Musings on a Pornographic Novel

I never came across J.G. Ballard before apart from seeing a movie set in a Japanese internment camp during the Second World War based on one of his works. Why I picked up Crash from the bookstore can be attributed to two reasons. One, because my friend Dada highly recommended it and two, there was a sale and I bought it for just a hundred pesos.

Crash is a fairly short book; barely two hundred pages. In short, I was expecting to accomplish reading it within a day or so. That it became extended was unintentional. I admit that there is a limit to the amount of violence and perversity that my mind can receive.

The last time I read something as graphically violent was with Mishima’s Patriotism, where a Japanese couple committed seppuku. But that was a short story. Other explicitly violent novels I came across before limited their descriptions to certain parts of the narrative. Ballard on the other hand seems to have extended such an uninhibited approach to the subject all throughout Crash. Consider the following passage from Chapter 14:

As Vaughan turned the car into a filling station courtyard the scarlet light from the neon sign over the portico flared across these griny photographs of appalling injuries: the breasts of teenage girls deformed by instrument binnacles, the partial mammoplastics of elderly housewives carried out by the chromium louvres of windshield assemblies, nipples sectioned by manufacturers’ dashboard medallions; injuries to male and female genitalia caused by steering wheel shrouds, windshields during ejection, crushed door pillars, seat springs and handbrake units, cassette player instrument toggles. A succession of photographs of mutilated penises, sectioned vulvas and crushed testicles passed through the flaring light as Vaughan stood by the girl filling-station attendant at the rear of the car, jocularly talking to her about her body. In several photographs the source of the wound was indicated by a detail of that portion of the car which had caused the injury: beside a casualty ward photograph of a bifurcated penis was an inset of a handbrake unit; above a close-up of a massively bruised vulva was a steering-wheel boss and its manufacturer’s medallion. These unions of torn genitalia and sections of car body and instrument panel formed a series of disturbing modules, units in a new currency of pain and desire. (p.134)

Now imagine those images, Ballard’s “sinister portent of a nightmare marriage between sex and technology,” spread throughout most of Crash’s two hundred pages. It’s downright disturbing. And there’s the seeming senselessness of it all. My limited readings have confined me to literary works where violence is a means to an end, be it power, vengeance, a higher cause, hatred, survival, resentment, etc. Here, I am given the impression that the crash itself is the end.

I believe this amoral senselessness is reflective of the highly decadent cultures and societies promoted by the Western industrialized states, which they themselves tout as the pinnacle and model of modern progress that the rest of the World must follow, and envy. It praises obsessions, perverse fantasies, voyeurism, exploitation, opportunism, manipulation, delusions of grandeur, addiction, etc., behind all of which is an irresponsible individualist and consumerist ethos.

The crash then could signify the crisis caused by a flawed system. With each crisis, acts worse than the last are committed to save the defective system. But all the attempts at reproducing the system will only bring it closer to self-destruction; each crash and copulation that follows it being a rehearsal for the final crisis. Or perhaps there is no end – only a perpetual cycle of crashes. ■



  1. I really don’t know about that. This entry focused on my immediate reaction to the violence of the book. Try reading it and decide for yourself. Ballard himself described Crash as a pornographic novel, the first of its kind that, he claimed, is based on technology. Pornography, he added, “is the most political form of fiction, dealing with how we use and exploit each other, in the most urgent and ruthless way.”

  2. ive already read it in an ebook. well, perhaps your right that it is pornography, a new pornography, that does not take shape in the ancient conventional framework.

    It is a new pornography, which is not pornographic (in the old sense). A new pornography, whose meaning may as well be synonymous with romance or science fiction. :-)

  3. I am not familiar with the ideal of pornography or the difference between conventional and new frameworks of pornography. According to the two-volume dictionary in my room, pornography can either be (1) writings or pictures dealings with sexual matters in a manner intended to incite lust, or (2) a description or portrayal of any activity regarded as obscene.

    I believe that parts of the novel can be considered pornographic in the first sense while most of it can fall under the pornography of the second sense. I can’t comprehend pornography being synonymous with science fiction and romance. There are a lot of science fiction and romance with pornographic elements. But I’m not sure how they can mean the same thing.

    The Wikipedia’s analysis of the novel particularly referred to Crash’s dealing with “the transformation of human psychology by modern technology, and consumer culture’s fascination with celebrities and technological commodities” where the victims of the crash are “unable to become sexually excited unless some kind of technology is involved (typically architecture and cars).”

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