It is surely self-evident that circumstances around us shape and frame our perspective on the world, however much our biology determines the extent to which that shaping and framing occurs. Just as obvious is the way in which the conditions present during our formative years are so much more affecting than later contexts. Growing up amidst poverty or affluence, urban sprawl or unchecked nature will inevitably set the tone for one’s life in a way that developments in our adult lives simply cannot. This being the case, tracing an individual’s earliest history is very likely to give us a reasonable idea of the forces propelling the course of their life.
Of course I’m not saying that our lives are mapped out in deterministic fashion, in spite of there being a case to be made in that direction, courtesy of causality (although the Scottish philosopher David Hume would strongly disagree). Rather, my undisguised reheating of the timeless nature versus nurture argument centres upon unraveling a coincidence of dystopian writings, authored by a trio of well-respected writers who possess at least one crucial trait in common: the influence of war.
Born in inter-war Shanghai, JG Ballard (1930-2009) was one of the most influential British writers of the post-war period; a status publicly recognised by the UK newspaper The Times in 2008. From thrillers and environmental catastrophes to his own semi-autobiographical account of Japan’s occupation of Shanghai, he is perhaps most famous for his dystopian writings, best typified by his highly-provocative 1973 novel Crash. In it, the protagonist is drawn into a distorted world of sexual gratification derived from the violence of car crashes. David Cronenberg’s 1996 film adaptation was no less provocative, resulting as it did in much criticism from some quarters of the popular press.
In much the same vein as some of Ballard’s later works, such as Cocaine Nights (1996), Crash exposes a decidedly unpalatable side of human nature. For the characters portrayed within its pages present a collection of individuals teetering on the edge of a self-destructive nihilism. Society’s fundaments are upended amongst the carnage of flesh and bone shattered against the unyielding metal and plastic of the automobile.