J.G. Ballard: bard of the autoerotic

No film could ever hope to wholly capture the virtuosic and polymorphous perversity of J.G. Ballard's Crash, and that's probably a good thing. Ballard's text is literally a catalog of the most malignant sort of eroticism, and spares nothing in the way of nasty, relentless, and breathlessly repellent description. Yet it's also a completely asexualized perversion, as clinically detached as a surgical textbook. In the first 50 pages alone the reader is treated to a vast assortment of anatomical detail and bodily fluids: sphincter, anus, urethra, smegma, feces, blood, urine, pus, rectal mucus, vaginal mucosa, vomit, semen. Semen is in fact so pervasive as to be almost a graphic element in the text, punctuation; Crash is explicitly spattered with the stuff, dripping in carefully described globules from dashboards and running in vinyl gullies down automobile upholstery.

Crash is most obviously an extended metaphor built around a pun on autoeroticism, but there are other important Ballardian angles. They're found in plentiful evidence in the novel, but are streamlined if not altogether missing entirely from the movie:

Stylization: In Crash everything is "stylized." Ballard must use this word hundreds of times, to describe everything (posture, language, gestures, sex acts, automobiles, affection, landscape, etc.). All behavior and emotion is subordinated to principles of design, informed by and copied from technological models--meaning technology and all its culture of desire, design, and pose. Automobile design is the purest and most inspired form of plastic surgery, exquisitely stylized perfection, and Crash is essentially an extended riff on vogueing, the car crash as ultimate, transfigurative pose. The characters see themselves and their damage literally reflected everywhere, even in vomit. Damage as desire's funhouse mirror. Or maybe the other way around. The automobile accident as the ultimate collage, another interest of Ballard's.

Geometry is yet another. The relation of points, lines, surfaces; design's cool, calculated still-life of seductive angles, lines, and contours. Pavement, planes, pubis--it's all geometry to Ballard. Everything is informed with the design logic of machinery, very sexualized and fiercely desired, and absolutely not sexy at all.

Traffic: The automobile crash as a stopping of traffic. Traffic as everything moving everywhere: noise, communication, feedback, static, transportation.

Damage: Collision as the melding of damage. The solipsistic community of the damaged, cut off from the world of the whole. Damage as transformation. Recovery not as a goal, but as a permanent condition. Damage as identity. Everyone in Vaughan's circle of friends has been injured in an auto accident. He's a crash aficionado as 12-stepper: This was my take on the book when I first read it eight years ago. Back then I thought it was the most wicked and brilliant satire of the booming 12-step culture of the damaged. Prophetic satire. That's how versatile the book's metaphors are. Ballard even talks about the "unity of our injuries."

Celebrity: Ballard's characters have often demonstrated a pathological obsession with public figures--see "The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race," "Plan for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy," and "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan" (the latter from 1968--even in the transference of his aggressive perversions, Ballard was way ahead of his time). In Crash, Vaughan also displays an "obsession with Reagan's genital organs," and his preoccupation with celebrity/crash/sex/death fantasies, particularly his desire to choreograph an automobile accident/death-marriage with Elizabeth Taylor, is central to the book. In fact, the story, such as it is, concludes with Vaughan--who has been stalking Taylor for days--dying in a crash with the actress's limousine (Taylor survives). Collision with celebrity as ultimate fantasy. Liz Taylor as the ultimate crash victim, celebrity as the most stylized form of damage. The crash as metaphoric nexus of celebrity, speed, dysfunction, and aberrance.

 
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