J G Ballard: ‘The Car, the Future’, by J. G. Ballard © J. G. Ballard. Reproduced by permission of the J. G. Ballard Estate. All rights reserved. You may not use this work for commercial purposes and the copyright holder must be credited.
Drive: © Automobile Association Developments Ltd. Published under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial Licence.
This is the Autumn 1971 issue of Drive, the British ‘motorist’s magazine’ published by the A.A. (Automobile Association).
It includes an article written by the novelist J G Ballard, who was invited by Drive to take part in a seven-day veteran car rally across Germany to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Mercedes-Benz and the launch of a new model. Ballard was a guest passenger in the A.A.’s 1904 Renault (pictured on p. 102). Titled 'The Car, The Future', Ballard’s article considers our relationship to the car and imagines a future of computer-controlled vehicles and traffic control.
For Ballard, the ‘key image’ of the 20th century is ‘a man in a motor car, driving along a concrete highway to some unknown destination’. Our landscapes increasingly revolve around roads and motorways, ‘monuments of our urban civilisation’. On the highway, ‘we see … the speed and violence of our age, its strange love affair with the machine and, conceivably, with its own death and destruction’.
The car, Ballard suggests, is paradoxical: alongside the benefits of freedom and leisure, it has created congestion, injury and death. Controversially, he asks why humans appear prepared to take such huge risks with these machines. He questions whether accidents ‘take place with some kind of unconscious collaboration’, and presents the uncomfortable argument, ‘If we really feared the crash most of us would be unable to look at a car, let alone drive one’.
Such questions are confronted in Crash (1973), the novel which Ballard was drafting at the time of writing this article. The article even features a phrase from the novel – ‘elaborately signalled landscape’ – that is again used in his 1994 introduction to Concrete Island (1974).
Alongside Ballard's piece are other Drive articles from the same issue that reveal contemporary discussions on road safety and accidents.