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Sexualities

http://sexualities.sagepub.com A Vision of Masochism in the Affective Pain of Crash


Anthony McCosker Sexualities 2005; 8; 30 DOI: 10.1177/1363460705049573 The online version of this article can be found at: http://sexualities.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/8/1/30

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Article

Abstract This article investigates the image of masochism presented by David Cronenbergs lm Crash (1996) and the public controversy that it provoked. The analysis of the lm and the media debates and outrage presented in this article follows recent theoretical accounts of masochistic sexuality that emphasize lived experience and corporeality. In the narratives unusual couplings and unconventional sexual experiences, there is an intensication of the characters inner affective world in a way that is as horric as it is sensual. It is argued here that the experience of masochism as it is presented in the lm cannot be separated from the simultaneous discomfort and zeal the lm has generated. Through the lms uncomfortable eroticization of the imagery of bodily pain and injury, representation moves beyond the frame to provide the basis for a masochistic viewing experience. Masochism encroaches upon everyday life through this lm in a way that has had a deep and lasting cultural affect. Keywords corporeality, Crash, lm, masochism, pain

Anthony McCosker
University of Melbourne, Australia

A Vision of Masochism in the Affective Pain of Crash


Introduction
Recent social and psychological research investigating sadomasochism emphasizes its insistent, if problematic,1 presence in mainstream or popular media culture (Chancer, 1992; Landridge and Butt, 2004; Stoller, 1991). Plummers (1995) discussion of the role of sexual stories in producing and facilitating forms of transgressive sexuality, along with the broad contribution of the work of Michel Foucault (1981, 1985, 1988), draws attention to image and discourse in the social construction and experience of sexuality. Images, narratives and discursive frameworks Sexualities Copyright 2005 SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi)
Vol 8(1): 3048 DOI: 10.1177/1363460705049573 www.sagepublications.com

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McCosker Masochism in the Affective Pain of Crash

dene as well as govern sexual experience and produce forms of sexuality such as sadomasochism. Mainstream media has its part to play in this process. Langdridge and Butt, for example, describe the turn of the 21st century as a time for stories of dominance and submission, pointing to lms such as Blue Velvet, 9 1/2 Weeks, Wild at Heart, Quills, as well as a wide range of television programming, advertising, music and literature (2004: 35). Moreover, as a site for the contestation and conveyance of images and narratives of sexuality and sexual experience the media often stands as a testing ground for the limits of public acceptability and tolerance. Widely accessible representations of aberrant forms of sexuality such as sadomasochism remain highly problematic, and this has been the case with the deep and ongoing controversy and discussion that has surrounded David Cronenbergs lm Crash (1996). This article examines Crash as a signicant site for the contestation of sexual experiences that employ sadomasochistic motifs, located in the erotic play of bodily pain and sexual pleasure. However, the lms emphasis on the role of bodily pain in transforming sexual experience, and strangely, the public outrage and passion it generated, render it a site for the contestation of bodily experiences that might be more accurately described as masochistic. Both the lm as text and the media event and academic debate that has surrounded Crash, continue to provide insight into both masochism as sexual experience, and the relationship between mainstream media, its varied and unpredictable audiences, and sexuality. I argue rstly, that Crashs narrative and imagery provides a unique visualization and narrativization of the sexualized disruption of the pleasure/pain nexus that shifts away from the traditional structures of sadomasochism toward a corporeally-based masochism. Secondly, the imagery, narrative and indeed the public outrage caused by the lm or simply the idea of the lm has generated a unique and, for many, a disconcerting, public experience of pains erotic reversal. This disconcerting experience is enabled by the work of the lm in eroticizing the image of pain. In effect, the lm and the cultural anxiety surrounding it, has enabled the penetration of masochism into the realm of everyday life. The media event of Crash, then, affords the chance to rethink the general notion of sadomasochistic sexuality in terms of a more concerted examination of masochism as the erotic reversal of pain and as mass media experience.

Masochism and the body within sadomasochistic traditions


Key gures in the western tradition of sexual and psychiatric research, such as Von Krafft-Ebing (1886) and later, Freud (1974 [1905]), dened and 31

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positioned sadomasochism as a form of sexual pathology. In a continuation of this tradition, sadomasochism remains reied in psychiatric discourse as a sexual disorder and continues to hold a place in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV American Psychiatry Association, 1994). Sadomasochism has only recently gained a more accepted if still marginalized status as sexual practice in many western cultures.2 In addition, an emerging eld of social research into the nature and experience of sadomasochistic sexuality has challenged the pathological status it retains under psychological and psychiatric denition, exegesis and clinical analysis (Landridge and Butt, 2004; Taylor and Ussher, 2001). Taylor and Ussher, for example, point to the dangers of searching for a unique or essential dening character of sadomasochism and related practices. In examining sadomasochistic practitioners, they emphasize the multiplicity of interrelated, subjective and oppositional understandings, each with their own inherent validity (2001: 295). This approach challenges the essentialism of psychological or psychiatric frameworks, drawing instead upon a social constructionist tradition which foregrounds the voices and lived experience of practitioners. Denitions of sadomasochism within the social science tradition, drawing on interviews, surveys and ethnographies of various sadomasochistic communities, outline the following characteristics as vital to practitioners themselves: consensuality of sexual activities, an unequitable balance of power within the sexual relationship, sexual arousal, and compatibility of denition (Taylor and Ussher, 2001: 297301). Taylor and Ussher also provide an account of discursive constructions that are enmeshed within sadomasochistic experience and practice, delineating sadomasochism as: dissidence, pleasure, escapism, transcendence, learned behaviour, intra-psychic, pathological and inexplicable (2001: 30210). Additionally, Beckman (2001) identies ve discourses or motivations for participating in sadomasochistic practice, where it is understood and experienced as an alternative to normal genital sexuality, safer sex, an exploration of the lived body, a means for transgressing gay and lesbian stereotypes of sexuality, and as a means for experiencing the transformative potentials of lived body. Langdridge and Butt (2004) continue this tradition through their Internet-based research of sadomasochistic communities where pathology is rejected and sexual citizenship sought as a way of extending the norms of sexuality. Whatever theoretical model is used to dene sexual experiences and practices in which pain is turned to sexual and erotic pleasure, the terms sadism and masochism remain today heavily coded (even for practitioners). For example, Chancers (1992) investigation of sadomasochism in everyday US culture focuses heavily on what she calls the sadomasochistic dynamic which encompasses the broader phenomenon of relations 32

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McCosker Masochism in the Affective Pain of Crash

of domination and subordination, wherever they are found. Although it is not possible to unpack the relational and hierarchical standing of these terms here, I wish to explore the potential for rethinking them which Crash, and the public response to Crash have to a large extent enabled. To begin with, theoretical discussions of the practices, experiences and expressions associated with the use of pain in sexual encounters have begun to deconstruct the sadomasochistic coupling, demonstrating the relative incompatibility or separation of the sexual modes of sadism and masochism (Chasseguet-Smirgel, 1984; Deleuze, 1994; Grosz, 1995; Silverman, 1992).3 Once this coupling is untwined, bodily pain and corporeal intensity can become the focus of critical and analytical attention, which may in turn reveal something of the texture and signicance of the bodys potential for sexual experience and expression within contemporary western cultural contexts. The coupling of sadism and masochism remains strong partly because little attention is paid to the nature of the bodily experiences upon which they are premised. Bodily pain is subordinated to the power relations (or sexual relations) that make productive use of pain within the sexual encounter. In psychological and psychiatric discourse, masochism is dened as one half of a dual sexual pathology, as the overactive submission to anothers will. Freud divided masochism into three distinct forms which he called moral, feminine and erotogenic masochism; these, he thought, were bound strictly to sadism as a perverse coupling of domination and submission in the search for sexual gratication (Freud, 1974 [1905]: 368). Building on Freuds ideas and observations, and through his own clinical observations, Theodor Reik (1941: 44) also describes three essential characteristics in masochism: the signicance of phantasy, the factor of suspense, and the demonstrative factor. Conventionally, pain in masochism is an instrument, as Linda Williams (1989: 195) puts it, for staging dramas of suspense, supplication, abandon, and relief that enhance or substitute for sexual acts. In one sense the analysis of Crash that follows here is an attempt to examine the expressive and corporeal specicity and signicance of pain in its coupling with sexual pleasure outside of the traditional dynamic that couples it with sadism. Crash enables a new way of thinking about the potential of the body as a site for a masochism divorced of the sadomasochism coupling that has emphasized domination and subordination as a key denitional motif (Chancer, 1992). Chancer, for example, has examined the penetration and proliferation of forms of the sadomasochistic dynamic into everyday life. This dynamic, however, is expressed purely as a relation of domination and subordination that could encompass, by Chancers admission, virtually any form of power relation. In focusing on the notion of sadomasochistic roles or modes, as Robert Stoller (1991: 1417) puts it, this approach 33

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downplays or even dismisses the importance of the body in delineating forms of sexuality that can be described as sadomasochistic or masochistic. Even if we accept Stollers (1991: 8) point that there is no sadomasochistic perversion; rather, there are many sadomasochistic perversions, the centrality of pain, and by extension bodies, in understanding these sexual expressions and experiences should remain paramount in any attempt to avoid overgeneralizations. Some theorists, however, take bodily experience and affective intensity as a starting point in their account of practices associated with sadism and masochism. Following Alphonso Lingis, and drawing on both phenomenological and inscriptive theoretical frameworks in her analysis of models of sexuality, Elizabeth Grosz provides a detailed account of the role of the body in this type of sexual encounter:
Sadism and masochism intensify particular bodily regions the buttocks being whipped, the hand that whips, bound regions of the body in domination practices not using pain as a displacement of or disguise for the pleasure principle, but where pain serves as a mode of corporeal intensication. (1995: 199)

Within this useful theoretical framework, the body contains potentialities, and the practices associated with sadism and masochism can be understood as methods for seeking out and utilizing those potentialities in the quest for corporeal intensication. As important as the dynamic of domination and subordination is, there is no sadistic or masochistic sexuality without bodies and intensities of pain and pleasure. The shift here is one of focus, but it is also political. Whereas Chancer is interested in the everyday formations of the sadomasochistic dynamic because she sees in this a power relation that comes to subordinate women, Grosz explores the potential of the body for transforming subjective experience through philosophies of corporeal specicity. Finding such corporeal potentiality in and through the body is also a function of sadomasochistic practice for many of Beckmans interviewees:
The motivations to engage in consensual SM [sadomasochism] . . . illustrate that, apart from being rooted in a contemporary cultural goal centred on the primacy of fullling sexual experiences which is achieved by means of consensual SM, a lot of practitioners are interested in the exploration of the dimensions and potential limits of their lived bodies by means of these bodily practices. (Beckman, 2001: 94)

This framework provides the most useful base available for an analysis of the masochistic story of Crash, its eroticized images of violated, wounded bodies, and the public response that so widely condemned it, or alternatively, sought it out for the particular challenges it provided.

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McCosker Masochism in the Affective Pain of Crash

A story of masochistic sexuality


Based on the 1973 novel by J. G. Ballard, David Cronenbergs lm Crash attracted attention at its world premiere at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival where it won a Special Jury Prize for daring, originality and audacity. It has been described as a dark and disturbing lm, but one worthy of critical attention. Reviews portray it as an autoerotic exploration, linking sex, death and cars to plumb the depths of a perverse subcultural sexuality. The narrative works around the damaged bodies of cars and the human characters, and the heightened pleasure of the experience of the car crash. Often thought of as an expression of a particularly postmodern form of amoral sexuality, and as a manifestation of the posthuman context of everyday life, Crash became a heavily contested site around which the socalled depravity of contemporary mediatized sexuality was debated. Extending J. G. Ballards 1973 novel into a spectacular cinematic narrative, it turned the car crash and its injuries and wounds into the context for a new form of sexuality based on technological fetish and masochistic pleasure. The narrative sets in motion sexual exploration and experimentation in a way that de-emphasizes the traditional sadomasochistic relation. A violent crash interrupts the lives of James Ballard (James Spader) and Catherine Ballard (Deborah Unger) at a point where everything has levelled off. Their world seems to be attened into a bored, unsatisfying banality, and sex fails to provide its promise of pleasure. The quest formulated at the beginning of the lm is to nd stimulation where there no longer is any, to nd a lost orgasmic pleasure. Somewhat uneasily, the experience of the car crash creates for them, and James in particular, an escape from the monotony and emptiness of their lives, and opens them up to new bodily experiences. In this sense, James and Catherines early sexual openness, and later explorations of the eroticism of crashes, are both motivated by a yearning to feel something, to feel intensity in pleasure again, even if in unconventional couplings and acts. There is a structure of repetitiveness to the scenes that play out the personal explorations of car crash and sexual pleasure throughout Crash. Scene after scene of unusual sexual encounter allows the lm to mimic the striving for sexual pleasure or orgasm. This yearning is characterized in the repetitiveness of the sex acts that are presented one after another in a narrative mode that seems to be building toward an unattainable goal, which is held back from the characters and viewers alike. This pattern of repetition may be taken as an enactment of the Freudian death drive (see for example Arthurs, 2003) but also signals the struggle or yearning for affect that characterizes modern forms of mediated sexuality. Indeed, this searching provides the scaffold for suspense that Freud (1974 [1905]), Reik 35

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(1941), and recent research (Stoller, 1991) has dened as integral to the sadomasochistic relation. However, this element of repetition and yearning draws the focus of the lm toward bodily affect, desire and the potential of pain as a means of generating something new in the sexual encounter. Grosz describes repetition in masochistic and sadistic practices in a similar way: This repetition . . . produces the intensity of affect, pleasure and pain, but can never repeat its initial occurrence (Grosz, 1995: 199). Each encounter and the logic of the lm as a whole serve to nd new moments and forms of the production of affective intensity. Grosz (1995: 199) also points out that one craves repetition of these practices because the intensity is ephemeral, has no life span it exists only in the moments of its occurrence, in the present, in other words, it is tied to bodily experience. The narrative of Crash allows the sexual potential of pain to build slowly and earnestly right from the start. James ends up in hospital early in the lm after his violent collision with the car of Dr Helen Remmington (Holly Hunter) whose husband dies in the impact. In the hospital he meets Vaughan (Elias Koteas) who, in a white lab coat, appears to be some sort of medical authority interested in the details of car crashes. We soon nd out that he is the mentor of a group of car crash victims who nd sexual excitement in their own and others accidents. At their rst meeting Vaughan examines James injuries with an unusual zest and sensuality. He delights in James leg, which is surrounded by the elaborate display of the shiny metal rods of an external xation device holding his badly battered leg in place, and seems excited by the extent of the injury. Moaning with satisfaction, he studies the deep cut and bruise crossing Jamess neck caused by the seatbelt in the crash. After his accident, James attachment to his wrecked car, his sexual attraction to Dr Remmington and his heightened awareness of the trafc, lead him and the lm into a world where common objects, spaces and relations are revalued and intensied. Vaughan and his project become the centre of this revaluation and its promise of pleasure or satisfaction. The rst take on this mysterious project is stated early in the lm, described by Vaughan as something we are all intimately involved in the reshaping of the human body by modern technology. Much later in the lm, he describes this as just a crude sci- concept. It just oats on the surface and doesnt threaten anybody. His second proposal is more involved: The car crash is a fertilizing rather than a destructive event. A liberation of sexual energy, mediating the sexuality of those that have died with an intensity that is impossible in any other form. To experience that, to live that, thats my project. In the wake of his crash James grapples with his feelings about the excitement produced by the accident and his contact with Dr Remmington. Vaughan shows him a compilation of photographs 36

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McCosker Masochism in the Affective Pain of Crash

of crashed cars and accident victims injuries. James confesses uneasily that its all very satisfying. Im not really sure why. His uncertainty acknowledges a resistance to the satisfaction, excitement or pleasure that he overcomes during the narrative as he becomes more involved in the productive potential of the car crash. The signicance of Crash to the production of sexuality is not its negation of the body or its merger with technology as many cultural theorists point out.4 Rather, this lm and the media events that encompass it have provided a site for an encounter with the corporeal specicity of masochistic sexuality. Its narrative is not one of sadomasochistic domination and subordination, but rather an exploration of the masochistic potential of the body an exploration which equally became an event capable (or at least imagined to be capable) of extending this masochistic story, into an actual lived experience for audiences. Similarly, the controversy surrounding the lm, and the public ire, acted as a challenge or invitation to experimentation. The public expression of outrage and anxiety, as often happens with censorship debates, had precisely the opposite effect to its intention. It encouraged experimental audiences to see and experience for themselves, like James, and to explore the erotic potential of pain and the masochistic discomfort or even aversiveness of its reversal to sexual pleasure.

A radical confrontation; Crash and the public ire


Crash has a lively history of public and critical controversy. Fierce public and governmental debate surrounded its release in Britain, where for some time it was banned on the grounds of sexual depravity. Although contempt and scorn was bestowed on the content of the lm (and occasionally on Cronenberg himself), it is clear that the perceived threat was more specically the idea of the corrupted spectator who takes pleasure in the lm, or who may be overly affected by its unsavoury images. Alexander Walker, for example, challenged the British Board of Film Censorship (BBFC) to ban the lm before it was released. Walkers review, written in response to its screening at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1996, is a scathing reaction that was mirrored in newspapers around the country. His condemnation revolves around the issue of sexuality, describing the lm as containing: some of the most perverted acts and theories of sexual deviance I have ever seen propagated in main-line cinema (Walker, 1996 cited in Kermode and Petley, 1997: 16).5 The headline to Walkers article, A movie beyond the bounds of depravity, became a catch phrase for the lm, endlessly restated in the public debates that followed. Nigel Reynoldss Daily Telegraph (London) article, titled Crash . . . Ban It? Why Not Just Bin It? set the scene for a bitter debate 37

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over the role of lm censorship (Reynolds, 1996). Reynolds is celebratory in his outrage at the depravity of Crash and its obvious social danger, while enjoying the chance to congratulate the BBFCs tough line on the lm:
Time and again, the British Parliament, and Ferman [head of BBFC], have made it clear that, while it is difcult to stem Hollywoods daily diet of sleaze, porn and punch-ups, they will not tolerate scenes promulgating the idea that violence can bend to sexual pleasure. Cronenbergs lm does only that. The atmosphere hangs with deeply unpleasant menace; his weirdos and freaks set out wilfully in their cars to crash in pursuit of death, sex and thrills. They masturbate over images of dreadful injury. They get off on mutilation. (Reynolds, 1996: 15)

Reviews in news media around the world reiterated the moral outrage expressed in the British news media. In an Australian newspaper, Juliet Herd, for example, describes Crash as a fairly unsavoury little lm depicting all kinds of sexual permutations and mutations including nearnecrophilia, sadomasochism, fetishes involving handicaps and deformities, homosexuality and lesbianism (Herd, 1996: 23). The common theme in both news media and public reactions to the lm for Jane Arthurs (2003: 69) was that the car crashes and injured bodies were regarded as a potentially dangerous incitement to road rage or sado-masochism. Each challenge to the lm revived and became grounded in the video nasties debates about the corrupting effects of cinema on societys vulnerable (Barker, 1984). Such claims for the lm may be somewhat exaggerated and were often challenged by supporters who gave more favourable and positive readings. Reynolds claim that the masochistic pleasure of Crash is of the same nature as the violent pleasure of rape, for example, cannot stand up to analysis. However, it is clear that more than the lm itself, the threat of viewers en masse getting off on, or masturbating over, these images unsettles many commentators. Clearly then, the threat Crash posed in Britain and elsewhere in the world lies specically in the possibility of feeling such excesses of excitement in seeing pain turned toward sexual pleasure. This threat is posed in terms of the contamination of unsuspecting and by implication hetero-normative populations with images of an aberrant sexuality based in the experience of pain as erotic pleasure. The threat imagined, however, could only be that of enjoying, getting off on, or being turned on by images of car crash and injury in other words, the threat lies in the participation in the perversion represented. In effect, the public ire conrms the real presence of a widely disturbing experience revolving around the masochistic sexuality played out through the merger of the affects of pleasure and pain. As a broadly shocking sexual narrative, 38

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McCosker Masochism in the Affective Pain of Crash

the work of Crash in bringing forth the disconcerting experience of the transformation of pain into erotic pleasure can be, and has been, conceived as itself a deviant sexual encounter.

Lingering over impact and injury


How did it achieve its massively unsettling effect, and how can we make sense of the lms expression of masochistic sexuality? The key to this merger between audience and sexual narrative lies in the blurred boundaries between car and body, image and viewing experience that can help us to rethink the nature of mediate sexual representations. The text itself becomes a unique means for conveying an unsettling masochism as a disturbing, and exciting, visceral excess. Cinematic techniques and visual forms provide the means for bringing the eroticism of bodily pain to audiences not merely as spectacle or representation, but as experience. If there is something unsettling in watching Crash it is the way in which excitement, sexuality and crashes are more carefully and completely aligned than we are used to seeing in popular lms. There is something quite different about these crashes. Botting and Wilson (1998: 189) read into the lm a sense of the disappearance of excitement or sensation from the car crash. Critically, they see the disappearance of excitement as an aspect of the lms generalized automation, an effect of its emptiness and its characters banality:
Stylistically and technically, Crash refuses to evoke or simulate the sensational and spectacular effects that one would expect from a lm that draws an equivalence between sex and car crashes. There are no big bangs, no sensuous slowmotion smashes, no romantic chases or erotic duels on the open highway. (Botting and Wilson, 1998: 189)

More accurately, however, excitement is transformed in order to explore something different. Freeway duels and confrontations compliment crashes that are infused with a strange calm, but they are certainly not emptied of excitement. The excitement and affective rush of either seeing or experiencing a car crash is taken further than usual in Crash. There is also a delicate lingering over the bodily wounds, the details of physical injuries, and the mechanical damage produced by the crash. If the lm takes on a new dimension it is in its more detailed pursuit of the virtually imperceptible sensate qualities of pain and pleasure, and its exploration of the possibilities of these for new forms of sexuality. Excitement in the rush of the car crash, and the lingering over its affects, are brought together continually throughout the lm. An extensive display of the subtle texture of the car crash is provided early in the lm, shortly after James rst meets Vaughan. For the pleasure of a small group of crash 39

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enthusiasts Vaughan stages a real life re-enactment of the crash that killed the actor James Dean. In dramatic tones he describes for his anxious audience the historical facts surrounding the famous crash and the events leading up to it. He and his partners in the show then drive apart their replica versions of the cars involved in the accident. Speeding towards each other, we see subjective camera angles from the cars, and we also see the spectators watching tensely. At the moment of collision the camera shifts to the inside of one of the cars to convey the inertia and the suddenness of the impact of metal on metal. In the framing of the re-enactment we are given a close, lingering view of the texture of the crash, the details of the cars coming together in collision, and the bodies thrown painfully inside the cars. We see this from within the cars as well as alongside and from the point of view of those gathered to watch the event. In this way the texture of crushed metal and machinery, physical injury, wound and pain, are brought together with the excitement and pleasure in the rush of the spectacle. But it is the moment of impact, where the point of view shifts to the inside of the car that transforms us from spectators to participants in the corporeal milieu of the car accident. And this marks one of the major shifts of the lm in its movement from the car crash as machine spectacle and action, to the crash as bodily experience and affect. There is a deliberate displacement of action. In this displacement, Crash emphasizes a uniquely affective image of the car accident through its use of time in scenes such as the re-enactment of the James Dean crash. In displacing action, the lingering duration of the crash becomes the dominant image of the lm. It sets up the material through which the lm explores the sensory and sensual depths of its characters experiential qualities that had been blocked in their formerley stilted lives and instils its masochistic spectatorship. That is, Crash builds its affective image of accident and injury through its detailed scrutiny of the body. Cars damaged in various degrees are coupled or confused with the blood and fracturing of bodily injuries. Scars and disabilities are constantly framed in close-up and become the point of contact between characters, and the focus of their sexual experimentation. We are offered images of the eroticized surface of the injured body early on in the lm. In the close-up of Jamess badly injured leg in the hospital, and later when he returns home, we are presented with the possibility of an initial sensory reversal, a reversal taken further as the lm progresses. The intimacy of images of his almost naked and heavily injured body on the hospital bed in one scene, or his leg exposed to the top of the thigh in another, brings about a sexualization of serious wounding. The bruised and fractured mess of his leg is presented to us to savour as Vaughan does when he rst meets James. This is where the images shift, allowing the presence of a new quality. 40

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McCosker Masochism in the Affective Pain of Crash

Early in the lm when James is in hospital a provocative scene occurs initiating his exploration of the erotic and seductive texture of the car crash. It is an example of the unsettling reversibility of pain. Prior to this scene, Catherine had explored the erotic potential of the idea that she might crash while ying and that James could wake up with her in the bed next to him. And so she too begins to probe the stimulating potential of the crash, and the power of its disruption of their deadened lives. She sits next to James and begins to masturbate him in a rhythmic, mechanical manner. In a sensual, serene and aroused voice she describes the state of the crashed car:
Both of the front wheels of the car and the engine were driven back into the drivers section or in the oor. Blood still marked the hood like little streamers with black lace running toward the windshield wiper cutters . . . The cabin was deformed and there was dust, glass, plastic akes everywhere inside. The carpeting was damp and stank of blood and other body and machine uids.

The destructive event of the crash enters their imagination and ours in a moment of rhythmic, mechanical sexual stimulation. Two forces, erotic pleasure and the pain of severe injury, are brought together. All the usual pain and trauma of a car accident is transformed through the seductive tones and the sexual act. We are left with the image of the accident, the idea of a crushed car full of machine and body uids, as sexual pleasure, a somehow potent yet unsettling turn-on. The narrative is propelled in this way by the violence and injury of the car crash but the pain disappears from these, shifting into pleasure or the possibility of once again experiencing pleasure. The expressive oscillation between pain and erotic pleasure is pursued in many ways throughout the lm. For example, tattoos of wounds and scars become intensied erotic regions of Vaughan and James bodies in a scene that nally brings them together in a sexual encounter. Rather than an abnormality, or disguration, the scar in this scene is experienced as an intensied source of erotic energy approaching Vaughans second project, the exploration of the fertilizing, rather than the destructive potential of the car crash. In this sexual encounter, Vaughan and Jamess scars are both symbolic and iconic in that they are symbols of scars, but are also scars in themselves. For Vaughan, the extensive scar he has tattooed to his torso overlaps the rippling surface of actual scars. The tattoos actual puncturing of the esh is also emphasized when Vaughan removes Jamess dressing covering his freshly designed tattoo. In the closeup we see the traces of blood on the white cloth of the dressing, and its removal seems to be experienced by James ambiguously as either pain or pleasure and, ultimately, as an expression of sexual desire and excitation. We do not see the sexual intercourse that follows, but it is clear that it is 41

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James who penetrates Vaughan. Following this act the cars themselves become erotically invested. James moves into a nearby wrecked car (the scene taking place in or near a wreckers lot). This time Vaughan is the active partner of the sexual contact as he rams his battered Lincoln into the side of James already wrecked car. Repeating the act, it is clear that through the collision James is the recipient of the metallic equivalent, in the penetration and indentation caused by Vaughans car, of the sex they had previously experienced.

Pain, erotogenic surfaces and the embodiment of spectatorship


Crash re-evaluates the physical experiences of sex, their cinematic expression and spectators access to such inner experiences. The lm is in some ways a radical experiment in the expression of cinematic masochism. If the unsettling reversibility of pain can cause so much consternation with censors and commentators who fear its unsavoury effects, it is because these erotogenic experiences are not meant to be so undisciplined, or so pliable. Masochism as sexuality has always proved disturbing in texts that reach a mass audience, but the disruption of the rigid expression of pleasure in sex through its merger with pain in Crash takes this further by providing for us the opportunity for a masochistic viewing experience. However, if its bending of the violence and pain of the car crash and sexual pleasure is masochism, it is not a conventional masochism. With the visual play of surfaces, wound, injury and car crash, Crash foregrounds experiential qualities of the body; the sensitivity of esh, the tenderness of scars and the impulsiveness of desire. Behind the crash, in the heightened vulnerability of injured bodies and the bodys capacity for injury, is pain. But it is pain simultaneously proposed as pleasure. Teetering on the edge of pain and pleasure, surface and depth, the lm also exposes the terror for many of the reversibility of these experiential qualities. Critical of the novel and what she sees as Jean Baudrillards celebration of the dissolution of the body into technology, and in a manner that has in some ways also been levelled at the lm, Vivian Sobchack (1991) uses Crash to provide a stern warning. She argues that losing ones bearings within its corporeal transformations is dangerous and denies the legitimacy of lived experience. Sobchack uses her own experience of cancer surgery as an example to argue that pleasure or perhaps more specically erotic desire is inconceivable in the environment of pain. Pain is more powerful, concrete and real than the abstraction of the image: Theres nothing like a little pain to bring us (back) to our senses (Sobchack, 1991: 327). In a later article, after a leg amputation and the tting of an articial 42

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McCosker Masochism in the Affective Pain of Crash

limb, Sobchack (1998) revives the issue of the sensuality of the bodys extension through technology. She is, however, still critical of the cybernetic tradition of disavowing the body, the body she sees as a material subject that experiences its own objectivity, that has the capacity to bleed and suffer and hurt for others because it can sense its own possibilities for suffering and pain (Sobchack, 1998: 319). Yet sense perception and the bodys capacity to feel pleasure and pain is precisely the point of Cronenbergs cinematic adaptation of Crash. Reacting to criticism of the lm as a portrayal of emotional mists in a cold and perverse world, Cronenberg claims to be inventing a new language through which the lms characters can nally express themselves:
these people have not been able to express their emotions in the forms that are available to them because what they are trying to express is impossible in the language that exists . . . So, to a small degree, Im reinventing lm language in order to allow my characters to express things to themselves in their own emotional language. I see Crash as an existential romance. That simply means that maybe affect which is to say, what we consider emotion and the way in which it is expressed needs to nd new avenues, new forms in order to express the things that we need to express these days. (Cronenberg, cited in Dery, 1997: 44)

Cronenberg uses the term affect to refer to the emotive level of experience in the lm. I see it more specically as the way the body is moved or touched in the process of contact, whether contact between characters, cars and bodies or image and an embodied viewer. Perhaps the new language of affect Cronenberg refers to is an exploration of the embodied qualities of pain and pleasure in the image, but also the possibilities this holds for new expressions of sexuality, an exploration Cronenbergs lms are regularly involved in.6 The lms coupling of pain and sex can thus be experienced as an intensication of the erotic or sensual potential of the body. But it implies an unusual form of masochism that deserves some critical attention in order to make sense of this affective cinematic language. Ultimately, in producing a highly sensory or affective viewing experience, one strong enough to succeed in giving rise to the qualities of pleasure and pain in its unsettling images, Crash explores new ways of corporealizing sexuality, bringing sexuality back to bodily experience, and giving its (unconventional) pleasures a space as a cinematic event. To make sense of Crashs visceral coupling of sex and injury, it is useful to think of masochism as the intensication of libidinal or erotic zones across the surface of the body. These zones of erotic energy are also extended through the body of the car. Masochism has to be redened here, not only in its status in psychological terms as pathology a relation of subservience, humiliation, abandon but in how it delimits an experience 43

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of the body. But it is necessary to move away from a framework that privileges psyche and systems of representation or interiority toward a theoretical framework that privileges the erotogenic in Elizabeth Groszs terms. The visual and affective drama of Crash takes place on what Grosz (1995: 197) refers to as the erotogenic surface, the bodys outside, its locus as a site for both the perception of the erotic (as phenomenology recognized) but also for the inscription and intensication of the sensitivity of bodily regions. Crash is both a re-formulation of bodily pain as a site for the intensication of pleasure, and an experiment in the pleasure of sex as a cinematic event, a spectatorial experience in its own right. The attention to the details of the metal surface of the car and the bodys esh can also be described as an exploration of the body through newly devised erotogenic zones. Masochism and sadism are in Grosz words simply modes of intensication of the bodys sensations:
These sites of intensity potentially any region of the body including various internal organs are intensied and excited, not simply by pleasure, through caresses, but also through the force and energy of pain. (Grosz, 1995: 198)7

Through the detailed attention to the crumpled surface of crashed cars in Crash, erotic or libidinal energy is transferred in the coming together of disparate surfaces [where] the point of conjuncture of two or more surfaces produces an intensication of both (Grosz, 1995: 198). This creates what Lingis (1985: 814) sees as a lateral distribution of carnal desire across the surface of the body, across body parts not normally linked to sexuality. Scars, injuries and wounds feature repeatedly in this way in Crash, merging the surface of the body with the surface of the car. Because of this, the wreckage of a car body is not a metaphor of physical damage, but corresponds to it somatically. Perhaps more accurately, the car body features as the site for a mimetic play on an extended erotogenic surface. Each surface affects the other in becoming erotic through their violation. It is the violation the crash that facilitates the distribution of the libidinal energy produced in both metallic and physical damage.

Conclusion: Sexualized pain and the unanticipated discomfort of viewing


In effect, Crash realizes the erotic potential of the reversibility of pain. By being sexualized, the nocuous or aversive quality in the image of injury and wounding is rendered deliberately unstable or even volatile. The pain of injury unravels slightly, just enough to be experienced differently, and begins to take on the characteristics of the erotic expression of bodily pleasure. The daring reversal of the image of pain is the radical gesture 44

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McCosker Masochism in the Affective Pain of Crash

that Crash so affectively aunts. I see this reversibility of pain as a kind of purely physical masochism, which for Talal Asad (1997: 300) is disturbing to many people precisely because it confronts them with suffering that is no longer simply painful: it is at once pain and the opposite of pain. The sensory excess and visceral headiness of Crashs mingling of eroticism and pain brings a more purely masochistic sexuality back to the body, and controversially, to the spectators body, in the most public of forums. Exploring the contribution of this lm to notions of masochistic sexuality, this article has examined Crash not only as a unique image of sexuality, but also as a mechanism for generating a form of masochistic spectatorship manifesting as an impassioned public event. In the lms unusual couplings and unconventional sexual experiences, there is an intensication of the characters inner affective world in a way that is as horric as it is sensual. Groszs account of the surface of the body as a site for the distribution of erotogenic energy, desire and pleasure helps to illuminate the work of these processes in Crash, and locates the lms unsettling affect in the spectatorship of the image of eroticized pain. The deliberate lingering over injured human and car bodies allows an unusual tenderness to emerge out of normally destructive events. Grosz argues that in an erotic encounter, the intensication of bodily zones originates not in the regular and habitual acts and countenance of the body, but in the unanticipated conjuncture, and through the connection, conjunction and construction of unusual interfaces which re-mark orices, glands, sinews, muscles differently (Grosz, 1995: 198). And Crashs unusual couplings and the pairing of sex and injured body is also the locus of intensity that is a form of yearning for the lms characters, and the site for moral outrage, or passion, within the broader public experience. Crash draws on the reversibility or volatility of the expression of pain to position us in an unfamiliar and, for many, an unsettling place as spectators. The normal cinematic experience of the car crash is entangled with other forms of its mediation, with images of crash testing, celebrity accidents, and those crashes we see so often in news reports and on the road. The lm lingers over their detail to bring to the viewing experience an unusually intense meditation on bodily damage, wound and injury. These in turn become the staging point for intensied sexual encounters, and an encounter with masochism on the public stage. In playing out its masochistic drama through these various experiences of crash and injury, familiar bodily affects are realigned. Injured bodies bring a level of vulnerability, sensitivity and disturbing intensity to the scenes of sex. The challenge the lm poses relates directly to the bodys capacity for experiencing pleasure and pain, and its capacity for sensual experience. Often manifesting as outrage and discomfort, the unsettling spectatorial experience of Crash is far from empty, and it clearly resists and transforms the dualistic 45

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dynamic of sadomasochism as it has been commonly dened. This is the key to the lms unique cultural value.

Notes
1. Public and mediated expressions of sadomasochism are problematic in the sense that although losing some of its stigma in the later half of the 20th century, sadomasochism still attracts heavy censorship and remains illicit in many parts of the western world. 2. Giddens makes the point that
Sexuality today has been discovered, opened up and made more accessible to the development of varying life-styles . . . Somehow, in a way that has to be investigated, sexuality functions as a malleable feature of self, a prime connecting point between body, self-identity and social norms. (1998: 16)

3.

4.

5.

6. 7.

Within this context sadomasochism takes its place as a form of sexuality and as a type of life-style that people can choose to take up without the same level of fear of social reprisal (see also Weeks, 1995). Deleuze, for example, challenges Freuds notion that masochism is bound to sadism (Chasseguet-Smirgel, 1984; Deleuze, 1994; Silverman, 1992). Deleuze (1994) uses a literary approach to describe the aesthetic, philosophical and political worlds that separate the sexual sadism associated with de Sade, and the masochistic sexuality associated with von Sacher-Masoch. See Dery (1997) for example. Critical and theoretical work on Crash has taken a variety of points of focus, including the relationship between sex, the body and technology, the theme of apocalypse, despair and alienation, the fate of the humantechnology relationship. See for example: Creed (1998); Grant (1998); Botting and Wilson (1998); Smith (1999); Brottman and Sharrett (2002). Mark Kermode and Julian Petley (1997) give an excellent summary of the press and political campaign to ban Crash in Britain, and the subsequent attacks on the board of censors for allowing the lm to be screened. See for example Shaviro (1993: 14257). On this point see also Lingis (1985: 845).

References
American Psychiatric Association (1994) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association. Arthurs, J. (2003) Crash: Beyond the Boundaries of Sense, in Jane Arthurs and Ian Grant (eds) Crash Cultures: Modernity, Mediation and the Material, pp. 6377. Bristol: Intellect. Asad, Talal (1997) On Torture, or Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment, in Arthur Kleinman, Veena Das and Margaret M. Lock (eds) Social Suffering, pp. 285308. Berkeley: University of California Press. Barker, M. (1984) The Video Nasties: Freedom and Censorship in the Media. London: Pluto Press.

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Beckman, A. (2001) Deconstructing Myths: The Social Construction of Sadomasochism Versus Subjugated Knowledges of Practitioners of Consensual SM , Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture 8(2): 6695. Botting, Fred and Wilson, Scott (1998) Automatic Lover, Screen 39(2) summer: 18692. Brottman, M. and Sharrett, C. (2002) The End of the Road David Cronenbergs Crash and the Fading of the West, Literature-Film Quarterly 30(2): 12632. Chancer, L. S. (1992) Sadomasochism in Everyday Life: The Dynamics of Power and Powerlessness. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Chasseguet-Smirgel, Janine (1984) Creativity and Perversion. London: Free Association Books. Creed, Barbara (1998) The Crash Debate: Anal Wounds, Metallic Kisses, Screen 39(2): 1759. Deleuze, Gilles (1994) Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty. New York: Zone Books. Dery, Mark (1997) Sex Drive, 21.C. 24: 4051. Foucault, M. (1981) The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. London: Penguin. Foucault, M. (1985) The Use of Pleasure (Vol. 2. of The History of Sexuality). New York: Pantheon. Foucault, M. (1988) The Care of the Self (Vol. 3 of The History of Sexuality). London: Allen Lane. Freud, Sigmund (1974 [1905]) Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (trans. and ed. James Strachey). London: The Hogarth Press. Giddens, A. (1998) The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies. Cambridge: Polity Press. Grant, M. (1998) Crimes of the Future, Screen 39(2): 1805. Grosz, Elizabeth (1995) Space, Time, and Perversion: The Politics of Bodies. St Leonards, NSW: Allen and Unwin. Herd, Juliet (1996) Crash: Art or Erotic Trash?, Weekend Australian 30 November: 23. Kermode, M. and Petley, J. (1997) Road Rage, Sight and Sound 7(6) June: 16. Landridge, D. and Butt, T. (2004) A Hermeneutic Phenomenological Investigation of the Construction of Sadomasochistic Identities, Sexualities 7(1): 3153. Lingis, Alphonso (1985) Libido: The French Existential Theories. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Plummer, K. (1995) Telling Sexual Stories: Power, Change, and Social Worlds. London: Routledge. Reik, Theodor (1941) Masochism in Modern Man. New York: Grove Press. Reynolds, Nigel (1996) Crash . . . Ban it? Why Not Just Bin It?, Sydney Morning Herald 21 November: 15. Shaviro, Steven (1993) The Cinematic Body. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. Silverman, Kaja (1992) Male Subjectivity at the Margins. New York: Routledge.

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Smith, Marq (1999) Wound Envy: Touching Cronenbergs Crash, Screen 40(2) summer: 193202. Sobchack, Vivian (1991) Baudrillards Obscenity, Science-Fiction Studies 18: 3279. Sobchack, Vivian (1998) Beating the Meat/Surviving the Text, or How to Get Out of This Century Alive, in P. A. Treichler, L. Cartwright and C. Penley (eds) The Visible Woman: Imaging Technologies, Gender, and Science, pp. 310321. New York: New York University Press. Stoller, Robert J. (1991) Pain and Passion: A Psychoanalyst Explores the World of S & M. New York: Plenum. Taylor, G. and Ussher, J. (2001) Making Sense of S & M: A Discourse Analytic Account, Sexualities 4(3): 293314. Von Krafft-Ebing, R. (1886) Psychopathia Sexualis. New York: Bell. Weeks, J. (1995) Invented Moralities; Sexual Values in the Age of Uncertainty. Cambridge: Polity Press. Williams, Linda (1989) Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the Frenzy of the Visible. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Biographical Note
Anthony McCosker completed a PhD at the University of Newcastle, Australia, and is a Research Fellow of the Department of English with Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He has published articles on the politics of pain in visual culture in the journals Continuum and Scope (forthcoming). His primary research interests are corporeality, pain and subjectivity in contemporary visual culture. Address: Department of English with Cultural Studies, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, 3010, Australia. [email: mccosker@unimelb.edu.au]

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