Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The visceral pencil of J. Ballard

J. G. Ballard typing from The Literary Review, 2001


In Crash, J. Ballard's most notorious novel, human flesh converges with automobiles, wheels converge with sex, "the horror of death with the love of spectacle," celebrity with the car crash, "blood, semen and engine coolant". Obsessed with the death of celebrities in car crashes, one of the characters of Crash uses a pencil as a phallic instrument and weapon in one to express his visceral desires:

"I turned the pages of Vaughan's questionnaires. The photographs of Jayne Mansfield and John Kennedy, Camus and James Dean had been marked in coloured crayons, pencil lines circled around their necks and pubic areas, breasts and cheekbones shaded in, section lines across their mouths and abdomens."

Vaughan "was looking down at a display photograph of the actress leaning against the motor-car. He had taken a pencil from my inkwell and was shading in portions of the actress's body, ringing her armpits and cleavage. ... His pencil cut heavier grooves in the picture. The shaded areas had begun to perforate under his more and more savage slashes, blows with the broken pencil point that punctured the cardboard backing. He marked in points of the motor-car interior, stabbing at the protruding areas of steering assembly and instrument panel."

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J.G. Ballard's Crash was first published in 1973.