Ubiquity and Omnipresence. Paul Virilio

The Nexus of Time and Space

My reading today brings me to the works of Paul Virilio who studies Time and Space and the notion the society is making out of these elements in the future. Our paradigm of Time and Space are evolving at a great speed because of technology. To be everywhere, whilst being anywhere at any one time seems to be the essence of the day.

Internet and the speed of technology bring the world to us in any instant: one can be aware and lives the world events through the internet portable phone. Our mindset has to change, we are becoming more ‘zappers’ and yet more reachable. Our minds and attention could well be everywhere and yet we are reachable.

As much as the speed of technology frees us from lag time of receiving information, it imprisons us in its overflow of data. More data to select from, may mean sharper and more precision in our analysis. Do we discern better and take better decision? Having the skills of Zapping have to be reinforced by a sharper skills of focusing.

Living the Here and Now

Paul Virilio’s thesis:

The war model

Virilio developed what he calls the ‘war model’ of the modern city and of human society in general and is the inventor of the term ‘dromology’, meaning the logic of speed that is the foundation of technological society. His major works include War and Cinema, Speed and Politics and The Information Bomb in which he argues, among many other things, that military projects and technologies drive history. Like some other cultural theorists, he rejects labels – including ‘cultural theorist’ – yet he has been linked by others with post-structuralism and postmodernism. Some people describe Virilio’s work as being positioned in the realm of the ‘hypermodern’. This description seems most apt, as Virilio works very much with the concepts and artefacts of modernism. He has repeatedly affirmed his links with phenomenology, for example, and offers humanist critiques of modernist art movements such as Futurism. Throughout his books the political and theological themes of anarchism, pacifism and Catholicism reappear as central influences to his self-proclaimed ‘marginal’ approach to the question of technology. His work has been compared to that of McLuhan, Baudrillard, Deleuze & Guattari, Lyotard, Ellul, and others, although many of these connections are problematic. Virilio is also an urbanist. He still lives in Paris.

Virilio’s predictions about ‘logistics of perception’ – the use of images and information in war – (in War and Cinema, 1984) were so accurate that during the Gulf War he was invited to discuss his ideas with French military officers. While Baudrillard infamously argued that the Gulf War did not take place, Virilio argued that it was a ‘world war in miniature’.

The integral accident

Technology cannot exist without the potential for accidents. For example, the invention of the locomotive also contained the invention of derailment. Virilio sees the Accident as a rather negative growth of social positivism and scientific progress. The growth of technology, namely television, separates us directly from the events of real space and real time. We lose wisdom, lose sight of our immediate horizon and resort to the indirect horizon of our dissimulated environment. From this angle, the Accident can be mentally pictured as a sort of “fractal meteorite” whose impact is prepared in the propitious darkness, a landscape of events concealing future collisions. Even Aristotle claimed that “there is no science of the accident,” but Virilio disagrees, pointing to the growing credibility of simulators designed to escape the accident — an industry born from the unholy marriage of post-WW2 science and the military-industrial complex. A good example of Virilio’s integral accident is Hurricane Katrina and the disastrous events that followed, which brought the eyes of the world upon a single nexus of time and place. From his article on Katrina, “Ah ouai, ce méchant vent, vent qui siffle, siffle. Tout le monde regarde, c’est sur toutes les chaînes, c’est l’émission dont le monde parle. Et c’est tellement, tellement mouillé la bas.” Roughly translated, “Oh yeah, that nasty wind, wind that blows, blows. The whole world is watching, it’s on every station, it’s the program the world is talking about. And it’s so, so soggy, down there.”


‘Dromos’ from the Greek word to race (Virilio 1977:47). Meaning: the ‘science (or logic) of speed’. Dromology is important when considering the structuring of society in relation to warfare and modern media. He notes that the speed at which something happens may change its essential nature, and that that which moves with speed quickly comes to dominate that which is slower. ‘Whoever controls the territory possesses it. Possession of territory is not primarily about laws and contracts, but first and foremost a matter of movement and circulation.’ Source

Logistics of perception

In contemporary warfare logistics does not just imply the movement of personnel, tanks, fuel and so on but also implies the movement of images both to and from the battlefield. Virilio talks a lot about the creation of CNN and the concept of the newshound. The newshound will capture images which will then be sent to CNN, which may then be broadcast to the public. This movement of images can start a conflict (Virilio uses the example of the events following the broadcasting of the Rodney King footage). The logistics of perception also relates to the televising of military maneuvers and the images of conflict that are watched not only by people at home but also by the military personnel involved in the conflict. The ‘field of battle’ also exists as a ‘field of perception’.

War of movement

For Virilio, the transition from feudalism to capitalism was driven not primarily by the politics of wealth and production techniques but by the mechanics of war. Virilio argues that the traditional feudal fortified city disappeared because of the increasing sophistication of weapons and possibilities for warfare. For Virilio, the concept of siege warfare became rather a war of movement. In Speed and Politics, he argues that ‘history progresses at the speed of its weapons systems’.

1 comment so far ↓

#1 joseph on 12.11.08 at 8:19 am

In The City of Panic, Virilio writes about the “tyranny of real time,” “this accident in time belonging to an event that is the fruit of a technological progress out of political control.” For Virilio, we’re now interpellated by a complex, three dimensional space-time involved in the acceleration of technological progress “that reduces the extent, the fullness of the world to nothing.”
from http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=597

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