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The Art of the Accident

The Art of the Accident

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Published by Riccardo Mantelli

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Published by: Riccardo Mantelli on Apr 01, 2008
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THE ART OF THE ACCIDENTBy Steve Redhead
*.Paper to ‘Urban Vulnerability And Network Failure’ ESRC International Seminar,Centre for SURF, Manchester, UK, April 29, 30, May 1, 2004Abstract
This paper looks at possibilities and problems connected to theorising the accident inurban culture in the twenty-first century. Drawing on my recent books on accelerated modernity and the French urban theorist Paul Virilio it subjects Virilio’s little known and rarely discussed theory of the accident to interrogation. As a critic of the art of technology Virilio has taught us that much media image is a strategy of war or terror and that the modern accident is becoming indistinguishable from the attack. As modernitybecomes more accelerated and dangerous and time and distance collapse more than ever before, Virilio appears like a man whose own time has arrived. But all is not as it seems. It is all very well for Damien Hirst and Karlheinz Stockhausen to aestheticise events likeSeptember 11 but there needs to be much clearer theorising if we are to better understand, and plan for, urban vulnerability in today’s modernities. As this paper  shows, there are lessons to be learnt from the ‘aesthetic’ of the accident but by no meansare they sufficient.
 
 2 ‘The great danger is the confusion of the attack with the accident…The accident is thenew form of warfare.’Paul Virilio, in conversation with Sylvere Lotringer, May 2002, Paris.(
Crepuscular Dawn
, Semiotext(e), New York, 2002)
 
 3One urgent part of a reconstructed social science project in the twenty-first century is toconceptualise anew the ‘socio-technologies of connection, resilience, mobility andcollapse in contemporary cities’ as the call for abstracts for this conference neatly puts it.In this paper I want to consider critically one example of a theory of the ‘accident’ or collapse or catastrophe in modernity. That theory is provided by French theorist PaulVirilio. Virilio’s theory of the accident is relatively little known and even less discussed.He is also a figure whose oeuvre has been generally imported into the English speakingacademic world as simply another social theory when Virilio has rightly characterisedhimself over the years as explicitly ‘against sociology’. Indeed as we shall see in this paper Virilio has gone further with this self-labelling process and described his enterpriseas a critic of the art of technology. His theory of the accident, then, not surprisinglyinvolves what I call here an ‘aesthetics’ of the accident. Virilio, however, in providing a perspective on the art of the accident in our increasingly accelerated and dangerousmodernities falls short of what is required in the contemporary urban sociological project.What is required, I want to argue, is in fact a sociology, not an art, of the accident.
The Art of the Accident or The Accident of Art(1)
 Paul Virilio, French urban theorist extraordinaire and so-called high priest of speed, has been dropping ‘logic bombs’ on us for over thirty years. In these highly idiosyncratictales of accelerated culture, or what I have elsewhere called ‘accelerated modernity’, thespeed of mass communications as well as the speed of ‘things’ is what counts. In thisscenario we have all to some extent or other become historians of Virilio’s instant present

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