January 29, 2008

This old town is filled with sin

Jackie Saccoccio, Conflict, 2007

* JG Ballard on Crash. excerpt:

"Crash would be a head-on charge into the arena, an open attack on all the conventional assumptions about our dislike of violence in general and sexual violence in particular. Human beings, I was sure, had far darker imaginations than we liked to believe. We were ruled by reason and self-interest, but only when it suited us, and much of the time we chose to be entertained by films, novels and comic strips that deployed horrific levels of cruelty and violence.

"In Crash I would openly propose a strong connection between sexuality and the car crash, a fusion largely driven by the cult of celebrity. It seemed obvious that the deaths of famous people in car crashes resonated far more deeply than their deaths in plane crashes or hotel fires.

"Crash would clearly be a challenge, and I was still not convinced by my deviant thesis. Then, in 1970, someone at the New Arts Laboratory, in London, contacted me to ask if there was anything I would like to do there. It occurred to me I could test my hypothesis about the unconscious links between sex and the car crash by putting on an exhibition of crashed cars. The Arts Lab offered me the gallery for a month. I drove around wrecked-car sites in north London and paid for three cars, including a Pontiac, to be delivered to the gallery.

"The cars went on show without any supporting graphic material, as if they were large pieces of sculpture. A TV enthusiast at the Arts Lab offered to set up a camera and closed-circuit monitors on which the guests could watch themselves as they strolled around. I suggested we hire a young woman to interview the guests about their reactions. Contacted by telephone, she agreed to appear naked, but when she saw the crashed cars, she told me she would only perform topless – a significant response, I felt at the time.

"I have never seen the guests at a gallery get drunk so quickly. There was a huge tension in the air, as if everyone felt threatened by some inner alarm that had started to ring. Nobody would have noticed the cars if they had been parked in the street, but under the unvarying gallery lights these damaged vehicles seemed to provoke and disturb. Wine was splashed over the cars, windows were broken, the topless girl was almost raped in the back seat of the Pontiac (or so she claimed: she later wrote a damning review headed 'Ballard Crashes' in the underground paper Frendz). A woman journalist from New Society began to interview me among the mayhem, but became so overwrought with indignation, of which the journal had an unlimited supply, that she had to be restrained from attacking me."
"In 1970, I began to write Crash. This was more than a literary challenge, not least because I had three young children crossing Shepperton’s streets every day, and nature might have played another of its nasty tricks. I have described the novel as a kind of psychopathic hymn, and it took an immense effort of will to enter the minds of the central characters. In an attempt to be faithful to my own imagination, I gave the narrator my own name, accepting all this entailed.

"Two weeks after I had finished, my tank-like Ford Zephyr had a front-wheel blowout at the foot of Chiswick Bridge. The car swerved out of control, crossed the central reservation and rolled onto its back. Luckily I was wearing my seat belt. Hanging upside down, I found the doors had been jammed by the partly collapsed roof. The car lay in the centre of the oncoming carriageway, and I was fortunate not to be struck by approaching traffic. Eventually I wound down the window and clambered out.

"Looking back, I suspect that if I had died, the accident might well have been judged deliberate, at least on the unconscious level. But I believe Crash is less a hymn to death than an attempt to buy off the executioner who waits for us all in a quiet garden nearby. Crash is set at a point where sex and death intersect, though the graph is difficult to read and is constantly recalibrating itself. The same is true of Emin’s bed, which reminds us that this young woman’s beautiful body has stepped from a dishevelled grave."

* Open City KGB Reading featuring three outstanding writers from Open City #24, the new Winter 2008 issue: Malerie Willens(fiction); Gerard Coletta(poetry); and Jeff Johnson(fiction), propriator of the always excellent Fitted Sweats.

Wednesday, January 30, 7pm at KGB Bar, 85 E. 4th Street (btw 2nd and 3rd Aves.), NYC,

* Silent footage of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, and others in New York, Summer 1959.

* "Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing." -- William S. Burroughs


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