[ARENA] Entrevista com Paul Virilio

miguel leal ml virose.pt
Quarta-Feira, 22 de Outubro de 2008 - 23:39:27 WEST

  Olá a todos:

Segue junto a tradução para inglês de uma entrevista recente de Paul  
Virilo, cortesia do nosso amigo Patrice Reims.
Apesar da habitual visão apocalíptica (e moralista), não deixa de ser  
uma curiosa perspectiva sobre a actualidade ...


following interview by Gerard Courtois and Michel Guerrin.

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

[Le krach actuel représente l'accident intégral par excellence]

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

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

Paul Virilio: Well, of course. In 1979, at the time of the mishap at  
the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in the U.S., I did mention the  
occurrence of an "original accident" - the kind of accident we bring  
forth ourselves. I said that our technical prowess was pregnant of  
catastrophic promises. In the past, accidents were local affairs.  
With Tchernobyl, we have entered the era of global accidents, whose  
consequences are in the realm of the long term. The current crash  
represents the perfect 'integral accident'.
Its effect ripple far and wide, and it incorporates the  
representation of all other accidents. For thirty years now, the  
phenomenon of History accelerating has been negated, together with  
the fact that this acceleration has been the prime mover of the  
proliferation of major accidents. Freud said it, speaking of death:  
"accumulation snuffs out the perception of contingency". Contingency  
is the key word here. These accidents are not contigent occurences.  
For the time being, the prevalent opinion is that researching the  
crash of the stock exchange as a political and economic issue and in  
terms of its social consequences is adequate enough. But it is  
impossible to understand what is going on if one does not implement a  
(policy based on the) political economy of speed, the speed that  
technological progress engenders, and if one does not link (this  
policy) to the 'accidental' character of History. Let's take just one  
example: the dictum "time is money". I add to this, and the stock  
exchange testify to it: "speed is power". We have moved from the  
stage of the acceleration of History to that of the acceleration of  
the Real. This is what 'the progress' is: a consensual sacrifice.

GC/MG: So accidents are too little researched?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GC/MG: You believe in chaos?

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

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

Distributed as CC by-nc-nd


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