Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> Paul Virilio on the Financial Crisis.
J Armitage on Wed, 22 Oct 2008 11:29:02 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Paul Virilio on the Financial Crisis.


Courtesy of _Le Monde and the Scarlet Pimpernel of cyberspace, Patrice
Riemens, Virilio gives his catastrophic reading of the financial

Best to all

-----Original Message-----
From: Patrice Riemens [mailto:patrice {AT} xs4all.nl] 
Sent: 20 October 2008 10:20
To: j.armitage {AT} unn.ac.uk
Subject: Virilio bwo 'mutt' ...

Hi John, after all webmail did not manhandle the text.
However, you might want to run over it before publishing ... ;-)
Cheers, p+2D!

As the Dutch would have it, you could bet taking poison on that Paul
Virilio would have something to say about the current financial
crisis, the perfect illustration, if there is one, of his long
announced "integral accident" - or that he would be asked to talk.
This is what the French 'paper of records, "Le Monde" did last
week-end, resulting in the

following interview by Gerard Courtois and Michel Guerrin.

(original at: http://tinyurl.com/57a3hb)

For thirty years now, the philospher Paul Virilio analyses the
catastrophe as the unavoidable consequence of technological progress.
He sees in the current financial crisis the most accomplished example
of his theory, a catastrophe where the victims do not actually die,
but lose the roof above their heads by the thousands.

Gerard Courtois/Michel Guerrin: In 2002 you have produced an
exhibition at the Maison Cartier under the title "Ce qui arrive"
('that what occurs'); It was about the accident in contemporary
history: Tchernobyl, 9-11, the Tsunami... A statement by Hannah Arendt
was the marker of your demonstration: "progress and catastrophe are
the two faces of the same coin". Is this where we have come to with
the 'crash of the stock exchange'?

Paul Virilio: Well, of course. In 1979, at the time of the mishap at
the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in the U.S., I did mention the
occurence of an "original accident" - the kind of accident we bring
forth ourselves. I said that our technical prowess was pregnant of
catastrophic promises. In the past, accidents were local affairs.
With Tchernobyl, we have entered the era of global accidents, whose
consequences are in the realm of the long term. the current crash
represents the perfect 'integral accident'.

Its effect ripple far and wide, and it incorporates the representation
of all other accidents. For thirty years now, the phenomenon of
History accelerating has been negated, together with the fact that
this acceleration has been the prime mover of the proliferation of
major accidents. Freud said it, speaking of death: "accumulation
snuffs out the perception of contingency". Contingency is the key
word here. These accidents are not contigent occurences. For the
time being, the cprevalent opinion is that researching the crash of
the stock exchange as a political and economic issue and in terms of
its social consequences is adequate enough. But it is impossible to
understand what is going on if one does not implement a (policy based

on the) political economy of speed, the speed that technological
progress engenders, and if one does not link (this policy) to the
'accidental' character of History. Let's take just one example:
the dictum "time is money". I add to this, and the stock exchange
testify to it: "speed is power". We have moved from the stage of the
acceleration of History to that of the acceleration of the Real. This
is what 'the progress' is: a consensual sacrifice.

GC/MG: So accidents are too little researched?

PV: The dominant form of writing about History limits itself to the
study of

facts as seen in the light of the long term. Contrarywise, I advocate
a study of History based exlusively on ruptures. (French) Historian
Francois Hartog calls the dominant paradigm "presentism". We must
go further. Our paradigm should be "instantaneism". In order to
study accidents, one of course must research them, but also 'expose'
them. The accident is 'invented', it a work of creation. Who could
be more apt than artists to make feel the tragic dimention of human
development (progress)? That was the intent behind the "ce qui arrive"
exhibition - where, by the way, I did mention a stock exchange crash.
It stood for the museum, or the observatory, of major accidents that
I'd like to see coming about some day. Not in order to instill fear,
but to make us face up.

GC/MG: But then, how would you define the crash of the stock exchange,
over and beyond its surprise element?

PV: Like with any contemporary event, it is essential to take into
account the integration in synchronous time of various issues at the
world-level. A synchronisation has taken place of customs, habits,
mores, ways to react to things, and also, of emotions. We have
left the era of class-based communitarism for that of instant and
simultaneous globalisation of affects and fears - but not longer of
opinions. It was already the case with the attacks on the World Trade
Center and with the Tsunami. The same happens now with the financial
crash. After a short 'technical' phase - bank collapses, shares
fall-out - kicks in a phase of 'hystery-isation' of responses. There
is talk of "markets going mad", of "irrational" reactions, you'd
almost call it 'end of the world craze'. Terrorists have very well
understood this mechanism, and they make use of it.

GC/MG Do you, like some people do, believe that capitalism is nearing
its end?

PV: I rather believe that the end is nearing capitalism. My field
is urban studies. This crisis shows that the Earth is nog large
enough for progress, for the speed of History (as we have it). Hence
repetitive accidents. We were living in the belief that we had both
a past and a future. But 'the past does not pass', it has become a
monster, so much so that we do not mention it anymore. And as far
as the future is concerned, it is severely questionned by the issue
of the environment, and the end of natural resources like oil. So
the only place left for us to inhabit is the present. But the writer
Octavio Paz said it before: "you cannot live in the present moment,
just as you cannot live in the future". It is excatly what all of us
are now going through, and that includes the bankers.

GC/MG: But did not the financial world bring about (invent) a virtual

PV: Since speed earns money, the financial sphere has attempted to
enforce the value of time above the value of space. But the virtual
is also part and parcel of reality. And to be frank with you, this
so-called virtual world, in which one can also include tax-heavens, is
a form of exotism which I tend to equate with colonialism. It is the
(recurrent) myth of another livable planet.

GC/MG: As opposed to other accidents, the crash of the stock exchange
remains something of an enigma to the public at large. Is this bad?

PV: Well, one does not understand the fine points, but one can guess,
and that is enough. One must guess (about) what occurs. Not being able
to understand naturally reinforces fear. But, at the same time, we
do not longer have the time left to experience fear. What is really
disturbing is the rise of a 'civil deterrence' of sorts, which is
individual and intimate, and which permeates all aspects of life. We
are being deterred to do this or that as individuals. Ever since 9-11
we have been affected by a 'civil fear', and the industrialisation
of the accident is its root cause. So, in order to study the impact
of collisions, car makers stage 'test crashes'. The crash of the
stock exchange is such a test crash - but at the real level. Even the
break-up of relationships has been industrialised. One could even
introduce some mechanism of quotes for divorces, risking hereby to
show that the traditional couple and familly has become an illusion.

GC/MG: Could one also speak of a morality of the stock exchange crash,
in the sence that also those who were making fortunes get blasted?

PV: I am not a vigilante. I do empathise with critics who say that
some people have made obscene profits. I do not deny the damage caused
by the accumulation of riches in a few hands. But to merely criticise
this acceleration of profits and History, this "galopping avarice",
as Eugene Sue called it, while remaining in the materialist framework
of profit, is a deficient, reductionist analysis. What is happening
is much more complex, and profoundly disturbing. We have gone into
someting of a different nature. This economy of wealth has become
an economy of speed. By the way, this is the problem the Left is
currently facing. The Left is stuck in its old framework, states
that capitalism is dead, and now thinks that more social justice is
to come about. This is a bit hasty a deduction. We do really have a
major problem on our plates... If the state does not take stock of
this 'futurism of the moment', we might well see instead a capitalism
runing riot without bounds whatsoever.

GC/MG: You wrote once "By designing a 800 passengers plane, the firm
Airbus has simultaneously created 800 potential casualties". But till
now, the crash of the stock exchange did not kill anyone...

PV: The crash is not the Black Death, there haven't been millions of
victims, and it's not the 11th of September either. We are not talking
death here, save maybe a few suicides. The victims are somewhere else
to be found. Where did the current crisis stem from? the answer is:
subprime mortgages; housing credit that proved unsustainable; land.
The victims are the hundred of thousands of people who are going to
lose their homes. The whole concept of sedentarism had already been
challenged by immigrants, exiles, deportations, refugees - and the
delocalisation of economic activities. This phenomenon is bound to
increase. Till 2040, one billion people will have to move out from
their their residence. Those are the victims. We are in the realm of
"stop/eject". People are arrested, get expelled.

GC/MG: You believe in chaos?

PV: Having destabilised the financial system, the stock exchange crash
might well destabilise the state, which is the guarantor of last
resort of collective life. For the time being, the state tries te be
reassuring. But if the bourses keep on heading South, it will be state
itself that will go in receivership, and that will plunge nations into
chaos. This is not me embracing catastrophism. I do not believe in
the unavoidability of the worst possible, I do not believe in chaos,
that is an untenable position, intellectual arrogance. But that does
not mean that one should be prevented from thinking about it. Faced
with absolute fear, I counter with hope absolute. Churchill said once
that an optimist is somebody who sees opportunity hiding behind every

Translated by patrice riemens with thanks to apo33 in Nantes for
providing facilitation.

original article in le Monde at: http://tinyurl.com/57a3hb


#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: http://mail.kein.org/mailman/listinfo/nettime-l
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} kein.org