From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Paul Virilio (born January 4, 1932 in Paris) is a cultural theorist and urbanist. He is best known for his writings about technology as it has developed in relation to speed and power, with diverse references to architecture, the arts, the city and the military.
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 enquiry 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. 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-organised 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 anthologised.
In 1998, Virilio retired from teaching. His latest projects involve working with homeless groups in Paris and building the first Museum of the Accident.
The war model
Virilio developed what he calls the 'war model' of the modern city and of human society in general and is the inventor of the term 'dromology', meaning the logic of speed that is the foundation of technological society. His major works include War and Cinema, Speed and Politics and The Information Bomb in which he argues, among many other things, that military projects and technologies drive history. Like some other cultural theorists, he rejects labels - including 'cultural theorist' - yet he has been linked by others with post-structuralism and postmodernism. Some people describe Virilio's work as being positioned in the realm of the 'hypermodern'. This description seems most apt, as Virilio works very much with the concepts and artefacts of modernism. He has repeatedly affirmed his links with phenomenology, for example, and offers humanist critiques of modernist art movements such as Futurism. Throughout his books the political and theological themes of anarchism, pacifism and Catholicism reappear as central influences to his self-proclaimed 'marginal' approach to the question of technology. His work has been compared to that of McLuhan, Baudrillard, Deleuze & Guattari, Lyotard and others, although many of these connections are problematic. Virilio is also an urbanist.
Virilio's predictions about 'logistics of perception' - the use of images and information in war - (in War and Cinema, 1984) were so accurate that during the Gulf War he was invited to discuss his ideas with French military officers. While Baudrillard infamously argued that the Gulf War did not take place, Virilio argued that it was a 'world war in miniature'.
The integral accident
Technology cannot exist without the potential for accidents. For example, the invention of the locomotive also contained the invention of derailment. Virilio sees the Accident as a rather negative growth of social positivism and scientific progress. The growth of technology, namely television, separates us directly from the events of real space and real time. We lose wisdom, lose sight of our immediate horizon and resort to the indirect horizon of our dissimulated environment. From this angle, the Accident can be mentally pictured as a sort of "fractal meteorite" whose impact is prepared in the propitious darkness, a landscape of events concealing future collisions. Even Aristotle claimed that "there is no science of the accident," but Virilio disagrees, pointing to the growing credibility of simulators designed to escape the accident -- an industry born from the unholy marriage of post-WW2 science and the military-industrial complex. A good example of Virilio's integral accident is Hurricane Katrina and the disastrous events that followed, which brought the eyes of the world upon a single nexus of time and place. From his article on Katrina, "Ah ouai, ce méchant vent, vent qui siffle, siffle. Tout le monde regarde, c'est sur toutes les chaînes, c'est l'émission dont le monde parle. Et c'est tellement, tellement mouillé la bas." Roughly translated, "Oh yeah, that nasty wind, wind that blows, blows. The whole world is watching, it's on every station, it's the program the world is talking about. And it's soggy, so soggy, down there."
‘Dromos’ from the Greek word to race (Virilio 1977:47). Meaning: the 'science (or logic) of speed'. Dromology is important when considering the structuring of society in relation to warfare and modern media. He notes that the speed at which something happens may change its essential nature, and that that which moves with speed quickly comes to dominate that which is slower. 'Whoever controls the territory possesses it. Possession of territory is not primarily about laws and contracts, but first and foremost a matter of movement and circulation.' Source
Logistics of perception
In contemporary warfare logistics does not just imply the movement of personnel, tanks, fuel and so on but also implies the movement of images both to and from the battlefield. Virilio talks a lot about the creation of CNN and the concept of the newshound. The newshound will capture images which will then be sent to CNN, which may then be broadcast to the public. This movement of images can start a conflict (Virilio uses the example of the events following the broadcasting of the Rodney King footage). The logistics of perception also relates to the televising of military maneuvers and the images of conflict that are watched not only by people at home but also by the military personnel involved in the conflict. The 'field of battle' also exists as a 'field of perception'.
War of movement
For Virilio, the transition from feudalism to capitalism was driven not primarily by the politics of wealth and production techniques but by the mechanics of war. Virilio argues that the traditional feudal fortified city disappeared because of the increasing sophistication of weapons and possibilities for warfare. For Virilio, the concept of siege warfare became rather a war of movement. In Speed and Politics, he argues that 'history progresses at the speed of its weapons systems'.
'The first deterrence, nuclear deterrence, is presently being superseded by the second deterrence: a type of deterrence based on what I call 'the information bomb' associated with the new weaponry of information and communications technologies. Thus, in the very near future, and I stress this important point, it will no longer be war that is the continuation of politics by other means, it will be what I have dubbed 'the integral accident' that is the continuation of politics by other means.' From Ctheory Interview With Paul Virilio 'The Kosovo War Took Place In Orbital Space: Paul Virilio in Conversation with John Armitage'
'The speed of light does not merely transform the world. It becomes the world. Globalisation is the speed of light.' ibid
'War was my university. Everything has proceeded from there.' From An Interview with James Der Derian
by Paul Virilio
- City of Panic. Oxford: Berg, 2005.
- The Accident of Art. (with Sylvère Lotringer) New York: Semiotext(e), 2005.
- Negative Horizon: An Essay in Dromoscopy. London: Continuum, 2005.
- Art and Fear. London: Continuum, 2003.
- Unknown Quantity. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2003.
- Ground Zero. London: Verso, 2002.
- Desert Screen: War at the Speed of Light. London: Continuum, 2002.
- Crepuscular Dawn. New York: Semiotext(e), 2002.
- Virilio Live: Selected Interviews. Edited by John Armitage London: Sage, 2001.
- A Landscape of Events. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000.
- The Information Bomb. London: Verso, 2000.
- Strategy of Deception. London: Verso, 2000.
- Politics of the Very Worst. New York: Semiotext(e), 1999.
- Polar Inertia. London: Sage, 1999.
- Open Sky. London: Verso, 1997.
- Pure War. New York: Semiotext(e), 1997.
- The Art of the Motor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.
- The Vision Machine. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.
- Bunker Archaeology. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1994.
- The Aesthetics of Disappearance. New York: Semiotext(e), 1991.
- Lost Dimension. New York: Semiotext(e), 1991.
- Popular Defense and Ecological Struggles. New York: Semiotext(e), 1990.
- War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception. London: Verso, 1989.
- Speed and Politics: An Essay on Dromology. New York: Semiotext(e), 1977 
on Paul Virilio
- Armitage, John, ed. Paul Virilio: From Modernism to Hypermodernism and Beyond. London: Sage, 2000.
- Redhead, Steve. Paul Virilio: Theorist for an Accelerated Culture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004