AN ECO-PHENOMENOLOGICAL HERITAGE OF PAUL VIRILIO
Drew Burk is a writer, translator, and editor. He has studied religious and political anthropology at the L’Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Aix-en-Provence, France and received his MA in Media Philosophy and Communication from the European Graduate School. He has translated numerous works in contemporary philosophy and theory including work by Jean Baudrillard, Gilbert Simondon and Paul Virilio. He is the former director of Univocal Publishing and currently the editor of Univocal as a Series with the University of Minnesota Press.
Paul Virilio (1932-2018) was a philosopher, urbanist and architectural critic. He is widely known for his conception of the "military model" of the growth of modern cities and the evolution of society. He introduced the concept of "dromology", meaning the study of speed as a philosophical category. He is the author of such books as Speed and Politics, The Information Bomb and The Original Accident. The selection of materials incudes the introductory remarks by Drew Burk, and an excerpt from Paul Virilio’s series of lectures entitled as “Grey ecology”
Key words: grey ecology, dromology, dromosphere, claustrophobia, art, aesthetics, Vassily Kandinsky, Giuseppe Penone, James Turrell, eco-phenomenology, the sacred, sculpting time, Andrei Tarkovsky, chrono-diversity,
Some of the themes that concerned Paul Virilio during his lectures seem all the more prescient 15 years later: questions concerning technological surveillance, an overall state of claustrophobia due to some sort of global catastrophe based off the acceleration and speed of technology and humanity’s relation to real-time technologies. We can certainly experience such anxieties in the era of the Covid-Pandemic and the strange blurring of reality and fiction within an excess of media at our disposal. Virilio readily admitted that technology was accelerating at such a rate, that any sort of ecology to study humanity’s relation to it, would be approximate at best, and so even his long pontifications were only speculative approximations or extrapolations. But he left us with some ideas from those lectures that merit re-iterating. While the title of his lectures in 2007 took the name of Grey Ecology, this term would also appear several times in the book he was working on completing at that time, The University of Disaster. In it, he refers just twice to the term “grey ecology”. In both instances it is a question of an ecology of distances. He also mentions that he had no intention of actually creating such a university, rather, it was a merely a book, “a message in a bottle cast out to sea.”
Tele-objectivities, tele-subjectivities, and social media’s “communism of affect”
At the time of his lectures, social media as well as the Iphone, had only just been invented. While Virilio didn’t discuss either of these technical objects, the principal focus of his lectures had such technologies in mind: namely, humanity’s increasing shift to what he saw as an ongoing process of “externalization and intersubjective parasitism” of affect whereby screen technology would create an increasing distancing between ourselves from our bodies as well as from our interlocutors. A world of immediacy, where we would encounter what he referred to as tele-objectivity and tele-subjectivity. Such a movement into social media, not only would drastically transform how we communicate, but would also have a profound effect or introduce a collective realm of immediacy of emotional affect into our collective relation to temporality—Virilio would speak of the intemporal. Not only would such a change in technologies of acceleration have repercussions, in regard to time and space, but also in regard to geographical, economic, and psychical functioning. Whether or not Virilio’s reflections are accurate, we have largely been coexisting with such technologies of immediacy for at least one if not two generations now.
According to Virilio’s analysis, the temporal rhythms of emotions that were once personal and fairly transitory states of being, could be collectively captured and prolonged within a real time temporality that he envisioned could potentially comprise some form of totalitarian “communism of affect”… or even serve as a form of “cybernetic religious phenomenon”. Hence the paradoxical possibility of such technologies both liberating a certain form of universal freedom of communication while also potentially impinging on humanity’s daily reception and understanding of reality. Ultimately having significant repercussions for both democracy but also for the very consensus of reality.
At times, during his lectures, Paul Virilio was thinking very long-term into the future, but it was such thinking that grants us any sort of grasp on the present. The ability to connect in groups over vast distances through screens has become a vital part of everyday life. And yet, we needn’t look too far into recent presidential elections to see how disparate affective control of personalized media has also had deleterious effects. Virilio often referred to the Japanese gamers, the Otakus, whom he described 15 years ago as hypnotized and addicted to the internet and their solitary community of gaming practices, as potential precursors of a reality predicated on a pollution of distance and affect by way of screens.
What interested him, unlike his colleague Jean Baudrillard was not simulation of reality, but rather, the substitution of one form of reality for another. Virilio’s anxieties about a twilight of place, about temporal contraction, and a sense of finitude in regard to knowledge largely had to do with this substitution of a reality of immediacy via the internet of things and how it would have the potential to create a media pollution as much as a pollution of distance. It was an event that excited him, but as his concerns about the externalization of affect speak to, about the loss of certain conceptions of time and distance, his work perhaps could be of use today 15 years later. How to engage in healthy processes of spiritual growth and individuation within a culture that functions on algorithms and whereby everything is already there in advance? This accident of immediacy in relation to knowledge, to a lack of perceptual depth, to a potential loss of the necessary distance so as to allow for a time space for growth, were all part, I would suggest, of his concept of grey ecology.
In that light, Virilio’s work in “grey ecology” could be seen as a complement to one of his former colleagues, Felix Guattari’s conception of Three Ecologies, regarding an ecology of mental health, green ecology, and an ecosophia or an ethico-aesthetics of social ecology.
Following Virilio’s phenomenological heritage (Husserl and Merleau-Ponty), there is perhaps a place then for healthful practices of re-centering the body within the environment, even if this environment may in fact be in part, an augmented reality. Grey ecology would then give way to a form of eco-phenomenology. A practice of studying, and perhaps creatively seeking out, a form of stasis of the human body within accelerated environments in order to regain a balance and relation to the body within the environment, to regain a sense of the horizon, beyond which Virilio saw nothing but a speed induced glaucoma of a reality only reliant on real-time.
And such concerns are perhaps why today we are seeing a myriad of writers, artists, thinkers, and scholars across a number of disciplines and backgrounds in the humanities turning toward what some have referred to as the environmental humanities. That is, a return to practices of grounding the body within their environment and sensing it within real space and within a connection to the earth.
Chrono-diversity and Art
In that light, if we are to speak of a conception of the eco-phenomenological heritage of the work of Paul Virilio, it would be good to also speak to his critique that certain art forms are inherently tied with the trauma of war, of technological progress, and immediacy. I would suggest that in contrast to some of Virilio’s remarks which certainly remain of vital import, that is, whether art itself has at once been throughout most of the late 19th and 20th century, and perhaps into the 21st century, comprised out of a traumatic response to progress, to modernity, to the atrocities of existence, we should also comment upon what artists and art itself seeks out to provide as a corrective to that trauma: both a way to heal, a sense of the spiritual, as well as a practice of orientation. This in part, has perhaps always been the task of art. And to set about this practice, was to engage largely with a relation of the artist with their own reclamation and sculpting of temporality or a sense of duration. And yet, the milieu to a certain extent informs or gives form to the artist.
Art emerges through a series of iterations, through a culmination of gestures that relies as much on the participation of the artist with his or her materials as it does on the participation of the viewer or the greater community. And in some manners, Virilio’s brief discussion on what he referred to no longer as contemporary art but rather the intemporal or intemporary art serve us here.
Sculpting Time and Memory
An artist’s practice can be understood as rediscovering a way to sculpt time, to attend to it, to parcel out a form of duration within one’s relation to a work and the work on oneself. These are practices that require attention and specifically a respect and intuition of allowing for a practice to unfold.
To seek out the spiritual then, is something that one must attend to, to grant time to, to forge out a certain relation to time, to grant back to time its very vitality of duration, even within a relation to it that functions in part, within a series of temporal gestures.
The Russian artist, Vassily Kandinsky understood that part of art’s duty is to focus on the spiritual as a certain conception of a sacred tonality, that it was not necessarily a religious experience, but “an aesthetic and ethical experience”. That every form of art was, in a certain sense, an abstract series of interior vibrations. The architecture of Tadao Ando or the work of James Turrell or Giuseppe Penone, all recognize this vital relation with ground and an aesthetics that grants back a human relation to the earth and also comprises something of the spiritual. Penone’s work in particular has a profound relation to the humility or humble nature at the heart of human existence in relation with the plants and rivers and mountains surrounding them. Penone’s work understands that the process of creating a stone by the river is akin to the artist’s practice itself. A slow reciprocal formation over time between the natural materials and the artist.
Virilio’s concerns were largely regarding what he saw as an eventual domination of real time and a loss of such understanding of longer temporal durations with an ever-increasing focus on a smaller parcelling out of temporality into nano-temporalities.
Virilio foresaw what he referred to as a loss of chrono-diversity that had already effected our understanding of Western economic disasters [through automated trading] and which no longer granted to humanity a very sense of becoming, and, more importantly, a sense of memory. That we would have to contend with a certain form of technologically induced temporality or [obliteration] of memory (through social media or 24/7 news, for example), of instantaneous relations to our contemporaries rather than understanding or regaining a more profound sense of memory of our ancestors.
In contrast to a number of art critics and art historians, Virilio’s reflections on the development of art over the past 120 years focuses on art as more of a symptom of technological progress rather than recognizing artistic practice as a mode of spiritual orientation that aligns both ecstatic experience with a more profound transformational and ethical anchoring. It is only, as Michel Henry indicates, through such a transformational practice in regard to the individual’s life, that the aesthetic and ethical life become intertwined in what the artist understands as the spiritual.
If the spiritual and aesthetic life are inherently linked as Kandinsky proclaimed, then it can be asked what is the task of regrounding and embodying practices of slowness and duration, if not to attempt to dilate temporality granting back a sense of chrono-diversity in order to artistically and creatively grant a place for the body in one’s practice of ethico-aesthetics. However, given the archives of temporality already developing around this capture of real time expression, Virilio’s critique merits some reflection in regard to a larger notion of the profound depths of any artistic work including the growth of the individual artist.
Eco-phenomenology seeks to decipher and describe forms of the invisible that comprise a certain understanding of interior tonalities and traversals of affect. Art as well can task itself with providing, as it has done for thousands of years, a way of re-developing a more profound interior relation with one’s development and growth within landscape, however augmented it may be. I would contend such practices are still necessary in order for humanity to regain a sense of self within an accelerated technologically mediated reality.
*Grey Ecology was the name given to a live-recorded lecture series which took place at the University of La Rochelle over two days in the Spring of 2007. Listeners present at the lecture series were a group of approximately fifty EGS students and alumni.
Session I. Introduction to Grey Ecology
I am an urbanist and philosopher. It’s not out of modesty that I say this, but because philosophy was born in the city. I am an urbanist, but essayist perhaps, as opposed to philosopher, is the best definition for what I am. I am also claustrophobic, and you are going to understand why after this discussion.
At this moment, there is much being said about green ecology, that is to say, about the draining of our resources and global warming. This lecture that I present to you is approximate. Dromology and the dromosphere, that is to say, the acceleration of reality and not merely of history, is an approximation. In my opinion, there can never be an absolute response to this. Why? Because dromology is at the heart of relativity itself. I remind you that speed is not a phenomenon. It is a relation between phenomena. It is relativity itself. And from the moment that we find ourselves in front of this mathematical language, in my opinion, we cannot enter into precision regarding dromology.
There was a thesis that was recently finished at Valence by a professor who tried to illustrate the approximate dimension of my work. I say this not out of modesty—for me, approximation in the area of speed is a capital phenomenon. There is no precision when it comes to speed. (There is a phenomenon between time and space.) Thus, dromology is not a closed, complete theory. It is obvious— speed and accident are linked, and it is from here that we get the idea of an approximation. It is certainly a discipline which is open and offered up for other interpretations, and it is from this openness that we find the link with green ecology—ecology linked to nature—and grey ecology, which opens itself up to the cosmos and to culture. Here no mastery is possible.
If there was a professor who wrote a treatise on dromology, I don’t think that I would read it, not out of pride of being the author, but because it wouldn’t interest me. Why? Because relativity leads us to study two orders of magnitude: the magnitude of distance, science, the mathematical disciplines, and the magnitude of poverty and weakness. These two orders are linked. It is from this that one sees an interest in finitude. Those who look at the work done on grey ecology often analyze my work as an apocalyptic work. This is not true. Dromology is not the “end of the world.” I often say that the concept “end of the world” is a concept without a future. No, what interests me is the “finitude of the world.” It is claustrophobia. What is the “finitude of the world?” It is that an apple is only an apple, a man is only a man, and a world is only a world. That is the “finitude of the world.”
So, my interest here today, via the dromosphere, is the passage and the acceleration of history and the acceleration of reality through new technologies. It is the foreclosure of the world, the closing in of the world. In my opinion, the pollution of time and distance is much more severe than the pollution of material substances. The self-created world coinciding with that of the natural world also causes its own pollution. With the pollution of nature, there is green ecology. Grey ecology is the pollution of the dimension of the human-created world. I bring to your attention again that I am an architect more than a philosopher, and somewhere the history of the size of proportions and dimensions is important to me. Vastness, size or proper dimensions are elements that are not really taken into consideration regarding phenomena. I remind you—a little digression here—that I published three books, one in 1976: L’insecurité du territoire, which already prefaced the twilight of place. In 1984, paying homage to George Orwell, I published L’espace critique, and in 1990, L’inertie polare, the first book which speaks of the twilight of place. From this, you can understand the essential introduction for me today of the temporal contraction of the inhabited communal geosphere—what one calls, in computer science terms, a temporal convection.
There is only one world: the dromosphere. Somewhere the dromosphere reduces the geosphere (or, if you like, the biosphere) to nothing. Real time, the instantaneity of tele-communications and the creation of the Internet are an earthquake of time for biodiversity and geodiversity. When we speak of pollution, we speak often of material pollution. This is quite false. It is the urbanist and the architect who say that there is pollution of distances and of the scale of the world (la grandeur nature). There is no grandeur without dimensions. There is no object without proportions. There is no man without dimensions. It is finally materialism—I think we can use the term here—without forgetting the notion of scales of size, the notion of scales and proportions of things in space and time from different substances. It is surprising how easily we link nature to culture, but we easily forget size. This is the question that I evoke in my book L’espace critique (Critical Space) which gives its name to my collection which published Baudrillard, and Guattari, etc. “Critical Space” is not only a time, but also a space. The architect (that I am) first constructs the building’s proportions. This is crucial. He constructs the proportions before constructing concrete or stone. What we call real time leads to the space time continuum, suffering a temporal contraction which reduces the vast reach of the globe to nothing, or almost nothing, of the habitable geosphere of the common world. This doesn’t do damage in the same way that global warming and water depletion does. Alas, it is of a different gravity. Real time is an earthquake of time. Great or weak, this vastness constitutes the power of Being.
And now I’ll give you a very clear example: to be a man is to measure basically between one and two metres, at the maximum, between a dwarf and a giant. If a man measures 20 metres in height, he is not a man. This is unthinkable. Today, everything is like this. It is amazing to what degree proportions have disappeared from the modern world. This is where I get the two orders of magnitude that I spoke of earlier which are equivalent. One is the weak half of the other. There are two orders of magnitude: the magnitude of power—one speaks in particular of the power of the United States, this is a reality, but the magnitude of poverty is also a reality of the same order. And here, the terms of measurement and of excess (démesure) address themselves to restoration. In grey ecology, the terms of measurement and excess also refer to restoration, to the retention of the vastness of the world. In grey ecology, the terms of measurement and excess do not refer to the “hyper”—the outside of astrophysics, but to the restriction and retention of the vastness of the world.
Since the 20th century, we have been moving towards a lamentation point where man’s impotence explodes. In fact, the excessive character of the contraction of the ecology in transportation and the excessive character of the acceleration of the reality of the world and its continuum not only condition nature and our trajectories and movements, but culture and history as well. Or, to put it another way, history contracts at the same time as its geography. Here again, I am an urbanist, and I can tell you that history and the city are linked to a contraction: to the concentration of globalization, and of the successful failures of techno-science. It is the failure of a success and not a failure due to error. This contraction of the acceleration of reality is the failure of the successes of the operating sciences of progress. I argue, particularly in a book that I am writing and which will be called the L’Université du désastre (The University of Disaster), I argue that science will suffer an accident due to the finitude of the world, that is to say, due to the spatial-temporal contraction which has conditioned the places of Being and things. The temporal contraction does not simply concern transportation and live telephoning on the internet. What is it then that we’re dealing with? It concerns knowledge. The retention of the space-time of the world concerns primarily science and philosophy. It is from here that we see the idea in Aristotle’s work to speak about the accident of substances. There is going to be, and there already has been, an accident of ideas. Ideas are linked to the vastness and the measurement of the world. All of our sciences are linked to the geography of the world. They are not simply linked to the history of knowledge, but also to the expanse that follows its own knowledge. And this is why we need the University of Disaster.
I want to talk about fear and about the claustrophobia that I spoke of earlier. The fear of acceleration is not there yet, but certain people who are claustrophobic or asthmatic already feel this fear: the fear of exhausting the geo-diversity of the world. I will give you an example: I have been to Venice twice. It is an extraordinary city. I had a friend who showed me this and that part of town. Finally, he said that we should go see several more places and then I would have seen everything. I said no. I wanted to keep Venice unknown, so I would be able to come back and visit. Somehow, I felt that I didn’t want to exhaust Venice. I don’t want to participate in the twilight of places.
For example, the capability of experiencing the antipodes (North and South Pole) via tourism fatally restrains the expanse of the power of the world. Besides this sacred world, no other world is inhabitable for the moment. And this fear, this anxiety, the claustrophobia that infects certain adults, will soon become a phenomenon of the masses. This is the fear behind the great ecological imprisonment to which Foucault spoke regarding the asylum and a carceral universe. Imagine tomorrow that this feeling of grand imprisonment no longer concerns merely the placing into prison of one individual or another, but the grand imprisonment of a world too small for its inhabitants. This is anxiety. Imagine in one or two generations, at the end of the week, going to the circus in Tokyo, heading to New York for drinks, and the next day, heading back to work, and all that for a dollar or two. Open Sky, it’s less and less expensive, imagine this universe where things will already be there, already viewed, already given. In France, tourism no longer only concerns adults: it is localized, it externalizes them, it’s beyond them. There are many experiencing this situation: young, rich, old, and poor, until it becomes a mass phenomenon. It will become a cosmopolitical phenomenon.
This worry is already present. Are you aware of the research done by certain astrophysicists who deal with exo-planets, and the problematic of the great externalization from one day to the next? I cite for you a phrase from the great British astrophysicist, Stephen Hawking: “When we have decided to set our sights on other planets, our future will be assured.” Another way of putting it is that our future depends on planets which are uninhabitable. In the solar system, he says, at the moment, we would need 50 thousand years to discover an inhabitable one. With new technologies and new research, maybe we could render this exploit possible, but the voyage would take at least six years. When a scientist like him makes such a statement— that the future of humanity depends on a colonization of another world which doesn’t exist, without water and air—the question is already there, this anxiety, this claustrophobia. He has this worry because it is precisely what he is working on.
I like to work on spaces of enclosure. Stephen Hawking’s statement means that the astrophysicist is the substitute of the geophysicist. For me, this is a delirium. It is the delirium of a science deprived of a philosophical consciousness, of the failure of success: the failure of the success of progress. The failure of progress is the failure of progress’ success up against the finitude of the world. It is the failure of progress’ spectacular achievement. I am not against progress. I am saying that it is wonderfully catastrophic. The failure of the spectacular achievement is found in all areas: anthropology, energy and information regarding matter. It is found in all areas but one: the wisdom of the discernment of the end, the discerning of finitude. This spectacular achievement has not taken into account the end—death. It has not taken finitude, or the fact that the world is only a world and science is only a limited science, into account. As the saying goes, “scientific truth is an error living on borrowed time.”
This is why I cannot work on speed without working on the accident. Speed and the accident are linked. What I just described is what I call the “Integral Accident.” Until now, scientific accidents, techno-scientific accidents as opposed to natural accidents like an earthquake, were local accidents. For example, a bomb explodes somewhere. The pollution of a fire was somewhere, etc. Today, the accident becomes integral. It concerns the expanse of the common world. We are replacing the expanse of the world with speed. This is truly an integral accident. Replacing the expanse of the world with the speed of transportation, or electromagnetic transmission, cannot be done without provoking a serial accident which concerns both the effects of kinetic energy and what I call the cinematic energies of the acceleration of reality. And this leads us to fatally disrupt history and geography: the great enclosure of the 21st century goes way beyond the incarceration of the 18th century and the era of the panoptican denounced by Foucault, after having been announced by Jeremy Bentham. It is this 21st century enclosure that is the big question today. What? It’s going to “live.” It’s the tele-objectivity of the world. It’s Google Earth. We have gone from megalomania to megalopsychia.
The approach I take is the study of the dromosphere and of the acceleration of reality. Real time is still in the real space of geography. The fear of the great enclosure has a name. It is what the elders of the siege called “obsidian fever.” I remind you that I have worked quite a bit on the strategies linked to war, sieges, etc. I will give you an extraordinary example of obsidian fever: the Warsaw Ghetto. There is a great journalist who spoke to me about the Warsaw Ghetto—I forget his name; I can’t give you the reference—but there was one thing he said that I have never forgotten. It was in the middle of winter and the journalist noticed that it stunk of coal and that all the windows were open. He asked people why they left their windows open in the middle of winter, and they said, “We are already under siege, you don’t want us to close the window as well?” This is obsidian fever. Except, here, the obsidian fever is that of a city or a ghetto. Imagine it tomorrow, a state of urgency on a world scale from a new technology, which is itself a siege of the world. A state of deception: that of the progress of reality, the progress of transportation, the origin of the radio, the origin of telecommunications, of microchips with radio-frequencies. A state of deception, a state of urgency, a state of siege, suppressing our public liberty, only there is no tyrant behind it all, suppressing them. They are suppressed by the enclosure of the world, the foreclosure of the world. There is no longer a need for a tyrant. Be assured, I am not in despair. I believe it is time to open the University of Disaster. There is a phrase from Churchill who said, “an optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity.”
Session II. The Temporal Contraction
Today, like the labour pains of birth, the temporal contraction of our daily activities and movements provokes a contraction of distance and delay that is less a sign of a positive advancement than that of a new type of accidental, catastrophic, ecological transfer. This transfer nonetheless leaves no trace because the super-sonic speed of aerial transports or the instantaneity of telecommunications is always perceived as incontestable progress. Nonetheless, this forces us to question ourselves about the serious gap of an ecological science that doesn’t seem to take into account any counter-force to this acceleration. The pollution of distance comes to associate itself with the pollution of substances, which is more concerned with the expanse of the common world than with the nature of elements. We must respect the spaces of our daily activities, to preserve the biodiversity of species on the way towards extinction. We are up against this relativistic event which affects not only the materiality of the human milieu, but also its time-space continuum. This event poses itself after the question of the acceleration of history and the acceleration of reality. With the explosion of the cybernetic interactivity of a real time which, from now on, conditions the political economy from our developed societies all the way to the weakest economies of the world, the terrestrial star has a certain number of astronomers searching in the universe for several exotic exo-planets to substitute with the planet of our narrow origins. Where will we have come to if the society of consumption has spread to all nations? Not only would our old earth not survive, but we would need at least three more to satisfy our needs. It is from here that we get this singular quest of the telluric planet for a planet three times as vast as our own. Thus, we claim that the earthquake of progress with the telluric contraction of distances and time is a pre-cursor to a birth both hoped for and dreaded by fear of an abnormality. There is a fear of a major handicap which would result from this contraction of time of the bio sphere for a humanity now born of its own humus—much more than from those far-off stars about which the astrophysicists speak of so often. Human comes from the word humus. Humus speaks of humility.
The lyrical illusion of a growing progress leads to the conjoined apparition of nanotechnologies of the infinitely small as well as the miniaturization of the infinitely big, including the only inhabitable planet in the solar-system. After the announcement at the end of the last century of the “end of history” by Fukuyama, we are not talking about announcing the end of geography, we are merely trying to evoke the telescoping, the accident of a time that is “real” but which does not take into account the spherical limits of the real space of a small planet in provisory suspension for cosmic life.
Session III. Art as far as the eye can see
We can understand the statement by Stockhausen who said that the greatest work of art in history was Ground Zero. Three thousand bodies… it’s logical. And then it was shown around the world on television. It was shown everywhere and forever. It is the chef d’oeuvre of death: the falling of the bodies. I want to begin with a small introduction in relation to the dialogue that we had with Wolfgang Schirmacher because it opened my mind up to something that I will develop elsewhere: why the dialogue and the disputatio are important. Today the statue of objection, of critique, of the disputatio, changes. We do not dialogue. We do not debate in the same manner if we are in a lifeboat, an amphitheatre, or a classroom. You see already the modification of the debate for television, with the quickness of the exchanges. This disrupts the contents between the presenter and the so well-named, his “guest.” I call this type of debate “ping-pong.” You have five seconds to respond. The limited character in time of the present situation, the present situation of the host, conditions the contents of the dialogue. When I go on television, I hate it. I have Italian roots and I want time to speak. I do not want to play ping-pong.
Regarding this situation of the dialogue, what we call empathic phenomenology opened dialogue but dramaturgy imposes its anti-empathic constraint. We are going to speak about two aspects of art: war, and (obviously) instantaneity: two aspects that condition the blind spot of art. The First World War was mundane. The Second World War was total. They were not at all the same. This war (the second) will integrally condition art and western culture. Art, in western culture, is a victim of war. The question then becomes: is art an invalid or invalid? I think this is very important because art has a dimension which triumphs over criticism. Each time that I discuss this with an art critic, they tell me: you’re an art critic, but you don’t like art. The point is not to like it, but to observe what it is, what happens to it. And here I will give you a very simple example.
The first phase of relativist impressionism, more than cubism, introduced Einsteinian relativity to expressionism—Otto Dix and all the expressionists. What happened between the two wars? The commune of Paris, the war of 1870, the war of 1914, and the Second World War—expressionism arrived after the First World War. Expressionism was the first wound, the first handicap of art. Then, we had surrealism. We can’t understand surrealism, “the magnetic fields” of Breton, and Aragon without the wonder of the fi reworks of war: the explosives and gas, etc. And after the Second World War, we had actionism, which we don’t speak often enough about. We can’t understand art today without the Viennese actionism. And in doing this, in passing by abstraction, we have of course the loss of sight of the figure. The non-figuration of the stand-in is the deportation of art. I repeat that the First World War was marked by the deportation of populations, but also the deportation of art from Europe to America. It was an event of war. We cannot understand the transfer of European art (which was the avant-garde) towards American art (which we’ll call contemporary art) without the deportation of war. We deported the Jews; we deported art. Another aspect that conditions the blind spot of art is speed and instantaneity. I said yesterday that the instantaneity of photography, then cinematography, and finally becoming real through television (with the imperialism of immediatized real time) is something that injures contemporary art. Contemporary art has become less temporary and more fatally intemporary. This is a very important word. Contrary to contemporary art, there is intemporary art. Namely, art has broken from its historical filiations. Which is to say, contemporary art is in accidental rupture with the origins of art. At the beginning of 2007, the director of the contemporary museum of modern art of Vienna asked me to write a small text about the art programmed for the year. Here’s a small excerpt:
“In the 19th century with impressionism and its phenomenology, it was the freedom of impressions that was released from academism. In the 20th century with expressionism and its dramaturgy, it was the freedom of expression which liberated itself from conformism. In the 21st century, today, these two freedoms of mind are threatening to disappear in the acceleration of a digital reality which erases everything, including all representational memories. Against this, the museum of contemporary art of Vienna could become the improbable conservatory, at least, of the unexpected: the museum of the accident of real time.”
In order to better confirm what I am saying here, the word transfer is very important— the transfer from analogy to numerology (I prefer the word numerology to digital). I remind you that numerology was a religion. This is very important. The transfer from analogy to numerology, what we call digital and its photographic software, etc, passes from representation, a distance, a memory, to pure presentation. It is real time. The hyperrealism of real time—moreover, the hyperrealism of America—pictorially anticipates the situation that I call tele-objectivity. The American hyperrealism that Baudrillard loved so much was introductive of the hyperreality of acceleration. Photographic instantaneity was the first machine of vision and the first machine of acceleration of instantaneity, much more so than the gun. The photograph is the initial case in the acceleration of reality. It will lead to the birth of cinematography, which is to say, to the cinematic parade of images. It will render visible cinematic effects. We have forgotten that the cinematic was the energy of the visible. There is kinetic energy with accidents, movements of the body and impacts, but there is also cinematic energy. In this way, the recording chamber of a camera is much more important than the machine of acceleration, which is the locomotive that revolutionizes transportation. With cinema, photography will revolutionize transmission with the television and tele-surveillance in real time. Thus, starting from the crisis of instantaneity to live telecommunications, we will witness not only the acceleration of history, but the acceleration of reality itself. Real time presentation of things, objects, and events will supplant the old representations of real space. Real time presentation is going to supplant the real space representation of pictorial, sculptural, or architectural works, to the point of putting contemporary art under wraps, which, beginning with abstraction, spreads the blind spot of art in mixing all the aesthetic disciplines of history. Thus, next to the object and the subject, objectivity and subjectivity, there is the technological phase which will bring forth what we can name without a doubt: tele-objectivity and its emotional tele-subjectivities. The entirety of this situation comes from the energy of the visible. This is a phrase that I like a lot: the energy of the visible. From the filmic sequence and the photogram, all the way to the tele-visual videogram, all this next to the kinetic energy of modern modes of transport, there is the cinematic energy of the means of transmission. So, kinetic energy is found in the modes of transport, the TGV, airplanes, etc. But with cinematic energy, no one recognizes cinematic energy as energy: namely, the cinematic energy of transmission. Transportation is linked to a kinetic energy. Transmission is a cinematic energy that is both auditory and visual.
In fact, like the political economy, the economy of culture suffered two lashings: not only the acceleration of art history like we said in the 19th century, but also starting not very long ago, the acceleration of reality, thanks to the progress of the information and communications revolution in real time which definitively disrupts the real space of forms, of sculpture for the benefit of real time and the rhythmology of image and sound. (Rhythmology here replaces morphology.) It is for this reason that I say that contemporary art, or rather intemporary art and its morphology, suffers from the assault of quasi-musical rhythmology. I repeat that music is the origin of speed. Contemporary art and its morphology suffer a quasi-musical rhythmological assault from diverse performances and installations mixed together more and more in what we call “the living spectacle.”
We find ourselves in the struggled mourning of an art of light, of the speed of light, of illumination, en route to the becoming-music of the televised image. One must choose between the dynamic and its emotional panic, and the trance state of the subjugated crowds. This is music, including military music. It is here and nowhere else that the political economy plays itself out. Notes
 See Félix Guattari, Three Ecologies, trans. Ian Pindar, Paul Sutton (Continuum, 2008).
 I borrow this notion from Bruce Bégout and his book, Le Concept D’Ambiance: Essai d’eco-phenomenologie (Paris: Seuil, 2020)
 See Vybarr Cregan-Reid’s book, Footnotes (St. Martin’s Press, 2017) regarding a phenomenological exploration of this re-grounding or sensing of the body in the environment by way of the practice of running.
 See the work with the same name, Sculpting in Time (University of Texas Press, 1989), by Andrei Tarkovsky regarding how film is understood as a practice of sculpting temporality.
 See Giuseppe Penone, Writings 1968-2008, Eds. Gianfranco Maraniello and Jonathan Watkins, IKON Gallery, 2009.
 See Paul Virilio, Futurisme de l’instant, stop-eject. (Paris: Galilée, 2009)
 See Michel Henry’s Seeing the Invisible: On Kandinsky (Continuum, 2009) pp. 18-19.
Reference for citations
Burk, D. (2022). The eco-phenomenological heritage of Paul Virilio I. Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice, Vol.3(1). - URL: http://en.ecopoiesis.ru