Sep 23, 2018

Albania's 'Transition' as an 'Accident of the Transfer'? | (re)Thinking with Virilio [Part II]

*The following is the second installment of a three-part series on Virilio’s work. The link to the others can be found here and here.

A society which rashly privileges the present — real time — 
to the detriment of both the past and the future, also privileges the accident. 
— Paul Virilio, The Museum of Accidents


Virilio's work helps us understand the Albania's Transition to neoliberalism as part of a larger ecology of power, where the city as a layered ground of human reflections and historical recordings becomes a non-place, an acceleration of the present that enables the disappearance of both past and future. The speed of overindulgence is also that of disappearance, that speed-space in which private constructions/developments rush to privatize public land, and corrupt governments push for a quick confirmation of ‘special’ (tailored but illegal) laws. Speed-space, as opposed to space-time, is the space of absolute power the perfect image that enables the perfect crime. The beauty of it, no matter how fleeting (pun intended), consist in getting away with it, not only unscathed but thriving.

The speed-space is one of war, hence new technologies have aided the latest Albanian regime of Rilindje to wage war within, a war on democracy (free speech and will) by campaigning the beautiful — ‘beauty will lead us out of the dark ages and into the light'. The sentiment ‘Let there be light’ (I am thinking of John Huston’s 1980 documentary) takes a profound meaning here, along similar lines of Marie’s Antoinette’s ‘Let them eat cake’ bit, for not only showing the bleak conditions the starving masses (mental or physical), but for revealing the darkness of those enlightened in overindulge. This motto of beauty enables us to (fore)see the deception of light. Hence, Rilindje’s ‘beauty’ breaks away from previous defense/offense mechanisms, such as the fortress or the bunker type — the terror through architectural heaviness in favor of light and architectural lightness. Through smoke and mirrors, it has build swift walls of light instead. This is not a one-off practice — it is a worldwide phenomena, and as such, it champions Albania's inclusion to those being led astray by the ‘gaze of the West’.

The city has always been a site of matter, where idea(l)s, mentalities, materialize. It, thus, provides a well-documented and layered proof of who, what and when has had a hand in design(at)ing it over time. It provides depth which is now being challenged by the confrontation between space-time memories and speed-space intensities in an everything-is-up-for-grabs manner — a (peacetime) war of speed waged on time (thus, territory) for power (absolution). Despite its best efforts to hide its true agenda, R’s ‘beauty through (speed of) light’ campaign, as both an instrument of war and a promise of peace, visibly remains surface-deep, a deception, an optical illusion that in its quest to enlighten souls fails to reach their depth, that darkness it wants to bring to light. So in a way, in its quest to civilize the masses (to bring a western light eastward, globalization itself), R’s regime reveals the darkness within, the darkness that makes all regimes possible, that of absolute control — of means and ends. Its panopticon is constructed in perceived freedom — a coercion of space, of mind, of time. How can it enlighten or civilize (via its aesthetically ‘seductive’ projects) when it takes away public territory; when it continues to oppress freedom — physical and psychological — when it keeps minds in the darks and limits the space of bodies; when it smooths the city into a surface of accelerations and disappearances — when it exhausts its relief and exterminate its historical heritage? An unbearable lightness of being indeed. How much does such lightness weigh on humanity? Just as much as the burden of its psychic darkness perhaps?


The paragraphs below describe the architecture of globalization so well — now fully unleashed in Albania (a top-down legalization of ‘extralegal’ state-private building boom, no different than the ‘informal’ bottom-up, do-it-yourself urban growth of post-‘90s, which it has condemned illegal, and what it hasn’t yet demolished still awaits legalization, for ‘beauty’ related issues no doubt)  — and visibly so as we see it unfold in the historical theater vs. private skyscraper debate in Tirana.

General Note:  Bold text indicates my emphasis.
The postcards in this post are the latest (4x6) sequence of the ones I started to do about two years ago here on the blog, along with a few other montages I've posted on the Facebook page. All are available and free for all to use under the Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.


The accident is an inverted miracle, a secular miracle, a revelation.
When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck. 

— Paul Virilio, Politics of the Very Worst

The Museum of Accidents

I say at the end of the article that television is the actual museum. In the beginning, I say: a museum of accidents is needed, and the reader imagines a building with accidents inside. But at the end, I say: no, this museum already exists, it's television.
This is more than a metaphor: the cinema was certainly an art, but television can't be, because it is the museum of accidents. In other words, its art is to be the site where all accidents happen. But that's its only art.
One exposes the accident in order not to be exposed to the accident. It's an inversion. There is a French expression that says: to be exposed to an accident, to cross a street without looking at the cars means exposing oneself to be run over. This is more than a play with words, it's fundamental. For instance, when a painter exhibits his work, one says: he exposes his work. Similarly, when we cross the street, we expose ourselves to a car accident.
And television exposes the world to the accident. The world is exposed to accidents through television. The editor of the New York Times was recently interviewed in Le Nouvel Observateur, and he said something that I really agree with: television is a media of crisis, which means that television is a media of accidents. [via]


Squared Horizon

What is the ‘portable window’?

I used this term in reference to architecture, because the problem in architecture is first and foremost one of doors and windows. It is not the wall which encloses, since a structure that cannot be entered is not a structure for man.
​ There are three windows. There is the French window (door) which serves to effect an architecture, a place where man lives, be this a city or an apartment. There is the window which renders itself autonomous, the window as a place of light or looking – here we have an extraordinary invention related to a religious problem, the problem of the cult of light, through the claustra, solar calendars, etc. The third window is the television screen… So when I speak of a window, I mean this third window. I am speaking also of another constructed space, that of telecommunications and the new technologies. Another point concerns cutting out: you only have an image if there is cutting, for nothing is ever seen in its entirety. Everything is always perceived through a frame, and it’s certain this frame existed from the moment the first eye opened upon the visible field. This process continued with the framing of paintings, the frame of the photograph, and the frame created by the television camera eye. I believe when you talk of a third window, you are talking about a new frame, a sidereal frame, since with communications satellites and live re-broadcasts, the problem of the window becomes a macrocosmic phenomenon. But, this all stems from the very first window, the porthole drilled in the megalithic tomb. In these tombs there was a tiny hole to let the sun shine in. All this goes back to the beginning of time. That’s why I call it the continuation of as tory, the aftermath of that first sighting.
As a first step we spoke of space; I think here we should speak of time. The contemporary image is a time-image, even a speed-image. The first pictures were space images, and that’s what I refer to when I speak of an aesthetics of disappearing. Images only persist because of the persistence of their medium: stone in the neolithic era or in ancient times, carved wood, painted canvas. … Those are an aesthetics of immersion, of the appearance of an image which becomes permanent. The image is sketched, then painted and coated, and it lasts because its medium persists. With the coming of photography, followed by cinematography and video, we entered the realm of an aesthetics of disappearance: the persistence is now only retinal. Despite the film used in photography and cinema, there is no longer any real ‘support’. The sustaining medium is retinal persistency because there is a persistency of the image in my eye that is this image in motion. Let’s never forget that. So I believe an aesthetics of disappearing is another world, another link to the real. It is a link to the real as fleeting, as uncertain.
I think the old image, the old reality, was a reality that can be presented as a space-time reality. Man lived in a time system of his actual presence: when he wasn’t there, he wasn’t there. Today we are entering a space which is speed-space. [...] I think the present finds us squarely between these two times. We are living in both the extensive time of the cities of stories, of memories, or archives, or writing, and the intensive time of the new technologies. That’s the ‘program of absence’ that’s how we program our definitive absence, because we’ll never be present in that billionth of a second.
[...] Man is present in the average time situated in the long duration of historical phenomena and the short duration of his reflexes, of the ‘twinkling of an eye’.
[...] War produces accidents. It produces an unheard-of accident, which is upsetting the traditional idea of war. Substance is necessary and accident is contingent and relative! That is the traditional story of the return to the accident. In war time the opposite is true. Here accident is necessary and substance relative and contingent. What are war machines? They are machines in reverse – they produce accidents, disappearances, deaths, breakdowns. I think war in this sense conveys something which at present we are experiencing in peace time; the accident has now become something ordinary.

[...] Now, with the new technologies, not only do they make war all the time, in all seasons, but non-stop, day and night. We have a totalizing phenomenon that is also a phenomenon we experience daily with live broadcasts from the four corners of the earth, which allow us to watch a festival or a ballgame. There is therefore a cancellation of the daytime. In the same way that there is a cancellation of timespace, there is a cancellation of daytime as a way of dividing up time. Daytime is no longer the astronomical day, it is the day of techniques. With astronomical daytime, chickens went to sleep when Man did. Today, chickens continue to go to sleep when the sun goes down, but men no longer do. When the sun goes down, electric light and television go on. It’s another time, another day beyond the solar day. (via)


Negative Horizon

What we see arises from what is not apparent. — Paul de Tarse

A sublimation of the hunt, the course imposes a cleared surface; a sublimation of war, the speed record demands a pure surface. Devoid of accidents, of relief, the ground becomes the mirror of acceleration. […] Early on Caeser would assert that ‘the greatest glory of a state is to make its frontiers a vast desert’. A smooth leveled surface — is the desert not the first transfiguration of the states of matter? — such as Herschell indicated in his time: an object illuminated in the light of the sun on the horizon acts like a mirror. . . . The illumination of the horizon serves to transform non-polished surfaces into reflective surfaces, as we see verified with dromoscopic illumination: the accelerated perspective acts like a luminous source, the anamorphosis of the trajectory produces an effect of accentuated depth, followed by an optical rectification similar to that of light on the horizon. […] In reality, most images, whether mobile or immobile, arise from the capture of the visible domain by a process that puts into play the interaction of light with the surfaces of reflection or of recording (natural elements of reflection, photosensitive emulsions…) and according to the same principle as the inversion of the image. The perception of relief and the estimation of distances (space and time) being inseparable from the stereoscopic acuity, binocular visionaries, we only perceive the third dimension when one of our eyes receives an image temporized through its relationship to another (this is what is called the ‘Pultrich effect’). For the object in accelerated movement, this temporization is further reinforced by the polarizing effect of the windows of the vehicle, in other words by the artifice of the horizontal illumination of speed interfering with the nearby or distant surfaces of the environment.
[…] Visible on the level of the surface, speed appears thus like an optical phenomenon of reflection of the ground. A surface effect in constant (advancing) ‘telescopic’ and (accelerated) ‘dromoscopic’ transformation, acceleration is in fact only a form of hallucination.
    ‘I see nothing but becoming’, said Nietzsche. . . . In this optic, we could add, since space is that which prevents everything from being in the same place, the conquest of speed is the pursuit of this ‘parking of deterrence’, of this last ‘place’ where objects and their features would no longer be solely isomorphs but holomorphs, that is, interchangeable at will, rendered homogeneous and dromogenous by the artifice of the instantaneity of ubiquity.
    An apocalyptic land, surface of reflection, the desert receives the image, the optical illusion caused by the overheated atmospheric strata, the image of the mirage.
    [T]he sands of the desert were the materials of a perfect holographic revelation.
    In fact, the hologram is not the sophistication of a false perspective, the realization of a perfect image, but the opposite: the exhaustion of relief, the extermination of all perspective.
    Henceforth, what is ‘false’ is no longer anamorphosis but the depth, the length, the distances of time and space perspective. The attainment of the horizontal ‘escape velocity’ [«vitesse de libération»] liberates us from the alleged reality of the third dimension. In allowing us to escape the time span of the trajectory, speed actually liberates from the ‘volume’ of the object, from places [des lieux] as from the milieu.
    No more delay! No more relief! There is no longer any significant difference between the real and the effect of the real.
    [W]hat is at stake is the abolition of depth, the end of expanses of time. […] Pure speed becomes both height and length, the alpha and omega of absolute power.
    […] The metaphor has become reality: both a means of instantaneous destruction and a means of sophisticated projection, the speed of physical light becomes the absolute weapon and the light of speed produces the perfect image, the hologram of pure power.
[P]ure speed is now the supreme and concentrated effect of a war beyond battles, of a pure war requiring the focal point, the pure surface of the desert.
    While a concurrence is suddenly established between the progressive illumination of the morning horizon and the accelerated perspective, the light of the finish rises to the zenith for the adept of limit-speed; the course becomes a hunt for the sun.
    After having successively sacrificed space to time, and then the distance of time to distance-speed, the vector becomes the last dimension of a world that is now reduced to the desert of the moment.
    Appearing like the effect of a sequencing, the optic of the locomotive illusion is analogous to the cinematographic optical illusion. At the height of desertification, the fascination with the negative horizon amounts to exhausting the last resource of space: the void. The will to power is here, therefore, the will to arbitrarily increase the density of the depth of field, by changing the objective horizon into a ‘wall’ [mur], into a screen, for the inscription of the effects of the light of acceleration. In this architecture, the narrowing of the aim signals the completion of the site; the sound barrier [mur du son], ‘wall’ of heat, thus Sliding Home impatiently built itself up, the refuge of exile for those who covered space with their tombs [tombes], these record-breakers [tombeurs de record] who, not content with the desert of the ground, secretly aspired for opacity, for the desert of the sky.
    The speed cage is excessively reduced, the frame of the windscreen closes on the atmospheric depth. The resistance of the air to the progress of the automobile closes the hardening of the sky, the crenel of the course becomes the rampart of the limit-speed, the wall of light.
    Massive, translucent, the desert thus gives birth to the last figure of the Bunker, a singular reversal takes place here: the void of the ground causes the fullness of the sky, of the sky with a polish that is reflected in the reduced silhouettes of the vehicles.**
    If the world is merely a false semblance the time sweeps aside in a single blow, speed is the air, the wind, of time — a relative wind that instantly sweeps away the desert of bodies.
    ‘Every surface is an interface between two spheres constantly governed by an activity in the form of an exchange between two substances in contact with one another.’
    The screen replaces the mirror.
    [T]he message is the speed of release.


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