Cars and American culture. Personally, I've never understood "the car thing," but through books like "Crash" and movies like "Repo Man," I've been able to better understand the perverted place of the automobile in the dark funhouse mirror of the American psyche.
"Crash" climbs into the driver's seat of the auto/man cyborg-anism and takes the reader on the demolition derby-ride of their life. The anatomy of the car, the accident, and the horrific fusion of man and steel in our modern age is so thoroughly examined that, by the end of this book, you feel like a piece of loose wreckage spattered with blood, oil, semen, gasoline and pressed into the stinking, oozing tar of the U.S. Interstate.
The narrative techniques used in "Crash" are brilliant and unsettling. All the emotions and feelings are invested in inanimate objects (or in the human body as an assemblage of parts). The cars, their mechanical processes, the physical transformations caused by accidents - these things are all explored with deep emotional and sexual detail. The lives and deaths of the victims of these crashes are portrayed in totally mechanical and forensic terms. The human/machine world is turned upside down and inside out. Life becomes an internal combustion, sex becomes impact physics, and death is just a fascinating way of reshaping metal. Human beings are reduced to so much greasy ooze that's produced when the rear end of a car is crushed into its front end.
"Crash" is an iron-stomached digestion of the interplay between sex, death, and technology, and how this relationship is thoroughly imbedded in our post-modern mediascape.
As Firesign Theatre used to say: "There's hamburger all over the highway in Mystic, Connecticut."
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. 1973
QPC Edition, 1991
The Quality Paperback Book Club has just published a handsome three novel Ballard volume which includes "Crash," "Crystal World," and "Concrete Island."
Graphic: Hard Boiled
Here is the TEXT POPUP for Crash:
Two weeks after finishing "Crash" I was involved in a serious car crash in which my car rolled over on a dual carriageway and crossed into the oncoming lane. This is an extreme case of nature imitating art.
"Over our lives preside the great twin leitmotifs of the twentieth century - sex and paranoia." ...Ballard...explicates the "nightmare marriage between sex and technology" taking place in our modern society - of the unfulfillable consumer, the unattainable superstar, and the imperfectible commodity. Our infantile world resembles one rapidly discarded stage set after another, and perhaps sudden violence - with a permanent effect - can supply a fixed meaning to a life ruled by shifting identities, transient delusions, and fickle desires.
-from RE/Search #8/9
Trying to exhaust himself, Vaughan devised a terrifying almanac of imaginary automobile disasters and insane wounds -- the lungs of elderly men punctured by door handles, the chests of young women impaled by steering columns.
...in the complex geometries of a dented fender, in the unexpected variations of crushed radiator grilles...