Monday, March 19, 2012

Erotica 101: Crash by J.G. Ballard

Once upon a time, I was the editor of my high school newspaper. My co-editor, a lovely queer man who I had a rather fraught love/hate relationship with, wanted to publish a review of Cronenberg's movie Crash in our earnest little rag. The trouble is, we were going to a Catholic high school and the, uh, content of that movie was not something that our supervisors wanted to see in print.

My partner in crime came to me for help appealing to the higher-ups, and so I sat down and watched Crash over the weekend in preparation. I remember being horribly despressed by this movie. The sex and fetishism I could deal with, but I was appalled by how empty all the characters seemed, how lost they all were and how desperate they must be to torture themselves like that. However, I manfully trooped into the principal's office that Monday and we just barely won the day. After that, I often thought about Crash, but I haven't seen it again.

I was, however, rather interested in reading the book it was based on, and this reading project gave me the perfect excuse. I suppose there's no way I could have predicted that I would have fallen so completely in love with this stark and unforgiving look into what it means to be human in the age of machines.

Crash is sexy in a way that is bound to frighten you a little. Ballard is nothing if not honest, and his meditations on the landscape and character of cars in relation to the fragile gooey reality of humans are revealing at best, a little non-consensual at worst. But I said I loved this book, and I meant it. The many shades of arousal and horror that it dragged me through were compelling, and perhaps even life-altering. The despair that I noted in the movie is here too, but there's also a kind of horrible beauty to it, a liturgy of nihilism.

It was, perhaps, wise of me to read this after Vox: I was refreshed and ready for something heavy and meaningful. Crash is those things, but not in a way that makes it a chore. I agree with Susie Bright completely about its place in the erotic canon: as with all the erotic greats, it gleefully trespasses into literature, and drags unsuspecting readers through emotional and physical states they may not have been prepared for.

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