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[Nettime-bold] CTHEORY article 90[2] - Paul Virilio Hypermodern

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Subject: CTHEORY article 90[2] - Paul Virilio Hypermodern


 Article 90[2]  21-11-00  Editors: Arthur and Marilouise Kroker

 Beyond Postmodernism? [Part 2]
 Paul Virilio's Hypermodern Cultural Theory
 ~John Armitage~

 Evaluating the important developments and controversial debates over
 Virilio's thought is difficult because it is only recently that it
 has come to be appreciated by mainstream postmodern cultural
 theorists. Even so, a substantial secondary literature and
 interpretative commentary specifically on Virilio has been growing
 for some considerable time now and which encompasses the work of
 political and cultural theorists such as Kroker (1992), Der Derian
 (1992), Wark (1994) and Conley (1997) as well as my own. The single
 most powerful reason for the appearance and development of this
 literature and commentary is not hard to fathom. Virilio's work on
 military space and the social organization of society has, almost
 without exception, forecast, rather than followed, subsequent
 cultural and theoretical developments. It is for this reason that
 contemporary postmodern and other cultural theorists like Bauman and
 Lash are keenly analysing Virilio's writings. In spite of such
 analysis, Virilio's thought remains much misunderstood. Accordingly,
 and generally following the position taken by Kroker in _The
 Possessed Individual_, I shall evaluate the significance of Virilio's
 writings by suggesting that they exist ~beyond~ the terms of
 postmodernism and that they should be conceived of as a contribution
 to the emerging debate over hypermodernism.[6]

 Virilio's exegesis of military space and the social organization of
 territory is an important contribution to critical cultural theory
 because it diverges from the increasingly sterile current debate over
 the differentiation of modernism and postmodernism. It is, for
 instance, quite wrong of critical cultural theorists such as Harvey
 (1989: 351), Waite (1996: 116), and positivist physicists like Sokal
 and Bricmont (1998: 159-166) to characterise Virilio's thought as
 postmodern cultural theory. Indeed, such characterisations are so far
 wide of the mark it is difficult to know where to begin. I will

 For one thing, although the concept of postmodernism, like Virilio,
 came to prominence in architectural criticism in the 1960s, Virilio's
 thought is neither a reaction against the International Style nor a
 reaction against modernism. Postmodernism, Virilio proposes, has been
 a 'catastrophe' in architecture, and has nothing to do with his
 phenomenologically grounded writings (Armitage, 2000b: 25.) This is
 because Virilio's work draws on the modernist tradition in the arts
 and sciences. As I have noted elsewhere, in _The Information Bomb_,
 Virilio routinely references modernist writers such as Kafka and
 relishes the latter's declaration that 'the cinema involves putting
 the eye into uniform'. The same could be said of Virilio's combative
 relationship to both Marinetti's modernist Futurism and the Chapman
 brothers' postmodern or 'terminal' contemporary art practices
 (Armitage, 2000c: 146; and 2000d). Virilio's philosophical reference
 points are Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, phenomenologists and
 modernists. Furthermore, he regularly cites Einstein's writings on
 General Relativity Theory, instances of Virilio's commitment to the
 theory of scientific modernism established in 1915.

 For another, Virilio sees no connection between his thought and that
 of deconstructionist and poststructuralist theorists like Derrida
 (Armitage, 2000b: 34-5.) Virilio has, for example, never shown any
 interest in de Saussure's structural linguistics, preferring to this
 day the world of phenomenology and existentialism. As an anti-Marxist
 (and anti-Sartrean), committed 'anarcho-Christian' and thinker who
 has 'absolutely no confidence in psychoanalysis' Virilio has little
 in common with the pioneers of structuralism such as the semiologist
 Barthes, the Marxist philosopher Althusser, the psychoanalyst Lacan,
 and the anthropologist Levi-Strauss (Virilio and Lotringer, 1997
 [1983]: 39.) Virilio's theoretical connections with Foucault's
 _Discipline and Punish_ and Deleuze and Guattari's _A Thousand
 Plateaus_ also need to be treated with care. This is because, unlike
 most poststructuralist theorists, Virilio is a ~humanist~ and a
 practising Christian. His work is vehemently opposed to the viewpoint
 of anti-humanism and to the philosophy of Foucault's and Deleuze and
 Guattari's messiah, Nietzsche. As Virilio recently exclaimed, while
 he admires the '~operatic part of Nietzsche' he 'cannot stand' his
 'underlying philosophy~'. Indeed, for Virilio, it's 'physically
 repulsive!' (Armitage, 2000b: 34.) Thus, there are only indeterminate
 and convergent relationships between Virilio's thought and Foucault
 and Deleuze and Guattari's poststructuralist theories, something that
 Virilio has pointed out before (Virilio and Lotringer, 1997 [1983]:
 44-5.) For Virilio, the crucial pointers on all his cultural theory
 have been World War II, military strategy, and spatial planning
 (Armitage, 2000b: 26.)

 Moreover, in contrast to many postmodern cultural theorists, Virilio
 does not wholly condemn modernity. Instead, he views his work as a
 'critical analysis of modernity, but through a perception of
 technology which is largely ... catastroph*ic*, not catastroph*ist*'.
 Arguing that 'we are not out of modernity yet, by far', it is, then,
 'the drama of total war' that lies at the core of Virilio's cultural
 theory (Armitage, 2000b: 26.) Concentrating his thought on the
 varying speeds of modernity, Virilio's texts thus concern themselves
 with its important characteristics such as technoscience,
 surveillance, urbanism, and alienation. In addition, and despite his
 reputation as a Cassandra, Virilio often insists that his conception
 of modernity, as distinct from the theorists of postmodernism, is
 essentially optimistic (Zurbrugg, 2001: forthcoming.)

 Furthermore, Virilio is not wholly antipathetic to reason, even if he
 is critical of aspects of the 'Enlightenment project'. Yet, he
 certainly is inimical to Hegelian and Marxist theories of knowledge
 and ideology. In this respect, Virilio can be considered as a kind of
 'left Heideggerian' (Kellner, 2000: 118.) Virilio's critical
 relationship to modernity is, then, somewhat removed from the
 description of it given by postmodern cultural theorists like Waite
 although a useful recent discussion of Virilio's ideas about the
 Enlightenment, technological objects, modernity and rationality can
 be found in Lash's work, _Another Modernity, Another Rationality_.

 Lastly, Virilio's thought has almost nothing to do with that of
 advocates of postmodernism like Lyotard or Baudrillard. Unlike
 Lyotard's writings, for instance, Virilio's work remains true to the
 principle of hope with regard to making sense of history -- even as
 it crashes headlong into the wall of real time. Actually, nearly the
 entirety of Virilio's work is a sustained attempt to make sense of
 his own history and, through it, ours too. Nor does Virilio accept
 the demise of all the 'metanarratives', insisting in interviews, for
 example, 'that the narrative of justice is beyond deconstruction'
 (Armitage, 2000b: 39.) Likewise, Virilio's hostility to Marxism,
 semiotics, and Nietzschean 'nihilism' explains his antagonism toward
 Baudrillard's concept of simulation. Again, and while Genosko (1999:
 96) may well be correct that Virilio's hypotheses on speed are
 'consonant with McLuhan's' the truth is that, unlike many postmodern
 cultural theorists, Virilio does ~not~ share Baudrillard's admiration
 for McLuhan's (1994) 'drooling' (Virilio, 1995 [1993]: 10; Armitage,
 2001b: forthcoming) over new media technologies. Genosko (1999: 97),
 for instance, argues that the 'differences between Virilio and
 McLuhan are profound', particularly with respect to their
 'representations of the drive toward automation'. 'The war machine of
 Virilio and the love machine of McLuhan', Genosko (1999: 97) rightly
 concludes, 'create quite different kinds of worlds: contest or
 contact'. Virilio's war machine is therefore neither concerned with
 Baudrillard's conception of 'hyperreality' and 'irony' or with
 McLuhan's love machine. In fact, Virilio's thought is more concerned
 with the historical, socio-cultural, technoscientific and military
 realities of everyday life.

 It is therefore very difficult to appraise the important advances of
 Virilio's thought in terms of postmodern cultural theory. It is also
 why I believe it is preferable to interpret it as the work of a
 cultural theorist whose thinking addresses what might be called the
 question of ~hypermodernism, or, the cultural logic of contemporary
 militarism~. All the same, hypermodernism remains a tentative term
 and an embryonic tendency in cultural theory today. Arguably, it
 began with the publication of Kroker's _The Possessed Individual_.
 Nevertheless, in the present period, I want to suggest that, along
 with Virilio, it is necessary to move away from the polarised
 assumptions of modernism and postmodernism. Why? Because it is
 imperative to shift toward an understanding of Virilio's work on
 acceleration through the 'excessive' intensities and displacements
 inherent within hypermodern cultural thought about the
 military-scientific complex (Armitage, 2000a.) [7]

 A Brief Critique of Virilio
 Virilio's cultural theory and numerous activities have courted
 controversy since the 1960s. When Virilio and Parent built their
 'bunker church', -- and which has to be seen to be believed -- the
 bishop who consecrated it was, according to Virilio, muttering to
 himself the following words: 'what a ghastly thing! Amen! What a
 ghastly thing! Amen!' As Virilio tells the story: 'the priest turned
 towards the bishop and said: "Monsignor, this is not an exorcism! It
 is a consecration!"' (Armitage, 2001a: forthcoming.) Religious
 criticisms of Virilio and Parent's architecture aside, there have
 also been a number of recent academic critiques of Virilio's ideas
 concerning the state, technology, and speed. Deleuze and Guattari
 (1988: 351-423), for instance, attempted what Crogan (1999) calls a
 problematic effort to 'subsume' Virilio's thought into their own
 poststructuralist approach to cultural theory. But, as Crogan
 suggests, Deleuze and Guattari's 'static, ahistorical model' of the
 state and technology cannot easily be combined with Virilio's
 writings without undoing 'its own coherency in the process'. In turn,
 Virilio's _The Aesthetics of Disappearance_ has outraged the
 neo-Marxian geographer Harvey (1989: 293, 299, and 351; 2000: 88).
 For Harvey, Virilio's 'response' to what the former recently called
 the 'theme of time-space compression' 'has been to try and ride the
 tiger of time-space compression through construction of a language
 and an imagery that can mirror and hopefully command it'. Harvey
 places the 'frenetic writings' of Virilio (and Baudrillard) in this
 category because 'they seem hell-bent on fusing with time-space
 compression and replicating it in their own flamboyant rhetoric'.
 Harvey, of course, has 'seen this response before, most specifically
 in Nietzsche's extraordinary evocations in _The Will To Power_'. Yet,
 in _The Aesthetics of Disappearance_, Virilio's unfolding and wholly
 intentional reactions to the emergence of the dromocratic condition
 are actually concerned with 'the importance of interruption, of
 accident, of things that are stopped as ~productive~' (Virilio and
 Lotringer, 1997 [1983]: 44. Original emphasis.) As Virilio told
 Lotringer: 'It's entirely different from what Gilles Deleuze does in
 _Milles Plateaux_. He progresses by snatches, whereas I handle breaks
 and absences. The fact of stopping and saying, "let's go somewhere
 else" is very important for me' (Virilio and Lotringer, 1997 [1983]:
 45.) What Virilio's 'frenetic writings' actually substantiate
 throughout the 1980s are the material and, crucially, the
 ~immaterial~ consequences of dromological changes in aesthetics,
 military power, space, cinema, politics, and technology. In an era
 increasingly eclipsed by the technologically produced disappearance
 of cultural life, war, matter, and human perception, this is a very
 significant achievement. In the contemporary era, though, the
 limitations of Virilio's cultural theory are likely to rest not -- as
 Harvey suggests -- with his similarities but with his ~differences~
 from Nietzsche. As Waite (1996: 381-2. Original emphases.), quoting
 the American performance artist Laurie Anderson, has argued:

 Virilio still desperately holds on to a modicum of modernist
 ~critique~ of postmodern military tactics, strategies, and
 technologies, whereas Nietzsche basically would have been impatient
 with mere critique, moving quickly to ~appropriate~ them for his own
 ~use~, at least conceptually and rhetorically, as metaphors and
 techniques of persuasion to preserve power for elites over corpses -
 'now that the living outnumber the dead'.

 Although there are many controversial questions connected to
 Virilio's cultural theory, his hypermodern critique of military
 tactics, strategies, and technologies is beginning to collide with
 the thought of a growing number of other cultural theorists such as
 the Krokers' (1997). The reason for such collisions is that Virilio's
 texts like _The Politics of the Very Worst_, _Polar Inertia_, _The
 Information Bomb_, and _Strategy of Deception_ address some of the
 most disturbing and significant contemporary cultural developments of
 our time. Moreover, such developments are often designed to preserve
 the power of the increasingly virtual 'global kinetic elites' over
 the creation of the actual local corpses of what I call 'the (s)lower
 classes'. A child of Hitler's ~Blitzkrieg~, Virilio has theorised the
 cultural logic of contemporary militarism. This is the most important
 aspect of his thought. Revealing the dromological and political
 conditions of the twenty-first century, Virilio interprets modernity
 in terms of a military conception of history and the
 endo-colonization of the human body by militarised technoscience. As
 I have indicated, the concept of hypermodernism needs to be uppermost
 in any understanding of Virilio's particular contribution to cultural

 Virilio is, therefore, one of the most important and
 thought-provoking cultural theorists on the contemporary intellectual
 battlefield. Just the same, unlike Lyotard's or Baudrillard's
 postmodernism, Virilio's hypermodernism does not articulate itself as
 a divergence from modernism and modernity but as a critical analysis
 of modernism and modernity through a catastrophic perception of
 technology. It is for these and other reasons that Virilio defines
 his general position as a critic of the art of technology. Virilio's
 theoretical position and cultural sensibilities concerning technology
 thus remain ~beyond~ the realm of even critical cultural theory. He
 does not depend on intellectual 'explanations' but on 'the obvious
 quality of the implicit' (Virilio and Lotringer, 1997 [1983]: 44.) On
 the one hand, therefore, Virilio is a cultural theorist who movingly
 considers the tendencies of the present period. On the other, he is a
 cultural theorist who utterly rejects cultural theory.

 Hence, it is debatable whether there is much to be gained from
 cultural theorists attempting to establish the 'truth' or otherwise
 of Virilio's thought. For Virilio's critical responses to the
 military, chronopolitics, cinema, art, and technology are actually
 ethical and emotional responses to the arrival of technological
 culture. However, it is crucial to remember that Virilio's responses
 are not the passive responses of the armchair critic. As he
 emphasises in the CTHEORY interview, '[r]esistance is ~always~
 possible! But we must engage in resistance first of all by developing
 the idea of a ~technological culture~'. Virilio is of course also
 aware that his work is 'often dismissed in terms of scandalous
 charges!' As he has noted, in France '[t]here's no tolerance' for
 'irony, for wordplay, for argument that takes things to the limit and
 to excess' (Zurbrugg, 2001: forthcoming.) Hence, to raise the
 question of Virilio's cultural theory is to raise the question of
 whether, outside France, his work should be dismissed in terms of
 scandalous charges, received in terms suffused with praise, or a
 mixture of both? In short, it is to raise the question of how much
 tolerance there is in the English-speaking world for irony, for
 wordplay, and for arguments that take things to excess? Attempting to
 answer such complex questions will ensure that Virilio's hypermodern
 cultural theory continues to elicit theoretical argument and social
 debate for many years to come.

 [6] For an alternative conception of hypermodernism to the one
 presented here see, for instance, Albert Borgmann's _Crossing the
 Postmodern Divide_ (1993.)

 [7] For an attempt to develop Virilio's work via a conception of
 excessive hypermodern cultural and economic thought and the
 military-scientific complex see, Armitage and Graham (2001:

 Armitage, J. (1999) "Dissecting the Data Body: An Interview with
 Arthur and Marilouise Kroker", pp.69-74 in J. Armitage (ed) Special
 issue on: _Machinic Modulations: new cultural theory &
 technopolitics_. _Angelaki: journal of the theoretical humanities_.
 Vol. 4, No. 2, September.

 Armitage, J. (2000a): "Paul Virilio: An Introduction", pp.1-23 in J.
 Armitage (ed) Paul Virilio: _From Modernism to Hypermodernism and
 Beyond_. London: Sage.

 Armitage, J. (2000b) "From Modernism to Hypermodernism and Beyond: An
 Interview with Paul Virilio", pp.25-56 in J. Armitage (ed) Paul
 Virilio: _From Modernism to Hypermodernism and Beyond_. London: Sage.

 Armitage, J. (2000c) 'The Theorist of Speed', pp.145-147 in _New Left
 Review_ 2 (Second Series) March/April 2000.

 Armitage, J. (2000d) "The Uncertainty Principle: Paul Virilio"s The
 Information Bomb", in G. Redden and S. Aylward (eds.), _M/C-A Journal
 of Media and Culture_, Issue 3, Volume 3, 'Speed'. (Electronic

 Armitage, J. (2001a, forthcoming) "The Kosovo War Did Take Place: An
 Interview with Paul Virilio", in J. Armitage (ed) _Virilio Live:
 Selected Interviews_. London: Sage.

 Armitage, J. (2001b, forthcoming) "The Military is the Message", in
 J. Armitage and J. Roberts (eds.) _Living With Cyberspace: Technology
 & Society in the 21st Century_. London: The Athlone Press.

 Armitage, J. and Graham, P. (2001, forthcoming) 'Dromoeconomics:
 Towards a Political Economy of Speed' in J. Armitage (ed) _Parallax_
 18, Vol. 7, No. 1, 'Economies of Excess'.

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 Interviews_. London: Sage.

 John Armitage is Principal Lecturer in Politics and Media Studies at
 the University of Northumbria, UK. The editor of _Paul Virilio: From
 Modernism to Hypermodernism and Beyond_ (2000), he is currently editing

 _Virilio Live: Selected Interviews_ for publication in 2001.

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