The first thing I read this morning was that Elizabeth Taylor had died at the age of 79, having lived a long, full, and very eventful life.
Fast-forward to a little later in the day: I headed down to the cafe for some lunch and decided to bring with me my current reading project, a volume of three works by J.G. Ballard. The circumstances that led to my acquiring this particular book were somewhat convoluted: A year or so ago I read a chapter in a book called Psychedelic Decadence about Ballard, in whom I had a longstanding but little-explored interest. A web search led me to an anthology containing what seemed to be three of his more important titles, The Crystal World, Crash, and Concrete Island, but it was out of print and unavailable. A couple months ago it turned up on Amazon and I pounced on it, coincidentally a couple days before it also turned up at the local used book store. After that it sat on my shelf awaiting the end of the Infinite Jest Deathmarch.
Anyway, long story short, I finished The Crystal World yesterday, so today I sat down and started Crash, and this is what I read:
Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash. During our friendship he had rehearsed his death in many crashes, but this was his only true accident. Driven on a collision course towards the limousine of the film actress, his car jumped the rails of the London Airport flyover and plunged through the roof of a bus filled with airline passengers. The crushed bodies of package tourists, like a haemorrhage of the sun, still lay across the vinyl seats when I pushed my way through the police engineers an hour later. Holding the arm of her chauffeur, the film actress Elizabeth Taylor, with whom Vaughan had dreamed of dying for so many months, stood alone under the revolving ambulance lights. As I knelt over Vaughan’s body she placed a gloved hand to her throat.
Could she see, in Vaughan’s posture, the formula of the death which he had devised for her? During the last weeks of his life Vaughan had thought of nothing else but her death, a coronation of wounds he had staged with the devotion of an Earl Marshal. The walls of his apartment near the film studios at Shepperton were covered with the photographs he had taken through his zoom lens each morning as she left her hotel in London, from the pedestrian bridges above the westbound motorways, and from the roof of the multi-storey car-park at the studios. The magnified details of her knees and hands, of the inner surface of her thighs and the left apex of her mouth, I uneasily prepared for Vaughan on the copying machine in my office, handing him the packages of prints as if they were the instalments of a death warrant. At his apartment I watched him matching the details of her body with the photographs of grotesque wounds in a textbook of plastic surgery.
Weird, right? Does it mean anything? I guess I should probably hope not.