Sep 23, 2018

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

*The following is the last installment of a three-part series. The link to the others can be found here and here

Time is everything, man is nothing; he is at most the empty carcass of time. 
— Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy


Virilio's work helps us understand the city as part of a larger ecology of power — globalization and technology — which can instruct us to approach the present neoliberal regime in the country not as one of a kind, but as one of the many forms it has taken worldwide — and, when comparing it with the old regime of communism, to be mindful of one’s forceful isolation and the other’s intense openness — an openness stimulated only by what is able to profit from it while still harboring a continued narrow-mindness from previous such oppressions within. The light it promises renders illusory if it doesn’t take on the task of finding lightness within, in order to liberate it. The light(ness) it brings, weighs — it is worth — as much as the remnants of darkness — the burden — it carries within. The war of the present (age) is a war waged on time, where the democratic becomes dromocratic. 

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 Dromoscopic City

Thus my people will be deported for want of intelligence. — Livre de Malédictions

It’s important to return to the city. To return to the city is to return to politics or to the political people. It’s not by chance that in Greek the city is called the ‘polis’. The city was created in a relationship to territorial space. It is a territorial phenomenon, a phenomenon of territorial concentration. Old villages are spread over a territory which is not a territory but a field, in all senses of the term. There is creation, from the old villages, through what has been called kinesis, of an urban territorial unit – the Greek city-state, to take a well-known reference. Since politics and the city were born together, they were born through a right: the creation of a territory or of an estate by right, being established, the right of autochthonism. There are rights because there is territory. There are rights and therefore duties – he who has land has war, as the people of Verde said. He who has rights in an urban territory has the duty to defend it. The citizen is also a soldier-citizen. I feel this situation survives up to the present; we are experiencing the end of that world. Through the ups and downs of the state, the city-state, the more or less communal state, and finally, the nation-state, we have experienced the development of politics linked to the territory; always down-to-earth. In spite of railroads and telephones, we experienced a relationship to the soil and a relationship to a still coherent right. There was still a connection to territorial identity, even in the phenomenon of nationalistic amplification. Today, as we saw earlier with the end of time-space and the coming of speed-space, the political man and the city are becoming problematic. When you talk about the rights of man on the world scale, they pose a problem which is not yet resolved, for a state of rights is not connected with a state of place, to a clearly determined locality. We can clearly see the weaknesses of the rights of Man. It makes for lots of meetings, but not for much in the way of facts. Just take a look at Eastern European countries or Latin America. It seems to me that speedspace which produces new technologies will bring about a loss, a derealization of the city. The megalopolises now being talked of (Calcutta, or Mexico with 30 million inhabitants) are no longer cities, they are phenomena which go beyond the city and translate the decline of the city as a territorial localization, and also as a place of an assumed right, affirmed by a policy. Here, I’m very pessimistic. I feel we’re ​entering into a society without rights, a ‘non-rights’ society, because we’re entering a society of the non-place, and because the political man was connected to the discrimination of a place. The loss of a place is, alas, generally the loss of rights.

Here, we have a big problem: the political man must be reinvented–a political man connected to speed-space. There, everything remains to be done, nothing’s been accomplished. I’d even say the question hasn’t been considered. [...] We truly have here a political question and an urban question, because at present the cities are undone by technology, undone by television, defeated by automobility (the high speed trains, the Concorde). The phenomena of identification and independence are posed in a completely new way. [...] We have here a phenomenon of distortion of the territorial community that explains the phenomenon of demands of independence. Before, we were together in the same place, and could claim an identity. Today, we are together elsewhere, via high-speed train, or via TV. There is a power of another nature which creates distortions. We are no longer in space, but in speed-space. [...] There’s a logic there, and it’s a logic which poses problems. (via)


I think the chapter on the politics of disappearance, in Virilio’s Negative Horizon book is worth quoting at length below for a comparative understanding of politics in, and of time — pertaining to history and origin; to autochthony, which is a hot button issue amongst Albanians and one that is currently thought through territory, not time; from the agora of the democratic theater to the stadium as form of perpetual movement in search of identity.


The Politics of Disappearance

We must always see ourselves for the last time. — Pascal Jardin

    If in the past the first political act consisted in making the form of the city apparent at the same time as the figure of citizenship, and this was the underlying meaning of the rites of foundation and the rites of autochthony in the ancient civic space, it seems that we are now witnessing the premises of a fundamental reversal: it is no longer a question of forming ‘autochthonous’ (i.e. native) citizens along with foreigners coming from whatever sort of synechism, as was the case in the Athenian city, but rather a process leading to the disappearance of citizenship by transforming the residents into ‘foreigners within’, a new sort of untouchable, in the transpolitical and anational state where the living are nothing more than ‘living dead’ in permanent deferment.
    A degraded form of the ‘political’ in the old sense of the term, ever refusing to decide between place [lieu] and milieu, sociology will engage the persistence of the morphological illusion in omitting time in favour of a reference to, and reverence for, history. Nevertheless, contrary to the process of synoecism, the marshalling of men from the ‘rural demes’ in a single city, autochthony appears as a marshalling of time, of a time that has nothing historical about it, as it involves instead a perpetual recommencement of the origin. Again, as Nicole Loraux explains: ‘In order to have its moment in the history of the democratic city, the myth of autochthony is nonetheless written in a slowed, repetitive, time, which, year after year, repeats the same festivals, the same celebrations, thus marking off the space of the City’. A necessary ‘topos’ of official discourse, Athenian autochthony is therefore, before all else, a mythical ‘Kronos’, a political rhythm, a ceremony leading the panathenaeans up the Acropolis from the cemetery of the Kerameikos, from birth to the public death of these ‘sons of the fatherland’, for whom time is annulled in the irrevocable return from the end to the origin.
    An eternal present inscribed in the time of the ‘polis’, the autochthonous myth stresses the ‘political’ time of the citizen in separating him from his tribal or familial idiorhythms. This process begins with the agrarian origins and proceeds up to the beginnings of the industrial era in which the dromocratic revolution will succeed the democratic revolution in innovating an accelerated time where the energy technologies will progressively eliminate the myth of the territorial rootedness of the state. The ‘cult of the matter’, Earth Mother and Virgin of origins, will be supplanted by the cult of light, where absolute ‘substance’ is worn out and fades away, giving way to a necessary accident of the transfer.
    The Athenian erection, at the chthonian passage from the origins of myth, will be replaced by the cryptic passage from shadow into light. The traditional political enclosure will be succeeded by a great ‘transpolitical’ disorder. An autochthony of time, more than of any particular place, less indigenous than photogenous since time is the cycle of light, the subject that will see the day will be born less mortal than visible; less a topos than a chronos, this subject will be born in the light of the time of a chronotropism of the living where mythical conditioning of the liturgy will give way to technological conditioning of populations exploited in their biorhythms.
    In the face of this trauma, the principle of the geomorphological identity of the citizen tends to be effaced; less a native [originaire] than a member of a society [«sociétare»], there will be no delay in the imperceptible process whereby the citizen becomes nothing more than a stand in [suppléant].
    Privileged residents, those entitled to the ‘rights of the city’ of a democratic state, are superseded by visitors, transitory citizens, tourists, spectators of a dromocratic state where vision [la vue] is life [la vie]. . . . If yesterday, in the unity of the neighbourhood, the other was at once known and recognized through repetition, the ritual of encounters and public events, with the transportation revolution, this ‘neighbour’ will become a spectre that one will see only accidentally. The great disorder will, therefore, do less to perfect exchange than it will serve to give rise to this fleeting presence. This kinetic habituation to the disappearance of the congener will have the character of a social divorce: passing [passant], fleeting [passage], physical presence of the similar will lose its reality to be replaced by its ‘brand image’. The blind spots stretch out to the point where the diffusion of the body increases and the transience of people will surround us progressively with strangers. The discrediting of the notion of the enemy, to be replaced progressively by what is suspect and poses a threat, thus signals less the decline of defence than the absence of allies, the discrediting of civic alliance.
    We will thus see the extensive character of, first, provincial and, then, national definitions of locations succeeded by that of an intense transnational visualization where the long theories of the democratic liturgy will disappear, replaced by the ‘unwinding [défilement] sequences’, an accelerated substitute for the actions of an absent people.
    The art of seeing, of foreseeing, politics does not, therefore, escape the rule according to which ‘Art does not render the visible but rather renders visible.’ In this reconversion of the field of representation, the City ceases to be a ‘theatre’ (agora, forum) in order to become instead a darkened chamber, a cinema where visibility supplants all territoriality, all legitimate location. But let us return to consider the invention of Athens: ‘There is an upper area: the Acropolis, and a lower: the Agora, the Kerameikos. There is also an interior, the Acropolis and the Agora, and an exterior, outside the walls of the City, the Kerameikos where the Athenian democracy buried those who served. In this public cemetery, the common inscriptions were consecrated to an idealistic glory: the polis, the indivisible unity that owes its authority to the effacement of its andres, its soldier-citizens, valorous yet identical and interchangeable’.
    Curiously, in this genre of historical heroization a certain site is missing, namely, the stadium in which the democratic equality of the City comes to an end with the rise of a momentous dromocratic publicity. Here the civic point of view is inversed: there is an upper area, the levels on which the spectators are seated, and a lower area, the track where the actors file out. . . . Within this theatre of mobile performances, those present have the view of the gods, while those who pass through are dominated by the insatiable curiosity of the crowd of voyeurs. We are far from the ideal platitude of the equals of the agora, nothing like that, instead there is only the spectral analysis of a population exposed to the disclosure of an elite of movement.
    If the public place is, therefore, the place of the demos, the track is, by way of analogy, that of the invention of a dromos where the eternal return of political origins is renewed by the revolution of a ‘transpolitical’ spectacle which bears with it in a germinal state the tyrannies of an empire where logistical ideals progressively replace the political ideologies of Athenian democracy. While the agora and the republican forum will have long since disappeared in the enclosure of parliaments, the ‘public place’ will survive by becoming the stadium of military processions, before disappearing in its turn into the traffic of the transportation revolution. Thus after the gymnasium, the amphitheatre and the racetrack will have played their role in anticipation of the airfield and satellites installing in orbit their peripheral rites.
    Site of a morphological overexposure, the sporting arena is, therefore, not only a ‘crater’ for the popular irruption, it is also a type of census. In this inventory, the form is the ground [fond] that rises again to the surface. Surveillance becomes the last quarter of the eclipse of the community, the high-security quarter of the logistical delocalization of power. It is logical, thus, to see the national stadium [...], transformed into a concentration camp, since the enterprise of political appearances gives way to the aesthetic of military disappearance. A reduced model of an abolished civic space, the stadium is without doubt the end of the morphological illusion of the State, the ultimate ‘stadium’ of the city and, therefore, indirectly, of legitimate citizenship. What plays out [...], beyond all reasons of state, is an argument between the ancients and the moderns, a campaign promise of the ‘postpolitical’. [...]
    Their liturgy takes the place of the hearth of the community, of the Athenian cratos; an agonistic ceremony, their perpetual movement is situated beyond the death of the ‘similar’, beyond the political, it poses for us the question of the identity of the living. The ‘public place’ becomes at once the cemetery of the political and a ‘transpolitical’ forum. [...]
    The act of presence replaces the act of birth and autochthony; the opposition to tyranny is no longer one of ideology, it is that of a life, of the enigma of the living body mysteriously present in time. We can do away with civic space or eliminate the political capital, but in abolishing the public cemetery, we simultaneously exterminate all descendents. The funerary foundation of societies is stronger than the erection of the city, the vengeance of presence prohibits the mass grave of the state.


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