J.G. Godard

“Ballard takes to a limit effects that Jean-Luc Godard examined in Weekend (1968) and Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967). The title of the latter film referred to, among other things, Paris, prostitution, and “neo-capitalism;” it emphasized the inseparability of the body and representations of it from the multiple economies of the city. In fact Godard explicitly avoided using the word “city” in the film, specifying instead “la region parisienne.” He presents Paris less as a built environment than as a modulating, heterogenous texture, experienced only as periphery, interwoven with flows of images, money and desire. But at the same time, the anti-urbanism of Two or Three Things, with its recurrent images of an older Paris under demolition, of bulldozers and new construction sites, showed Godard coping with a familiar modernist dilemma (that goes back to Baudelaire’s response to Haussmann). In the words of Manfredo Tafuri, this recurring problem was “how to come to terms with the anguish of urban dynamism.”

“But for Ballard the city’s physical metamorphoses are not an issue. In spite of its title’s connotation of speed, Crash and Ballard’s related novels disclose a fundamental dereliction and inertia of what once constituted the city. This dereliction takes a variety of forms, including that suggested by the arena of its events: everything in Crash occurs within a field that is defined spatially only by proximity to the airport. Nothing even hints at the existence of an urban center. Ballard never takes us into the airport itself but travels ceaselessly around its fringes: a boundaryless world of airport perimeter roads, airport shopping malls, parking garages, buses, airport whores. It is a permanent in-between, an in-transit, adjoining both the speed of air travel and the dissipation of the axial city. The artist Robert Smithson was also drawn to the airport as a non-site implanted on an urban periphery, located ostensibly in the suburbs yet radically distinct from them. Like the Orly observation deck in Chris Marker’s film La Jetie (1964), the layout of the airport was an entrance onto another network of lines, viewpoints, languages and temporalities. Ballard and Smithson understood how the airport, in spite of its geographical sprawl, was a machinery of displacement, that it rested not on extensive terrain but “on a firmament of statistics.”

“One perplexing feature of Crash is the apparent convergence of two radically dissimilar realms, two different models of circulation. On one hand, Ballard delineates a wholly vehicular city, dominated by the extensive (and seemingly anachronistic) space of the automobile, its labyrinth of routes and support structures. On the other, he outlines what might be called the “tele-visual” city, a setup constituted by simulation and reproductive technologies, and as insubstantial as the purely projected Instant City (1969) of Archigram. But Ballard assigns no priority to either of these, insisting on the full interpenetration of these “incompatible” spaces. As much as the text is littered with the carnage of the car crash so it is also with cameras, viewfinders, stacks of photographs, video screens, slow-motion replays…”

Jonathan Crary. “JG Ballard and the Promiscuity of Forms”. Zone 1/2 The [Contemporary] City, Michel Feher, Sanford Kwinter (eds), 1987. pp162-163.

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