by Steven Craig Hickman
Today we are entering a space which is speed-space … This new other time is that of electronic transmission, of high-tech machines, and therefore, man is present in this sort of time, not via his physical presence, but via programming.
– Paul Virilio
Reading Paul Virilio’s The Administration of Fear where he reveals some of the intimate aspects of his early childhood in Nantes, France. Speaking of speed he spoke of the movement of the Germans during the Blitzkrieg. How many of the aspects of his notions on Dromology: or, the science of movement all came to a head. In the morning that the Germans arrived he’d been outside and someone had said they were in the next village, and by the time he’d returned home they were already coming down the street. The other village had been many kilometers away. In his mind this movement, the temporal speeding up of reality entered his young mind revealing to him an essential truth. He would associate fear, occupation, collaboration, and later on the bombing of his village by the allies with speed, with this sense of an accelerating time of movement, a rhythm that had become arhythmical, a time turned against itself.
As he describes it his Master, a musicologist, Vladimir Jankelevitch awakened this sense of speed in him as a “question of rhythm”. I used to use a metronome when playing piano as a youngster. I remember the various rhythms and beats it allowed in the syncopations and counts of the bars and notes. The numerical values of the various scales, etc. This notion of time as markings, countings, and rhythms. One realizes that even we exist on many levels and scales of time, moving at different paces from each other. A sense of disorientation can accompany this if one’s lover or friends are in a fast mode, pushing one to do things quicker, etc., a sort of sudden thrust into another tempo, and imbalance ensues that brings with it odd sensations and strange visual perceptions – one enters another speed-space. As if one were slowing down while speeding up at the same time. As if one knew one was moving at a fast pace, but at the same time perceived everything in slow motion. This odd movement of time and being out of kilter with each other. In our time fear is a commodity, a product of our vast ICTs, those communications systems that stretch across the globe have become our environment he tells us. It’s this total environment that encloses us in fear, in the arrhythmic pulses of speed. An environment of total acceleration going nowhere. What it produces is panic. As he’ll tell it:
The information bomb can be felt in all corners of the globe: it explodes each second, with the news of an attack, a natural disaster, a health scare, a malicious rumor. It creates a “community of emotions,” a communism of affects coming after the communism of the “community of interests” shared by different social classes. … With the phenomena of instantaneous interaction that are now our lot, there has been a veritable reversal, destabilizing the relationship of human interaction, and the time reserved for reflection, in favor of the conditioned responses produced by emotion. The production of panic is born! (p. 31)1
The true panic he tells us is this sense that everything has already happened, that reality is accelerating out of control around us at the speed of light and we have reached the limit of instantaneity, the limits of human thought and time (p. 33). Because our systems work in nano-chronological time at speeds our consciousness can no longer apprehend, much less cope with the human has become invisible in the processes that control our world. The world of computer time has compressed human time into speed-space that humans can no longer understand much less cope with: this produces fear and panic. In economic terms the last crisis was a crisis of perception – traders could not compete with their machines:
Derealization is no more and no less than the result of progress. The defense of augmented reality, which is the ritual response of progress propaganda, is in fact a derealization induced by the success of progress in acceleration and the law of movement… The continued increase in speed led to the development of megaloscopy which has caused a real infirmity because it reduces the field of vision. The faster we go, the more we look ahead and lose our lateral vision. We are losing our survival advantage, a space of reality; laterality. (p. 37)
Of course, for those who didn’t catch on the megalosope was an imaginary instrument developed by Benjamin Martin (see below)
Benjamin Martin invented both the “universal compound Microscope”, “Solar Microscope”, and “Wilson’s Microscope”. They were all standard designs of the mid-18th century, but the “Megalascope” was Martin’s own invention. Martin himself described the instrument, in a pamphlet of 1738:
By a MEGALASCOPE is understood an Instrument which gives a magnified View of all the larger Sort of small Objects, and is sometimes called a Fossil-Microscope, Cloth Microscope, &c … the Objects are so much magnified, and their Parts so separate and distinct, that we scarcely know them in this new Point of View, or can reconcile them to the Ideas they impress on the Mind by the natural Appearance.
Martin here suggests that customers should purchase and use the megalascope because it showed objects to be completely different from their appearance to the naked eye. He was using the unfamiliar nature of the microscopical world as a selling-point. In this context the microscope can be seen as a curiosity, able to engage and fascinate an audience, by showing familiar objects in a new way. I added the link in the passage from Virilio for comic relief.
1. Paul Virilio: The Administration of Fear. (semiotext(e), 2012)
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