Crash (Ballard novel)

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Cover of first edition (hardcover) by Bill Botten
AuthorJ. G. Ballard
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenrePostmodern novel, transgressive fiction
PublisherJonathan Cape
Publication date
June 1973
Media typePrint (Hardcover & Paperback)
LC ClassPZ4.B1893 Cp PR6052.A46
Preceded byThe Atrocity Exhibition 
Followed byConcrete Island 

Crash is a novel by English author J. G. Ballard, first published in 1973 with cover designed by Bill Botten. It is a story about car-crash sexual fetishism: its protagonists become sexually aroused by staging and participating in real car-crashes, inspired by the famous accidents of celebrities.

In 1996, the novel was made into a film of the same name by David Cronenberg.


The story is told through the eyes of narrator James Ballard, named after the author himself, but it centers on the sinister figure of Dr. Robert Vaughan, a "former TV-scientist, turned nightmare angel of the expressways". James meets Vaughan after being injured in a car accident near London Airport. Gathering around Vaughan is a group of alienated people, all of them former crash victims, who follow him in his pursuit to re-enact the accidents of Hollywood celebrities such as Jayne Mansfield and James Dean, in order to experience what the narrator calls "a new sexuality, born from a perverse technology". Vaughan's ultimate fantasy is to die in a head-on collision with movie star Elizabeth Taylor.[1]

Critical reception[edit]

The novel received divided reviews when originally published. One publisher's reader returned the verdict "This author is beyond psychiatric help. Do Not Publish!"[2] A 1973 review in The New York Times was equally horrified: "Crash is, hands-down, the most repulsive book I've yet to come across."[3]

However, retrospective opinion now considers Crash to be one of Ballard's best and most challenging works. Reassessing Crash in The Guardian, Zadie Smith wrote, "Crash is an existential book about how everybody uses everything. How everything uses everybody. And yet it is not a hopeless vision." On Ballard's legacy, she writes: "In Ballard's work there is always this mix of futuristic dread and excitement, a sweet spot where dystopia and utopia converge. For we cannot say we haven't got precisely what we dreamed of, what we always wanted, so badly."[4]

The Papers of J.G. Ballard at the British Library include two revised drafts of Crash (Add MS 88938/3/8). Scanned extracts from Ballard's drafts are included in Crash: The Collector's Edition, ed. Chris Beckett.[5]


Crash has been difficult to characterize as a novel. At some points in his career, Ballard claimed that Crash was a "cautionary tale", a view that he would later regret, asserting that it is in fact "a psychopathic hymn. But it is a psychopathic hymn which has a point”.[6] Likewise, Ballard previously characterized it a science fiction novel, a position he would later take back.[citation needed]

Jean Baudrillard wrote an analysis of Crash in Simulacra and Simulation in which he declared it "the first great novel of the universe of simulation". He made note of how the fetish in the story conflates the functionality of the automobiles with that of the human body and how the characters' injuries and the damage to the vehicles are used as equivalent signs. To him, the hyperfunctionality leads to the dysfunction in the story. Quotes were used extensively to illustrate that the language of the novel employs plain, mechanical terms for the parts of the automobile and proper, medical language for human sex organs and acts. The story is interpreted as showing a merger between technology, sexuality, and death, and he further argued that by pointing out Vaughan's character takes and keeps photos of the car accidents and the mutilated bodies involved. Baudrillard stated that there is no moral judgment about the events within the novel but that Ballard himself intended it as a warning against a cultural trend.[7]

References in popular art[edit]


The Normal's 1978 song "Warm Leatherette" was inspired by the novel as was "Miss the Girl," a 1983 single by The Creatures. The Manic Street Preachers' song "Mausoleum" from 1994's The Holy Bible contains the famous Ballard quote about his reasons for writing the book, "I wanted to rub the human face in its own vomit. I wanted to force it to look in the mirror."[8]

Other film adaptations[edit]

An apparently unauthorized adaptation of Crash called Nightmare Angel was filmed in 1986 by Susan Emerling and Zoe Beloff. This short film bears the credit "Inspired by J.G. Ballard".[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ballard, J. G. (5 October 2001). Crash. Macmillan. ISBN 9780312420338 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ Halford, Macy (20 April 2009). "J. G. Ballard". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  3. ^ "Crash". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 July 2019.
  4. ^ Smith, Zadie (4 July 2014). "Sex and wheels: Zadie Smith on JG Ballard's Crash". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 31 July 2019.
  5. ^ Beckett, Chris (2017). Crash: The Collector's Edition. HarperCollins.
  6. ^ Groppo, Pedro (2017). "'Death and the Machine: J. G. Ballard's Crash'". Aletria. 27 (1): 161–180. doi:10.17851/2317-2096.27.1.161-180.
  7. ^ Baudrillard, Jean (1994). "Crash". Simulacra and Simulation. Translated by Glaser, Sheila Faria. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press. pp. 111–119. ISBN 978-0-472-09521-6.
  8. ^ Bradshaw, Peter; Sudjic, Deyan; Simpson, Dave; Sinclair, Iain; Lawson, Mark (20 April 2009). "How JG Ballard cast his shadow right across the arts" – via
  9. ^ Taylor, Brett (October–November 2009). "The Forgotten Crash: Nightmare Angel". Video Watchdog (152): 12–16.

External links[edit]