pop culture: September 2012 Archives

Liveblogging Ballard's Crash Chapter Eleven

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The landscape, inner and outer, is now set and the action, and the threat of action, begins in earnest. Ballard's surreal images and juxtapositions achieve deep resonance here. 

Ballard, the character, works at Shepperton Studios where Elizabeth Taylor is filming. He goes on set to find them prepping a car crash scene. There are two cars, the before and after. Taylor is made up in fake injuries. Meanwhile, Seagrave the damaged stunt driver sits a top the before-car in full drag, caked make up and fake breasts. Vaughan flanks him, camera in hand. Ballard tries to protest but is absorbed into the sinister entourage.

Almost as a punishment, Vaughan later drives recklessly around Ballard's wife Catherine on the highway. Ballard had been thinking over his mental image of Catherine, her purity, her impossible cleanliness. He entertains definite notions of post-crash superiority over her. But Vaughan's actions ignite her sexually and reveal to Ballard the impulses that are in all of us.

Continuing on from last post, I find this reading keeps bringing up memories. I'm sure this is a familiar story, although I'll avoid names or details. While I was at university, I casually knew a guy from another year. He was handsome and healthy, strong yet unimposing. He had an assured manner that made him instantly popular. He held the right amount of eye contact, was always friendly and yet none of it was forced or fake. He seemed supremely comfortable in society and an expert, natural player of its rules, as well as having many natural advantages. He exuded control but no one felt controlled. One summer we heard he'd crashed his car. 

It had all the features of the serious crash. Friends or relatives had died in the crash. He had an extended stay in hospital. His legs were severely broken and he was on a morphine drip for pain. His spleen had been removed. What I expected when he returned was a kind of nobility in the face of sadness, like a distant stereotyped World War One veteran. But, from my casual point of view, it was quite different. He seemed dangerous, unpredictable and reckless in a way. You couldn't expect a certain reaction at a certain time. But I think, and I've personally seen four of these cases in my life, that he ceased to exist in the conventions of society described before. Not a conscious rejection, the rules and conventions simply didn't exist anymore, they had been dispelled. 

Liveblogging Ballard's Crash Chapter Ten / Interlude

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I took a break from blogging Crash in order to read Ballard's autobiography, Miracles of Life. It had coincidentally arrived in the post as I finished chapter ten and got to the halfway mark. 

In Miracles, he talks about Crash and all the controversy around it and his pre-novel art installation of crashed cars. It was fascinating to me because it made me realise something. My reaction to this book is the opposite. I have spent the whole time nodding gentle approval and recognition internally. 

Ballard's world of car fetishization, sex and death, accidents and the advertised glossy lifestyle commercials of near religious fervor is one I am intimately familiar with.

Car adverts are just that, sexual and fetishized. And death and injury are all around. I have been in a crash, and my home area has the A41, a road famous for its roadside wreaths. I can recall many stories of sex in cars, of accidents, of friends on morphine drips with shattered legs, and of sperm on the plastic back seats. All the while, TV, magazines and leadership lead us by the nose into this landscape using unsubtle sexualized symbolism developed through actual psychology research. It is real and uncontroversial to me.

Now Ballard has entered Vaughan's inner circle and gazes at his own photo dossier. There is Seagrave the stunt driver and his wife Vera, Vaughan himself, Gabriel the young social worker crippled by her crash whose leg braces and wasted muscles show new sexual possibilities, there is now Helen ... and Ballard himself. The chapter ends when he stops short after Vaughan mentions Elizabeth Taylor and he realizes the extent of Vaughan's plans and how complicit he will be in the outcome.

Liveblogging Ballard's Crash Chapter Nine

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This pleasant domestic idyll, with its delightful promiscuities, was brought to an end by the reappearance of Robert Vaughan, nightmare angel of the expressways.
Let's recap a bit, because the story is about to plunge back into the spaces of the mind hinted at in chapter one.

James Ballard had his life transformed by a near fatal car crash in which another driver was killed and the man's wife, a doctor named Helen Remington, was injured. The transformation was internal and his perception has been altered. He is now alive to the  psychogeographical landscape of motorways, vehicles, concrete and airports - and the inevitable promise of fetishized death they bring.

Ballard and Helen has started an affair, reliving the accident through sexual encounters so powerful that arousal has ceased to function out of this context.

They now attend a stock car rally held by stunt car drivers working on the nearby Elizabeth Taylor movie at Shepperton. Part of the entertainment is a re-creation of a real crash which itself goes wrong creating a crash. The scene director was none other than Vaughan himself and Ballard and Helen help him take the injured driver to the hospital. All the set up, the characters, the ideas and the symbolism, are now coming together and paying off. Ballard sits in the car out front of the hospital and marvels at Vaughan's scarred body and confident manner. The real revelation comes at the close of the chapter, a shocking physical realization of Ballard's dreams and feelings about the crash.

In the lavatory of the casualty department I stood beside Vaughan at the urinal stalls. I looked down at his penis, wondering if this too was scarred. The glans, propped between his index and centre fingers, carried a sharp notch, like a canal for surplus semen or vinal mucus. What part of some crashing car had marked this penis, and in what marriage of his orgasm and a chromium instrument head? The terrifying excitements of this scar filled my mind as I followed Vaughan back to his car through the dispersing hospital visitors.

Liveblogging Ballard's Crash Chapter Eight

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The inquest for the original accident has now come and gone. Ballard has been cleared of all charges and accidental death has been returned. But the transformation in Ballard's thinking stays. He is now having regular car fetish sex with Helen Remington, who herself is taking a new job in the Road Research Laboratory.

Six hundred yards behind us the traffic waited on the raised deck of the motorway, the afternoon sunlight crossing the windows of the airline buses and cars. My hand moved around the outer curvature of Helen's thighs, feeling the open zip of her dress. As these razor-like links cut my knuckles I felt her teeth across my ear. The sharpness of these pains reminded me of the bite of the windshield glass during my crash.
Their encounter in this chapter is detailed, precise and very specific with both of them following a kind of ritual. Many juxtapositions and images flood his mind at the height of his ecstasy.

This small space was crowded with angular control surfaces and rounded sections of human bodies interacting in unfamiliar junctions, like the first act of homosexual intercourse inside an Apollo capsule.
Finally he notes that over many encounters, the transformation has become complete with both of them now fully associating sexual acts with cars, motorways and the accident. They try to have sex in Helen's house but she is distant and Ballard cannot get an erection. How much farther can this go? We move towards the midway point with the mysterious Vaughan waiting in the wings.

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