Crash is a novel by the British writer J G Ballard, published in 1973. Three years earlier, Ballard had staged a highly controversial exhibition of crashed cars in a London gallery called the New Arts Laboratory. ‘People were fascinated by the cars’, he remembered, ‘but I was surprised that these damaged vehicles were continually attacked or abused during the month they were on show – watching this, I decided to write Crash’.

The novel’s action begins with the narrator, in hospital, having survived a serious automobile accident in which a man was thrown onto his windscreen and killed; his wife, Dr Helen Remington, also survives. After his recovery, the narrator visits the scene of the crash and begins a sexual relationship with Dr Remington, which involves exploring all aspects of the violent sexualisation of motor vehicles.

In the process, Dr Remington becomes drawn under the influence of Dr Robert Vaughan, a scientist interested in restaging celebrity car crashes for erotic purposes. In the words of the 1973 cover, ‘Crash is above all a cautionary tale, a warning against the brutal, erotic and overlit future that beckons us, ever more powerfully, from the margins of the technological landscape’. Like the author, the narrator is called James Ballard, and much of the action is set around the Shepperton area in which Ballard lived. Coincidentally, Ballard was involved in a serious car crash shortly after the completion of the novel.

Both the exhibited and novelised iterations of this project had been controversial due to their challenging subject matter, and with the broader audience reached by the director David Cronenberg’s 1996 filmed version, the outrage increased exponentially. At one point the film was banned in the London Borough of Westminster, and the Daily Mail campaigned for this to be rolled out across the country.

The novel is often described as postmodernist in the manner in which it describes the condition of late capitalist society, and was praised by the theorist Jean Baudrillard.

J G Ballard

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