The Interface of Technology and Eroticism in J.G. Ballard's Crash

Technology as an Object of Eroticism

Jean Baudrillard, in Simulacra and Simulation, says, "From a classical (even cybernetic) perspective, technology is an extension of the body....In this 'rational' perspective the body itself is nothing but a medium (111)." Baudrilliard goes on to discuss machines as "relays, extensions, media mediators of nature ideally destined to become the organic body of man." This brings us to Crash, a hallucinatory novel by J.G. Ballard. The novel tells of Vaughan, a "TV scientist" turned "nightmare angel of the highways": a man who has discovered a new world, one where car crashes and eroticism are intricately interwoven. The novel follows the life the narrator, James, a television commercial producer, who slowly discover's of Vaughan's world. For Vaughan, wounds resulting from car crashes are the keys to a new sexuality born from a "perverse technology" (13). To him, the modern world gives rise to modes of pleasure that were previously unthinkable. What are Ballard's intentions for such a striking concept--the idea that technology and eroticism are so intimately related? One may think Crash is mere perversion, but further investigation reveals something far more profound: the idea that it is the inherent nature of technology to simulate. Crash is merely a hyperreal exposé of this concept.

Technology as a Medium

Baudrilliard claims that in Crash, the machine is no longer an extension of the body, but rather an extension of death, of a "body confused with technology in its violating and violent dimension (111)." Ballard calls attention to the fact that technology codes all of our actions, that the medium is the message, the medium is unrelenting, the message is violence. Civilization has advanced to the point where we no longer choose to act through technology, the choices have been made for us.

Often in Crash, technology referred to as a new language. There is one instance in the novel, when James is hospitalized following a violent car crash. He claims that, "This obsession with the sexual possibilities of everything around me had been jerked loose from my mind by the crash." Following his crash, he slowly becomes corrupted by the technology that surrounds him. He begins to explore this new language. While in the hospital he begins to describe these bizarre visions of the world around him, like in an encounter with the x-ray technician: "We faced each other in this maze of electronic machinery as if completely de-cerebrated. The languages of invisible eroticisms, of undiscovered sexual acts, lay waiting among this complex of equipment. (p. 40)."

In Crash, technology is never grasped except in the automobile accident, that is to say in the violence done to technology itself and in the violence done to the body (Baudrilliard, 112). Ballard maintains that the only way that we can coexist with technology is through violence. The non-meaning, the savagery, of this mixture of the body and technology is immanent, it is the immediate reversion of one to the other...(Baudrillard, 112). Pleasure (whether perverse or not) is always mediated by a technical apparatus, by a mechanism of real objects but often of phantasms--it always implies an intermediary manipulation of scenes or gadgets(Baudrillard, 116). The automobile is acting a protheses to that unleashes previously unthinkable erotic possibilities.

Simulation of Body and Personality

Baudrillard believes Crash to be the first great novel of the universe of simulation, "the one which we will all be concerned--a symbolic universe, but one which, through a sort of reversal of the mass-mediate substance (neon, concrete, car, erotic machinery), appears as if traversed by an intense force of initiation (119)." All throughout the novel, bodies and technology are combined, seduced, inextricable (114). Perhaps this was Ballard's intension for the novel. In the introduction, Ballard warns against, "That brutal, erotic, overlit realm that beckons more and more persuasively to us from the margins of the technological landscape." He is warning against the temptation of the universe of simulation, where attempts to expediate life through technology result in a gradual enslavement, as in the case of Vaughan. His obsession with crashes eventually destroys him. This is the ideal of the simulacra--the copy without the original. The universe of simulation seeks to destroy its creator to create a new world, a universe of simulacra. Ballard warns that Vaughan is the first victim in this new universe.