Crash – Written by J.G. Ballard
First Published: 1973
Synopsis: Ballard, the narrator, arrives at London Airport. He sees Dr. Robert Vaughan, a television personality, his friend, and a person who is well-known for planning car crashes, is now killed in the accident. Ballard knows Vaughan’s intention of the car crash was to kill actress—and his beloved Elizabeth Taylor. Ballard remembers his first car crash, past encounters, and his deeds with Vaughan. Ballard recounts ominous experiments of auto-erotic carnages with his friend. Bloodbath, semen, sex, car engine, everything surrounds Ballard’s mind, but Vaughan escapes this by planning to kill the actress.
Crash is a novel of the young voices and pop-culture which emerged during the 70s in America and Britain. The novel is a portrayal of obsession which depicts the obsession of modern American/European youths to have cars—and their ride, on the highway, at full speed. It tries to show their desire to have sex in the backseat of a fast-moving car. The novel displaces the ego of the 1970s.
The images portrayed in the novel can make us vomit—especially to those who abhor explicit content. Blood, semen, fluids everything is portrayed in a detailed sense.
Should we say this is a pornographic novel?
Yes, Crash is a pornographic novel. Ballard’s experimentation in this novel is to create a man who is obsessed with car[machine] and whose life is impossible without it. This type of obsession can be present in anyone. The term “Skeuomorph” is used to identify an object which imitates the design of a similar artifact made from another; in the case of this novel, it is the car. Car is compared with the body of woman, Ballard and Vaughan view car as a “sexy woman”. Their desire to have sex is low in other places—but high in the car. Both Ballard and Vaughan have sex passionately in the car.
Here is a quote from the novel to define Ballard’s desire, “As I sat with her by the airport fence in her darkened car, her white breast in my hand lit by the ascending airliners, the shape and tenderness of her nipple seemed to rape my fingers.”
What else good in this novel?
The novel blurs the boundary between high and low literature. The pornographic contents are presented in the novel through “morally weak” but “economically strong” characters. Also, the characters are presented as Queer; Ballard, Vaughan, Gabrielle, Ballard’s wife have no fixed sexuality, they switch from heterosexuality to homosexuality anytime. Queer theory is extensively depicted in the novel—and the novel is realistic to define the real identity of LGBTQ.
Characters in the novel are particularly guided by their “Animal Instincts.” Characters in the novel do not behave like a human, rather, they perform as animals. Ballard and Vaughan only have sexual drive when they are inside the car.
But we don’t have to forget one thing; the crash defined in the novel is not only sexual—the crash is purely aesthetic.
Is something bad in there?
The novel presents the issue of “Hyperreality”, the car crash is presented beyond the limits. The characters survive “unrealistic” car crashes many times in the novel. So, in this sense, the novel lacks to create a realistic sense.
Crash lacks to provide a proper understanding to the readers about its theme. Readers might not grasp the real meaning throughout reading the text. This is also a weak point in this novel.
One thing we should also expect to know from this novel i.e. the novel clearly describes the human-mechanical relationship. Written in the 70s, J.G. Ballard tries to aware us from the machines because the human has now become much dependent upon it. He makes us conscious that – one-day human civilization will Crash because of the over-dependence with machines.
With these aforementioned reasons, I give 3 out of 5 stars for J. G. Ballard’s Crash.