Saturday, September 22, 2007


This and the following post were originally written as one : an exploration into the psychology of pornography with specific reference to J.G. Ballard's Crash. That post became unwieldy, so I have split it up into the two posts here. This one considers Crash ; the following considers pornography and virtual reality. Since they were formulated in tamden, I suppose that is how they should be read.


After Freud's explorations within the psyche it is now the outer world which will have to be eroticised and quantified.

- J.G. Ballard, Preface to Crash

At the heart of Crash, J.G. Ballard's 1973 novel, is a kind of fantastical hyper-reality which I have only otherwise seen in pornography. It portrays a world where, unaffected by the stimuli provided by the human body, people find sexual excitement from participating in car crashes. The novel, like David Cronenberg's film adaptation, has no plot as such. Unlike most Hollywood films, which treat the audience to five minutes of sex before continuing with the principal storyline, in Crash the principal storyline is people having sex, over and over and over again. It aims for the core of human sexuality, to strip away all adornments, to deprive it of language and humanity, in order to find pure, unadorned sex.

Of course in reality, sex has no core. If a person’s brain was scanned while s/he was sexually aroused, something of their agitation might be revealed, but what characterises human sexuality – surface, symbolism and irreconcilable difference – would remain obscure. This is what I mean by the claim that sex is inherently pornographic : porn's acknowledgement of the depthlessness of sex makes it satisfying for the viewer, who becomes aroused by the very plasticity of the actors, the fakedness of the orgasms. But there is a notable lack of real orgasms in Crash. Sex has become a process, a flat plane, full of absolutely nothing.

The characters in Crash (and they are barely characters at all) are incapable of normal sexual arousal by each other. They are detached from their own bodies. In seeking the speed, the violence, the aggression of sex in car wrecks, its protagonists are searching for something primeval which man has lost.

Sometimes, when reading Ballard's novel it is difficult to tell what is being described - the bodywork of the car or the bodywork of a man or woman :

As she brought my penis to life I looked down at her strong back, at the junction between the contours of her shoulder demarked by the straps of her brassiere and the elaborately decorated instrument panel of this American car, between her thick buttock in my left hand and the pastel-shaded instrument binnacles of the clock and speedometer.

Lacan’s conception of the castration process explains why our sense of ourself is fundamentally divided - we are, at the same time, subject and object, self and other.

The mirror stage is a drama whose internal thrust is precipitated from insufficiency to anticipation - and which manufactures for the subject, caught up in the lure of spatial identification, the succession of phantasies that extends from a fragmented body-image to a form of its totality that I shall call orthopaedic - and, lastly, to the assumption of the armour of an alienating identity, which will mark with its rigid structure the subject's entire mental development.

- Jacques Lacan, 'The Mirror Stage'

It is this alienating identity, the product of the incompatability of the unified body and the divided ego which lies within, which is the source of neuroses. Along with the destruction of the present - caused by what Lacan, at his most Marxist, calls "the historical effort of a society to refuse to recognise that it has any function other than the utilitarian one" - it causes a death of effect, a lack of an outlet for our pleasure impulses, the deferral of all pleasure into the future.

Since we experience our own bodies as objects separate from ourselves, it is perhaps no wonder that we can only become aroused by inanimate objects. When the only part of ourselves that feels complete is the image of our own, alienated bodies, and when this is exacerbated by the fetishisation of the body via advertising and commercialisation, our bodies themselves become spectacular, inanimate objects.


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