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Industrial Flesh: Paul Virilio's Strategy of Deception, A Landscape of Events, and The Information Bomb

Industrial Flesh: Paul Virilio's Strategy of Deception, A Landscape of Events, and The Information Bomb

Strategy of Deception

Virilio, Paul. Translator: Turner, Chris. New York: Verso, 2000. 82p., $15.00, paperback. ISBN: 1859843018.

A Landscape of Events

Virilio, Paul. Translator Rose, Julie. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000. 130p., $15.95, paperback. ISBN: 026272034.

The Information Bomb

Virilio, Paul. Translator: Turner, Chris. New York: Verso, 2000. 145p., $23.00, hardback. ISBN: 1859847455.

<1> Paul Virilio's Strategy of Deception, A Landscape of Events, and The Information Bomb, like his earlier works, are studies of speed and culture. And while many of the ideas and concepts being expressed will be familiar to those who have studied his work, the trajectories which he takes in each offers new insights into old ideas, fleshing out the effects of speed on culture and, thus, giving a name to the profound cultural transformations that are occurring in our own era.

<2> The Strategy of Deception is a collection of essays that discuss the various technological innovations on display during the war in Kosovo, as well as the shift in sensibilities that both flows from and brings about such innovations. By examining the role of information technologies and the goal of "global information dominance," Virilio asks the reader to consider the qualities of what was billed as a "humanitarian war" (Strategy of Deception, 17). Rather than look at the media's image of the war as a heroic and tidy event, with few Allied casualties, Virilio digs into the ethical issues surrounding what he calls a "secular holy war":

When you claim to prosecute a war in the name of "human rights" -- a humanitarian war -- you deprive yourself of the possibility of negotiating a cessation of hostilities with your enemy. If the enemy is a torturer, the enemy of the human race, there is no alternative but the extremes of total war and unconditional surrender (Strategy of Deception, 8-9).

In addressing the scale of destruction necessitated by such moral imperatives, Virilio reveals the potential for total annihilation that is bound up in "globalitarian" conflicts.

<3> Virilio's critique looks beyond traditional weapons of war, to interrogate the way that new technologies are being implemented to the same effect. He moves from missile to satellite, charting the effects of the assault rather than the appearance, "In both cases, what one is seeking to eliminate is only life, the opponents energetic vitality" (Strategy of Deception, 52). He thus moves from nuclear war to information war,

For want of being able to abolish the bomb, we have decided, then, to abolish the state, a nation state which is now charged with "sovereignist" vices and "nationalist" crimes, thereby exonerating a military-industrial and scientific complex which has spent a whole century innovating in horror and accumulating the most terrifying weapons -- from asphyxiating gases and bacteriological weapons to the thermonuclear device, not to mention the future ravages of the information bomb or of a genetic bomb that will be capable not merely of abolishing the nation state, but the people, the population, by the "genomic" modification of the human race (Strategy of Deception, 57).

In seeing weapons for their ability to rob humans of their vitality, Virilio recontextualizes the context of globalized warfare which is now fought at the speed of light, through telecommunications, propaganda, and social controls, and perhaps, supplemented by traditional means. The ultimate triumph of such a war (of any war, really) is an immobilization of the populace and/or an annihilation of the government, with or without bombs.

<4> A Landscape of Events, on the other hand, is a series of essays written through the 1980s and 1990s that tracks the evolution of a new method of historical perception, in which humanity progressively assumes a God's eye view of the world, humanity, history, and the self. To quote Virilio, "For God, history is a landscape of events. For Him, nothing really follows sequentially since everything is co-present." (Landscape of Events, x) From here, Virilio begins his countdown, "the film of Genesis backward," on a path towards our own un-creation (Landscape of Events, 36).

<5> Looking at everything from war to terrorism to electronic commerce to surveillance to accidents, Virilio discusses the role that speed and acceleration (facilitated by technology) plays in an increased, "dematerialization," "depersonalization," and "derealization" of everyday life. Because of telepresence and real time technologies which enable everything to happen world-wide at once, "the time allotted to decision-making is now insufficient" and tasks become increasingly automated (Landscape of Events, 92). The increased cyberneticization of everyday life alongside the dematerialization, depersonalization, and derealization of social experience has created and continues to create profound changes for humanity, leading Virilio to conclude that:

The countdown has in fact begun. In a few months, a few years at most, there will no longer be time to intervene; real time will have imploded. (Landscape of Events, 96)

<6> The Information Bomb, a more focused and lengthy book than the other two, discusses the transition from science to "technoscience" and its consequences for human populations. Virilio sees the central problem as a crisis of ethics fueled by the spirit of invention:

Science, which is not so attached to "truth" as it once was, but more to immediate "effectiveness," is now drifting towards a decline, its civic fall from grace" As a panic phenomenon -- a fact concealed by the success of its devices and tools -- contemporary science is losing itself in the very excessiveness of its alleged progress. Much as a strategic offensive can wear itself out by the scale of its tactical conquests, so techno-science is gradually wrecking the scholarly resources of all knowledge. (The Information Bomb, 2)

In other words, the drive to create new technologies, which is fueled by military and industrial interests, has created a science which is grounded strictly in innovation with little attention being paid to ethical concerns or higher values. As with military strategy, each innovation or potential innovation becomes a necessity -- rightness or wrongness is supplanted by possibility. The consequence is a science which becomes increasingly infantilizing, disempowering, and even hostile to human bodies -- the culmination being a technology of death in which humanity is reduced to near nothingness.

<6> Virilio points out the proliferating misanthropic machines which populate our world to our detriment (and pleasure): Suicide machines (The Information Bomb, 5), web cameras (17), cinema (24), surveillance cameras (29), satellites (29), automobiles (36), television (59), cell phones (67), opinion polls (109), and etc. All of which, in their increasing speed and interconnectivity, are already resulting in a situation in which "human beings are just an additional handicap" (The Information Bomb, 81). In a moment of manic mastery, Virilio points to the increasing dissatisfaction with the limitations of the human body as the reason for the popular fascination with, "the so-called reality show, which shades over, at the edges, into the snuff movie" (The Information Bomb, 90). And returning to the logic of "pure war" in The Strategy of Deception, Virilio concludes that such technoscience will result in the massive eugenic project of the "'pure war' with zero births for certain species which have disappeared from the bio-diversity of living matter" (The Information Bomb, 145).

<7> Paranoid and pessimistic as he may seem, Virilio, in The Information Bomb, A Landscape of Events, and Strategy of Deception, pays close attention to the ethical problems which are evolving in our own era. Virilio is one of the few scholars who has recognized just what might produce the atrocities that tomorrow's scholars (if there is a tomorrow) will lament and critique for generations to come. Auschwitz and Hiroshima will feel different the second time around, but the results, if we choose to continue along our current trajectory of unabashed technological manifest destiny, will be the same. This great theme of Virilio's work, the increasing "industrialization of living matter" (The Information Bomb, 136; Strategy of Deception, 82) through technology, is the vehicle for the globalitarian dystopia of tomorrow -- the beginning of the end.

Davin Heckman