Cubitt Sean on 4 Jul 2000 15:26:18 -0000

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<nettime> Virilio and ecology: transoport, transmit, translate

Transport, Transmit, Translate
Virilio, Ecology and the Media

Sean Cubitt
Paper Given at the Crossroads in Cultural Studies Conference, University of
Birmingham, 23 June 2000

Don't drink and drive: take speed and run (Anon)

There is not and never has been a primordial experience which can serve as
ground for a phenomenological account of sociality. In Virilio, the media,
mediation in general, appear always as secondary, always standing after the
primordial experience of the face to face, of labour, of perception or
whatever else is premised as defining of humanity. This residual humanism
leads to some other problems in Virilio's otherwise valuable account of the
contemporary mediascape. This paper is an attempt to redraw some of
Virilio's arguments in the interests of an ecological aesthetics.

In my generation, and certainly in younger ones, the mediated inhabits even
the primal universe of the infant. I think we got a television when I was
about ten, but the radio and the record player, and most of all books,
especially atlases but also story books and the habit of reading, permeated
my infant years alongside days spent mucking about in the farmyards and
fields, playing with the animals or scrumping apples. I remember how vivid
was the presence to me in the late 1950s of the Second World War and even of
the Irish War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War. They were as
real as my guardian angel and the seven sacraments. As real as the priest,
the school teacher and my father. 

Like any childhood, mine hangs slightly to one side of history, a time
frozen in memory, a landscape, as Virilio has it, of events, not a
chronology or an evolution, as undoubtedly it appeared to my mother if to
no-one else. Mediated as memory, it has no linearity. But I can recall
playing at Thunder Riders in the playground while they ran as a serial at
the Starlight Picturedrome in town, and remember being shocked when a girl
in class knew the word 'adjacent', which I had never heard, because she had
heard it on a TV advert. Though we still played traditional ring games and
sang songs that dated back at least forty years (one was about Charlie
Chaplin and the Dardanelles). A rural English childhood of the 1950s was
probably largely unchanged for that long: one neighbour remembered hiring
fairs, another the first car in Lincolnshire, but they were already in their
sixties and seventies. 

Of course, that still made them moderns. Hoardings, branding, newspapers,
postcards, sheet music and photographs would have held no terrors for them.
After the model of Geoffrey Pearsall's history of hooliganism, we can push
our mediated 'modernity' back to Mopsa in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale:
'Pray now, buy some: I love a ballad in print' (IV.iv.261), and to
Autolycus' store of ribbons and laces. Further back we have Huizinga's
(1924) testimony of the European mediaevals' love of high spectacle, high
language and high emotion, if we needed more proof than their cathedrals.
The quest for the historical moment of primordial experience begins to call
us back, as it did Heidegger (for example in the Introduction to
Metaphysics, 1961), to the Greeks, especially the pre-Socratics, or else to
Homer. Yet both the pre-Socratics and Homer are  mediations, since they
exist for us only as philological texts. 

The desire to render an account of pure perception runs everywhere counter
to the idea of a perception which remains unmediated. There is a
philosophical dilemma here: an unmediated perception can never be
communicated, by definition, so there will never be evidence of its
occurring except from introspection. That indeed is the route taken by
phenomenology, and most of all by Virilio's mentor Merleau-Ponty and by his
teacher Husserl:

What is needed is not the insistence that one sees with his own eyes; rather
it is that he not explain away under the pressure of prejudice what has been
seen. Because in the most impressive of the modern sciences, the
mathematico-physical, that which is exteriorly the largest part of their
work, results from indirect methods, we are only too inclined to
overestimate indirect methods and to misunderstand the value of direct
comprehensions. However, to the extent that philosophy goes back to ultimate
origins, it belongs precisely to its very essence that its scientific work
move in spheres of direct intuition  (Husserl 1965: 147)

It is, as I understand it, that intuition which Virilio stands to defend:
the contemplation that occurs in the co-presence of perceiver and perceived
which permits the essence of the perceived to enter the perceiver unaltered
by theorisation, habit or mediation as the raw material of rational
existence. In the late Heidegger, this will become the concept of dwelling,
and have a direct engagement with the environment, and with the mode of
inhabiting an environment which is both the means and the goal of thought.
In Heidegger the nature of that environment is often quite specific: a
mountain path, a garden. The confrontation is one between thinker and
nature. Philosophy's purpose, as Husserl expresses it, is to strip thought
of its prejudices, its accumulated opinions and habits, in order to clarify
and purify that primal confrontation. 

Shakespeare had another take: 'Unaccomodated man is no more but such a poor,
bare forked animal as thou art' (Lear III.iv.106-7). I take Shakespeare's
part, and pray with Lear for 
Poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you
>From seasons such as these? (III.iv.28-32)
'Unaccomodated': without technologies and bereft of reason, like Lear and
Poor Tom on the blasted heath, we are pitiful indeed. 

In Virilio's Catholic phenomenology, by contrast, the unalienated human is a
dream of Adamic innocence, the lost Eden of Milton, without predators, warm,
fruitful, attended by angels and conversing with God. The first sign that
our first parents had fallen was the technology of clothing and their first
punishment agriculture. Yet these form part of our image of innocence today:
farming and chaste dress, like the Amish of Peter Weir's Witness, without
petrol engines, living a reclaimed tradition of calm, without radios. John
Book introduces Rachel, the Amish mother of his child witness, to pop music
in a transforming scene at the centre of the narrative, while he in return
is introduced to community in the barn-raising sequence. Does perfection lie
somewhere between communitarianism and rock 'n' roll? In the remembrance of
puberty (rendered innocent in the more recent ideological formations of
Hollywood and the music business) perfected in its naturalisation as
negation of history? Can this or any such a state of purity exist?

Part of the legacy mislaid in the shameful demise of Althusser was the
philosophical demolition of the Lukacsian concept of alienation. Where,
Althusser demanded, was the unalienated? Where was a worker other than a
stranger to her fellows and herself?   Where was there primal,
self-identical humanity? We might add, if masculinity and femininity are
technologies, where lies innocence?

In Virilio's thought the answer appears to be: in the moment of pure
perception. Drawing on Husserl's attempt to capture the phenomenal moment of
intuition as first experience, with a shade of Levinas' (1969) proposal of
the face-to-face as first philosophy, Virilio develops his critique of
alienated humanity on the basis of immediate perception. We should pause
before the etymology of the word; im-mediate, not mediated. In which sense
is the politikon zoon capable of that unmediated experience?

We would need an immense and detailed history of communication to
demonstrate that there is nothing 'natural' about perception, or indeed
about such other human attributes as politics, economics, technology,
sexuality or communication which have been cited in various philosophical
discourses as foundational. More than that, we have no philosophical ground
on which to claim that what is presumed to be natural is by that simple
token good, either politically, economically, technologically or sexually.
Nor, at risk of pure oxymoron, is it possible to imagine a communication
that is other than artificial. It is therefore imperative for a theory of
alienation to prove that there exists a natural perception, and that it is

My friend Margaret Marshment proposes the experience of breaking her arm in
the bush in Kenya. I can offer a story of my own. I once gashed my hip
diving into a waterfall in Northern Quebec among woods where bears were
common. Streaming tell-tale blood and limping, I made the mile-long trek
back to the road. For a few minutes, probably in shock, life was raw. And I
wished for two things: a vehicle and a weapon. Two points emerge. First,
that I wanted technologies and that the lack of them shaped my experience.
And second, it was a frightening, even terrifying experience that I have no
wish to repeat. We have defined the natural by the negative, and in this
instance forced a peaceable chap who would no more kill an animal than
himself to cast about for a wieldable log with which to assault one. Perhaps
this revealed my 'true nature', but it certainly did not reveal an ethical

Nor are we capable of raw experience. Our perceptions are framed in memories
and expectations, both themselves constructed in the horizon not only of our
own biographies but of those that have been communicated to us, in fiction
as well as fact. I did not expect to pull myself out of the river by my own
hair like Baron Munchausen, but I had heard enough about bears both locally
and in documentaries and fictions to know that they smell blood from far
enough away to make me anxious, and to imagine both my future in ursine
intestines, and to plan flight and defence. In short, there is no moment, no
perfect Augenblick. Perception takes time. In this I agree with Virilio
(1996: 98) who argues in 'L'instant lumière' that a meeting depends on a
sufficient duration for mutual apprehension of the parties involved. But I
have to disagree with him when he goes on to argue that 'The real time of
telecommunications is not only opposed, as we often hear, to the past, to
differed (deferred) time, but to the present, its very actuality' (1996:
100). The electronic meeting does indeed take place, and indeed takes time.
Though its time may be condensed or telescoped in compression algorithms, it
is always unfolded again in its decoding. In fact, those translational
processes are necessitated by all communication because all communication is
mediated.  Perception is already an act of communication, despite the
individualist credos of cognitive science. Stereoscopic vision, for example,
is limited by the narrowness of the gap between an individual pair of eyes:
true stereoscopy is available only to the socius, to the primal band of
hunters triangulating the position of prey and danger. That truth which
Husserl understands as the goal of both naturalistic science and of
phenomenological philosophy as rigorous science is unavailable to the
individual: it can only be triangulated by the social in the communicative
form of agreement. Moreover, perception takes time because it is always
already mediated in consciousness which in turn is always already social and
therefore by definition a product not of perception but of communication.  

If it is the case that consciousness therefore is dependent on
communication, raw perception is unavailable to consciousness. Unmediated
perception is thus unconscious perception, both in the Lacanian sense that
it is not symbolised, and in the sense of someone deprived of consciousness.
This, of course, is the mental state Virilio (1991) identifies as
picnolepsia , and describes as a distinctive form of absence proper to the
contemporary world, typical of motorways and air travel. His observation is
good, but his argument incorrect: driving on automatic pilot is a flight
from the historical present into the ahistorical, the pure perceptual bliss
of the driver at one with the environment. Picnolepsia is an example of pure
perception when that perception is not only erased from consciousness but
both lethal and suicidal. That it is natural is no defence against its

A second, highly specific atemporal phenomenon is constructed in
contemporary communications, in some very particular modes of special effect
in Hollywood cinema, especially scenes of destruction (Cubitt 1999). But
they function in relation to multiple temporalities tugging on the
spectator, from the real time of viewing to the narrational time of the film
by way of the diegetic clock among many others. To assert the eradication of
time in transmission is to elide the quite opposite case which actually
obtains: that time has become a raw material for cultural production at the
turn of the 21st century.  What the signifier was to the art and culture of
1900, the temporalities of communication are to those of 2000. 

>From gameplay to hypertext novels, from The Matrix to the Aphex Twin, time
is at once the central material and the central theme of contemporary
communicational research and entertainment. It is so, in fact, precisely
because of the globalised communication structure that enables and has been
colonised by finance capital. It is no longer the case that time is money, a
motto of the productivist era. Today, money is time, and the culture of the
21st century is irrevocably entangled in that relation. To define
telecommunication as that which has no present is to deny us the possibility
of working in it, for the present is the only time we have in which to make
history. When he writes that after cybernetisation, 'the phenomena that
happen here in common space no longer happen now in common time, but in an
outside-time (outre-temps) over which no-one has any power (1996: 180),
Virilio appears as an apologist for precisely the ideological effect sought
in the kind of special effect mentioned above: the removal of history-making
to a timeless zone situated permanently in a moment unbridgeably to one side
of history. Virilio has the vices of a sociologist. He believes that it is
possible to make statements about media at large, while the discipline of
media studies remains adamant that viewers do not watch 'television' but
navigate specific flows; that we do not surf the web but explore specific
routes across the network, emphasising the particularity of each instance of
each medium, each media production and circulation, and each specific and
material navigation of the media culture in the material and specific
present. Virilio's second sociological vice is to believe that society, as
concept and as essence, antedates communication, which it subordinates to
itself. The social cannot determine the communicative, because they are one
and the same thing.

I go further. As consciousness is a specific effect of the specificity of
its society, so the given and specific form of any actually existing society
is a function of its communication.

In claiming that communication forms societies I do not want  to defend
technological determinism. Technologies are clearly social, and to that
extent they too are formations of communication. Rather, I want to argue
that attention to the dominant and subordinate modes of communication in any
specific historical conjuncture provides us with insight into the
structuring constraints on any historically given social formation. To jump
to the chase, in the contemporary world, finance capital is the dominant
mode of communication. Residual forms such as land-based cultures and
'alienated labour', and emergent forms like diasporan cultural networks,
shape the global-local interface in which specific crises emerge:
communalism in Bombay, aboriginal rights in Sydney, land reform and
indigenous rights in Chiapas, nationalism in Kosovo. Without understanding
these communicative ecologies, the specificity of millennarial nationalism,
the new Islam and substance abuse among indigenous peoples remains only
desperate and insoluble problems.

We are not natural. We are human. Our perception is artifice, because it is
always already mediated by our ongoing communicative evolution. The point is
not to deny what we have become, but to see that it is constructed, and
therefore to seize the hour and change the communicative structuring that
forms us. One of Virilio's targets is  transmission, the sending across that
deletes the Levinasian, ethical face-to-face. This is an apt description of
finance capital. But it does not describe the critical emergent form of
diasporan networks, which function by translation, literally 'bringing
across', recognising the malleable materiality of mediation, making of it
the raw material of a remade sociality and thus of a new consciousness. 

Virilio takes the past rather than the future as the measure of the falling
off of human communication from a human-scaled geo-temporal reality of the
face-to-face. The theses of temporalities as raw material for cultural
production and of diasporan networks as emergent communicative form suggest
a contrary perspective: that human communication does not yet exist (where
the phrase not-yet should evoke the contentless utopianism of Ernst Bloch).
In pursuit of this distinction, which I take to be an ethical as well as an
aesthetic one, we need to understand the relation between human and animal

Human communication is the same as animal communication as long as it is
one-to-one or one-to-many. But human communication differs from animal to
the extent that it is many-to-many. To this extent Habermas is right, and
even McLuhan. But it would be incorrect to say either that this is a natural
state of affairs, or that because it is natural it is therefore good. If we
are closer to nature in one-to-one communication, to the extent that it is
characteristic of animal as well as human communication, nonetheless we do
not thereby approach more closely to nature. In fact, the more intensively
we communicate face-to-face, the more complexity enters the communication,
with subtle interpretations of the most marginal signs, the most fretful
analysis of body language and codes of dress, and the finest attention to
the nicest points of vocabulary and intonation. By the same token, we
approximate the territorial calls of birds or the transmission of directions
among the bees in such clearly cultural, historical, and artificial acts as
political speeches or broadcasting, even the one-to-many forms of printed
novels and poetry. We cannot therefore pretend to descry in either
one-to-one or one-to-many communication an equivalence of human and natural

If however, we want to argue that many-to-many communication constitutes the
grounds of a specifically human nature, we have to be wary of certain
distinctions among modes of many-to-many. It might be argued that highly
mediated forms like advertising campaigns and blockbuster movies are not
singly authored, and therefore fall into the category of many-to-many just
as truly as the ideal café society of Habermas' (1989) public sphere, or the
polylogue of McLuhan's (1989) global village. Both types -- centre-out
group-authored and democratic communications -- are, according to the
initial statement, more exclusively human than one-to-one or one-to-many
models. But they cannot therefore be argued to be proper to 'human nature'
since they are dependent on specific historical conditions for their

They approximate in this to Giedion's (1948) 'anonymous history', sharing
with technologies like knitting and baking an open evolution unconstrained
by patent or copyright. It may appear that this freedom from legal
constraint is a mode of natural evolution, but the law itself is an example
of anonymous history, even in those societies in which a constitution has
been specifically authored, since jurisprudence elaborates a filigree of
arguments, decisions, precedents and cases as a palimpsest over the bare
bones of the originating constitutional document.

Moreover, the distinction between the two forms of many-to-many
communications opens certain key cultural practices to analysis. The
centre-out model can be parsed as a group-to-many communication where the
group is restricted in membership while the ideal models of Habermas and
McLuhan are not. Group-to-many communications typically take the form of
more or less stable texts: hoardings, films, newspapers, television
channels, computer games. Multiple exemplars resemble one another closely
both formally and thematically (I accept Usai's [1994] argument that no two
prints of a film are identical: by analogy, no two television receivers
display identical image or sound qualities). Such texts exhibit both
geographical and temporal stability, and are unaltered as mediations by
interpretations, however varied. Many-to-many communications, by contrast,
tend to ephemerality and instability, and are easily and typically altered
in the process of interpretation. Unlike a film, the 'text' of a dialogue is
an evolving fabric. Even where the dialogue is mediated by technologies like
e-mail and IRC, each contribution is unstable, like a move in chess, a
challenge awaiting a response, incomplete in itself. In other words, even
where communications are delayed, as in exchanges of letters, many-to-many
polylogues are swifter than group-to-society monologues, with the sole
exception of news coverage, which can be seen, in certain moments such as
coverage of demonstrations, as a use of the group as a medium for
many-to-many communication.

Exceptionally, group cultural forms can take on the speed and effervescence
of polylogue, notably in improvised performance in dance, drama and music.
Group improvisation is a limit case of the group/polylogue distinction. In
certain instances -- the Jerry Springer Show for example -- we can descry
coded improvisation of the kind attacked by Adorno in his work on jazz, but
one which reveals importantly that irrationalism is not excluded from
dominant and dominating communications, but rather is amalgamated into it as
a non-dialectical binarism resolved in the figure of the master of
ceremonies. This co-optation of improvisation into the regulated repetition
of narratemes and elements of behaviour is integral to the production of
difference as a project of dominance in contemporary society. Like
microcuisines, TV talkshow microcultures are as integral to processes of
globalisation as the form of the nation-state constituted as nationalism or

We are now ready to return to Virilio, via Clausewitz (1968), for whom war
is the continuation of policy by other means. Policy in this instance is
international, and as such a form of group-to-group communication, in which
both groups have restricted memberships. Virilio's argument is that war as
communication is foreclosed by the transfer of strategic decision-making
from human agents to computers. To this extent, the group-to-group
communication is negated by the emergence of non-human communicative agents.
My contention is that group-to-group communication is not human. In the
first instance, group-to-group is a characteristic of the territorial
disputes of primates. But where these standoffs between troops are often
conducted as ceremonial, in the sense that physical violence is only part of
a bravura display of behaviours, the confrontation between armies ceased to
be a communicative and ceremonial event in the Middle Ages with the arrival
of the stirrup and even more so with the impersonality of the fortified
city. Modern war, dating from this period, is then precisely a negation of
communication. Nationalisms as such continue this tradition of
non-communication, using both military and, of course in the age of finance
capital, economic blockades in place of interaction. We would need to depend
upon a Hegelian master-slave dialectic in order to produce a communicative
model, and although Clausewitz could, late in the 19th century, still
express the argument of policy as communicative, that era is long since
gone, as both Virilio and Baudrillard have argued of both the Cold War and
the Gulf War. The famous arrogance of Thatcher's foreign policy in the era
of the Malvinas War is a further example of this refusal to communicate as
the basis of contemporary policy. 

Group-to-group communication is then in general incommunicative, save only
insofar as it can be understood as a function of endocolonisation, that is,
as a function of the internal communicative strategy of the group, itself
either group-to-many or one-to-many, depending on the precise configuration
of the troop. In the instance of recent wars, the cult of the personality as
a key propaganda tool both in constructing nationhood and in constructing
the enemy ('Saddam')  suggest that authoritarianism is integral to
group-to-group communication. In the case of heavily targeted TV
programming, such as The Jerry Springer Show, the programme design is
equally group-to-group. Warring factions on stage are confronted with
normative factions in the studio audience, with Springer as the
authoritarian representative of the network whose communicative monopoly is
thereby ensured. In this instance, the function of the process is to
elaborate risks against which that authority can be tested, and to provide
closures in which it is reasserted. In other words, the programme exists to
ensure that nothing changes. This, I would argue, is precisely the opposite
of any workable definition of communication, which is characterised by

To this extent we must concur with Virilio, that communication as a human
attribute is not realised in contemporary global society. On the one hand,
producers and consumers have never been so globally and so deeply mutually
involved. But on the other, they stand in the most limited and constrained
relationships with one another it is possible to imagine, a binary code of
consumer market choices: 'Buy me', 'Yes' and 'Buy me', 'No', 'Pay me',
'Yes', 'Pay me', 'No'. But where Virilio argues for a rearward glance at a
lost plenum of communication in the Edenic fullness of pre-technological
society, we must realise that we are no longer alone. Nature has not left
us. Rather the concept of an innocent and extra-human nature stands revealed
as a discursive construct, and one that no longer convinces in an ecological
era. Moreover, the evolution of human communication is identical with the
evolution of human communicative technologies, since all communication is
mediation. That these communicative mediations have been turned towards the
purposes of the aggregation of wealth, power and reproductive precedence in
the hands of a decreasingly small group should teach us the non-natural and
inhuman nature of the histories of communication. Indeed. But they should
also teach us that, since there is nothing natural about communication,
neither is there anything given about it. 

Dominance. like modern war, is not only incommunicative but
anti-communicative. Therefore any history of dominance, such as Virilio's,
must emphasise the blockage to communication that it establishes. The order
of difference produced in the institution of the nation-state (considered as
a function of imperialism and de-colonisation under conditions of
globalisation) is just such a blockage. Its impedence can be measured as the
difference between the ease of transit of capital and the ease of transit of
labour. The nationalism of the United Kingdom has produced, for example,
strict and, in the last few days, deadly laws regulating human traffic,
while at the same time making itself increasingly transparent to 24-hour
global share trading. 

However there is no such thing as a closed system, whence the failure of the
Second Law of Thermodynamics to obtain in either ecosystems or communication
systems. Outside the laboratory, all systems are permeable, and because
permeable mutable. The struggle for homeostasis against the negentropy of
mutation -- carried out in discourses of plague, disease and virus in the
press -- is doomed to failure, and doubly so since the very struggle
against mutation in the state's immune system induces mutations in that
system in order to fight off or neutralise what it perceives as threats to
its integrity and discretion. As a result the integral and discrete is
forced to become an evolving organism, generating new modes of internal
communication  in the act of seeking to control and minimise communication
with what lies beyond the boundaries through whose difference it wishes to
establish its integrity. 

Ecological theme run through Virilio's work from Popular Defense and
Ecological Struggles (1990) to the final pages of Cybermonde: la politique
du pire (1996). There is an illuminating comparison to be made between
Baudrillard, who finds deserts so facsinating 
because you are delivered from all depth there -- a brilliant, mobile,
superficial neutrality, a challenge to meaning and profundity, a challenge
to nature and culture, an outer hyperspace, with no origin, no
reference-points (Baudrillard 1998: 124)
and Virilio, for whom the desert
resembles the sea. It gives the feeling of our presence on a planet. I love
a landscape where one feels the planet, where the territorial body of the
planet Earth is perceptible at a reduced scale. I love the local when it
reveals the global, and the global when one can poerceive it starting from
the local. One should not lose either, but hold the two together (1996: 108)
Virilio's anti-nihilistic recognition of planetary being is an inspiration
for this critique, for it suggests the kinds of mutuality required if we are
to recognise ourselves as global citizens. But his generous understanding of
the non-human has to be rewritten, away  from a nature defined by its
difference from culture and its externality to the human and technological.
We can no longer argue with Virilio that history is a landscape of events:
we know that a landscape is an event in history. An ecology is not an entity
distinct from us, laid out as map or depiction,  but a fruit of technical
actions upon it (including the now deliberate act of leaving it as
wilderness). And the landscape is an event that feeds back at both
physiological and psychological levels, warming and cooling, feeding or
starving, welcoming or forbidding our passage across it. By this same token,
the landscape as history, as end-product and as ground of action, since it
cannot be defined as exclusive of the human, cannot be defined as wholly
organic. For at least the seven thousand years for which we have evidence of
trading across the rivers and oceans of the Old World, we have been
symbiotes with our technologies, and especially with our communications
technologies. Under conditions of global finance capital, information wants
to be paid for, but communication still seeks to be free. The attempt to
monopolise communication which underlies the phenomena which Virilio is most
intensely engaged with is doomed to fail, since the concept of monopoly
excludes an other with whom to communicate. More particularly, Virilio
misreads the omens when he characterises communications technologies as
alien others to whom the powers of communication have been delegated. The
attempt to monopolise communication has produced that massive and
capital-intensive infrastructure of satellites and telecommunication which,
perversely, has enabled a new form  of communication. In the first great
historicisation of our species, agriculture opened up channels of
communication between the human and organic phyla. The second, which we can
characterise as the ongoing industrial revolution, the revolution of the
modern which accelerates from the age of the stirrup and the water wheel,
instigates communication between the human and machinic phyla. Perhaps, like
primaeval Deleuzes and Guattaris, the nomadic hunter-gatherers looked at the
first sedentary farmers with just such an apocalyptic intuition of the end
of true humanity as Virilio derives from the intensifying relationships we
establish with each other through the increasingly demanding mediations of
our machines.

Virilio's forebodings are inaccurate, but only because he is properly
fearful of the tendency of dominance in contemporary communication toward
the monopoly structure of transmission. In this perspective the present is
indeed in danger as the ground of history-making. The new cultural interest
in time as raw material, however, is an instance of the permeability of the
system. The focus on time urges a concentration on the medium as transport,
as a work of carriage across spaces and times. While the defensive
conservatism of the discrete seeks to ring-fence privacy, national
sovereignty and, indeed, the immaculate perception which Virilio wishes to
preserve, the emergence of diasporan networks as a counter-model for
planetary communication proposes not the preservation but the translation of
data. The fluid, indeterminate, indiscrete and maculate translations of
diasporan nets evolve only as a consequence and in the form of
communication, in creative partnership with the media they foreground. Our
technologies are as integral to that evolving communication as our animal
bodies, and as hard-wired to the world. That they mediate, and do so at the
speed of light, should encourage us with the thought that the present is a
determinate temporality governed by the universal constant. That present is
not innocent, but neither is it wholly determined. Nothing is forgotten in
the millenia-old conversations of humankind, least of all the past vagaries
of communication itself that become properties of its latest form. Such
memories and histories exist in multiple modalities in the present: as the
pattern of fibre-optic cables laid along the ancient paths of trade winds
and caravanserai, as the remnants of ancient religion in verbal greetings
and imprecations, perhaps even in a Lamarckian patterning of dendrites to
produce the Chomskyan 'language instinct'. But despite Virilio's fears, the
present is not the already achieved and completed moment that the myth of
instantaneous communication pretends to, bringing us 'live' pictures
carrying the message that whatever is depicted is already over. Considered
not as given but as raw material, the present becomes the workshop in which
the future is produced, the ephemeral and to that extent the beautiful and
ethical moment in which the teleological imagination of the end of history
and the end of dialogue stands to be proved to be no more than an optical
illusion. That proof is the anti-teleological but wholly eschatological
action of future making, based in the evolutionary mutations of translation,
the work of interpretation and conversation which is both the vehicle and
the outcome of a human ecology. Our present, as history, is that in which
the organic and the technological can for the first time be seen not as
opposites, nor as equally alien to the human, but as intrinsic to the
evolution of the future in the communications of the present.

Virilio's jeremiads are still invaluable reminders of the urgency of this
historical juncture, of the cost if we should lose communication and be
shuffled into homeostatic monopoly. There can be no question of preserving
the present as an unchanged and unchanging instance of the face-to-face: the
present is not a plenum but a process. To idealise the immediate excludes
the possibility of the instability and failure of dominance to dominate. Far
from excluding technologies, we should embrace them, with all due caution
and alert to the purposes that have designed the specific devices we have in
front of us, ready to aid in their evolution as the price of ensuring our
own. To keep the present as process, and to evolve, we will need all the
allies we can get, organic and mechanical. 

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Time of Special Effects' in Screen v. 40 n.2, Summer, 123-30.
Giedion, Siegfried (1948), Mechanisation Takes Command: A Contribution to
Anonymous History, Norton, New York.
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Alphonso Lingis, Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh.
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Beitchman, Semiotext(e), New York.
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Phillippe Petit, textuel/Seuil, Paris.

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