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Crash (1973)

by J. G. Ballard

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3,463763,565 (3.47)154
In this hallucinatory novel, an automobile provides the hellish tableau in which Vaughan, a "TV scientist" turned "nightmare angel of the highways," experiments with erotic atrocities among auto crash victims, each more sinister than the last. James Ballard, his friend and fellow obsessive, tells the story of this twisted visionary as he careens rapidly toward his own demise in an internationally orchestrated car crash with Elizabeth Taylor.… (more)

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English (72)  Spanish (2)  French (1)  Romanian (1)  All languages (76)
Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
"I dreamed of other accidents that might enlarge this repertory of orifices, relating them to more elements of the automobile's engineering, to the ever-more complex technologies of the future. What wounds would create the sexual possibilities of the invisible technologies of thermonuclear reaction chambers, white-tiled control rooms, the mysterious scenarios of computer circuitry?"

The language is mesmerising. I've never felt as involved in an alien way of being and feeling before. Everything is vile and horrible and fucked up and strange and somehow the real thing underpinning the violence of car society. Incredible

There are issues with the book - it's a bit too repetitive, with not enough new ideas to fill the book, there's a general misogynistic tone, there's some ableism (only stuck out because it was fascinating to me how despite being about the new body possibilities of car crashes, he still couldn't let go of his ableist issues/disdain around losing body parts) - but overall the impact is like nothing else I've ever read. It feels like you're experiencing a completely alien perspective, seeing everyday things in a completely new light. The effect is total - often incredibly hard to read, but compelling and revelatory.

Being written in 1973 puts it at a key transition point - this was just before the oil crisis which majorly slowed the motorway construction plans and the economics of car ownership, even as cars on the road continually increased afterwards. 1973 saw the cancellation of most of the ringways scheme, a massive plan to build 4 concentric motorways from the centre of London outwards and whose outer remnants make up the M25, which would have caused massive destruction and separation of communities but was seen as essential to stop cars overwhelming the rest of London. The Westway had recently been built, and the 2.5 miles of elevated motorway through Central London had caused major controversy as it caused urban blight where it ran - it's the eastern end of the Western Avenue, which is a major location in the book. The dangers of cars were well known, but design for safety was still in its infancy (seatbelt laws only came in in the UK 10 years later) and the best plans for pedestrians were to completely segregate them from roads so that cars could flow freely.

The book really digs into this particular vein - cars as inevitable, extensions of ourselves, sex symbols, status symbols, an essential but also as things that separate us from other people, get us stuck in traffic jams, maim us and kill us, are often style over substance, require us to subordinate ourselves to them. The characters become aroused by car accidents, yes, but it's an awakening derived from experiencing the violence of them. They develop a fatalistic sense from it, that the crash is inevitable, it will eventually be your death, and that is what propels their sexuality. It's a coming to terms with a future based on cars - since they're so dangerous, death from cars is inevitable, therefore acceptance and transformation to become part of the car death is an obligation. The power of the car desires worship and supplication - even as each individual car decays, the Car as symbol, as system, must constantly be appeased. The book is full of praise of the car which undermines itself - they are often described as "benign" or "benevolent technology" as the characters have sex thinking about their injuries.

I think one of my favourite details is how, despite cars being advertised as offering mobility and freedom, in this they mostly exist to sit in traffic jams and crash. Pretty much everything takes place within a few miles of Heathrow airport. The characters do drive between places, but they're all close together and a lot of them exist merely to serve the car. Despite being a book about the sexuality embodied through cars, the deep suspicion of cars and the ideology that's embedded them in our lives is incredibly clear.

There's also a strong gay (and to a mild extent trans, although it's not a modern or thought through understanding - it seems relevant that Seagrave dies while trying to get Elizabeth Taylor in a car crash *while dressed to look like Elizabeth Taylor*, so much so he is at first identified as her) current, even before it becomes very explicit at the end. Ballard seems a little uncomfortable here, but the gay scenes near the end feel much more "wholesome" and developed than the "relationships" between women (and even at the start, before he gets fully into car crashes, he talks about how he gets off when with Catherine by thinking about her relationship with a woman). There's parts which strongly hinge on patriarchal ownership around women - most notably when the narrator *wants* Vaughan to damage Catherine's car, to "mark" her. The relationship between the two is twisted, gay, misogynistic as hell, and fascinating.

The sex scenes in the book are like nothing else. The way he describes each detail of the car as if it was an active participant in the sex is fascinating. Every part of the humans becomes an extension of the car - each injury a beautiful reminder of how cars have improved them, giving them new sexual abilities. It's a combination of the very human physical - lots of cum, descriptions of penises and vulvas and body hair and fluids - with the technology of the car, overlapped as if they're the same - there's an obsessive repetition of words like chromium, vinyl, instrument panel, emblems, dials, bosses, windshield assembly. There is an identity between the human and the car.

There's also a strong aspect of voyeurism. Each car accident is attended by hundreds of rubberneckers, even on foot - the only appearance of pedestrians in the book. There's an open day at the road research lab where they simulate a crash, after describing the test dummies in human terms as a family, and there's many attendees enjoying the destruction and then watching it in slow motion on film. Even the unenlightened get a satisfaction and release from the maiming and death. The narrator thinks about how, when he was recovering from his injuries on the balcony of the flat, he was being watched by thousands on the motorway underneath. There's a long period when he's being followed by Vaughan and when that stops the narrator finds the sexual acts he's been doing much less interesting.

There are so many layers to the book that I haven't even touched on. The big appeal is just the experience - the plot isn't much to speak of, it's just constantly being absorbed in something completely new. If you don't mind something fucked up in a lot of ways and that sounds good to you, please read this. ( )
4 vote tombomp | Oct 31, 2023 |
I rarely write about the books I read and this is not so much a review as a bit of a ramble/reflection on my reading experience.

Perhaps the most confronting thing for me was how much I struggled with the prose—it's beautiful, in its way, once I got into it, but it's dense, too. And it really brought home for me how lax I've become in my reading habits. I need to retrain my brain!

As for the book itself, I liked it. It was repulsive and compelling by turns, and I'm sure some of the deeper themes went over my head. I wondered if the sex scenes were written so clinically to liken them to the mechanic workings of a car, or if it's just the way Ballard writes? Because they weren't particularly erotic and the starkness seemed more in line with, yeah, likening the way bodies fit together with the way the parts of a car move together and all that. That's about as deep as I got with my thinking, though. ( )
  floppingbunnies | Jun 29, 2023 |
Does the ending mean there's going to be another?!? I don't know why I went into this book thinking it was some sort of duology, but oh my gosh it's not and I'm so excited at the possibility of more books!

In my mind, this series is what happens at Yale, so don't even try and change my mind about it.

The progression of this story is perfection. I loved the start of this book. Getting us intrigued with a scene, then jumping back to about where the last book left off. Such a good teaser. Alex and the rest of the characters experience so much personal growth in this installment and I love it. With Darlington out of the picture, it gives everyone else the chance to step up and be the expert in their own way.

Alex being able to really work through the trauma she left behind when she came to Yale does so much for her character. It plays into every aspect of this story without really beating the reader over the head about it. While her past caught up to her, it also brings new meaning to what's happening in the present. The foreshadowing, wow.

I have to admit, I was a little sad, someone and someone never moved forward romantically but there's always next book right? Or is this sexual tension happening between them in my mind?

If you enjoyed the first book, you're going to be obsessed with this one. Everything that made the last book great is double down on, and we get so much more information about the world without it feeling forced. So many questions are answered, while opening up many more rabbit holes to be explored.

The audiobook is A , switching narrators for POVs and all. Loved it. ( )
  buukluvr | Feb 14, 2023 |
Among the most controversial novels of the 20th century, Crash tells the story of a man who finds himself drawn into a group of people who find sexual pleasure in car crashes, often commiting purposeful car accidents in the need to sate their dangerous obsession.

While the basic story itself is interesting, and the novel definitely takes itself into some genuinely disturbing territory with its characters' practices, it gets rather repetitive in most spots, but even more repetitive is the prose. The first-person narration from the lead character is simultaneously graphic and extremely deadpan and clinical. The same handful of words are used in every explicit scenario, of which there are dozens, some very lengthy, and while the dry tone does give a very direct view of the events and doesn't hide anything from the reader, it becomes very difficult to keep interested when the variety of word and phrase usage is so incredibly thin. It doesn't help that the personalities of the characters aren't especially deep either. In the end, it just feels like almost every aspect of this work could have been more thoroughly fleshed out to make a much more overall engaging, and truly upsetting, book.

5/10 ( )
1 vote Revolution666 | Nov 14, 2022 |
Ballard faz o trabalho indispensável de conectar o desejo social por carros e seus fantasmas com aquilo que retiraria este da banalidade do consumo, além do culto à estrelas e associação de status. Carros moveriam uma sexualidade transgressiva, inteiramente battaliana, apenas soterrada na inocência daqueles que não sofreram acidentes aitomobilísticos. Então, há algo de notável nisso. Mas, e confesso que não gosto de carros em geral, e não tenho apego ao star system em geral, o livro não convence em seu erotismo bizarro, soando interessante mas enfadonho e um tanto prolixo. ( )
  henrique_iwao | Aug 23, 2022 |
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» Add other authors (49 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
J. G. Ballardprimary authorall editionscalculated
Foss, ChrisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marsh, JamesCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moore, ChrisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash.
The marriage of reason and nightmare that has dominated the 20th century has given birth to an ever more ambiguous world. (Introduction)
Together we showed our wounds to each other, exposing the scars on our chests and hands to the beckoning injury sites on the interior of the car, to the pointed sills of the chromium ashtrays, to the lights of a distant intersection. In our wounds we celebrated the re-birth of the traffic-slain dead, the deaths and injuries of those we had seen dying by the roadside and the imaginary wounds and postures of the millions yet to die.
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In this hallucinatory novel, an automobile provides the hellish tableau in which Vaughan, a "TV scientist" turned "nightmare angel of the highways," experiments with erotic atrocities among auto crash victims, each more sinister than the last. James Ballard, his friend and fellow obsessive, tells the story of this twisted visionary as he careens rapidly toward his own demise in an internationally orchestrated car crash with Elizabeth Taylor.

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