Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)

Text of Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice



    Anthropoetics 6, no. 2 (Fall

    2000 / Winter 2001)

    Speed and Violence:

    Sacrifice in Virilio, Derrida, and irard!ar" Featherstone

    Sociolo#$ / %&lt&ralSchool of Social 'elations

    eele ni*ersit$


    Staffordshire S

    nited in#do



    Speed and Violenceconsiders Paul Virilios theory of the accident and seeks toexcavate his "originary scene," the moment that produced the technology /accident economy discussed in his works The Museum of

    Accidents(1!,Politics of the Very Worst(1, andThe InformationBomb(#$$$a% &n consideration of the possi'ility that Virilios thesis denies theidea of the originary position, & relate his technology / accident economy to

    erridas deconstruction% &n particular the essay examines how Virilios theoryrefers to the notion ofdiffrance% )eyond this examination of Virilios possi'leatemporalism, my analysis shifts towards a consideration of the effects ofspeed% *hrough a reading that grounds the technology / accident 'ind in time,the essay looks towards the +irardian concept of the victim in order to suggestthat the anthropology implicit in Virilios dromology (theory of speed affirmsthe centrality of the victimary position%

    http://www.anthropoetics.ucla.edu/ap0602/virilio.htmmailto:[email protected]://www.anthropoetics.ucla.edu/ap0602/virilio.htmmailto:[email protected]
  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice



    Paul Virilios theory of the accident suggests that when one creates technologyone also engineers the faults and mistakes that plague the machine% Virilioshows how technology and the accident are caught in a dynamic relationship,

    akin to escartes (-eill, #$$$ manic .uest to exorcise dou't the morecomplex the technology one develops the more evasive the faults that cause themachine to malfunction 'ecome% *hus, the invention of new technologyrepresents the attempt to order the disorder of the system and drive out thechaotic influence of the accident% 0egarding this technology / accidenteconomy, Virilio writes

    *he accident is aninverted miracle, a secularmiracle, a revelation%2hen you invent the ship,you also invent theshipwreck when youinvent the plane you alsoinvent the plane crashand when you inventelectricity, you inventelectrocution%%%3verytechnology carries its ownnegativity, which isinvented at the same timeas technical progress(1 !%

    4ere, Virilios attempt to see technology as totality explains the idea of theaccident as negative invention% 5ater in the same interview,Politics of the VeryWorst, he expands his position in order to show how the machine com'ats errorthrough technological innovation

    %%%the development oftechnologies can onlyhappen through theanalysis and surpassing ofthese accidents% 2hen the3uropean railroads wereintroduced, the traffic was

    poorly regulated and

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    accidents multiplied% *herailroad engineersconvened in )russels in1!!$ and invented thefamous 'lock system% &twas a way to effectivelyregulate traffic so as toavoid the devastatingeffects of progress, trainwrecks% *he sinking ofthe Titanic is a similarexample% 6fter thistragedy, 77 wasdeveloped, a way ofcalling for help 'y radio%*he explosion ofthe Challengerspaceshuttle is a considera'leevent that reveals theoriginal accident of theengine in the same way asthe shipwreck of the firstocean liner (1 !%

    #Virilios reference to the Challengerspace shuttle as the "original accident ofthe engine"allows one to understand the moment of the machines error from atheoretical point of view% &t shows how the radical over8determination of themechanical structure is represented 'y the accidental event and invites us to seehow the crash is constitutive of the violent expenditure of an excessive"supplement," that the crash occurs 'ecause the machine has 'een designed towork at speeds that leave a'solutely no room for error% *hus Virilio explainshow the excessive pace of progressive technology is limited 'y the faults the

    accident exposes% *he essential function of the destructive event is to consumethe excessive energy of the supera'undant machine and prolong theproductivity of the technological model% 6ccording to this reali9ation it is clearthat the destructive accident is also the source of the machines renewal itsdestructive consumption allows for the endless re8invention of the orderedsystem%

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    6t the synchronic level, we can see how Virilios theory of technologicalprogress is located within a contextual framework% &t is apparent that there isalways a technical structure availa'le for the exploration of the accidentalevent% 4owever, 'eyond this analysis of the dynamic technology / accident

    'ind, a theory that can 'e compared to )atailles (11 thesis of excess andconsumption, the narrativity of Virilios account appearsto follow erridastheory of diffranceinto the groundless sphere of textuality% Put another way,

    'ecause Virilios reasoning suggests that each technological form emergesfrom the noise and chaos of the accident, while every accident issues from theexcessive pace of technology, one seems una'le to derive any originary, causalunderstanding from Virilios text% :or instance, in the Challengerexample,Virilios theory implies that the invention of the space shuttle was provoked 'ythe failure of some earlier form of space technology, while its crash led to theinvention of later, more complex, designs aimed at driving out the errors thatled the space shuttle to malfunction% 6lthough this analysis ofthe Challengerepisode grounds the thesis of the accident at the synchroniclevel, it is difficult to locate any foundational crash or invention at the level ofdiachronic analysis% &n other words, the temptation is to suggest that Viriliofails to excavate the "originary event" did technology predate the accident orshould we see the accident as the disordered chaos that provoked the inventionof the ordered machine;

    &n response to this apparent relativism, which has led many to regard Virilio asa post8modern thinker, the aim of this article is to show how we may ground histheory of speed (dromology in the originary morality of a victimary position% &want to suggest that Virilios theory of the functional accident as therecuperated negativity that allows for the progress of the non8human machinedefines a form of radical su'

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    undecida'ility of the silent a, it is apparent that Virilios idea of technologyincu'ates the disorder of the accident, the free8play of chaotic energy thatthreatens to destroy the metaphysical structures of the machine whenever it isunleashed% =oreover, according to )anderas (1!# reading of errida, thesilent athat stands at the core of diffrance represents the tom'stone, the traceof disorder and chaos that metaphysical structures attempt to drive out% 5ikeVirilios concept of technology, this analysis illustrates deconstructionsunderstanding of metaphysics as a disciplinary form of universality% 6serridas (1!1 exploration of Platos "pharmacy" suggests, the persistence ofthe a'sence of meaning, as descri'ed 'y the figure of the tom'stone, shouldserve as a reminder that certainty and presence have never existed apart fromsuch attempts to fix deterministic structure to our thinking a'out the world%4ere, errida renounces the vain search for +od, the .uest for centrality andorigin, and reverses the Platonic mission 'y emphasi9ing the traces of disorder%6kin to Virilios theory of the technology / accident relation, such a position iskeen to show how the outside is intrinsically linked to the inside% )y opposingthe aim of Platos pharmacy, the drive to separate the cure from the poison,errida wants to explain how good and 'ad medicine are always mixed% *his is

    perhaps deconstructions key discovery the reali9ation that this mixture, the'inding that relates presence and a'sence, furnishes a place for the maintenanceof disorder%

    :rom this comparison we can see that, as with Virilios thesis of the technology/ accident machine, errida recogni9es that one cannot take a'sence away from

    presence 'ecause 'oth are part of the same representational game% 4owever,my suggestion is that where Virilio and errida separate is on their recognitionofspeed% &n contrast to erridas sphere of timeless textuality, Viriliossynchronic theory of the accident is driven 'y a temporal dimension% +irardsthesis on the acceleration of mimetic relations allows us to see how Viriliosconcept of speed leads the technology / accident oscillation towards anapocalyptic crash, the critical moment of un8differentiation% )y contrast, as)andera explains, errida neglects the theory of speed in his textual analysis%4is deconstructive play of diffrancerepresents a sphere of endless deferral

    >*he point is that, as thegame accelerates therewill 'e more and moredifferences in less and lesstime% 6nd since their

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    reciprocal differentiationdepends on the duration oftheir deferring, the shorterthis duration 'ecomes theless distinctly differentthey will 'e from oneanother% 2hich meansthat, 'eyond a certain timethreshold ladiffrance'egins to workin reverse, against itself,actively promoting a stateof generalundifferentiation, for therewill 'e a diminishingnum'er of differencescapa'le of making anydifference whatsoever%)eyond such a point, ladiffrance turnsinto lindiffrance% &nother words, the game thaterrida has uncovered inhis deconstruction of

    metaphysics, cannot 'epostulated as endless88not'ecause there is anythingexternal to it that wouldstop it or destroy it, 'ut

    'ecause it can generate itsown destruction intime(1!# >##%

    &n much the same way that )andera uncovers the destructive potential

    of lindiffrance'y su'

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    preponderant role of thespeed of the accident, thusthe limitation of speed andthe penalties for"exceeding the speedlimit" % % % 2ith the currentworld8wide revolution incommunication andtelematics, accelerationhas reached its physicallimit, the speed ofelectromagnetic waves%7o there is the risk not ofa local accident in a

    particular location, 'utrather of a glo'al accidentthat would affect if not theentire planet, then at leastthe ma

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    explains that, following erridas exposure of metaphysical error,deconstructions endless assault on the remains of presence 'egins to resem'lethe collective violence of +irards scapegoat mechanism% 6lthough thesacrificial o'

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice



    &n essence this is the accusation that )andera levels at errida88thatdeconstruction repeats the violence its author aims to criti.ue88when he arguesthat deconstructions assault on metaphysics secures the integrity of the textual

    sphere, which in turn re8orders the tur'ulence of the creaking collective% :or)andera, erridas victimi9ation of metaphysics defines deconstruction as 'othscapegoat mechanism and scapegoat mythology% n the one hand, thedestruction of metaphysics allows for the survival of endless textuality, while,on the other hand, endless textuality o'scures the violence of the sacrificialscapegoat mechanism 'y advancing a theory of openness and difference%:ollowing such a reali9ation it .uickly 'ecomes a .uestion of whetherdeconstruction should 'e seen as a response to the violence of metaphysicsexpulsion of writing, or whether deconstruction is itself constitutive of thesacrificial machine, the system that pro

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    an inclusion, 'y virtue of 'eing half8human, and an exclusion, 'ecause of itsanimal nature% 5ike +irards foundational victim, who is a'le to stand as theinclusive8exclusion 'y retrospectively referring to 'oth heroism and villainy,6gam'ens wolf8man represents the expulsion which grounds the collectiveorder through its em'odiment of homo sacer, the person "who may 'e killedyet not sacrificed" (1! !%

    :rom this point of view, +anss commitment to the level of political discoursemay reproduce the sado8masochistic machine which excludes / alienatesotherness in order to constitute a sphere for textual contestation% 4is use of thesign as a marker for the division of humanity and animality threatens toconfirm the role of the wolf8man / homo saceras one of inclusive8exclusion 'yadvancing a position which allows it to 'e at once included in the sphere ofhumanity, which means that it can serve as a foundational victim for the socialorder, yet excluded from the level of political signification 'ecause of itsdesignated animality% &t is this non8human element that prevents homo sacersentry into the city, the domain of law and order, which would allow itsvictimary position to 'e understood in terms of divine /

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    erridas tom'stones of presence hide nothing one is urged to focus on thehole itself rather than anything that metaphysics suggests lay 'ehind it% &ncontrast, Virilios accidents commemorate the demise of the victim% 6s thethreat of the total accident deepens, Virilio grounds the technology / accident

    'ind on what we may call an ethic of radical su'

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    .uestion of +enesis%%%is indanger of losing itsmeaning, at least as far asthe "'eginning of time" isconcerned%

    :or if there really is aninfinitely small of time asthere is one of space (asthe theory of relativityre.uires, the first minuteof the universe is infiniteand a 'eginning of timehas to 'e sought deepinside the a'soluteintensity of the instant(#$$$' B#%

    &n this extract fromPolar Inertia&Virilio notes that although contemporarycosmology has relin.uished a narrative +enesis in favor of the infinitely dense

    play of fractality at a non8scenic origin, he finds an infinite concentration ofhuman time concealed in the detemporali9ed model of .uantum theory in muchthe same way that )andera o'serves the scapegoat mechanism at work indeconstruction% :ollowing +irards example of the su'terranean influence of

    'i'lical scripture, Virilio argues that errida must rediscover the victim 'uried'eneath the tom'stone%

    &n contrast to this position, writers such as 0ichard )eardsworth (#$$$ andDolin avies (#$$$ may 'e seen to exemplify the contemporary ideology thatseeks to privilege mechanical o'

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    +irards thesis ofnonviolence inverts intoviolence 'y 'ecomingitself violent in order toensure its ownnonviolence()eardsworth, #$$$ 1F$%

    :or )eardsworth, +irards exclusion of violence in order to secure the truthclaims advanced 'y non8violence is itself an act of violence% )eardsworthargues that, in thus deciding(from the 5atin word "decidere," to cut the throatof the victim, +irard sacrifices otherness and reduces difference in favor of themoral position occupied 'y the scapegoat +irard fixes the role of the victimand, 'y making the indeterminate a negative category of the determinate,denies the free8play of multiplicity% &n sympathy with this position, aviesarticle ":athers, thers *he 7acrificial Victim in :reud, +irard, and 5evinas"(#$$$ suggests that +irards empiricism limits his pro

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice



    )oth )eardsworth and avies explain a process where'y +irard performs hisown theory% :or )eardsworth, +irard scapegoats alternative truths in order tosecure the closure of his own theoretical model, whereas avies suggests that

    the rigidity of the +irardian concept of truth leads its author to 'ecome caughtup in the violent drama of his own scapegoat mechanism% 4owever, 'oth thesewriters fail to recogni9e how a'solute su'

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    the openness to difference errida foregrounds in hisPolitics of)riendship (1C feeds 'ack into the +irardian notions of undifferentiationand disorder 'y advancing a state of radical disorgani9ation% 7tating that

    politics re.uires the critical

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    that any active oroperative political anti8Itopianism % % % mustsooner or later revealitself as a vi'rant form ofItopianism in its ownright (#$$$ >#%

    &n this sense, the +irardian complaint that scapegoat theory is undervalued may'e

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    other, renders humanity expenda'le and seals the fate of the victim% 6ccordingto Virilio this condition is caused 'y the over8reliance on technology, asituation which is itself predicated on the ostensi'ly democratic nature ofmachine culture% 6s the -itschke / ent case illustrates, the empty form of thetechnology leads one to assume its neutrality% 6s we have seen with erridaand the advocates of deconstruction (such as )eardsworth and avies, towhom we may add the critics of the dominant ideology thesis (such as6'ercrom'ie, 4ill, and *urner, this position ignores the most powerful form of

    'ias the ideological pre

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    process at work, Virilio considers how technology is a'le to 'oth cripple andaugment the 'ody

    *hose disa'led in war orin8B$%

    4ere we can see how the technological accident leads to the destruction of the'ody and its su'se.uent re8formation through non8human augmentation% Virilioshows how, when we are crippled in the world, the technological form re8

    presents an image of our former mo'ility% &t 'ecomes a sym'olic form which atonce sustains a deterministic world system and structures humanitysrelationship with progressive technology% *his theory of cy'ernetictran.uili9ation is similarly relevant at the level of textuality% )anderas criti.ue

    of deconstruction shows how, in much the same way that +irards notion of thescapegoat explains how the anestheti9ation of the social system is secured 'ythe death of the sacrificial victim, erridas space of difference andindeterminacy is achieved at the expense of dissenting voices, which aredismissed as totalitarian others%


  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    6t the level of technology, Virilio provides several examples of thisdichotomous condition% &n The Information Bombhe relates the story of the&nuit 'oy who discovered that a skeleton on display in the -ew Jork -atural4istory =useum was that of his father% -oting how the appropriations of thefathers skeleton 'y Dolum'ia Iniversitys anthropology department should 'eseen as em'lematic of the opinion that saw peripheral people as lower forms ofhumanity, he concludes that one should understand such an episode as anillustration of the "transfer of the 2ests expansionist drives from theexhausted geography of the terrestrial to the human 'ody" (#$$$a FF% :romthe perspective of techno8science, it is clear that this example of thetechnological coloni9ation of the 'ody mirrors the earlier criti.ue ofdeconstruction as the textual coloni9ation of human su'

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    to imagine undifferentiation as the onset of a political age without accidents, ispredicated on the systematic exclusion of those who are una'le to perform athigh speed% )oth technology and deconstruction hide the savage nature ofspeed 'ehind the cartoon violence of ideological textuality% 6t this level ofarticulation, Virilios concepts of the accident, a'solute speed, and inertia donot signify violent undifferentiation in the +irardian sense of the crisis ofdegree, 'ut pro'lemati9e the textual notions of a'sence and openness we find inerrida and deconstruction%


    =y thesis is that Virilios theories of the total accident, the end of modernity,and inertia explain the importance for him of the victimary position% Virilio isresistant to the effects of speed and committed to the cause of those who fail tokeep pace with the technological world system% Donversely, he is highly criticalof forms of articulation that em'race speed and collapse content in order toorgani9e faster structures% Virilio suggests that this empty form of organi9ation,what he calls the "tendency," is em'lematic of the onset of total technology andthe emergence of an uncritical appreciation of machines that overstates theneutrality of form% ne of Virilios recent interviews illustrates his associationof uncritical technological fundamentalism with political theories of knowledgerelativism% 4e notes, relating an episode which concerned 5yotard

    =y friend asked "2ell,5yotard, what do youhave to say a'out thatgrand narrative called

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    cannot 'e divided up, 'efractali9ed on pain ofdescent into 'ar'arism%2e have reached the limitthere% (Virilio in6rmitage, #$$$ >

    &n sympathy with Eearneys criti.ue of erridas "alienology" (a'solutehospitality towards aliens, Virilio shows how the openness of 5yotards

    postmodernism introduces difference at the sacrifice of the recognition ofstructural power relations% &ndeed, his reference to the fractali9ation of

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    within the confines of the tendency, the attempt to save critical content from thesavage effects of speeding structure remains central to his dromological pro

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    memoriali9es the victims of the progressive technological system andremem'ers the dead who lie 'eneath the tom'stones of ideological textuality%


    & would like to thank 7io'han 4olohan for her constant support andencouragement, and Hohn -eill for his invalua'le insights and continueddirection% 4is seminars at 7taffordshire Iniversity continue to inspire my work%



    6'ercrom'ie, - 4ill, 7 and *urner, ) ([email protected] So!ereign Indi!iduals ofCapitalism% 5ondon 6llen L Inwin%

    6gam'en, + (1!#omo Sacer+ So!ereign Po"er and Bare 'ife% 7tanford7tanford Iniversity Press%

    6rmitage, H (3d% (#$$$Paul Virilio+ )rom Modernism to #ypermodernismand Beyond% 5ondon 7age%

    6rmitage, H ":rom =odernism to 4ypermodernism and )eyond 6n &nterviewwith Paul Virilio" in 6rmitage, H (3d% (#$$$Paul Virilio+ )rom Modernism to

    #ypermodernism and Beyond% 5ondon 7age%

    )andera, D (1!# "-otes on errida, *om'stones, and the 0epresentational+ame" Stanford )rench ,e!ie"% Volume @%

    )ataille, + (11 The Accursed Share+ Volume I+ Consumption% -ew JorkGone )ooks%

    )audrillard, H (1!> Simulations% -ew Jork 7emiotext(e%

    )audrillard, H (1F The -ulf War $id .ot Ta(e Place% 7ydney Power Press%

    )eardsworth, 0 (#$$$ "5ogics of Violence 0eligion and the Practice ofPhilosophy" Cultural Values% Volume B -um'er #%

    )orch8Haco'sen, = (11'acan+ The Absolute Master% 7tanford 7tanfordIniversity Press%

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    Drogan, P "*he *endency, the 6ccident and the Intimely Paul Virilios3ngagement with the :uture" in 6rmitage, H (3d% (#$$$Paul Virilio+ )rom

    Modernism to #ypermodernism and Beyond% 5ondon 7age%

    avies, D (#$$$ ":athers, thers *he 7acrificial Victim in :reud, +irard, and

    5evinas Cultural Values% Volume B -um'er #%

    e 5anda, = (11 War in the Age of Intelligent Machines% -ew Jork Gone)ooks%

    eleu9e, + and +uattari, : (1!!A Thousand Plateaus+ Capitalism andSchi/ophrenia+ Volume II% 5ondon 6thlone%

    errida, H (1!1$issemination% 5ondon 6thlone%

    errida, H (1!B "-o 6pocalypse, -ot -ow (full speed ahead, seven missiles,seven missives"$iacrits% M&V 7ummer%

    errida, H (1B Specters of Mar%+ The State of $ebt& the Wor( of Mourning&and the .e" International% 5ondon 0outledge%

    errida, H (1CPolitics of )riendship% 5ondon Verso%

    :reud, 7 (1!F "*otem and *a'oo" in The 0rigins of ,eligion% 5ondonPenguin%

    +ans, 3 (1> 0riginary Thin(ing+ *lements of -enerati!e Anthropology%7tanford 7tanford Iniversity Press%

    +ans, 3 (1C Signs of Parado%+ Irony& ,esentment& and 0ther MimeticStructures% 7tanford 7tanford Iniversity Press%

    +irard, 0 ([email protected] The Scapegoat% )altimore Hohns 4opkins Iniversity Press%

    +irard, 0 (1!C Things #idden Since the )oundation of the Worldwith Hean8

    =ichel ughourlian and +uy 5efort% 7tanford 7tanford Iniversity Press%+irard, 0 (111ob+ Victim of his People% 5ondon 6thlone%

    +irard, 0 (1C,esurrection from the 2nderground+ )eodor $ostoe!s(y%-ew Jork Drossroad Pu'lishing%

    +irard, 0 (#$$$A Theatre of *n!y% 5eominster +racewing%

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    Hameson, : "Itopianism and 6nti8Itopianism" in 4ardt, = and 2eeks, E(eds% (#$$$ The 1ameson ,eader% xford )lackwell%


    Eearney, 0 (1 "6liens and thers )etween +irard and errida" CulturalValues% Volume > -um'er >%

    5acan, H (1> The Psychoses+ The Seminar of 1ac3ues 'acan+ Boo( III+456674568% 5ondon 0outledge%

    5evinas, 3 (1C Totality and Infinity% *he 4ague -i

  • 7/27/2019 Featherstone -- Virilio Sacrifice


    Virilio, P (#$$$'Polar Inertia% 5ondon 7age%

    Gi9ek, 7 (1#'oo(ing A"ry+ An Introduction to 1ac3ues 'acan throughPopular Culture% Dam'ridge =&* Press%

    Gi9ek, 7 "*he 7pectre of &deology" in Gi9ek, 7 (3d% (1BMapping Ideology%5ondon Verso%

    Gi9ek, 7 (3d% (1BMapping Ideology% 5ondon Verso%

    Gupancic, 6 (1*thics of the ,eal+ 9ant and 'acan% 5ondon Verso%

    Anthropoeticssubscribers may copy or download

    this text from the network, but its distribution or

    publication shall constitute an infringement of the

    uthor!s copyright.

    Anthropoetics - The Electronic Journal of Generative


    "olume "#, number 2 $%all 2000/&inter 200'(

    #))* '0+-26

    1: http://www.anthropoetics.ucla.edu/

    3mail: anthro4humnet.ucla.edu

    http://www.anthropoetics.ucla.edu/mailto:[email protected]://www.anthropoetics.ucla.edu/mailto:[email protected]