Every war is a war of time.
— Paul Virilio
There has been much talk about Albania's turn of the century transformation, more specifically its 'transition' from one regime to the other - from communist dictatorship to a capitalist economy - culminating in a neoliberal cult with Rilindje. To understand this transformation, which was by no means an isolated event or accident, I would like to do so by putting together a few snippets of the great thinker and essayist, the late Paul Virilio. I've been wanting to write a longer piece on the Albanian's 'transition' years (circa 1990-2013) as an 'accident of the transfer', a shift from 'time-space' to 'speed-space', as well as the 'disappearance of aesthetics' — as it has been unfolding through mass-media and urban space in Tirana these past thirty years, but I haven't had much time to sit down and properly confront (all the nuances of) such an issue. For the moment, though, I'd like to share a few of V's writings (excerpts and concepts) along with a quick video I made with all this in mind.
Someone told me once that if I were to borrow from a David, choose Cronenberg over Lynch. I think both are impressive visual thinkers, but I have to agree about Cronenberg. Hence, what you see in the video is a personal attempt at translating my own thinking of and through two disenchanted but brilliant thinkers, a writer and a visual artist, bringing them both to a completely different context, one that occupies my most of my thoughts lately, Albania. I do believe the issues they raise might be specifically theirs, but they're not so isolated to the present — nor is Albania anymore — on the contrary, they foresaw it clearer than others where we were headed. So, in connecting the dots to make sense of it all for myself, I saw figments of interrelated patterns, which goes to show how interconnected the world is, even if it doesn't speak to parts of itself — so I went with it, because I do see the matters of the world through the lens of energy — never lost, always transferred.
The video is titled sheshPËRshesh — and as always, I am open to thoughts and criticism about it. The reason why some of the montages I construct seem a visual mess (dense at first look) is because I am thinking with and through the bombardment of the images I find and collect, in order to unpack a thought I have or to discover potential others, to anticipate and confront the nuanced sensibilities of their form, hence why they end up being both, forms of quasi-intuition and unfinished diagrams of sorts. It is the unfolding process of folding the images I find, to discover their depth of field and porosity — to construct my own position in them. It is a work in process that aims to distinguish perception from meaning — it doesn't always succeed, nor it is meant to most of the time. The postcards that make up the video will accompany the text in the other two posts of this three-part series on (re)Thinking with Virilio, and they're 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.
(An earlier Thinking Out Loud with Virilio post can be found here.)
General Note: Bold text indicates my emphasis.
The Vision Machine
A Topographical Amnesia
When Bergson asserts that mind is a thing that endures, one might add that it is our duration that thinks, feels, sees. The first creation of consciousness would then be its own speed in its time-distance, speed thereby becoming causal idea, idea before the idea. It is thus now common to think of our memories as multidimensional, of thought as transfer, transport (metaphora) in the literal sense.
If we think about light, which has no image and yet creates images, we find that the use of light stimuli in crowd control goes back a long way.
That perverted peasant and Paris pedestrian, Restif de la Bretonne, observing life with the rustic’s sharp eye, soon gave way to a new, anonymous, ageless character who no longer took to the streets looking for a man, like Diogenes with his lantern burning in broad daylight. He now sought light itself, for where there is light there is the crowd. According to Edgar Allan Poe, our man no longer inhabited the big city strictly speaking (London, as it happens), but the dense throng. His only itinerary was that of the human stream wherever it was bound, wherever it was to be found. All was dark yet splendid, Poe wrote, and the man’s only terror was the risk of losing the crowd thanks to the strange light effects, to the speed with which the world of light vanishes. …’
[Hitler’s architect] wrote: ‘Within these luminous walls, the first of their kind, the rally took place with all its rituals. … I now feel strangely moved by the idea that the most successful architectural creation of my life was a chimera, an immaterial mirage.’ Doomed to disappear at first light, leaving no more material trace than a few films and the odd photograph, the ‘crystal castle’ was especially aimed at Nazi militants who, according to Goebbels, obey a law they are not even consciously aware of but which they could recite in their dreams.
On the basis of ‘scientific’ analysis of the stenographic speed of his various speeches, Hitler’s master of propaganda had invented, again in his own estimation, a new mass language which ‘no longer has anything to do with archaic and allegedly popular forms of expression’. He added: ‘This is the beginning of an original aesthetic style, a vivid and galvanising form of expression.’
At least he was good at self-promotion.
With topographical memory, one could speak of generations of vision and even of visual heredity from one generation to the next. The advent of the logistics of perception and its renewed vectors for delocalising geometrical optics, on the contrary, ushered in a eugenics of sight, a pre-emptive abortion of the diversity of mental images, of the swarm of image-beings doomed to remain unborn, no longer to see the light of day anywhere.
This was the real beginning, technically and scientifically speaking, of power based on hitherto unrecognised forms of postural oppression and, once again, the battlefield would ensure rapid deployment of the new physiological prohibitions.
The origin of the word propaganda is well known: propaganda fide, propagation of the faith. The year 1914 not only saw the physical deportation of millions of men to the battlefields. With the apocalypse created by the deregulation of perception came a different kind of diaspora, the moment of panic when the mass of Americans and Europeans could no longer believe their eyes, when their faith in perception became slave to the faith in the technical sightline [line of faith]: in other words, the visual field was reduced to the line of a sighting device.
But what does one see when one’s eyes, depending on sighting instruments, are reduced to a state of rigid and practically invariable structural immobility? One can only see instantaneous sections seized by the Cyclops eye of the lens. Vision, once substantial, becomes accidental. Despite the elaborate debate surrounding the problem of the objectivity of mental or instrumental images, this revolutionary change in the regime of vision was not clearly perceived and the fusion-confusion of eye and camera lens, the passage from vision to visualisation, settled easily into accepted norms. While the human gaze became more and more fixed, losing some of its natural speed and sensitivity, photographic shots, on the contrary, became even faster.
On a more practical note, Ray Bradbury recently remarked: ‘Film-makers bombard with images instead of words and accentuate the details using special effects. … You can get people to swallow anything by intensifying the details.’
The phatic image — a targeted image that forces you to look and holds your attention — is not only a pure product of photographic and cinematic focusing. More importantly it is the result of an every brighter illumination, of the intensity of its definition, singling out only specific areas, the context mostly disappearing into a blur.
In 1968 Daniel Buren explained to Georges Boudaille: ‘It’s funny when you realise that art was never a problem of depth but one of form. …’
Less Than An Image
To admit that for the human eye the essential is invisible and that, since everything is an illusion, it follows that scientific theory, like art, is merely a way of manipulating our illusions, went against the political-philosophical discourses then evolving in tandem with the imperative of convincing the greatest number, with its accompanying desire for infallibility and a strong tendency towards ideological charlatanism. Publicly to point to how mental images are formed, including the way their psychophysiological features carry their own fragility and limitations, was to violate a state secret of the same order as a military secret, since it masked a mode of mass manipulation that was practically infallible.
Today, the strategic value of speed’s ‘no-place- has definitely outstripped the value of place. … The delineation between past, present and future, between here and there, is now meaningless except as a visual illusion. …
Malevich said it all at the beginning of the century: ‘The universe is spinning in a pointless vortex. Man, too, for all his little objective world, is spinning in the limbo of the pointless.’