Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2012 January 25 • Wednesday

Ballard's unique writing style, a combination of the clinical and the fantastic or fantastically depraved, reaches a higher level in Crash. While The Atrocity Exhibition was a scattered display of small pieces, Crash is a distillation, examination and exploration of one of Atrocity's most important motifs, bascially the human fascination with new technology (though this is an absurdly inadequate description).

A character named James Ballard, who works in advertising, loses control of his car and crashes into an on-coming car, killing the driver and injuring the driver's wife.

This event, as banal as it is tragic, activates something mysterious in the two survivors, perhaps causing them to to take a further evolutionary step, one in which the sex impulse requires car crashes.

There's a lot of sex in Crash, pretty much all of it explicit, but I can't imagine it was meant to arouse readers. Crash might be Ballard's Lolita, a book that centers around sex but isn't actually about sex (though there are many people who are unable or unwilling to see or look beyond sexual content). There's also a lot of drug use, including a memorable and impressively written LSD episode.

The tone is matter-of-fact and detached. The old erogenous zones are replaced by new ones: the scars and wounds caused by car crashes. Ballard becomes linked to the dangerous Vaughan, who has thrown himself into the new world of car crashes with abandon.

You could try to make the case that Ballard and Vaughan are the same people, or two sides of the same person, as in Fight Club, which is probably indebted to Crash. There's nothing explicit in Crash to suggest this, but it's a thought worth considering, just as is the thought that Kinbote and Shade, in Nabokov's Pale Fire, are in some ways not two different people but mirror reflections of each other. For instance, the Ballard character is working on a television car commercial with Elizabeth Taylor while Vaughan is obsessed with crashing into Elizabeth Taylor's car.

Albert Camus's The Stranger is another sympathetic novel and Camus is one of the world's most famous car crash victims. He's mentioned in Crash and he's probably mentioned in The Atrocity Exhibition. It's amusing to compare the first lines of Crash (the title itself seems in harmony with "Camus") and The Stranger.

Crash: "Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash."

The Stranger: "Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know."

Remember the long tracking shot of the traffic jam in Godard's Weekend? The movie didn't live up to the brilliance of that scene, or to what came before it, which involved traffic accidents and road rage.

Crash descends dispassionately into an underworld indicated but avoided by Weekend. Like many other Ballard characters, the Ballard of Crash and Vaughan embrace apocalypse and attempt some kind of mysterious communication through ritual and symbols. "The world was beginning to flower into wounds," as Ballard puts it in the beginning of Crash's sixteenth chapter.