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City of Transformation – Paul Virilio in Obama’s America

In 1996 Virilio may have originally predicted a “global accident” that would occur simultaneously to the world as a whole. Only twelve years later in the last autumn days of 2008 — exactly 40 years after the tumultuous political events of 1968 — is it possible that Virilio’s “global accident” has itself been accidented? Slowly, inexorably, one resistor at a time, one mobilization, one march, one individual dissent, one collective “no” at a time, with what Antonio Gramsci called the dynamism of the popular will, the global accident flips into a global political transformation.” — Arthur and Marilouise Kroker

“It is surely the fate of every engaged political theory to be overcome by the history that it thought it was only describing. So too, Paul Virilio. His writings have captured brilliantly these twilight times in which we live: The Aesthetics of Disappearance, The Information Bomb, War and Cinema, Speed and Politics — less writing in the traditional sense than an uncanny shamanistic summoning forth of the demonology of speed which inscribes society. A prophet of the wired future, Paul Virilio’s thought always invokes the doubled meaning of apocalypse — cataclysm and remembrance.

Cataclysm because all his writings trace the history of the technological death- instinct moving at the speed of light. And remembrance because Virilio is that rarity in contemporary culture, a thinker whose ethical dissent marks the first glimmerings of a fateful implosion of that festival of seduction, fascination, terror, and boredom we have come to know as digital culture. A self-described “atheist of technology,” his motto is “obey and resist.”

But for all that there is a raw materialism in Virilio’s reflection, nowhere better expressed than in his grisly vision of information as suffocation. In his theatre of thought data banks have migrated inside human flesh, bodies are reduced to granulated flows of dead information, tattooed by data, embedded by codes, with complex histories of electronic transactions as our most private autobiographies. Information mapping our lives — process, principles, concept, fact — we have all become measurable. In Virilio’s writing what Hannah Arendt once described as “modern world alienation” rides the whirling tip of history as the spirit of pure negation that is everywhere today. Negative politics, negative subjectivity, negative culture. It is impossible to escape the technological accident that has become us.

But for all that history will not long be denied. Just as Nietzsche once prophesied in The Gay Science that with the birth of human subjectivity, twisted and scarred and deliriously unpredictable, the gods actually stopped their game of wagers and took notice because something new was moving on the earth — a going across, a tremulous wakening, a pathway over the abyss — so too with Virilio, the gods of history take notice once again. And not just take notice, but actively respond to the fatal challenge that is the thought of Paul Virilio.

Are we beyond Speed and Politics? What characterizes contemporary politics is the unstable mixture of speed information and slow movements. Like the slow implosion of the manufacturing economy, the slow rise of evangelical visions of catastrophe, the slow ascent — the slow ubiquity — of the speed of technology, the slow descent of culture into the cold state of surveillance under the sign of bio-governance. You can see it everywhere. In the world economy, the speed of mortgage backed securities, credit swap debt offerings, and complex derivatives always seeks to move at the speed of light. Iceland is the world’s first country actually liquidated by hyperreality with debts amassed at light-speeds now constituting 10 times its national wealth. Like Michel Serres’ the perfect parasite, the Wall Street financial elite has worked a perfect number on the host of the world economies — implanting unknown levels of toxic debt everywhere in the circulatory system of finance capital, from China and Japan to the European community. Waking up to the danger of hot debt moving at light-speed when it is definitely too late, Japanese bankers suddenly declaim that “It is beyond panic.” Wall Street types say it is “panic with a capital P.” Harvard economists, standing on the sidelines like a chorus of lament, wisely add that we are now between “capitulation and panic” and “debt is good.” That in a world of over-extended economies, sudden loss of financial credibility, and a seizing up of credit mechanisms everywhere, the only thing to do, financially speaking, is wait for the capitulation point — that fatal moment when despair is so deep, pessimism so locked down tight in the investor’s heart, that everything just stops for an instant. No investments, no hope, no circulation. And for the always hopeful financial analysts, this is precisely the point to begin anew, to reinvest, to seize financial redemption from despair. Definitely then, not a speed economy, but a politics and economy of complex recursive loops, trapped in cycles of feedback which no one seems to understand, but with very real, very slow consequences: like vanishing jobs, abandoned health care and trashed communities. 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…” Continue reading City of Transformation – Paul Virilio in Obama’s America by Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, CTheory.


Oct 31, 12:23
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  1. global accident? : mediaspace_09:

    […] Just as it fits so much to today’s actuality I like to post some excerpt of Arthur and Marilouise Kroker’s City of Transformation / Paul Virilio in Obama’s America article, which I came across on networked_performance. […]


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