What if we got back to a smaller scale?

Today, I would like welcome cultural theorist and urbanist, Paul Virilio to the “Day of the Thinker”. 

First, a biography, courtesy of Wikipedia:

“Paul Virilio was born in Paris in 1932. He grew up in the northern coastal French region of Brittany. The Second World War made a big impression on him as the city of Nantes fell victim to the German Blitzkrieg, became a port for the German navy and was bombarded by British and American planes. The “war was his university”. After training at the Ecole des Metiers d’ Art, Virilio specialised in stained-glass artwork, and worked alongside Henri Matisse in churches in Paris. In 1950, he converted to Christianity. After being conscripted into the army during the Algerian war of independence, Virilio studied phenomenology with Maurice Merleau-Ponty at the Sorbonne.

In 1958, Virilio conducted a phenomenological inquiry into military space and the organization of territory, particularly concerning the Atlantic Wall—the 15,000 Nazi bunkers built during World War II along the coastline of France and designed to repel any Allied assault. In 1963 he began collaborating with the architect Claude Parent and formed the Architecture Principe group. (Among the small group of interns were the architects Francois Seigneur and Jean Nouvel.) After participating in the May 1968 uprising in Paris, Virilio was nominated Professor by the students at the Ecole Speciale d’ Architecture. In 1973 be became Director of Studies. In the same year, Virilio became director of the magazine L’Espace Critique. In 1975 he co-organized the Bunker Archeologie exhibition at the Decorative Arts Museum in Paris, a collection of texts and images relating to the Atlantic Wall. Since then he has been widely published, translated and anthologized.

In 1998, Virilio retired from teaching. His latest projects involve working with homeless groups in Paris and building the first Museum of the Accident.”

He has written some 15 books, with his most notable being Critical Space (an essay from 1984 on urbanism and new technologies) and The Art of the Motor (published in 1993, a must-read).  A central theme in all of Virilo’s works is his critical reflection on speed.  In a 2000 interview with Le Monde he stated: “bit by bit, I finally understood what the futurist Marinetti had foreseen: that speed is violence in all aspects.  We need to create a political economy of speed, what I call dromology that looks at the disastrous effects of acceleration.  Currently, the speed of transmission has turned us into slaves of time and space, with the cell phone creating a caricature of all this…We are obliged to live in “real time” and the economy follows this obligation:  we see it in the interconnectedness of markets and in the instantaneousness of listings, that create a near-constant panic.  We are not yet fully aware of the threats that constant acceleration can have on democracy.  The liberty of choice and common intelligence is contested by a need for immediate answers.  Speed has become our milieu; we no longer live in a geographical location, but by a global time.”  According to Virilio, we live in a state of “instantaneism” that “exhausts time through speed”, a world where “we are numb and we suffer”.  For Virilio, “The stock market crash shows that Earth is too small for progress and for the speed of History.  This is why our mistakes keep repeating themselves.”  This is why Virilio calls for a return to a smaller scale of time and space.

Some have regarded Virilio as an enemy of progress and technology or as a nostalgic mired in his past.  I do not share this opinion: from my point of view, Paul Virilio is a present-day thinker who is trying to find out how humanity hasn’t disappeared by their imposed acceleration.  I would say that the recent recession has proved his ideas correct.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>