Ricarda Vidal - Visual Culture

Death and Desire in Car Crash Culture:

A Century of Romantic Futurisms

(Oxford: Peter Lang, February 2013)


The front cover of my book with "Buochs, 1965" by Arnold Odermatt.

The front cover of my book with “Buochs, 1965″ by Arnold Odermatt.

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. 


Table of Contents     Purchase


Read the introduction


by Enda Duffy, Professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara, author of The Speed Handbook: Velocity, Pleasure, Modernism

‘Death and Desire in Car Crash Culture: A Century of Romantic Futurisms by Ricarda Vidal is a terrific addition to speed studies.  At its heart is the insight that the car crash functions in Western culture today much as the ruined cathedral did for the Victorians: a scene of lurid fascination where all our desires – about technology, excitement and what it means to be human – converge.  Vidal reads Futurism as a late Romantic movement.  She then traces the persistence of Futurism’s spirit and paradoxes in a whole century of work on car culture, from Kerouac’s On the Road to Cortázar’s ‘The Motorway of the South’ and Ballard’s Crash, to Warhol’s car crash silk-screens and Antun Maračić’s photograph series Cro Car Crash Chronicle, After War/hol.  Equally at home in literature, manifestos, theory, film, photography, painting, sculpture, installation art and pop culture, this book is full of rich and unexpected readings of works that deal with our deepest fears and excitements in the twentieth-century duel between humanism and technology. Eschewing any easy moralism, alive to speed as both ‘the only divinity’ today and its potential horror, Vidal’s book is a clear-eyed reading of high points of a new, more grim romanticism, in which the crash is the spectacle of finitude.  Death and Desire in Car Crash Culture is a brilliant reading of  the convergence of desire and technology in some of the most challenging works of modern culture.’


Some images from the book


Here’s an excerpt from one of my favourite speeding films: Claude Lelouch’s crazy race through Paris one morning in 1976, C’etait un rendez-vous. Don’t do this at home!




A Poetic Response

I am very pleased to share a poem with you here, which was given to me by Ilana Levine, who composed it in response to my book. It’s not often academic books inspire poetry…


Death and Desire in the Car Crash

by Ilana Levine


Fast images, jump cuts, splicing

Flipped and rotated in my visual cortex

Events of my life crawl in letters, words

Overlapping those images


Adrenaline pumping

Thighs and hips thumping

All at the speed of light


Razor sharp

Metal crashing, clashing, puncturing, gashing

Hot blood smells like metal

Scraps of flesh fly and stick to car parts


Glass shards impale us

Juicy splatterings

Like sweet tasty wine

My tongue gets a taste of it


Burnt smoking rubber intoxicates our nostrils

Dripping out through our eyes


My foot falls harder on the accelerator

Hard like my prick, pricking her

Hand on the shaft taking us to higher speeds


It’s never enough,

Fast enough

Hard enough

Painful enough


There can be no repetition though

It’s a one-time deal

To feel as much as we hu-manly can



Auto body parts




Enmeshed, entangled, intertwined into one hot moist mass of flesh,

sex fluids, metal, rubber, gasoline, oil, blood


Car oil runs through my veins

Blood through the car’s inner organs


It’s a pact of exchange between (wo)man and thing


Till death do us part


For Ricarda, 10 May 2014