the squirm-inducing prose of j.g. ballard—and others

"When had they last bathed their genitalia, did small grains of faecal matter still cling to their anuses as they prescribed some antibiotic for a streptococcal throat, did the odour of illicit sex acts infest their underwear as they drove home from the hospital, the traces of smegma and vaginal mucus on their hands marrying with the splashed engine coolant of unexpected car-crashes?"

Explained to a friend today that J.G. Ballard’s Crash is one of the few books I’ve read with scenes that made me physically squeamish; indeed, discomfiture to the point where I thought I might vomit (the scene of the anal rape of the male acting student in Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckenridge had a similar effect on me. Then again, so did the section on contract in Hegel’s Philosophy of Right).

 

 

A young, blond-haired doctor with a callous face examined the wounds on my chest. The skin was broken around the lower edge of the sternum, where the horn boss had been driven upwards by the collapsing engine compartment. A semi-circular bruise marked my chest, a marbled rainbow running from one nipple to the other. During the next week this rainbow moved through a sequence of tone changes Mice the colour spectrum of automobile varnishes. As I looked down at myself I realized that the precise make and model-year of my car could have been reconstructed by an automobile engineer from the pattern of my wounds. The layout of the instrument panel, like the profile of the steering wheel bruised into my chest, was inset on my knees and shin-bones. The impact of the second collision between my body and the interior compartment of the car was denned in these wounds, like the contours of a woman’s body remembered in the responding pressure of one’s own skin for a few hours after a sexual act.

On the fourth day, for no evident reason, the anaesthetics were withdrawn. All morning I vomited into the enamel pail which a nurse held under my face. She stared at me with good-humoured but unmoved eyes. The cold rim of the kidney pail pressed against my cheek. Its porcelain surface was marked by a small thread of blood from some nameless previous user.

I leaned my forehead against the nurse’s strong thigh as I vomited. Beside my bruised mouth her worn fingers contrasted strangely with her youthful skin. I found myself thinking of her natal cleft. When had she last washed this moist gulley? During my recovery, questions like this one obsessed me as I talked to the doctors and nurses. When had they last bathed their genitalia, did small grains of faecal matter still cling to their anuses as they prescribed some antibiotic for a streptococcal throat, did the odour of illicit sex acts infest their underwear as they drove home from the hospital, the traces of smegma and vaginal mucus on their hands marrying with the splashed engine coolant of unexpected car-crashes? I let a few threads of green bile leak into the pail, aware of the warm contours of the young woman’s thighs. A seam of her gingham frock had been repaired with a few loops of black cotton. I stared at the loosening coils lying against the round surface of her left buttock. Their curvatures seemed as arbitrary and as meaningful as the wounds on my chest and legs.

This obsession with the sexual possibilities of everything around me had been jerked loose from my mind by the crash. I imagined the ward filled with convalescing air-disaster victims, each of their minds a brothel of images. The crash between our two cars was a model of some ultimate and yet undreamt sexual union. The injuries of still-to-be-admitted patients beckoned to me, an immense encyclopedia of accessible dreams . . .

 


                           

 

"I am Myra Breckinridge whom no man will ever possess."                                                  

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 "When philosophy paints its grey on grey it 
  then has a shape of life grown old. By philosophy’s
  grey in grey it cannot be rejuvenated but only
  understood. The owl of Minerva spreads its wings
  only with the falling of dusk."

*

But the big thing about Ballard is how he takes Freudian depth psychology as uses it as an engine to generate psychological horror: in Ballard-land it’s as if Freud opened a Pandora’s Box of the very worst of human impulses and Ballard—or his narrators, at least—revel in showing how the ploymorphous perverse rules all—and to the degree that even if we could close the lid on that proverbial Pandoran box, none of us would want to . . .

Apart from Crash, the next weirdest thing Ballard did was a short story, written in the form of a psychiatric evaluation, entitled "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan," which some pranksters photocopied and handed out at the 1980 Republican Convention, claiming it to be a psychological case study why Reagan should receive the nomination instead of George Bush.

 

. . . SEXUAL FANTASIES IN CONNECTION WITH RONALD REAGAN. The genitalia of the Presidential contender exercised a continuing fascination. A series of imaginary genitalia were constructed using (a) the mouth-parts of Jacqueline Kennedy, (b) a Cadillac rear-exhaust vent, (c) the assembly kit prepuce of President Johnson, (d) a child-victim of sexual assault. In 89 percent of the cases, the constructed genitalia generated a high incidence of self-induced orgasm. Tests indicate the masturbatory nature of the Presidential contender’s posture. Dolls consisting of plastic models of Reagan’s alternate genitalia were found to have a disturbing effect on deprived children.

 

*

 

Faces were seen as either circumcised (JFK, Khrushchev) or uncircumcised (LBJ, Adenauer). In assembly-kit tests Reagan’s face was uniformly perceived as a penile erection. Patients were encouraged to devise the optimum sex-death of Ronald Reagan.

 

*

 

REAGAN’S HAIRSTYLE. Studies were conducted on the marked fascination exercised by the Presidential contender’s hairstyle. 65% of male subjects made positive connections between the hairstyle and their own pubic hair. A series of optimum hairstyles were constructed.

 

*

 

Slow-motion film of Reagan’s speeches produced a marked erotic effect in an audience of spastic children.

 

*

Subjects were required to construct the optimum auto-disaster victim by placing a replica of Reagan’s head on the unretouched photographs of crash fatalities. In 82% of cases massive rear-end collisions were selected with a preference for expressed fecal matter and rectal haemorrhages…

…It is hoped to construct a rectal modulus of Reagan and the auto-disaster of maximised audience arousal.

 

 

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