Ballard and Bataille: topology of desire

When James has sex with the crippled social worker Gabrielle following a visit to the Earls Court motor show, it is not the authorised conjunctions of the gendered body which determines their erotic itinerary but the abrasions and indentations of flesh and leg-brace, the coincidence of the body and an intimate design technology. The wounds incised on their bodies by their respective collisions become the ‘abstract vents’ of a new sexuality (Ballard 1995: 179).

crash-fin

This erotic combinatory has parallels in the structural eroticism Roland Barthes elicits in his essay on Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye. Barthes shows that the erotic effects of Bataille’s narrative arise from a ‘metonymic’ crossing of terms from two undelimitable metaphoric series: that of the ‘eye’ which establishes the series eggs, head, testicles, sun…; that of ‘liquid’ (blood, milk, egg yolk, sperm, urine, intestines, light…). The metonymy consists in jarring contiguities which interchange the two series. Thus the eye of the matador Granero, spurting from his head ‘with the same force as innards from a belly’ (Bataille 1987: 54), and the eye of the priest Don Aminado placed in the body of Simone interchange with the cat’s saucer of milk of the opening chapter, as with the ‘liquifying’ head of the female cyclist severed in collision with the lovers’ car (Bataille 1987: 10).

crash_letter_jg_ballard2

However, while the metonymy of Bataille’s text is tightly constrained by the two metaphoric ‘rows’, Baudrillard sees the juxtapositions of Ballard’s novel as devoid of metaphor: their principle of concatenation being the accident and the anagrammatic potential reposing in the micro-differences of technological systems. An apparent confirming instance would be James Ballard’s beatific recollection of a flight from London Airport to Orly while recovering in hospital from the crash which first catalyses his obsession.

warhol-car-crash

His reverie is mediated by ‘the languages of invisible eroticisms, of undiscovered sexual acts’ reposing in the equipment of an X-ray ward (Ballard 1995: 40-41).

A hoary simile likening aircraft to ‘silver penises’ conjoined with ‘an air hostess’s fawn gabardine skirt’ inaugurates juxtapositions which owe nothing to analogies between genital objects and technological artifacts: the ‘dulled aluminium and areas of imitation wood laminates’ of the airport buildings, the coincidence of a ‘contoured lighting system’ and the bald head of a mezzanine bartender. When confronted in hospital with Dr Helen Remington, the wife of the chemical engineer killed in the impact, Ballard is incited by ‘the conjunction of her left armpit’ and the ‘chromium stand’ of the X-ray camera (Ballard 1995: 44). For Baudrillard, the crash becomes the disruptive figure of a syntax in which ‘blood’ crossing ‘the over-white concrete of [an] evening embankment’, ruptured genitalia, luminous drifts of shattered safety glass, copulating bodies sheathed in ‘glass, metal and vinyl’, skin incised by underwear and chromium manufacturers’ medallions, prophylactic ‘dead’ machines, casual ‘leg stances’ and crushed fenders become interchangeable without remainder or significance (Baudrillard 1994: 113).

Ballard, J G. (1995) Crash, London: Vintage.

Bataille, Georges (1987), Story of the Eye, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Roden, D., 2003. ‘Cyborgian Subjects and the Auto-Destruction of Metaphor’, J. Arthurs and Iain Grant (eds.), in Crash Cultures: Modernity, Mediation and the Material, Intellect Books: 89-100.

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