Mediamatic Magazine vol 5#4 Wim Nijenhuis 1 Jan 1991

L'Inertie Polaire - Paul Virilio

Christian Bourgeois (pub) Paris 1990 ISBN 2-267-00887-4, French text, pp. 167, F 80

The final development stage of mankind will turn the resident into a sitter and the final vehicle of transport technology will be his seat.


L'Inertie Polaire -

After the stage of the auto-mobile vehicle, the dynamic one of the railways, the streets and the air, to all intents and purposes a new mutation is now being developed, that is, the audio-visual vehicle, or the static mobile. This will take the place of physical movement, prolong the inertia of domesticity and lead to the triumph of sitting, which will become permanent.This final vehicle will combine observation, which has become omnipresent, with the ultimate comfort, whereby the inertia of eternal sitting is the logical pendant of the speed of the arrival - as eternal as it is universal - of images and information for the sitter.
Although the ultimate comfort of sitting coincides with the realisation of the ideal, rooted in our modern culture, of the universal availability of the world, according to Paul Virilio this is not an entirely positive evolution. Indeed, informing yourself about the world used to require at least physical movement in the order of getting up and leaving your home, or of travelling.

Well then, this order of the restricted arrival of information is not disintegrating due to a transition to a new motor system, but as a consequence of a negative involution of human behaviour, which will lead mankind into a pathological fixation: it is the emergence of man-sitting, or worse, man-lying-down. The final vehicle will be manned by an enigmatic, psychic sham being, midway between the registering autism of Rainman and the heavenly omniscience of Wings of Desire.

Under the diktat of technology, social and individual emancipation will be impossible, Lyotard stated in his book on the post-modern condition. So far. Paul Virilio has subscribed to this conclusion in his analyses of dromocracy. The Production Society, which started with the Industrial Revolution and found a cultural pendant in the Enlightenments pursuit of clarification of ‘reality’, has evolved into the present society of speed which, with its overexposure, information pressure and quick changes, relegates the living body to the horizon of the world perceived.

The static mobile ushers in a new stage in this development and is well on its way to becoming the vehicle typical, not of the industrial, but of the post-industrial society. It is not sustained by an engine and the road, but by the electronic techniques of the presentation of places in real time. The all-important aspect of the electronic technique of the presentation of places in real time, apart from video art, is the replacement of direct surveillance by indirect surveillance, the control over an environment, concentrated in a kind of cockpit equipped with monitors. This videoscopic surveillance technique, which leaves its traces everywhere in post-industrial architecture and urban development, enables us to observe a point of inertia of the audio-visual transfer techniques; a point of inertia that is point of survey and control point at the same time.

Characteristic of the presentation of places in real time is the virtualisation of space, due, for example, to the loss of the unity of place, in favour of a unique unity of time, the real time. For the consciousness of the observer, the real-time presentations constitute a tele-presence and a tele-reality, which eventually, complemented by the observation and transfer techniques of the satellites, will form a global and virtual environment, with real time as the essential key notion.

The global, virtual environment is not constituted by transparence, that of air, glass or water, but by trans-apparence, which indicates that it concerns luminous apparitions, representing remote places. In contrast to transparence, trans-apparence implies the possibility of superposition of representations without a normative background or basis. Thus, they assume the characteristics of mental pictures, and indeed, in many cases it is no longer possible to discern the one from the other. Together with the improvement of the image quality in High Definition technology, videoscopics will bring about the opto-electronic trans-apparence of a global environment in which we will scarcely be able to find our bearings, especially if the images are projected full-scale onto our living rooms walls, as can be seen in the film Total Recall.

From there, it is only a short step to the static journey. The merging of the tele-presence of places with the cinematic ‘travelling’ techniques will encumber us with innumerable mental and imaginary sensations, which we already know from fun-fairs and the amusement-park industry. The summit is the physical sensation which is the effect of cinematographic energy and which we can already experience in, for example, omniversa, in all those projection halls where the projected image covers the entire field of vision. Due to excessive identification with the camera, we experience the movements, the shocks and the gravity effects as real. Of course, this affects our seating requirements. Thus, the universal arrival of images withcinematographic energy inaugurates the static journey and the static sensation.
If we add to this static journey, in which cinematographic energy plays its game with our relative weight and our relative weightlessness (take, for example, an omniversum simulation of a roller-coaster ride, or one in a whirligig, or a free fall from an aeroplane), the figure of our own tele-presence - as is already possible, think of the teleconference - then we can imagine that not only the world becomes a film with us as just the tele-spectators, but also that we become cinematic ourselves, that is, the tv broadcast. The living body, telecommunicating in real time, will be a weightless being, an enigmatic being, an ‘angel’ that can move immaterially through walls and doors, carried by the electromagnetic fields, while the physical body, its weight without measure, rests inertly in its final dwelling place: the chair. In the static journey, dwelling and travelling will merge. Thus, the final vehicle will be the same as the final dwelling place. We are becoming tele-present and we dwell in the time of the real time, which will instantaneously oust us from the real environment.

The most important product of real time technology will be the polar inertia, in other words, the production of a body at rest. The tendency towards inertia will constitute a dual control over the environment, so that the essence of videoscopics. that is, surveillance, will become universal. Whereas the static traveller controls the arrival of his images with his remote control in an almost desperate attempt to stay on course, the authorities control the movements in public spaces and buildings by means of satellites and surveillance cameras. In the struggle for control of the networked broadcasting of media images, political power will manifest itself, so that control of control will be the ultimate condition of control over the environment. This development towards universal surveillance will not only instigate a kind of general amusement park, or a grim state of general surveillance, but it will also lead to growing detachment from concrete experience of objects and therefore to regressive effects on the social and individual development of man as a person.

There was a time that imagination was impossible. A primitive man or a peasant could not imagine any space beyond his traditional living environment, because there was not a shadow of a chance that he would ever be confronted with this ‘beyond’. The mental step over the horizon could not be made. In our time, imagination has become impossible once again, because there is no horizon left to cross, because before anything else people are confronted with the totality of the 'beyond', so that there is nothing left but to withdraw from this too immense experience, which has become inhumane in its excessiveness. A negative spiral of interrelated psychological necessity and technical potential winds down into the mass of growing inertia. Due to the impossibility of imagination, this moving immobility prevents the pursuit of a sublime and transcending identification, of a higher ideal image, which has been replaced by thousands of fragments in which we can barely distinguish our faces before they disappear. The inert body, withdrawing into its seat, belongs to the so-called narcissistic subject, for which the horizon of the others, the sexual and social horizon of the others, no longer exists. Its mental horizon is confined to the manipulation of its screens and its images.

In this state of inert sitting, with the seat preventing a fall into the fathomless depths of a space devoid of landmarks, traditional security and safety merge into the control of the environment. Whereas the arrival of the other used to be scanned by the military on the parapet of a fortress, from now on. any arrivals will be controlled individually and from the chair, with the remote control. Speed has created the possibility of exploring space and then clenching it to the point of inertia of the human body. This implies the growth of the desert form of space, which is erratic and can be traversed in all directions. Analogous with the empty space of astrophysics and quantum mechanics, this is the space beyond orientation of the pure path of speed of light. A space where you can move into speed, but where you will never arrive anywhere. The static mobile of speed of light generates quantic effects with regard to space and. according to Virilio, with regard to time as well. Because, in the form of the eschatological acceleration which projects us onto the wall of time, with time as a compressed liquid mass confronting a missile and preventing its acceleration, as well as in the form of post-historical boredom, this means the end of history, in other words, the catastrophe of the linear, unidirectional time, the extensive time of consecutive points in time in which we carry out our actions and which is also connected with our actions.

The new time, the time of the media and the transfer techniques in real time, is the intensive time. This used to be the exclusive domain of the mystic experience. In the split-second unification with God, or in the equally split-second inner experience (Georges Bataille), people experienced an order of time in which moment and eternity coincided. Whether they saw something or not, it always concerned an apparition, appearing in its own light. And in extensive time as well as in intensive time, light is the maker of time. Mystics call the paradoxical time of the experience a time environment, a surrounding time without beginning or end, in which you suddenly appear, from which you are banished just as suddenly and which takes you away from your everyday environment. It also allows an immense transfer of information (Georges Bataille). Its duration is flexible (a second seems like a year, but to God, a year is a second), it has no objective frame of reference and is therefore relative in the absolute and psychological by nature. The experience of the moment, of the intensive time, is a matter between observer and object observed.

Quantum mechanics and astrophysics have also discovered intensive time, which has stimulated the research into the origin of time. Contemporary astrophysicists claim that, in the dark depths of a particle and in the extreme time depths on the verges of our universe, the entire cosmos as we know it is surrounded by a time order analogous to that of the mystic experience. Consequently, in their opinion, the origin of the extensive time of consecutive events was a transfer accident between the eternal moment before the Big Bang and the moment when the cosmic clock began to tick.

Virilio concludes from this that the time environment, the elastic moment, is therefore a time order which can only break into our extensive time order through accidental disposition. It is a time that has to do with immediateness, with accidental conception, with spiritual openness, with the clearing of the soul and the absolute relativity of the observation. It is a time that, due to its nature of referenceless environment, makes it impossible to define in itself the before and the after, in short, the direction of time.According to Virilio. the entire ambience of real time belongs to this intensive time, the kind of time motionlessly experienced by mystics in caves and deserts, the kind of time quantum physicists think they observe by setting the recording time of their instruments to the time of appearance of a particle. The time of the post-industrial era, of the static mobile and man-sitting, is this time environment, film and video, the instruments of the interception of the moment, of the instantaneous exposure, prolong this moment into eternity, thus surrounding us with an elastic duration.In the atmosphere of Earth, an electronic time machine is humming, to be brought to perfection by the astrophysicists' time research. According to Virilio, we will eventually be locked into, or perhaps rather transported by, the artificial moment, or the artificial eternity of a relative and psychological now, which will resemble the omnipresence and the simultaneity of the Divine Glance, or the mystic experience. Totum Simul.Intensive time can only appear in extensive time due to an accidental disposition. Our transition from extensive to intensive time will therefore be accompanied by transitional accidents.

One of these will be that, due to the loss of spatial as well as temporal references, the occupant of the static mobile will be affected by double egocentricity. On the one hand, the disoriented traveller will start orienting himself on the physical weight mass of his body, on the other, on his psychological time.

This will mean a kind of death in real time or certainly a coma, for indeed, someone who has abandoned his contact with his physical environment can be said to be in a coma. But, as with people who have had themselves deep-frozen, the supremacy of the relative psychological duration means the acceleration of the senescence of the world.

What first happened in environmental planning and later in social structuring, that is, the organisation of and control over the environment, will soon all happen in the living body itself of the human being, who, seated in the final vehicle, with his narcissism and his self-deification, fives less in the world than in himself.

In himself? In fact, not even that. The entire environment is concentrated in the traveller of real time, for indeed, he is the point of inertia of all circulation. However, with the speed of circulation, the control over the environment also increases, and the control of the control, so that control becomes absolute.

Therefore, in the last resort, it is control itself that is concentrated in the traveller as the final environment. The controlled environment is not around or opposite, but inside the traveller, which turns self-consciousness into a fragile and hazardous matter. In being seated, the sitter is a fragile and insecure self, a mental and physical invalid, an autist or an angel, who has destroyed the area of his direct action.

Therefore, the role of the final vehicle will be the following: It will turn its occupant, this traveller unthout a journey, this passenger without passage, into the ultimate alien. A runaway from himself, exiled from the external world, which is to say, the real spaces of a disappearing geophysical expanse, and exiled also from the internal world, alienated from his animal body, this weight mass will eventually become just as fragile as is already the body of the planet Earth, which isonits way to annihilation.

translation Olivier- Wylie