a puritanical reaction ever since.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes. It has James Spader and Holly Hunter… it is good, though really icy cold. Again a really hard novel to film and the novel just carries you away with its unbelievable audacity (lots and lots of really weird sex, though the car wash scene in the book where Ballard watches Vaughan with his wife in the back seat is very good).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It is really really fucking weird… again I say this as a very well read person on the subject… good I was starting to think the site was becoming too vanilla… sorted that out… thanks J.G

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Wouldn’t want to get too vanilla. No sir. I much prefer chocolate. Actually I prefer strawberries and whipped cream… Anyway, if you say it’s really really fucking weird, I do not doubt it. Anyway, I kinda like the weirder erotica. By now I need the weird stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. This reminds me of a photography book I stumbled upon in the bookstore years ago. I can’t recall the photographer, but it’s quite famous; photographs of real and fatal car crashes from 1940s America. It was hard to look at and hard to put down.

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    1. Warhol did a Death and Destruction series… earlier I was paraphrasing his agent… he said Andy we have had enough of life in your paintings, time for some death. Car crashes… we can never look away.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. All right that is totally fucked up. The raw sexuality in car crashes? I will give him this – the actual rush of crashing a car can be sort of sexual. As in the after effects. And I can testify to that fact, I’ve been in three horrific total loss crashes myself – it leaves you quivering and weak in the knees. And like the French call the orgasm a ‘little death’ the resultant ‘glad to be alive’ feeling is positively euphoric. However the replicating of crash scenes, the blood sperm and coolant fluid as the ultimate orgasmic combination – that’s beyond weird. Win for the non-vanilla team, Cake. πŸ–€β£οΈπŸ–€

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    1. Well Ballard was fond of extreme metaphors. He applied a Surrealist and psychoanalytic approach to reality, revealing the latent content as opposed to the overt. Are you going to read the book, it really is hypnotic. A trance like daze.

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      1. Yes, it certainly sounds like it. And yes, just bought it on Amazon. Although I probably won’t get to it soon. I’ve Don Quixote to finish, Loving and the rest of Henry’s stories

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