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Death and Desire in Car Crash Culture

A Century of Romantic Futurisms


Ricarda Vidal

Why are we so obsessed with cars?
Shiny objects of desire, cars never cease to fascinate us. As symbols of freedom they return again and again in art and film, even if real freedom is sometimes only achieved in the final explosive crash – the climax of the sheer exhilaration of speed.
‘Car crash culture’ is a symptom of the twentieth century, Ricarda Vidal argues in this book, revealing that our love of the car and technology is caused by the continuing influence of turn-of-the-century ideas: the Futurist technological utopia and the Romantic return to nature and desire. Artists, writers and filmmakers have explored this troubled love affair with the automobile throughout the past century. The work of F. T. Marinetti, Giacomo Balla, Jack Kerouac, Andy Warhol, Jean-Luc Godard ( Week End), Richard Sarafian ( Vanishing Point), J. G. Ballard and David Cronenberg ( Crash), Quentin Tarantino ( Death Proof) and Sarah Lucas, among others, are shown to pursue these ideals, even as developments in modern cities and telecommunications continue to change the nature of speed and technology.
While the first half of the twentieth century was concerned with the celebration of speed and acceleration, the car crash has now become an obsession of contemporary culture. Vidal concludes that our attraction to the car crash reflects the contemporary way of life in the West, which is defined by a Futurist technophilia, a Romantic longing for a higher meaning and an undeniable infatuation with the automobile.


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illustrations: Arnold Odermatt. Buochs, 1965, 1965, gelatin silver print, 30 × 40 cm. © Urs Odermatt, Windisch / DACS; Courtesy: Springer & Winckler Galerie, Berlin. Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders and to obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. The publisher apologizes for any errors or omissions in the above list and would be grateful for notification of any corrections that should be incorporated in future reprints or editions of this book. Printed in the United Kingdom by TJ International Contents List of Illustrations vii Acknowledgements xi Introduction 1 Part I In Love with Speed and the Machine: The Futurist Mechanical Utopia (1909– ) 21 1 Three Hundred Electric Moons: The Futurists’ Defiance of Death and Romantic Nature 23 2 Systematic Chaos: Fordism as a Practical Realization of Futurism 47 Part II The Joys and Woes of Driving: The Utopia Realized (1950– ) 61 3 Life (and Death) on the Road: The Beat Generation and the Road Movie 63 4 The Infinite Repetition of the Accidentdentdent: Andy Warhol and Antun Maračić 85 5 Caspar David Friedrich through a Broken Windscreen: Arnold Odermatt’s Peaceful Crash Scenes 101 6 In Praise of Slow Motion: Julio Cortázar, Carol Dunlop and Jean-Luc Godard on the Motorway of the South 119 vi Part III (Wo)man is the Machine: Death, Desire and the Crash (1970– ) 137 7 Crash-Desire: The Post-Erotic Machine Men of J. G. Ballard’s and David Cronenberg’s Crash 139 8 Sheer Driving Pleasure: Sarah Lucas’s Human Cars and the Death...

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