THE INFORMATION BOMB

THE INFORMATION BOMB
Paul Virilio
Translated by Chris Turner
VERSO
London • New York
Originally published as La Bombe informatique by Editions Galilee, Paris 1998
© Editions Galilee 1998
Translation first published by Verso 2000
© Chris Turner 2000
This edition published by Verso 2005
All rights reserved
The moral rights of the author and translator have been asserted
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Noone can say what will be 'real' for
people when the wars which are now
beginning come to an end.
Werner Heisenberg
Some of these pieces appeared between 1996 and
1998 in three newspapers: the Frankfurter Rundschau,
the Tagesanzeiger of Ziirich, and Der Standard of
Vienna.
TRANSLATOR'S
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I would like to thank Glynis Powell and Marie-
Dominique Maison for their assistance in the preparation
of this translation. Thanks are also due, as ever, to the
inter-library loan department of Birmingham City Library
and, more unusually, to the Atuagkat Bookstore in Nuuk,
Greenland.
CHAPTER 1
The civilianization or militarization of science?
If truth is what is verifiable, the truth of contemporary
science is not so much the extent of progress achieved as
the scale of technical catastrophes occasioned.
Science, after having been carried along for almost half
a century in the arms race of the East-West deterrence era,
has developed solely with a view to the pursuit of limit-
performances, to the detriment of any effort to discover a
coherent truth useful to humanity.
Modern science, having progressively become techno-
science - the product of the fatal confusion between the
operational instrument and exploratory research - has slipped its
philosophical moorings and lost its way, without anyone
taking umbrage at this, except for a few ecological and reli-
gious leaders.
1
1 Pope John Paul II was criticizing the militarization of science
and its culture of death as early as the late 1980s.
2 PAUL VIRILIO
Indeed, if the 'experience of thought' does in fact lie at
the origin of the experimental sciences, we cannot but
notice today the decline of that analogue mental process, in
favour of instrumental, digital procedures, which are capa-
ble, we are told, of boosting knowledge.
Operational reality of the technical instrument, resolutory
truth of scientific thought - two fundamentally distinct
aspects of knowledge, which are fused here without anyone
apparently becoming alerted to the situation.
Science, which is not so attached to 'truth' as once it
was, but more to immediate 'effectiveness', is now drifting
towards its decline, its civic fall from grace . . . . As a panic
phenomenon - a fact concealed by the success of its
devices and tools - contemporary science is losing itself in
the very excessiveness of its alleged progress. Much as a
strategic offensive can wear itself out by the scale of its
tactical conquests, so techno-science is gradually wrecking
the scholarly resources of all knowledge.
Like an Olympic sport in which the performance drugs,
the anabolic steroids and such like, destroy the meaning of
the athletes' effort by an abuse of the pharmacopoeia,
extreme science is moving away from patient research into
reality to become part of a phenomenon of generalized vir-
tualization.
After having been drawn, against its own better nature,
into the planetary death race of the 'balance of terror',
'post-modern' science is now engaging in a new type of
competition that is equally insane: a race to achieve limit-
peiformances in the fields of robotics or genetic engineering, which
in its turn draws the various scientific disciplines on to the
path of a 'post-scientific extremism' that exiles them from
all reason.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 3
Science, which was once a rigorous field thriving on
intellectual adventure, is today bogged down in a techno-
logical adventurism that denatures it. 'Science of the
excess', of extremes - a limit-science or the limit of sci-
ence?
As everyone knows, that which is excessive is insignifi-
cant. 'Science without conscience is mere ruination of the
soul' (Rabelais), and a techno-science without a con-
sciousness of its impending end is, however unwittingly,
merely a sport.
'Extreme sports' - those in which one deliberately risks
one's life on the pretext of achieving a record performance.
'Extreme science' - the science which runs the incalcu-
lable risk of the disappearance of all science. As the tragic
phenomenon of a knowledge which has suddenly become
cybernetic, this techno-science becomes, then, as mass
techno-culture, the agent not, as in the past, of the accel-
eration of history, but of the dizzying whirl of the acceleration
of reality - and that to the detriment of all verisimilitude.
Only a few centuries after having been, with
Copernicus and Galileo, the science of the appearance of a rel-
ative truth, techno-science is once again becoming a science
of the disappearance of that same truth with the coming of a
knowledge which is not so much encyclopaedic as cyber-
netic, a knowledge which denies all objective reality.
Thus, after having largely contributed to speeding up
the various means for the representation of the world, with
optics, electro-optics and even the recent establishment of
the space of virtual reality, contemporary sciences are
engaging, a contrario, in the eclipsing of the real, in the
aesthetics of scientific disappearance.
A science of verisimilitude, of the plausible, still attached to
4 PAUL VIRILIO
the discovery of a relative truth? Or a sdence oj implausibil-
ity, committed today to the research and development of a
heightened virtual reality? This is the alternative we are
offered.
In fact, the only scientific horizon is authenticity, the
experimental rigour of researchers. Unfortunately, we
know what media abuses surround certain 'discoveries'.
We know the promotional character of the premature
announcement of the results of a particular experiment,
when what is really going on is litde more than an exercise
in the conditioning of public opinion by an extremist sci-
ence. That science is now concerned less with truth than
with the effect created by the announcement of a new dis-
covery - though not, as used to be the case, a genuine
discovery serving the common good.
In illustration of these disenchanted remarks, we may
usefully criticize the carefully sustained confusion between
the sporting hero and the sdentist, between the adventurer
who pushes himself violendy to his physical limits and the
white-coated adventurer who pushes himself to the ethical
limits, the adventurer who experiences the elation of risk-
ing not just his own death, but that of the human race.
Let us examine, for example, the Bob Dent-Philip
Nitschke affair. On Thursday 26 September 1996, Bob
Dent, a cancer patient in his sixties, was the first person to
make use of an Australian law which had been in force
since 1 July of the same year: the so-called Terminal Act.
2
2 The Northern Territory'S Rights of the Terminally III Act
remained in force until 27 March 1997, when it was over-
turned by the Australian federal government. (Trans.)
THE INFORMATION BOMB 5
Linked to a computer managing his IV system, Dent
said 'yes' a first time to the machine developed by his
doctor, Philip Nitschke.
Mter a period of nine days, as laid down by law, he
clicked on 'yes' a second time. The choice before him at
that point was: 'If you click on "yes", a lethal injection
will be administered within thirty seconds and you will
die.'
From these facts taken as a whole - nine months to be
born without any choice in the matter, nine days to die
voluntarily, thirty seconds to change your mind - there arises
the question of the limits of science, of a science which is
here akin to therapeutic extinction. Is this the science of
programmed decease or computer-aided suidde?
There is much to be said about this 'decisional death', in
which the doctor's participation is confined to developing
a buck-passing machine, the cause of active euthanasia
advancing behind the mask of a cybernetic procedure for
inflicting sudden death.
A clinical example of the new virtualization of action, in
which remote electronic action wipes away the patient's guilt,
together with the scientist's responsibility.
Philip Nitschke, innocent of the crime of active
euthanasia, and no more responsible than a dealer in
firearms or knives, has managed to take advantage not just
of the ambiguity of the apdy named 'Terminal Act', but of
the nihilism of the coming cybernetic era.
Like Kasparov, the world chess champion, playing a
game against a computer specially designed to defeat him,
Philip Nitschke has just pioneered the creation of a new
'fatal' couple.
Let us not forget, however, that what took place
6 PAUL VIRILIO
between the doctor and his 'patient' - impatient, as it
happens, to put an end to his life - had already been in
play in the age of the balance of programmed terror, with
the system of 'Mutually Assured Destruction' (MAD)
between East and West, and the development - inter-
rupted by the implosion of the Soviet Union - of a
genuine 'doomsday machine' capable of deciding the pas-
sive euthanasia of humanity by automatically triggering
the nuclear apocalypse.
CHAPTER 2
Totality or all-inclusiveness? We can scarcely avoid the
question today of what is meant by the endlessly repeated
word globalization. Is this a term intended to take over
from the word internationalism, associated too closely
with communism, or, as is often claimed, is it a reference
to single-market capitalism?
Either answer is wide of the mark. After the 'end of his-
tory', prematurely announced a few years ago by Francis
Fukuyama,
l
what is being revealed here are the beginnings
of the 'end of the space' of a small planet held in suspen-
sion in the electronic ether of our modern means of
telecommunication.
Let us not forget that 'excellence is a completion'
(Aristotle), and perfect accomplishment a definitive con-
clusion.
1 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man,
Hamish Hamilton, London, 1992.
8 PAUL VIRILIO
The time of the finite world is coming to an end and,
unless we are astronomers or geophysicists, we shall
understand nothing of the sudden 'globalization of his-
tory' if we do not go back to physics and the reality of the
moment.
To claim, as is now the case, that globalism illustrates
the victory of free enterprise over totalitarian collectivism
is to understand nothing of the current loss of time inter-
vals, the endless feedback, the telescoping of industrial or
post-industrial activities.
How are we to conceive the change wrought by com-
puterization if we remain tied to an ideological approach,
when the urgent need is in fact for a new geostrategic
approach to discover the scale of the phenomenon that is
upon us? And we need to do this to come back to the Earth-
not in the sense of the old earth which sustains and nour-
ishes us, but of the unique celestial body we occupy. To
return to the world, to its dimensions and to the coming loss
of those dimensions in the acceleration not now of history
(which, with the loss oflocal time, has just lost its concrete
foundations), but of reality itself, with the new-found
importance of this world time, a time whose instantaneity
definitively cancels the reality of distances - the reality of
those geographical intervals which only yesterday still orga-
nized the politics of nations and their alliances, the
importance of which had been shown by the Cold War in
the age of (East/West) bloc politics.
'Physics' and 'metaphysics' are two terms which have
been current in philosophy and understood in that
discipline since Aristotle, but what of geophysics and meta-
geophysics? There is still doubt over the meaning of the
latter term, while the factual reality clearly shows that the
THE INFORMATION BOMB 9
continents have lost their geographical foundations and
been supplanted by the tele-continents of a global commu-
nication system which has become quasi-instantaneous.
After the extreme political importance assumed by the
geophysics of the globe over the history of societies sepa-
rated not so much by their national frontiers as by
communications distances and timelags, we have in recent
times seen the transpolitical importance of this kind of
meta-geophysics which the cybernetic interactivity of the
contemporary world represents for us at the end of the
twentieth century.
Since all presence is presence only at a distance, the tele-
presence of the era of the globalization of exchanges
could only be established across the widest possible gap.
This is a gap which now stretches to the other side of the
world, from one edge to the other of present reality. But
this is a meta-geophysical reality which strictly regulates the
tele-continents of a virtual reality that monopolizes the
greater part of the economic activity of the nations and,
conversely, destroys cultures which are precisely situated in
the space of the physics of the globe.
We are not seeing an 'end of history', but we are seeing
an end of geography. Whereas, until the transport revolu-
tion of the nineteenth century, the old time intervals
produced an auspicious distancing between the various
societies, in the age of the current transmission revolution,
the ceaseless feedback of human activities is generating the
invisible threat of an accident befalling this generalized
interactivity - an accident of which the stock market crash
might be a symptom.
This point can be illustrated by a particularly significant
anecdote: in the last few years, or, more precisely, since the
10 PAUL VIRILIO
early 1990s, the Pentagon has taken the view that geostrat-
egy is turning the globe inside out like a glove.
For American military leaders, the global is the interior
of a finite world whose very finitude poses many logistical
problems. And the local is the exterior, the periphery, if not
indeed the 'outer suburbs' of the world.
For the US general staff, then, the pips are no longer
inside the apples, nor the segments in the middle of the
orange: the skin has been turned inside out. The exterior is not
simply the skin, the surface of the Earth, but all that is in
situ, all that is precisely localized, wherever it may be.
There lies the great globalitarian transformation, the
transformation which extraverts localness - all localness -
and which does not now deport persons, or entire popula-
tions, as in the past, but deports their living space, the place
where they subsist economically. A global de-localization,
which affects the very nature not merely of 'national', but of
'social' identity, throwing into question not so much the
nation-state, but the city, the geopolitics of nations.
'For the first time; declared President Clinton, 'there is no
longer any difference between domestic and foreign policy!
No longer any distinction between the outside and the
inside - admittedly with the exception of the topological
reversal effected previously by the Pentagon and the State
Department.
In fact, this historic phrase spoken by the American
president ushers in the meta-political dimension of a
power which has become global and permits us to believe
that domestic policy will now be handled as external policy
was in the past.
The real dty, which is situated in a precise place and
THE INFORMATION BOMB 11
which gave its name to the politics of nations, is giving way
to the virtual dty, that de-territorialized meta-city which
is hence to become the site of that metro politics, the totali-
tarian or rather globalitarian character of which will be
plain for all to see.
We had no doubt forgotten that alongside wealth and its
accumulation, there is speed and its concentration, without
which the centralization of the powers that have succeeded
each other throughout history would quite simply not have
taken place: feudal and monarchic power, or the power of
the national state, for which the acceleration of transport
and transmissions made the government of dispersed pop-
ulations easier.
Today, with the new policy of trade globalization, the
city is foregrounded once more. As one of humanity's
major historic forms, the metropolis provides a focus for
the vitality of the nations of the globe.
But this local city is now only a district, one borough
among others of the invisible world meta-city whose
'centre is everywhere and whose circumference nowhere'
(pascal).
The virtual hypercentre, of which real cities are only
ever the periphery. And, with the desertification of rural
space, this phenomenon is further accentuating the decline
of medium-sized towns, incapable of holding out for long
against the attraction of the metropoles, which have all the
telecommunications infrastructure, together with the high-
speed air and rail links. The metro political phenomenon of a
catastrophic human hyper-concentration that is gradually
coming to suppress the urgent need for a genuine geopolitics
of populations which were previously spread harmoniously
over the whole of their territories.
12 PAUL VIRILIO
To illustrate the recent consequences of domestic
telecommunications for municipal politics, one last anec-
dote: since the sudden proliferation of mobile phones, the
Los Angeles police have found themselves presented with a
difficulty of a new kind. Whereas, in the past, drug dealing
in its various forms was precisely situated in a number of
districts that were easily monitored by the narcotics squads,
those squads are now entirely defeated by the random and
essentially de-localized meetings between dealers and users
who all have mobile phones and can meet wherever they
decide - literally, anywhere.
A single technical phenomenon which both facilitates
metropolitan concentration and the dispersal of major risks - this
needed to be borne in mind if, in the future (at all events,
very soon), a cybernetic control appropriate to domestic net-
works was to be developed ... hence the relendess advance
of the Internet, the recendy dvilianized military network.
The more that time intervals are abolished, the more the
image of space dilates: 'You would think that an explosion
had occurred all over the planet. The least nook and
cranny are dragged out of the shade by a stark light,' wrote
Ernst Junger of that illumination which lights up the real-
ity of the world.
The coming of the 'live', of 'direct transmission',
brought about by turning the limit-speed of waves to
effect, transforms the old 'tele-vision' into a planetary
grand-scale optics.
With CNN and its various offshoots, domestic televi-
sion has given way to tele-surveillance.
This sudden focusing - a security-orientated phenom-
enon of the media monitoring of the life of nations - heralds
THE INFORMATION BOMB 13
the dawn of a particular form of day, which totally escapes
the diurnal-nocturnal alternation that previously struc-
tured history.
With this false day, produced by the illumination of
telecommunications, an artificial sun rises, an emergency
lighting system which ushers in a new time: world time,
in which the simultaneity of actions should soon gain
precedence over their successive character.
With visual (audiovisual) continuity progressively
taking over from the territorial contiguity of nations,
which has now declined in importance, the political fron-
tiers were themselves to shift from the real space of
geopolitics to the 'real time' of the chronopolitics of the
transmission of images and sounds. Two complementary
aspects of globalization have, then, to be taken into
account today: on the one hand, the extreme reduction of
distances which ensues from the temporal compression
of transport and transmissions; on the other, the current
general spread of tele-surveillance. A new vision of a
world that is constandy 'tele-present' twenty-four hours a
day, seven days a week, thanks to the artifice of this 'trans-
horizon optics' which puts what was previously out of
sight on display.
'The destiny of every image is enlargement,' declared
Gaston Bachelard. It is science, techno-science, which has
taken responsibility for this fate of images. In the past, it
did so with the telescope and the microscope. In the
future, it will do so with a domestic tele-surveillance that
will exceed the stricdy military dimensions of this
phenomenon.
The exhaustion of the political importance of exten-
sion, which is a product of the unremarked pollution by
14 PAUL VIRILIO
acceleration of the life-size nature of the terrestrial globe,
demands the invention of a substitute grand-scale
optics.
This is an active (wave) optics, replacing in a thorough-
going way the passive (geometric) optics of the era of
Galileo's spy-glass. And doing so as though the loss of the
horizon-line of geographical perspective imperatively
necessitated the establishment of a substitute horizon:
the 'artificial horizon' of a screen or a monitor, capable of
permanently displaying the new preponderance of the
media perspective over the immediate perspective of space.
With the relief of the 'tele-present' event then taking
precedence over the three dimensions of the volume of
objects or places here present ...
This helps us better to understand the sudden multipli-
cation of those 'great lights'2 that are meteorological or
military observation satellites. The repeated sending into
orbit of communications satellites, the spread of metro-
politan video-surveillance or, alternatively, the recent
development of live-cams on the Internet.
All this contributing, as we have seen, to the inversion
of the usual conceptions of inside and outside.
Finally, this generalized visualization is the defining
aspect of what is generally known today as virtualization.
The much-vaunted 'virtual reality' is not so much a
navigation through the cyberspace of the networks. It is,
first and foremost, the amplification of the optical
density of the appearances of the real world.
2 'Grands luminaires': a reference to Genesis 1:16: 'And God
made two great lights.'
THE INFORMATION BOMB 15
An amplification which attempts to compensate for
the contraction of distances on the Earth, a contraction
brought about by the temporal compression of instanta-
neous telecommunications. In a world in which obligatory
tele-presence is submerging the immediate presence of
individuals (in work, trade, etc.), television can no longer
be what it has been for half a century: a place of entertain-
ment or of the promotion of culture; it must, first and
foremost, give birth to the world time of exchanges, to
this virtual vision which is supplanting the vision of the real
world around us.
Grand-Scale Transhorizon Optics is, therefore, the
site of all (strategic, economic, political ... ) virtualization.
Without it, the development of globalitarianism, which
is preparing to revive the totalitarianisms of the past,
would be ineffective.
To provide the coming globalization with relief, with
optical density, it is necessary not merely to connect up to
the cybernetic networks, but, most important, to split the
reality of the world in two.
As with stereoscopy and stereophony, which distinguish left
from right, bass from treble, to make it easier to perceive
audiovisual relief, it is essential today to effect a split in pri-
mary reality by developing a stereo-reality, made up on the
one hand of the actual reality of immediate appearances and,
on the other, of the virtual reality of media trans-appear-
ances.
Not until this new 'reality effect' becomes generally
accepted as commonplace will it be possible really to speak
of globalization.
To manage at last to 'bring to light' an over-exposed
world, a world without dead angles, without 'areas of
16
PAUL VIRILIO
shadow' (like the micro-video which replaces both car
reversing lights and rear-view mirrors) - this is the objec-
tive of the technologies of synthetic vision.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, the aim of multi-
media is to turn our old television into a kind of domestic
telescope for seeing, for foreseeing (in a manner not
unlike present weather-forecasting) the world that lies just
around the corner.
The aim is to make the computer screen the ultimate
window, but a window which would not so much allow
you to receive data as to view the horizon of globalization,
the space of its accelerated virtualization . . .
Let us now take an example whose significance is
widely misrecognized: that of 'live-cams', those video
imaging devices which have been set up all over the place
and which are only accessible through the Internet.
Though apparently aimless and insignificant, the phe-
nomenon is nonetheless spreading to all parts of an
increasing number of countries: from San Francisco Bay to
jerusalem's Wailing Wall, by way of the offices and apart-
ments of a few exhibitionists, the camera enables you to
discover in real time what is going on at the other end of
the planet at that very moment.
Here the computer is no longer simply a device for
consulting information sources, but an automatic vision
machine, operating within the space of an entirely virtual-
ized geographical reality.
Some Internet enthusiasts are even happy to live their
lives 'on screen J. Interned in the closed circuits of the Web,
they offer up their private lives for everyone to watch.
The collectivist introspection of these people, who
exemplify a universal voyeurism, is set to expand at the
THE INFORMATION BOMB 17
speed of the single world advertising market, which is not
far offnow.
Advertising, which in the nineteenth century was
simply the publicizing of a product, before becoming in the
twentieth an industry for stimulating desire, is set in the
twenty-first century to become pure communication. To
this end it will require the unfurling of an advertising
space which stretches to the horizon of visibility of the
planet.
Global advertising, far from being satisfied with the
classic poster or with breaks between TV or radio pro-
grammes, now requires the imposition of its 'environment'
on a mass of TV viewers who have in the interim become
tele-actors and tele-consumers.
To come back again to the Internet, a number of towns
forgotten by tourists vaunt the merits of their regions there.
Alpine hotels show off their fine vistas on the screen, while
proponents ofland art are preparing to equip their works
with multiple Web cameras. You can also travel vicari-
ously: you can tour America, visit Hong Kong, and even
view an Antarctic station in its polar darkness . . .
In spite of its poor optical quality, 'live transmission' has
become a promotional tool directing anyone and every-
one's gaze to some privileged vantage points.
Happening is no longer a coming to pass; it is merely a
passing away. Electronic optics is becoming the 'search
engine' of a now globalized fore-sight.
If, in the past, with the telescope, it was simply a matter
of observing something unexpected looming up over the
horizon, it is now a question of seeing what is happening
at the other end of the world, on the hidden side of the
planet. Thus, without the aid of the 'artificial horizon' of
18 PAUL VIRILIO
multi-media, there is no possible way of negotiating the
electronic ether of globalization.
The Earth, that phantom limb, no longer extends as
far as the eye can see; it presents all aspects of itself for inspec-
tion in the strange litde window. The sudden
multiplication of 'points of view' merely heralds the latest
globalization: the globalization of the gaze, of the single eye
of the cyclops who governs the cave, that 'black box'
which increasingly poorly conceals the great culminating
moment of history, a history fallen victim to the syndrome
of total accomplishment.
CHAPTER 3
On 20 January 1997, Bill Clinton reasserted in his inau-
gural address that in the last hundred years the 'promise of
America exploded onto the world stage to make this the
American Century'. He further stated that 'we will redeem
the promise of America in the twenty-first century', with
the USA standing at the head of a whole world of democ-
racies.
1
Yet, in the same address, the president also spoke of
a run-down American model, a fractured, broken-down
democracy, heading, if they were not careful, for a major
political catastrophe.
What is it to be, then? An Americanization of the
world or the disorders of a pseudo-third-worldism extend-
ing to assume planetary proportions? And what is an
American century anyway? And what, we may even ask, is
America?
1 White House, Office of the Press Secretary, press release 20
January 1997,12.05 pm EST.
20
PAUL VIRILIO
To this latter question, Ray D. Bradbury was fond of
replying, 'America is Rembrandt and Walt Disney.' Yet,
when Bill Gates (the 'get wired' man) recently wanted to
spend some of the pennies he'd been putting aside, he
bought not a Rembrandt, but the manuscript of Leonardo
da Vinci's Codex Leicester. Perhaps because the United States
is, in the end, more Italian than Dutch, German, Russian,
Hispanic or even WASP. Because, as everyone knows,
America was discovered towards the end of the
Quattrocento by the Florentine navigator Amerigo
Vespucci and the Genoese Christopher Columbus, at a time
when other Italians, such as the Genoese Leon Battista
Alberti, were introducing the West to perspectival vision.
Now, the 'ever-changing skyline' of the historic rush
towards the American west is the line of the horizon, the
vanishing point of the Italian Renaissance, in the strictest
sense of the term 'per-spectiva', which means seeing through.
The true hero of the American utopia is neither the
cowboy nor the soldier, but the pioneer, the pathfinder, the
person who 'takes his body to where his eyes have been'.2
Before eating up space 'with a voracity unique in the
history of human migrations', the pioneer eats it up with
his eyes - in America everything begins and ends with covet-
ousness of the eyes.
In 1894 the historian Frederick]. Turner wrote:
American social development has been continually
beginning over again on the frontier. This perennial
2 The expression was coined by Gaston Rebuffat, one of the
inventors of 'aid' or 'sixth-class climbing'.
THE INFORMATION BOMB
rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion
westward with its new opportunities, its continuous
touch with the simplicity of primitive society,
furnish the forces dominating American
character. . . . The frontier is the line of most rapid and
effective Americanization. The wilderness masters the
colonist.
3
21
Even today, we old European continentals find it diffi-
cult to imagine a state at peace which would deny any
constant strategic value to its geographical localization, a
nation that would merely be a series of virtual trajectories,
heading off at great speed towards an unpopulated horizon.
From the beginning, the dimensions of the American
state were unstable because they were more astronomical
than political. It is because the Earth is round that the
European flotilla discovered the New World on the course
which led west to Japan and China.
It is again because of the roundness of the planet that
the 'ever-changing skyline' of the pioneers can never be
reached, that it slips away and endlessly recedes as they
approach it. . . . It is merely a delusion, an evanescent
optical illusion - not so much an appearance as a trans-
appearance.
Everywhere and nowhere, here and elsewhere, neither
inside nor outside, the United States represents something
3 Frederick Jackson Turner, The Frontier in American History,
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1964, pp. 2-4. The
chapter in question was actually read at a meeting of the
American Historical Association in Chicago on 12 July 1893.
(Trans.)
22
PAUL VIRILIO
which had until then no name, a 'beyond' of the ancient
colony, an offihore nation. America bears no real relation
to the old diaspora or migration of the nomad of former
times, who, while advancing rapidly across the treeless
plain, frequendy turned around to familiarize himself with
the lie of the land by which he might return. It is the
country of no going back, the land of the one-way ticket -
the fateful amalgam of endless racing and the ideas of free-
dom, progress and modernity.
In conclusion to his famous analysis, Turner was, how-
ever, forced to acknowledge: 'Four centuries from the
discovery of America . . . the frontier has gone, and with its
going has closed the first period of American history.'4
The futurist mise-en-perspective of the history of the United
States seemed to be completed, seemed halted at the outer
limit of the continent, on the horizon of the Pacific.
On the eve of this 'American century' of which Bill
Clinton spoke in his inaugural address, the United States
was, then, still hungry - not so much for territories as for
trajectories; hungry to deploy its compulsive desire for
movement, hungry to carry on moving so as to carry on
being American.
The other day, someone asked Francis Ford Coppola why
bad American cinema continued, in spite of everything, to
be the stuff of dreams the world over. 'It isn't the films
which are the stuff of dreams; it's America, which has
become a kind of huge Hollywood,' retorted the Italian-
American director.
4 I'-W" p. 311.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 23
There are films you are tempted to walk into because you
believe they are three-dimensional.
In sending their reporters to the four corners of the
Earth, the Lumiere brothers had already shown, even ~ t the
end of the nineteenth century, that the cinematograph was
a substitute for human vision which not only flouted time
(thanks to the illusion known as persistence of vision), but
also flouted the distances and dimensions of real space.
The cinema was, in fact, a new energy, capable of carry-
ing your gaze to other places, even if you yourself did not
move.
'One must first speak to the eyes,' said Bonaparte.
One can imagine the mileage the America of perspec-
tiva - for which 'to halt is to die' - would be able to draw
from this technique of fake movement, at the very point
when the 'ever-changing skyline', which was the engine
of its pseudo-democracy, had just come to a juddering
halt.
As President William McKinley declared at the begin-
ning of his term of office, the American people did not
want 'to go back to the past'.
There would be no resisting the obvious solution:
exchanging one lie for another, one illusion for another,
one engine for another. And why not?
Since there was no longer a horizon towards which to
rush, they would invent fake ones - substitute horizons.
The American people would be satisfied. It would not
be going back into the past. It would carry on moving
towards a 'beyond'.
McKinley also declared that if America elected him, it
did so because it was happy to become an industrial
nation.
24 PAUL VIRILIO
The 'second part of American history' begins not only
in the east of the continent, in the mechanical factories of
Detroit where production-line working came into opera-
tion at the Ford plant around 1914, but also in the west,
when, in 1903, a certain Mr Wilcox registered a develop-
ment of 700 inhabitants in the state of California, which
Mrs Wilcox immediately named Hollywood because, as
she remarked, holly brings good luck.
It was to be in this outlying suburb of Los Angeles that
the American nation was to pursue, 'by other means', its
endless race, its journey of no return. With westerns, trail
movies, road movies, burlesques, musicals and its most
recent productions, such as the Speed series,
5
it created a
cinema of acceleration, capable of restoring the highest
velocity to an 'authentic Americanization'.
Though, at the time, American cinema could not be
nationalized, as Soviet cinema was, Hollywood nonetheless
lived under close political and ideological surveillance.
From Will Hays, the czar of censorship, in the twenties,
through the years of William Randolph Hearst's all-pow-
erful press influence and pressure from the upper echelons
of the police forces, influential army chiefS, civil and reli-
gious leagues, etc., right up to the sinister 1950s, the dark
years of McCarthyism.
When, in 1936, Blaise Cendrars managed, not without
difficulty, to get into the fortress-studios of American
industrial cinema, he sensed there, as in the rest of the
country, an air of mystification. 'What a good joke!' he
5 The US films Speed (1994) and Speed 2 (1997) were directed
by Jan de Bont.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 25
wrote. 'But who are they trying to fool here, in this
democracy - who but the sovereign people?'
If we believe Turner's analysis, when he speaks of that
'frontier effect' which 'is productive of individualism', and
when he argues that 'complex society is precipitated by the
wilderness into a kind of primitive organization based on
the family [on survivor groups?]. The tendency is anti-
social' - then, industrial cinema, by upping its false frontier
fjfects to the point of overdose, must inevitably generate
social collapse and the generalized political debacle we find
at this 'American century' -end.
What began with the grand-scale Hollywood of the
1920s was, in fact, the post-industrial era, the catastrophe
of the de-realization of the world. For the leaders of the
time the push west was now merely some vague 'cowboy
movie', a trompe-l'oeil frontier; however, very real migrants,
deceived by this optical illusion, still continued to charge
towards the Pacific in droves.
Things came to such a pass, indeed, that in the early
1930s California had to cut itself off from the rest of the
Union to avoid being submerged by the tide of humanity. It
was ringed by the 'blockade', with three divisions of police
officers patrolling the frontiers (which had now become
internal frontiers) of Oregon, Arizona and Montana. And
we should not forget also the mass raids on Mexicans -
who were, it was felt, 'taking the bread from the mouths of
jobless Americans' - and their brutal deportation. Indigents,
tramps, people of colour, lone women, abandoned chil-
dren, the sick and the infected were pushed back, or
pitilessly interned in camps in the desert, health criteria
here becoming mingled with social and racial prejudices.
26
PAUL VIRILIO
It was a grandiose age in which, after the Wall Street
crash in 1929, fifty per cent of the American population
lived in near-poverty conditions, forty per cent had only a
minimum of sanitary provision, and there were between 18
and 28 million unemployed. Clearly the United States was
going through a period of 'growing pains', but on this
occasion it was also prepared to drag down a planet which
had grown too small for it.
Government by technocrats was soon to follow, in the
form of the New Deal with Franklin Delano Roosevelt,
who was dubbed the 'New Moses', because he 'led his
people out of the desert of poverty . . .'. Before leading
them into a total war in January 1943 at Casablanca.
'People who don't like television don't like America!'
claimed Berlusconi during a memorable election campaign
in the Italian style. In the past one might have said the same
of those who did not like cinema and today one could say
it of people who don't like the Internet or the future infor-
mation superhighways - those who do not favour blind
adherence to the ravings of the metaphysicians of techno-
culture.
'Admittedly,' says one of those west coast gurus, 'we
shall abandon part of the population to their fate when we
enter the cyber age, but techno is our destiny, the freedom
high-tech machines give us is the freedom to be able to say
"yes" to their potential.'
The question which now arises is whether we have the
freedom to say 'no' to the 'promise' of a yet more
'American century' which lies before us, 'no' to the nihilis-
tic discourse which the America of perspectiva and
trani-appearance has been endlessly trotting out for 600
THE INFORMATION BOMB 27
years ... 'Cyber is a new continent, cyber is an additional
reality, cyber must reflect the society of individuals, cyber
is universal, it has no authorities, no head, etc.'6
Meanwhile, Bill Gates was quite happy to put his Codex
on show at the Musee du Luxembourg in Paris. Among da
Vinci's famous 'futuritions', we find a description of the
end of the world, its disappearance beneath water. Beneath
water or waves perhaps . . . Maybe the old Italian master
was not far wrong.
6 From comments made at the Cannes Salon du Milia 1996-7,
by, among others, John Perry Barlow, vice-chair of the
Electronic Frontier Foundation.
CHAPTER 4
After Dolly, the predestined sheep, will there soon be
human clones? And why not, indeed, since it will be pos-
sible before the end of the twentieth century to produce
them? Even now, hundreds of men and women are
requesting exact copies of themselves or duplicates of one of
their dear departed from the famous Dr Wilmut.
We might say that, for a section of today's public, human
cloning is becoming as simple an operation as having one's
portrait taken by a photographer in the nineteenth century.
Or, since 1895, buying a ticket to see the Lumiere broth-
ers' baby guzzling its food up on a screen.
1
As the century of unbounded curiosity, covetous look-
ing and the de-regulation of the gaze, the twentieth has not
Louis Lumiere had used a portable camera - it weighed barely
twelve pounds and was patented on 13 February 1895 - as an
amateur photographer, particularly to film his friends and rela-
tions. His stated ambition was to reproduce life.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 29
been the century of the 'image', as is often claimed, but of
optics - and, in particular, of the optical illusion.
Since pre-1914 days, the imperatives of propaganda (of
advertising) and, subsequendy, during the long period of
Cold War and nuclear deterrence, security and intelligence
needs have gradually drawn us into an intolerable situation
in which industrial optics have run wildly out of control.
This has produced the new opto-electronic arsenal,
which ranges from remote medical detection devices,
probing our 'hearts and loins' in real time, to global remote
surveillance (from the street-corner camera to the whole
panoply of orbital satellites), with the promised emergence
of the cyber-circus still to come.
'The cinema involves putting the eye into uniform,'
claimed Kafka.
2
What are we to say, then, of this dictatorship
exerted for more than half a century by optical hardware
which has become omniscient and omnipresent and
which, like any totalitarian regime, encourages us to forget
we are individuated beings?
If, in terms of current laws, which are supposed to pro-
tect individual liberties, we are in fact the owners of our
bodies - and also oj the images of those bodies - our prolific
audiovisual environment has long since induced us to cease
having any concern for those multiple appearances of our-
selves which unknown general staffi - of the military and
the police, but also the medical, financial, political, indus-
trial and advertising establishments - steal, misappropriate,
explore and manipulate without our knowing it, engaged
2 Gustav Janouch, Conversations with Kafka, trans. Goronwy
Rees, Andre Deutsch, London, 1968, p. 160.
30 PAUL VIRILIO
as they are in secretly fighting over our optical clones, our
modern mortal remains; to turn them, in the short term,
into unconscious actors in their virtual worlds, their
nomadic games.
Science-fiction, socio-fiction, political fiction ... role-
playing games, parallel strategies, the divergent and
scattered elements of a future cyberspace in which, natu-
rally, 'there is no need to move about in a body like the
one you possess in physical reality. . .. Your conditioned
notion of a unique and immutable body will give way to a
far more liberated notion of" body" as something quite dis-
posable . ... '3
Mter the disclosure in March 1996 of the 'mad cow'
affair, followed closely by transgenic foodstuffs and animal
cloning, the huge marketing operation launched by the
'food power' multinationals is likely, then, to find an audi-
ence which, if not informed, is already half-converted.
The public will be ready finally to accept that, in the years
of global crisis which apparently lie before us, and in a
physical world entirely doomed to a joyful Lust am
Untergang, the evolution of the human species may depend
more and more blindly on the expeditious procedures of
animal experimentation.
This had long seemed to be presaged in the practice of
vivisection, the dissection of living creatures, or rather, as
Antonin Artaud put it, creatures condemned to die alive.
*
3 Howard Rheingold, Virtual Reality, Seeker and Warburg,
London, 1991, p. 191. Rheingold is citing a paper by Walser
and Gullichsen.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 31
An old Japanese friend recently confided to me: 'I can't
forgive the Americans for the fact that Hiroshima wasn't an
act of war, but an experiment.'
The fear today must be that, after the end of East-West
nuclear deterrence and the resounding failure of the social
experimentation of the early part of the twentieth century,
the global economic warfare which has descended on our
planet may in turn become experimental and, most signif-
icantly, bio-experimental.
Dolly is not, then, an innovation, or even an event.
She is a clone in the full sense of the term, a slip or cut-
ting (klon) in the strict sense. Before having a future, she
has, as the saying goes, 'a past'. It is this which should
worry us, this fraught past of our not so much industrial
as military-industrial society, in which scientific futurol-
ogy and crime - all crime - have been closely associated
and have progressed together, carrying each other for-
ward.
'There are perhaps just wars, but there are no innocent
armies', or so the saying goes. From now on, it is the same
with science as it is with war: there is no longer any really
innocent science.
If we have long claimed that there existed somewhere a
'tribunal of history', it was doubtless because our history
was rather disreputable. We are currently creating a kind of
experimental judidal system on an international scale which
has been given the task of reassuring us, by managing, after
a fashion, in public relations terms the ravages and excesses
of an experimental sdence which has itself fallen into rather ill
repute, and of restoring a semblance of conscience to an
applied science which has begun to carry on like an eco-
nomic 'bad boy' ...
32
PAUL VIRILIO
With the support of the work of these special tribunals
of a new kind, made up in disparate fashion from scien-
tific and technical experts, a few rare 'moral' personali-
ties and, most recently, representatives of the big
corporations, we should not doubt that a case could
soon be made for human cloning, and that it could be
made legal in the eyes of credulous or profit-hungry
populations.
Among these famous committees of' the great and the good'
there are some who are already arguing the benefits of the
bio-medical applications of human cloning. But with a
little more audacity, could not these spokespeople for sci-
entific futurology soon present it as a possible repair
technique on an industrial scale, or even advocate the for-
mation of a new sub-proletariat which could be exploited
in the event of a great nuclear catastrophe (which is still
possible) or genocide?
Yet would such repair have what we still by common
consent call an ethical value? Would it even bear any relation
to article 1 of the old Hippocratic oath, the 'primum non
nocere'? Or would it in the end be anything other than
death killing death, a disguised cruelty?
At the very moment Unesco is granting the ruins of
Hiroshima and Auschwitz (those two fields of experimen-
tation) 'historic monument' status, shall we have to admit,
after the horrors of war, the errors and errings of a dubious
peace?
And can we really contemplate in the near future the
industrial breeding and all-out commercialization of
human clones, destined, like animals, for a living death
behind the barbed-wire fences of some experimental farm
in the depths of some prohibited area because at least there
THE INFORMATION BOMB 33
we wouldn't be able to see these fellows of ours or hear
their cries?
Or will these sophisticated procedures merely be transi-
tory? Will they not soon seem too burdensome to their
investors and will we not return to the old military and
carceral methods in which the soldier (or the condemned
man) is no longer treated as an individual, but becomes
once again, in Clausewitzian fashion, 'a resource to be
mined like any other', a disposable product . . .? After the dis-
appearance of the old national armies, to be replaced by the
specialists of the new scientific warfare, this would indeed
seem a logical step.
Why shouldn't it happen - in an age when the British
have refound a vocation as slave-traders and are chartering
a prison-ship, a hulk with its containers full oflegally pro-
hibited human merchandise; and when ever more radical
treatment is being inflicted on migrant populations, those
deportees of another age in this post-military-industrial
world where triumphalism has grown rare?
A physical world which now offers the spectacle of a
routed army - a great headlong flight, with its general stafiS
of decision-makers vanishing into thin air and yet contin-
uing to issue irresponsible orders and directives no one
follows.
With pseudo-individualism, liberal hedonism being
nothing more than an 'every man for himself', the mad
stampede generated by a general abandonment in which
the level of exactions increases and inhibitions explode.
This tabula rasa is an ideal situation, a prime opportunity
for a scientific futurology which declares itself resolutely
schizophrenic and advocates the complete virtualization of
living matter, 'humanity being what remains when you
34 PAUL VIRILIO
have taken from human beings all that can be touched and
all that can be seen'.
4
Mter the collapse of the hope of any spiritual survival,
the great regression of living matter has, then, begun, with
the manifest refusal of our age to generate the succeeding
ones, and the absolute reversal of the accepted logic of the
evolution of species, with the most accomplished link in
the chain (the human being?) re-situating itself on its own
initiative not far from the very first cell - the point at
which the first glimmers of terrestrial life seemingly
appeared ...
With the new super-conservatism cif living matter outside
the 'natural channels' that has insidiously developed within
cultures and mentalities during this extraordinary period,
this half-century of nuclear deterrence in which we have
effectively become temporarily reprieved hostages, popu-
lations of living-dead.
From the virtual survival of cryogenics to the vogue
for cocooning and the Near Death Experience move-
ment of Dr Moody, to the multiplication of
eschatological or pseudo-scientific and technological
sects. To the feats of virtual transplants and nano-
machines, to in vitro and in vivo bio-cultures, already
applying to the human organism the standard switching
of parts which applies in the mechanical world, to the
interchangeability of new transhuman beings and, lastly,
to suppressing once and for all the pain ofliving since, by
a possible substitutability of cloned bodies, human beings
4 Remarks made in March 1997 by a French geneticist and
Nobel laureate who sits on an ethics committee.
THE INFORMATION BOMB
35
could still cherish the hope of surviving themselves while at the
same time having ceased to exist.
It's a bit like the baby who, in the photographic print or
the Lumiere brothers' film, has gone on guzzling his food
just as hungrily since the beginning of the twentieth cen-
tury, even though he long ago died of old age.
CHAPTER 5
'The war years do not seem like real years .... They were
a nightmare in which reality stopped,' wrote Agatha
Christie not so very long ago.
1
Today, one feels it no longer takes a war to kill the real-
ity of the world.
Crashes, derailments, explosions, destruction, pollution,
the greenhouse effect, acid rain ... Minamata, Chernobyl,
Seveso, etc. In those days of deterrence we eventually got
used, after a fashion, to our new nightmare and, thanks
among other things to live TV, the long death throes of the
planet assumed the familiar guise of one series of scoops
among others. Thus, having reached a high degree of's#'
stupor, we simply contented ourselves with ticking off the
events, with enumerating the unfortunate victims of our
scientific reverses, our technical and industrial mistakes.
1 Agatha Christie, An Autobiography, Fontana, London, 1977,
p.525.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 37
But we had seen nothing yet, and where the de-realiza-
tion of the physical world was concerned, we were soon
going to pass on to the next stage. Up till then we had in
fact stubbornly refused to concern ourselves with the
unparalleled scope of the more perverse harm and more
personal troubles caused, not by the spectacular failures of
our technical innovations, but by their very performances,
their record-breaking feats - the tremendous technological
victories won in this critical period in the fields of com-
munications and representation.
It has been claimed that psychoanalysis does not resolve
problems, but merely displaces them . . . We might say the
same of technical and industrial progress.
Even as our famous 'Gutenberg galaxy' was claiming to
put reading within everyone's grasp, the reader will note
that, at the same time, it mass-produced populations of
detif-mutes.
Industrial typography, by spreading the habit of soli-
tary - and hence silent - reading, was gradually to deprive
the peoples of that use of speech and hearing which had
previously been involved in the (public, polyphonic) read-
ing aloud made necessary by the relative scarcity of
manuscripts.
Thus printing forced a degree of impoverishment upon
language, which lost not only its sodal relief (primordial
eloquence), but also its spatial relief (its emphases, its
prosody). This was a popular poetics which was not long in
withering away, then dying, literally for want of breath,
before lapsing into academicism and the unambiguous lan-
guage of all propaganda, of all advertising.
If we go on drawing up the list of the sensory depriva-
tions we owe to the technological and industrial wastage
38
PAUL VIRILIO
of our perceptual capacities, we can cite, according to
preference, the consenting victims of electricity, those of
the photographic snapshot and those of the optical illusion
of cinema - these various items of representational equip-
ment which have swelled the ranks of the partially sighted
and of those whom Walter Benjamin dubbed the image
illiterates.
Even in his day, Jean Rostand reckoned that radio 'had
not perhaps made us more foolish, but that it had made
foolishness noisier'. It was to become deafening with the
'Walkman' and blinding with television and 'that inten-
sification of detail and colour, that bombardment of
images which have now replaced words', as Ray Bradbury
observed.
'The masses are rushing, running, charging through the
age. They think they are advancing, but they are simply
running on the spot and falling into the void, that is all,'
observed Kafka.
Motion sickness - known technically as 'kinetosis', a
condition which makes us part-time members of the dis-
abled community, traveller-voyeurs - was the logical
forerunner of instant transmission sickness, with the rapid
emergence of the 'Net junkies', 'Webaholics' and other
forms of cyberpunk struck down with lAD (Internet
Addiction Disorder), their memories turned into junk-
shops - great dumps of images of all kinds and origins, used
and shop-soiled symbols, piled up any old how.
While the youngest children, with their noses stuck to
the screen from infants' school onwards, are already going
down with hyperactivity disorders due to a brain dysfunc-
tion which produces erratic activity, serious attention
deficits and uncontrollable impulsive acts.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 39
And, with access to the information superhighways set
to become more commonplace, an increase in the number
of armchair travellers - those distant offshoots of the silent
reader - is yet to come. They alone will suffer the full
range of communication disturbances acquired over the
recent centuries of technology.
In this field progress acts like a forensic scientist on us, vio-
lating each bodily orifice that is to be autopsied, as a prelude
to the brutal incursions that are to follow. It does not simply
ciffect individuals, it penetrates them. It heaps up, accumulates
and condenses in each of us the full range of (visual, social,
psycho-motor, affective, intellectual, sexual, etc.) detrital
disorders which it has taken on with each innovation, each
with their full complement of specific injuries.
Without even suspecting it, we have become the heirs
and descendants of some fearsome antecedents, the pris-
oners of hereditary defects transmitted now not through
the genes, sperm or blood, but through an unutterable tech-
nical contamination.
By virtue of this loss of 'behavioural freedom', all criticism
of technology has just about disappeared and we have slid
unconsciously from pure technology to techno-culture and,
lastly, to the dogmatism of a totalitarian techno-cult in which
everyone is caught in the trap not of a society and its moral,
social or cultural laws and prohibitions, but of what these
centuries of progress have made of us and if our own bodies.
Those disabled in war or injured in serious road or work
accidents, victims of terrorism and people who have lost
arms, legs, their mobility, sight, speech or virility are all
afflicted at the same time by a forgetting, a paramnesia.
On the one hand, they more or less consciously repress
40 PAUL VIRILIO
the unbearable images of the accident which violently
deprived them of their able-bodied state; on the other
hand, new visions force themselves upon their minds, in
sleep or in half-sleep, as a compensation for the motor and
sensory privations that now afflict them. In weightless
worlds, those who can no longer walk find themselves
back on their feet, moving at supernatural speeds. Those
who can no longer embrace hug each other for all they are
worth, those who can no longer see the light now devour
it with eyes filled with wonder. We should not doubt that
it is the same with our technological autotomy with those
reflex self-mutilations, whose true causes and circumstances
we have long tried to put out of our minds.
As we are gradually deprived of the use of our natural
receptor organs, our sensuality, we are obsessed, like the
invalid, by a kind of cosmic lack of proper 'measure', by
the phantasmatic pursuit of different worlds and modes in
which the old 'animal body' would be out of place, in
which we would achieve total symbiosis between technol-
ogy and the human.
'A conglomerate of scanner eyes, nose spasms, wander-
ing tongues, techno-branchiae, cyber ears, sexes without
secretions and other organs without bodies. . . .' Those
individuals described by a literature which is, says the
Canadian Kroker, 'merely an imposture attempting to
evade the certainty of death. It is no accident that cybernetic
eternity is one of the recurrent themes in a discourse in
which the physical world dissolves and the cosmos finds
itself planted squarely in the computer.'2
2 Personal communication from Arthur Kroker to Paul Virilio.
(Trans.)
THE INFORMATION BOMB 41
But let us listen also to Dr Touzeau,
3
who is familiar
with other extreme situations:
By behaviour equivalent to suicide attempts, such
as anorexia, mutism, drug abuse and also risk
behaviours (excessive speed, riding motorcycles
without crash-helmets, etc.), individuals believe
they can overcome their own impotence. The
backdrop to these violent confrontations with limits
is the classic phantasy of being at last able to
dominate one's destiny - the phantasy, in short, of
total accomplishment.
Since the 'Bob Dent affair' of 26 September 1996,
when the Australian became the first man to decide to
schedule his computer-aided suidde, we know that mere tap-
ping on a keyboard can become a risk-behaviour.
Far from arousing compassion, the collective self-immola-
tion of the members of the Heaven's Gate cybersect,
announced on the Internet several weeks before the fateful
date of 25 March 1997, has been taken as a personal affront
by the unquestioning multi-media enthusiasts.
How, they said, could technically sophisticated people,
often recruited from American college campuses, have
reached such a degree of credulity, such infantilism, as led
some of them to have themselves castrated, as though they
permanently rejected their manhood, their adulthood?
3 The author, with C. Jaquot, of Traitements de substitution pour les
usagers de drogues, Arnette, Paris, 1998. (Trans.)
42 PAUL VIRILIO
This was a question which already troubled Witold
Gombrowicz: 'Immaturity is the most effective term to
define our contemporaries .... An immature state which
a culture that has become inorganic creates and releases within
,
us.
Might not the acknowledged disturbance of the matu-
ration process, with its intellectual, sexual, affective and
psycho-motor disorders, and the immaturity of individuals
who remain arrested in childhood, be the logical outcome
and final manifestation of technological defects which have
become hereditary?
When cosmonauts floating in their interstellar dustbins
cry out to the camera that 'the dream is alive!', why
shouldn't Internauts take themselves for cosmonauts? Why
would they not, like overgrown fairy-tale children, cross
the space between the real and the figurative, reaching as
far as the interface with a virtual paradise? Why would
they not believe that the extra-terrestrial light of the Hale-
Bopp comet is the light that lights up an emergency exit
from the physical world? In their luxurious residence of
Rancho Santa Fe, the thirty-nine members of the Heaven's
Gate cybersect left only their decomposed remains, those
bodies they had long since got out of the habit of using.
CHAPTER 6
'Larry Flynt is still in the street, the fundamentalists are
screwed.' This was the Liberation headline which
announced, in that newspaper's own inimitable style, the
conclusion of the trial which had pitted the extreme-right
French fundamentalist AGRIF organization against
Columbia Tristar Film France. But let us recall the facts.
On 17 February 1997 in Paris it was not easy to avoid
the posters for a Milos Forman film devoted to the exploits
of Larry Flynt, an obscure gangster type who had become
the king of the pornographic press in the Reagan years; it
was difficult to escape the omnipresent image of a kind of
crucified figure hanging from the G-string of a tiny
woman.
On 18 February the deputy public prosecutor for the
Paris region, taking his lead from an American ruling,
expressed an opinion in favour of removing these posters
on grounds if not obstructing the public highway.
The next day, judge Yves Breillat, retreating perhaps
from a decision which might set a precedent, launched
44 PAUL VIRILIO
into a 'scholarly iconographic analysis' and in the end
persuaded the court not to follow the prosecutor's
recommendation: the film posters were not to be with-
drawn.
A prosecutor pleading infringement of liberties, a judge
dismissing the case in the name of specious aesthetic con-
victions - this banal affair of indirect advertising had at
least the merit of revealing once again the shortcomings of
a magistracy which is trying as best it can to cope with the
progressive disappearance of its traditional reference points.
Since, at the time, no blockage had occurred around the
posters in question, one might in fact wonder what the
public prosecutor could possibly mean by 'obstructing the
public highway', unless one were, in fact, to update his
argument.
Since the posting of advertisements is designed to arrest
the gaze and capture attention, it is regarded as dangerous
for precisely these reasons and is duly regulated along fast
roads and on the main highways.
The law of 1979 in France even accepts the notion of
'visual pollution', which may be caused by not only the
positioning, but also the lighting, and the density and pro-
liferation of advertising material outside large conurbations.
Was it our prosecutor's ambition to see these restrictive
measures extended to the cityscape? Might what is illicit in
the countryside also become so in the town?
Why not? - when we know that, by their own admis-
sion, American advertisers are now setting about what they
term a new world ecology, in which it will be possible within
a few hours to inundate all the great cities of the planet
with thousands of copies of a single poster - which would
force every city-dweller on the planet, against their will, to
THE INFORMATION BOMB 45
view something now no longer offered for their contem-
plation, but imposed upon their gaze.
By proceeding against the poster for Milos Forman's
film not merely for its blasphemous content or its obscen-
ity, but also for its infringement of essential freedoms, the
public prosecutor was projecting us into a completely
opposite scenario: was not the blustering Larry Flynt, the
Christ of porn, the martyr of freedom of expression, the
defender of non-conformism, actually the symbolic instru-
ment of an enterprise with totalitarian aims?
Indeed, where the - direct and indirect - advertising
campaign surrounding Flynt's exploits is concerned,
another pressing question arises: can the world of the night
be over-exposed and dragged into the light without ceas-
ing to be itself? Can what was marginal yesterday become
mainstream with impunity?
As we see once again with the rather lame verdict
arrived at on 19 February 1997, one of the major difficul-
ties encountered by the porn market is that it is not really
accepted in the public sphere. Like prostitution, it has dif-
ficulty escaping 'the private world of indecency' and
finding a proper legal footing in public spaces and on our
highways and byways, which, as everyone knows, are
among the last legal refuges of a certain morality and its
prohibitions (on drugs, alcohol, sex, etc.).
Unless pornography achieves a conflation with another
form of international traffic - the traffic in culture.
This was, we may note, the option chosen by judge
Breillat. The real issue in the Larry Flynt affair was this
fusion/ confusion of pornography with that freedom of
expression generally accorded to cultural activities.
One frequently hears it proclaimed that 'Art cannot be
46
PAUL VIRILIO
immoral', whereas what ought to be said is that it cannot be
illegal.
In losing any sacred character, it long since entered the
baneful Goethean triangle of 'war, commerce and piracy,
the three in one, inseparable' (Faust 11).1
For a long time now, too, the 'art lover' has been trans-
formed into a silent witness wandering through galleries
and museums which with total impunity contain the illicit
products of wartime plunder, ethnic massacres and other
criminal acts (tomb-raiding, dismantling of religious build-
ings, etc.).
Anglo-Saxon free-market economics merely confirms
this state of affairs when it advocates non-discrimination in
trade and wishes to include culture in the 'service category'
and as one of the many spin-off products offered to con-
sumers by the multinationals (games, films, CDs, travel,
etc.).
With the invisible trade in services succeeding, and even
opposing, the visible trade in goods, advertisers assert that
they are no longer there simply to sell objects, but to create
new forms of behaviour and to serve as counterweights to
industrialist pressure.
In 1993, at the time of the General Agreement on
Tariffi and Trade (GATT) negotiations, this type ofimma-
terial operation already accounted for more than sixty per
cent of the gross national product (GNP) of the industrial-
ized countries and represented thirty-five per cent of
international transactions. And when you see professionals
1 'Krieg, Handel und Piraterie/Dreieinig sind sie, nicht zu tren-
nen' (Act 5, Scene 2, lines 1187-8).
THE INFORMATION BOMB 47
like those in the Disney Corporation shedding the
Puritanism appropriate to a disappearing family market
and going in for hyper-violence on the ABC channel, and
sex, with, among other things, 'Gay days' at Disneyland
and Disneyworld, you can better discern the objectives of
a porn market which is not without its by-products either.
By merging, and becoming confused, with culture it might
finally escape the last legal restrictions and would also profit
from non-discrimination with regard to 'services' ...
What Benetton and other advertisers had attempted on
commercial pretexts, the national museums and art galleries
were to achieve culturally.2
It was noted in 1996 in Paris that the major Cezanne
exhibition did not achieve the expected success (600,000
visitors), in spite of the praiseworthy efforts of the orga-
nizers. Conversely, at the same time the public rushed to
the Georges Pompidou Centre to see the little exhibition
'Masculin/Feminin' with its rows of genital organs and its
pornographic graffiti, which were clearly more exciting
than Cezanne's austere bathers.
The Musee d'Orsay having no doubt decided to revive
its financial fortunes, that November one could not avoid
2 The formation of the sex-culture-advertising enterprise did
not take place yesterday, as Magritte noted. 'What Surrealism
means officially: an advertising enterprise carried on with suf-
ficient savoir-faire and conformism to have as much success as
other enterprises. . .. Thus the "surrealist woman" was an
invention as stupid as the "pin-up girl" which is now replac-
ing her.' Cited by Georges Roque, Cea n'est pas une Magritte,
Flammarion, Paris, 1983.
48
PAUL VIRILIO
its posters reproducing part of Gustave Courbet's painting
entitled The Origin of the World.
3
The part in question was
in fact a quasi-photographic close-up of the pubic region
of a reclining woman with her thighs parted.
The cultural pretext did its job perfectly in this case: no
one lodged a complaint and no public prosecutor was
found to request the withdrawal of this poster, which was
far more pornographic than the one for the Milos Forman
film.
The crowd of those people who 'think of sex every
seventy seconds' - as certain British advertisers claim -
joined with the throng of art-lovers and they all headed off
for the Musee d'Orsay to take a closer look between the
legs of Courbet's sturdy maiden.
Still in pursuit of a majority market, the Georges
Pompidou Centre organized its 'Seven Deadly Sins' exhi-
bition the following year, while the Cartier Foundation
offered 'Amours' - significantly, in the plural.
In Barcelona, it was the 'Primavera del Disseny' (the
Spring Festival of Design), where 'Some twenty photogra-
phers, designers, architects and graphic artists went crazy
over sex maliciously or crudely.' Everywhere, from Los
Angeles to Hanover, in galleries and museums they stopped
practising dissimulation.
A literature also emerged, the central aim of which was
to convince the general public that our great artists, from
Rodin to Delacroix and from Brecht to Bataille, were
sexually obsessed and had never feared moral oppro-
brium.
3 1866. Oil on canvas. 46 x 55cm. Private collection. (Trans.)
THE INFORMATION BOMB 49
Not wanting to be left behind, the classical music world
also joined in, and the respectable Opera de Paris staged
Rossini's Italian Girl in Algiers in a 'hardcore' version in
which the 'director revelled in allusions (pairs of inflatable
breasts, simulations of rectal penetration, Turkish massages)
without, however, daring to become pornographic,' com-
plained a Parisian critic.
This was not the case with Angela Marshall, an
American artist who, in a London gallery, sold both her
artworks and her body: 'As long as the public hasn't made
love, it isn't art!' she explained, indicating her prices.
This slippage which was occurring from the culture
market (and even hypermarket)4 to the pornography
market became a cause for concern to the genuine profes-
sionals of the night, who saw a large number of their
traditional outlets slipping away. To attempt to rectify this
situation, a 'Museum of Eroticism' was opened in Pigalle.
Since the game typically consists in taking on, one after
the other, the bastions of a certain 'cultural respectability',
London's Royal Academy of Art was the next obvious
target. That was where an exhibition named 'Sensation'
was held in 1997, allegedly to showcase young British
artists.
In reality, it was a new 'war machine', designed by the
sex-culture-advertising movement, which was present in
full there, since the 110 works on display (a portrait of the
4 Cf. Bazart, the hypermarket of contemporary art founded in
Barcelona in 1994. In this itinerant exhibition and sale, which
'gets back to the spirit of the boutique', art becomes, we are
told, 'a consumer product like any others, with new stocks coming in
all the time'.
50
PAUL VIRILIO
child-murderer Myra Hindley, casts of childlike bodies
with mouths replaced by phalluses, etc.) belonged, without
exception, to Charles Saatchi, one of Britain's great adver-
tising moguls.
In another unprecedented move, one room ill the
gallery, in which the most violent and obscene works were
grouped, was out of bounds to those under eighteen years
of age. This marks the abolition of one of the last differ-
ences that still existed between so-called cultural events
and any other X-rated show.
In response to the scandal the organizers had been
hoping for, the exhibition's curator merely repeated the
time-honoured formula: 'Art is never immoral.'
Abandoning all modesty, all reserve, is not an immoral atti-
tude, it is a dangerous attitude.
It is to forget, it seems, that the word 'obscene' comes
from the Latin obscenus, which means ill-omened, a sign of a
fearsome future.
As early as the 1920s, when the great art dealer Rene
Gimpel had the chance to see the works of the German
Expressionists in Berlin, he was seized with apprehension
and felt no good would come of them. It was not long
before he was able to verify, in the Neuengamme concen-
tration camp (where he was to die on 1 January 1945),
'what horrors the human imagination could conceive on
the basis of an almost ingenuous idea called love, up to and
including the danse macabre painted on the wall of the char-
nel houses'.s The reader will have noted that up to this
5 Pierre Mac Orlan, Nuits aux bouges, Les Editions de Paris,
Paris, 1994.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 51
point the new artists contented themselves with using
animal corpses preserved in formalin, confining themselves,
where human beings were concerned, to mere anatomical
casts.
The line was to be crossed in 1998 with the
'Korperwelten' (Body Worlds) exhibition at the
Landesmuseum fur Technik und Arbeit in Mannheim.
Around 780,000 visitors thronged there to contemplate 200
human corpses presented by a certain Gunther von Hagens.
This German anatomist actually invented a process for
preserving dead bodies and, most important, sculpting them
by coating them with plastic.
6
He presented flayed figures,
standing like ancient statues, some brandishing their skins
like a trophy, others exhibiting their viscera in the manner
ofDali's Venus de Milo if the Drawers.
As his sole explanation, Dr von Hagens was content
merely to mouth the slogan: 'I am breaking down the last
taboos.'
There is a slippage going on here and, as time goes by,
one will soon be able to apply the term 'avant-garde artists'
not just to the German Expressionists inciting to murder,
but to others among their unknown contemporaries, who
should have their place in the very particular collections of
our century.
Take, for example, Use Koch, that romantic blonde who
in 1939 alighted upon a shaded valley near Weimar, the
6 Dr von Hagens's technique, known as 'plastination', involves
replacing water with a curable polymer. It is widely used
throughout the world in the teaching of anatomy, pathology,
etc. (Trans.)
52
PAUL VIRILIO
very spot where Goethe loved to walk and where he had
conceived his Mephistopheles, the universally nay-saying
spirit: 'The work began at once and the camp quite natu-
rally received the name of the forest so dear to the poet -
Buchenwald.'7
The woman who was subsequently to be nicknamed
'the bitch of Buchenwald' clearly could not have known
Dr von Hagens's ingenious procedure, but she had aes-
thetic aspirations quite similar to his, since she had her
unfortunate lovers flayed and from their skins made objects
such as lampshades or wallets.
'The artist first contributes his body,' said Paul Valery.
During the 1960s, the Viennese Actionists had followed
this watchword to the letter, since it was their own bodies
they used as the medium of their art.
After Hermann Nitsch's 'masses', in which he sacrificed
animals 'in a lewd, bloody ritual', the most extreme exam-
ple of Actionism will surely remain that of Rudolf
Schwarzkogler. His death was attributed to the after-effects
of the castration he inflicted upon himself during one of his
performances, one of his 'actions' which took place with
no audience, in a private encounter between the artist and
a camera.
These are extreme arts, in the same way as one speaks of
'extreme sports', in which the main object, in particular, is
to suffer - terminal arts, since they require nothing for their
7 G. Rabinovitch, 'Le chene de Buchenwald', Traces, no. 3,
Paris; see also Walter Laqueur, The Terrible Secret: Suppression of
the Truth about Hitler's 'Final Solution', Weidenfeld and
Nicholson, London, 1980.
,
j
THE INFORMATION BOMB 53
fulfilment but a confrontation between a tortured body
and an automatic camera.
These visual arts, which Schopenhauer referred to as the
suspension of the pain of living, became, in the twentieth
century, a precipitation towards pain and death for indi-
viduals who have acquired the ill-considered habit of
leaving their corpses to scientific voyeurism, and now these
others, who give theirs up to the 'art' of Dr von Hagens.
In 1906 The World, a New York daily, ran the headline:
'Give Me My Father's Body!' This referred, in fact, to the
plea of a young Inuit (Eskimo) boy who had discovered that
the skeleton on display in a case in the New York Natural
History Museum was that of Quisuk, his own father.
Nine years earlier the father had died, with four of his
Eskimo companions, from the ravages of tuberculosis, not
long after landing on American soil.
Young Minik, who was then eight years old, had
attended the funeral, but this had just been a masquerade
organized by scientists from Columbia University's anthro-
pology department, who wished to appropriate the
remains and prevent the child from discovering that his
father was now part of the museum's collection.
8
Robert Peary, who was later to reach the North Pole,
bears considerable responsibility in this affair, for he
regarded the Eskimos as sub-humans, as 'the useful instru-
ments of his Arctic work'.
Our visual arts were neither first, nor alone (far from it),
in anticipating the 'cabinet of horrors of the twentieth
8 Kenn Harper, Give Me My Father's Body, Blacklead Books,
Iqaluit, Nunavut, 1986.
54
PAUL VIRILIO
century'. The avant-garde of modernity did not fashion
itself in the shadow of the art galleries and national muse-
ums, but in natural history museums like the one in which
the young Inuit was to discover, among the ruins of the
civilization of Thule, his father's skeleton transformed into
a numbered specimen.
In the classical art museum, the fruits of dubious expe-
ditions were exhibited as though legal exemption had
already been granted. In the New York museum we see a
troubling updating of these practices of impunity.
Thus the sordid crime of the New York museum,
revealed in 1906 by The World, was absolved in advance at
the moment when the world's press was making the con-
quest of the North Pole one of the most exciting -
scientific, sporting, cultural- objectives of our civilization.
A moment when humanity could stand the strain if waiting no
longer: 'It was a disgrace,' wrote Karl Kraus,
that we, the owners if the world, should have let
ourselves be deprived if its last little slice . ... For the
only valuable thing about the North Pole was that
it had not been reached. Once it had been reached,
it is just a pole from which a flag waves - thus
worse than nothing, a crutch of fulfilment and a
barrier to imagination. . . . The discovery of the
North Pole ... is an effective extemporization of a
past development. [emphasis added]9
9 'The Discovery of the North Pole', ed. Harry Zohn, In These
Great Times: A Karl Kraus Reader, Carcanet, Manchester, 1976,
p.50.
t
THE INFORMATION BOMB 55
And Kraus concluded: '''The greatest man of the cen-
tury" is the tide of the hour; the next hour bestows it
upon someone else .... People were sated with the North
Pole, and never before had they been disillusioned so sud-
denly and so painfully.' 1
0
The international press, less changeable than it seemed,
registered the painful completion of the geographical con-
quest and anticipated, in alarmist despatches, the new
major event which might be said to be its direct conse-
quence. That was the coming, five years later, of a first
world war which, by its very universalism, would become
the first total war of humanity against man thanks to the
deployment of a military-industrial arsenal of mass destruc-
tion, which was soon to encompass a scientific complex
ranging from physics to biology and psychology.11
It was merely a question of time, then, for the transfer of
the West's expansionist drives from the exhausted geography
of the terrestrial to the human body - that last, still-unex-
plored corner of the planet, relatively protected by the last
cultural, social and moral prohibitions ...
And for the solemn celebrations, such as those which
attended the end of slavery and the defence of human
rights, to become merely sinister masquerades - only poorly
concealing the drift, from the 1940s onwards, of a colonial
savoir1aire towards a world-scale project of an endocolonial
nature. One has only to look to see this: with the rise of
unemployment and cultural integration, the abandonment
of the nourishing countryside for the over-populated and
10 Ibid., p. 55.
11 Paul Virilio, Essai sur l'insecurite du territoire, Stock, Paris, 1976.
56 PAUL VIRILIO
unproductive ghettos, and galloping pauperization, our
post-industrial world is already the spitting image of the old
colonial world, examples of which we find in Africa, Latin
America or the Far East.
And we can rest assured that, after the unrestrained
exploitation of the living Earth and its geography, the
exploitation of the cartography of the human genome is
already well advanced. This is a project which tells us a
great deal about a booming industrial techno-biology,
whose ambition is to reduce to the state of specimen every
member of a humanity which has had its day, every
human being who, like young Minik's father, might be
said no longer precisely to be an individual, no longer
individuum-indivisible.
As the dominant influence of the nineteenth-century sci-
entistic and positivistic philosophies draws to a close, one
can better discern the usefulness of the new
sex-culture-advertising complex and the predominant pro-
motional role it plays in this 'phenomenon of evil deeds
committed on a gigantic scale, which could not be traced
to any particularity of wickedness' .12
So far as the so-called arts of representation are con-
cerned, the anonymity of anatomy beneath the human skin
had already showed through in the work of da Vinci, a
development later to be confirmed by Rembrandt and
later Gericault hovering around the morgues of the great
hospitals, and even in the Cubism of Picasso, who painted
12 Hannah Arendt, 'Thinking and Moral Considerations: A
Lecture', Social Research, fall 1970, vol. 38, no. 3, p. 147.
11
t
,
:.:.: .. \1
\
"
THE INFORMATION BOMB 57
his portraits of women 'the way you dissect a corpse', as
Apollinaire remarked.
This banalization of cold perception - paradoxically, a priv-
ileged feature of the scientific gaze - in fact developed an
aesthetics specific to that gaze: a kind of elementary struc-
turalism which was to infuse fields as various as the visual
arts, literature, industry, design or even the social and eco-
nomic utopias of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
13
However, when the Viennese Actionists insist upon the
private encounter with the camera for their performances,
the watching gaze has long since ceased to be that of the
artist or even the scientist, but belongs to the instruments
of technological investigation, to the combined industrial-
ization of perception and information.
Writing of photography, Walter Benjamin incautiously
explained: 'It prepares that salutary movement by which
man and the surrounding world become alien to each
other, opening up a field in which all intimacy yields to the
illumination of detail.'
This precisely describes the endocolonization of a world
without intimacy which we are seeing - a world which has
become alien and obscene, entirely given over to informa-
tion technologies and the over-exposure of detail.
13 'The invisible truth of bodies', seen on the eve of the French
Revolution, in works like Jacques Agoty's claiming to illus-
trate 'the interaction between the scalpel and the engraver's
chisel', and closed systems such as Georges Cuvier's law of
subordination of the organs and the correlation of forms
which inspired Balzac in his studies of social life.
CHAPTER 7
To fight against the ghosts which seemed to be assailing
her, a twenty-five-year-old American, June Houston, has
just installed fourteen cameras in her house, providing con-
stant surveillance of strategic sites: under the bed, in the
basement, outside the front door, etc.
Each of these 'live-cams' is supposed to transmit sightings
on to a Web site. So the visitors who consult this site
become 'ghost watchers'.
A dialogue box allows you to send a message to alert the
young woman via the Internet if any kind of' ectoplasm'
should manifest itself.
'It is as though the Internauts were becoming neigh-
bours, witnesses to what is happening to me,' declared June
Houston.
1
With this voyeurism, tele-surveillance takes on a new
meariing. It is no longer a question of forearming oneself
1 Le Monde, 18 November 1997.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 59
against an interloper with criminal intent, but of sharing
one's anxieties, one's obsessive fears with a whole network,
through over-exposure of a living space.
'I don't want people to come physically into my space.
So, until I understood the potential of the Internet, I
couldn't get any outside help.'
By this admission, June Houston illustrates the nature of
the so-called virtual community and the phantasmic exis-
tence of a new type of localness, of social 'tele-Iocalness'
which totally revolutionizes the notion of neighbourhood,
the temporal and spatial unity of physical cohabitation.
Moreover, some Internet users send the young woman
genuine 'surveillance reports', indicating what they believe
they have seen in her home. The site is code-named
'Flyvision' .
This anecdote shows strikingly the emergence of a new
kind of tele-vision, a television which no longer has the
task of informing or entertaining the mass of viewers, but
of exposing and invading individuals' domestic space, like
a new form of lighting, which is capable of revolutionizing
the notion of neighbourhood unit, or of a building or district.
Thanks to this 'real-time' illumination, the space-time
of everyone's apartment becomes potentially connected to
all others, the fear of exposing one's private life gives way
to the desire to over-expose it to everyone, to the point
where, for June Houston, the arrival of 'ghosts', which
she so dreads, is merely the pretext for the invasion of her
dwelling by the 'virtual community' of furtive Internet
inspectors and investigators.
Flyvision - 'vision volante' - is also 'vision volfe', stolen
vision: a vision from which the blind spots of daily life dis-
appear.
60 PAUL VIRILIO
It is, in fact, fair to say that this practice revolutionizes
classical local television from top to bottom. It revolu-
tionizes the broadcasting of information programmes by
contributing to the total transformation of the transparency
of sites and spaces of habitation, in the direction of a
purely mediatic trans-appearance of the real space of living
beings.
Now, this paradoxical situation is currendy becoming
widespread, since the 'globalization of the single market'
demands the over-exposure of every activity; it requires the
simultaneous creation of competition between companies,
societies and even consumers themselves, which now
means individuals, not simply certain categories of 'target
populations' .
Hence the sudden, untimely emergence of a universal,
comparative advertising, which has relatively litde to do with
publicizing a brand or a consumer product of some kind,
since the aim is now, through the commerce if the visible, to
inaugurate a genuine visual market, which goes far
beyond the promoting of a particular company.
Seen like this, the gigantic concentration of telephone,
television and computer communications companies
becomes easier to understand - the MCI-WORLD COM
merger (the biggest transaction of all time) and the sudden
conversion of Westinghouse, which was once an electric-
ity production company and has now moved into the
world telecommunications business.
After the direct lighting of cities by the magic of electric-
ity in the twentieth century, the companies created by
these mergers are pioneering an indirect lighting of the world
for the twenty-first century.
Thanks to the promises of the magic of electronics,
1
i
THE INFORMATION BOMB 61
electro-optic lighting is going to assist in the emergence of
the virtual reality of cyberspace. Building the space of the
multi-media networks with the aid of tele-technologies
surely then requires a new 'optic', a new global optics,
capable of helping a panoptical vision to appear, a vision
which is indispensable if the 'market of the visible' is to be
established.
The much-vaunted globalization requires that we all
observe each other and compare ourselves with one
another on a continual basis.
Like June Houston, every economic and political system
in its turn enters the private life of all the others, forbidding
any of them to free themselves for any length of time from
this competitive approach.
Hence a recent decision by the European Community
to pass legislation on 'comparative advertising', in order to
oppose systematic negative advertising campaigns and to
ensure the protection of consumers from the verbal vio-
lence involved in this type of commercial promotion.
2
Today, control of the environment is very largely supplant-
ing the sodal control of the constitutional state and, to this
end, it has to establish a new type of transparency: the trans-
parency of appearances instantaneously transmitted over a
distance . . . This is the meaning of the commerce of the
visible, the very latest form of 'publicity'.
For a multinational company or a society, the aim of
acquiring a global dimension requires all-out competi-
tion, 'all-out' being a term that has fallen into disuse since
the end of the Cold War ('all-out' nuclear war, etc.)
2 I.e Monde, 16 September 1997.
62 PAUL VIRILIO
Making information resonate globally, which is neces-
sary in the age of the great planetary market, is in many
ways going to resemble the practices and uses of military
intelligence, and also political propaganda and its excesses.
'He who knows everything fears nothing; claimed Joseph
Paul Goebbels not so long ago. From now on, with the
putting into orbit of a new type of panoptical control, he
who sees everything - or almost everything - will have noth-
ing more to fear from his immediate competitors.
You will, in fact, understand nothing of the information
revolution if you are unable to divine that it ushers in, in
purely cybernetic fashion, the revolution if generalized snoop-
ing.
How indeed is one to keep watch on the initiatives of
one's competitors at the other end of the planet and obtain
a sample of a product which threatens your own? Since
1991, the French company Pick Up has met such a
demand by creating a network of informers in twenty-five
countries. Its journalists, investigators and consultants of
various kinds - generally natives of the countries con-
cerned - have had the task of maintaining an all-out
technological vigil.
3
And, in fact, some investigation agencies now act like
real private information multinationals, battling over highly
lucrative markets throughout the world.
As examples, we might cite the American Kroll agency,
the British companies Control Risk and DSI, or, in South
Africa, the Executive Outcomes agency.
4
3 Le Nouvel Observateur, 10 July 1997.
4 See the article by Laurent Leger, Paris-Match, autumn 1997.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 63
These are all variants on an investigation market which
is taking on something of the appearance of totalitarian
espionage.
After the first bomb, the atom bomb, which was capable
of using the energy of radioactivity to smash matter, the
spectre of a second bomb is looming at the end of this mil-
lennium. This is the information bomb, capable of using
the interactivity of information to wreck the peace
between nations.
s
'On the Internet, there is a permanent temptation to
engage in terrorism, as it is easy to inflict damage with
impunity; declared a one-time hacker who is now a com-
pany director,
and this danger grows with the arrival of new
categories of Internet users. The worst are not, as is
generally believed, the political activists, but the
unscrupulous little businessmen who will go to any lengths
to do down a competitor who gets in their way.
Their preferred weapons? The new bulk-mailing soft-
ware, invented by advertising people, which can submerge
a particular server in a veritable 'mail-bombing' campaign
that enables anyone to become a 'cyber-terrorist' at little
risk to themselves.
Once again, then, we see economic warfare advancing
under the cover of promoting the greatest freedom of
5 'La bombe informatique: entretien de Paul Virilio et Frederick
Kittler'. Arte. 15. 1995.
64 PAUL VIRILIO
communication, and in this kind of 'informational' con-
flict, advertising strategies have to be recast.
In his book, LA Publicite est-elle une anne absolue?, the
chairman of the Jump agency, Michel Hebert, tries to
demonstrate the need for 'guerrilla business', explaining
that the chain of communication has to be transformed
from top to bottom.
6
Hence the resistible rise of so-called interactive adver-
tising, which combines audiovisual entertainment with
marketing effectiveness.
In France today, 700,000 households can show their inter-
est in a product presented in a television advert by simply
pressing the OK button on their remote control keypad,
thanks to the 'Open TV' and 'Media Highway' software
(for the TPS and Canal Satellite channels respectively).
This is the consecration on mass TV of a kind of adver-
tising which previously existed only on the Internet.
From interactive to comparative advertising is only a small
step. A small step for man, but a giant leap for inhumanity.
A giant leap towards 'mass snooping', the industrializa-
tion of informing.
'Comparisons are misleading', as the old saying goes.
But currendy, with the single market's requirement for
global competition, comparison has become a globalitar-
ian phenomenon, which requires the full-scale
over-exposure not just of places - as with the remote sur-
veillance of roads - but also of persons, their behaviour,
their actions and innermost reactions.
6 'Naissance du business de guerilla', Le Figaro, 11 November
1997.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 65
Thus the misleading nature of enforced competition
becomes a part of our economic, political and cultural
activities.
The multinational enterprise sidelines the weak at their
keypads; it sidelines these new 'citizens of the world' as
mere consumers of a kind of parlour game in which the
conditioned reflex wins out over shared reflection. Might is
right, but not rational here in a statistical phenomenon of
the massification of social behaviour which threatens
democracy itself.
As Albert Camus wittily observed, 'When we are all
guilty, that will be true democracy!'
Mter ordinary 'grassing', calumny and slander- not to
mention the social ravages of rumour-mongering, free
telephone lines for 'informers' and telephone taps on sus-
pects - we are now entering the era of optical snooping.
This is bringing a general spread of surveillance cameras,
not just into the streets, avenues, banks or supermarkets,
but also into the home: in the housing estates of the
poorer districts and, above all, with the worldwide prolif-
eration of 'live-cams' on the Internet, where you can visit
the planet from your armchair thanks to Earthcam, a
server which already has 172 cameras sited in twenty-five
countries. Or, alternatively, you can have access through
Netscape Eye to thousands of on-line cameras angled not
just at tourism and business but towards a generalized
introspection.
These are emblematic of a universal voyeurism which
directs everyone's gaze towards privileged 'points of view',
the sudden increase in 'points of view' never being any
other than a heralding of the future 'points of sale' of the
latest globalization: the globalization oj the gaze oj the single eye.
66 PAUL VIRILIO
Active (wave) optics, which revolutionizes the tradi-
tional passive (geometric) optics of the era of Galileo's
telescope, as though the loss of the horizon of geograph-
ical perspective necessitated the establishment of a
substitute horizon - the artificial horizon of a screen or
a monitor capable of permanently displaying the prepon-
derance of the media perspective, the relief of the
'tele-present' event taking precedence over the three
dimensions of the volume of the objects or places here
present.
Hence this proliferation of 'great lights in the sky' -
observation or communications satellites - which are
preparing to saturate the orbital space of our planet, with
the launch of Motorola's Iridium project, ofTeledesic and
the Akatel company's Skybridge.
'Faster, smaller, cheaper' - this NASA slogan could
shortly become the watchword of globalization itself. But
with one nuance, since the speed and smallness in question
would no longer refer to devices designed to conquer
extra-terrestrial space, but to our geography at the moment
of its sudden temporal compression.
The societies of confinement denounced by Michel
Foucault are being succeeded, then, by the societies of
control announced by Gilles Deleuze.
Have they not in France just authorized the use of elec-
tronic tagging devices on prisoners released on parole,
transponders which enable them to be located at any
point, thus avoiding further pressure on already over-
crowded prisons?
These inaugural practices - which will undoubtedly be
extended in the future to other categories of deviants, to
THE INFORMATION BOMB 67
those who do not conform to the norm - are today
described as 'humanitarian'.
And what are we to say of the enthusiasm of post-indus-
trial companies for the cellphone which enables them to
abolish the distinction between working hours and private
life for their employees?
Or the introduction in Britain not simply of 'part-
time' but of 'zero-hour' contracts, accompanied by the
provision of a mobile phone. When the company needs
you, it calls and you come running. The reinvention of a
domestic servility ultimately on a par with the electronic
incarceration of offenders in the closed circuit of a police
station.
The smaller the world becomes as a result of the rela-
tivistic effect of telecommunications, the more violently
situations are concertinaed, with the risk of an economic
and social crash that would merely be the extension of the
visual crash of this 'market of the visible', in which the
virtual bubble of the (interconnected) financial markets is
never any other than the inevitable consequence of that
visual bubble of a politics which has become both panopti-
cal and cybernetic.
June Houston, our paranoid American, is then the
unwitting heroine of a game which is merely beginning, a
game in which everyone inspects and watches over all the
others, looking for a spectre which is no longer haunting
Europe alone, but the whole world - the world of business
and global geopolitics. Furthermore, our unbalanced
American friend takes her inspiration from the screens of
Wall Street, updating the site report on her home every
two or three minutes, thus keeping up the attentiveness of
watchers who -like New York's traders - are never really
68 PAUL VIRILIO
discouraged by anything. All the more so as our attractive
American lady posts photos of herself on the site from
time to time - still photos, of course.
CHAPTER 8
Following a complaint lodged by a feminist anti-rape col-
lective, a poster extolling the merits of a major chocolate
brand was immediately withdrawn, with apologies from
the advertising agency.
On the poster in question, you saw the black super-
model Tyra Banks, her body naked and dripping with long
patches of white - cream, no doubt. And alongside, in
large lettering, were the words 'It's no use saying "no", they
hear "yes".' What alerted the anti-rape defence league was
not so much the image of this defiled female body as the
commentary accompanying it: a 'no' heard as a 'yes'. The
metaphor of a voice being silenced.
Yet this typically audiovisual phenomenon is reproduced
every day in the mass media, in particular in television.
When the control room puts through images of violence,
sex and gore, the current affairs reporters are required to
comment on them in expurgated language, in order not to
offend or deter any category of listeners, any (economic,
racial, clinical, sexual, etc.) community, and hence keep the
audience figures stable.
70 PAUL VIRILIO
With live coverage (either in real time or with a slight
delay), this internal contradiction has become very diffi-
cult - if not indeed impossible - to manage, since to the
technical hitches of yesteryear have now been added the
formidable dangers of the instant commentary for reporters
who find themselves at the frontiers of the word and the
image, permanently caught between a 'soft' (politically
correct) language and the 'hard' (visually incorrect) images
of 'see-it-now' -style broadcasting.
We also find this dilemma among other profession-
als - the dilemma of a language which has become
embarrassing and embarrassed. For example, when a top
dress designer was recently asked why super models had
replaced actresses and movie stars in the popular press, he
simply replied, 'Because they don't speak.' For the inter-
national supermodel, the dilemma of audiovisual
communication has been resolved by lopping off speech
altogether.
We can hardly be surprised, then, at the new visual
trends of a haute couture which has become Babelish and
those fashion shows where, we are told, designers will do any-
thing for the international cameras, like the English 'rude
boys' who, for a time, took over the old fashion houses
such as Dior or Givenchy. One of these is, indeed, the
designer of a collection of women's clothing and under-
clothes which are torn and stained blood-red, the name of
which is 'Rape in the Highlands'.
In the early years of the twentieth century, the novelist
Paul Morand observed: 'Speed, in slamming two caresses
together, turns them into a mortal impact.' Has not rape
perhaps become the unacknowledged by-product of a
technological emergency that is becoming routinized?
THE INFORMATION BOMB 71
Between July 1962, when American Telephone and
Telegraph's Telstar satellite was successfully launched,
enabling the first direct television link-up between the
USA and Europe to take place, and the generalized
switching between multi-media we see today, the world
has made a sudden transition from the 'hear-it-now' to
the over-exposure of the 'see-it-now'. From now on,
whether we like it or not, any interpersonal relation-
ship, any entry into communication, any cognitive
procedure involves us unconsciously in that unsanctioned
violence of an optical shock which has become global. In
this way, the revolutionary ethic of a (hard) image per-
ceived in real time will soon lead to a lifting of the moral
prohibitions which still applied to pornography and
obscene acts on the screen. It also explains the size of the
market for these things on the Minitel system or the
Internet.
There is nothing enticing about our supermodels any
more once they have been reduced to silence. Their bodies
are not just denuded, but silently exposed, without saying a
word, to laboratory sufferings - from plastic surgery to
testosterone.
Let us make no mistake about it, if they are starting a
fashion, it is not a fashion in clothing. The supermodels are
already mutants ushering in an unprecedented event: the
premature death of any living language.
The new electronic Babel might be said to be dying
not from the plethora oflanguages, but from their disap-
pearance. And it seems not to be a matter of speaking to
one another, writing and thinking, like the North
Americans, in a standard pseudo-English, but doing all
these things at the same time, more and more quickly.
72 PAUL VIRILIO
'Brevity is the soul of e-mail: Nicholas Negroponte
tells internauts in Being Digital. And the billionaire George
Soros for his part asserts, 'I am capable of reducing the
most complex situation to its simplest expression.'
Technological acceleration initially brought about a
transference from writing to speech - from the letter and
the book to the telephone and the radio. Today it is the
spoken word which is logically withering away before
the instantaneity of the real-time image. With the spread
of illiteracy, the era of silent microphones and the mute
telephone opens before us. The instruments will not
remain unused on account of any technical failings, but
for lack of sociability, because we shall shordy have noth-
ing to say to each other, or really the time to say it - and,
above all, we shall no longer know how to go about lis-
tening to or saying something, just as we already no
longer know how to write, in spite of the fax revolution
which was allegedly going to give letter-writing a new
lease oflife.
After the brutal extinction of the host of dialects spoken
by tribes and families, and their replacement by the acade-
mic language of expanding nations, a language now
unlearned and supplanted by the global vocabulary of e-
mail, we may now envisage planetary life becoming
progressively a story without words, a silent cinema, an
authorless novel, comics without speech-bubbles ...
But also, in the generalized violence of acceleration, we
can envisage suffering passing without complaint; horrors
going unbewailed, not that there would be anyone to hear
the wailing; and anxieties going without a prayer - and
without even an analysis.
As Caspar David Friedrich sensed, 'The peoples will no
THE INFORMATION BOMB 73
longer have a voice. They will no longer be allowed to be aware of
themselves, take pride in themselves.'
'Politics is a theatre often played out on a scaffold: said
(more or less) St Thomas More, who learned the lesson to
his cost.
The screen has today replaced the scaffold where,
according to the author of Utopia, the political was killed in
the past. In fact, the audiovisual dilemma has become the
most certain threat hanging over our old democracies,
which are so apdy named 'representative'. The foremost
political art was eloquence, that democratic eloquence
which, in return, gathers to it the voice of the nation - the
popular votes, the popular suffrage.
Our statesmen were men of the forum, the platform
and the public meeting. Their speeches might last three or
four hours. They were lawyers, publicists, journalists, writ-
ers, poets ...
One may ask oneself today this simple question: how
would great historic tribunes like Churchill or Clemenceau
be made to look today on those television programmes of
the Spitting Image type which daily clutter the screens of the
world's democracies with their gesticulating, inept political
clones?
And after being put through the audiovisual mill in this
way, would these statesmen still have enough charisma to
mobilize populations and, ultimately, save democracy from
pure and simple disappearance? One may legitimately doubt
it. Once this question on the future of political representation
. has been raised, one can better understand that the dream
of most of the major parties is to have members of parlia-
ment who are so 'soft', so much like silent soap stars, that
74 PAUL VIRILIO
no grotesque puppet could be made of them, no stupid
comment attributed to them.
Here again, the Americans were the innovators, with a
John Fitzgerald Kennedy - as rich, young, tanned and
relaxed as the Great Gatsby - who won the presidential
race in 1960 in front of 85 million TV viewers of both
sexes, thanks to a live head-to-head debate with the phys-
ically rather unattractive Richard Nixon.
Ronald Reagan, an ageing Hollywood matinee idol,
was still an imposing figure and his wife Nancy had a fault-
less figure. Jimmy Carter, fine fellow that he was, did a lot
of jogging and, above all, looked disarmingly like the pop-
ular actor Mickey Rooney, one of the survivors from
Hollywood's heyday.
George Bush was not unattractive and was very much
the soap-opera figure. By contrast, his wife, with the
robust physique of a dynamic grandmother, had to atone
for this before the whole nation by mocking her own
appearance.
Bill Clinton was first elected because he looked like
Kennedy and because Hillary, his wife, was believed to
have undergone various forms of plastic surgery. The pop-
ular media then set about their only daughter, a pleasant
adolescent of thirteen but not exacdy prepossessing. She
had to modify her appearance to enable her father to win
victory in the presidential election of 1996. These exam-
ples have been followed elsewhere and political
supermodels have increased in number in recent years the
world over.
And, indeed, Nixon was already of the opinion in the
early 1970s that the presidents of the great powers were no
longer really essential to the internal life of nations.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 75
In other words, the president and the representatives of
a nation would, once elected, cease to address themselves
to that nation. They would, all in all, go with the general
flow of the silent revolution of the audiovisual world.
So the team which trained Clinton for the last election
got him to speak as fast as possible. Obeying strict television
rules, he had to be able to say everything on a particular
theme in less than ninety seconds - before going on to say
nothing at all about it after he was elected.
But if you step out of line, you lose your place. New
political mutants have recendy appeared on our screens,
such as Benjamin Netanyahu, Jorg Haider, Tony Blair.
Apart from a visually correct physical appearance, these
characters have understood that in a rapidly globalizing
world there is no longer, strictly speaking, either Right or
Left, and that, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, these things
literally no longer have any meaning. All that remains is the
great audiovisual dilemma, the conflict between the soft
(the word) and the hard (the image).
Unlike the general run of the representatives of the old
parties which are collapsing all around, these new political
supermodels will speak a language which is 'hard' and
impactful.
If the old leaders were concerned to please by correct-
ing their appearance, jiving, jogging, etc., the new
supermodels also know how to do this, but, in addition, in
the great political and social silence of populations left to
their own devices by their own leaders, they speak. And
their speech is not addressed to any collective unconscious,
but to that new state of consciousness which the instanta-
neous violence of universal communication at every
second implies.
76 PAUL VIRILIO
The talk of gathering together and drawing closer
together now gives way to a language which banishes,
excludes, rejects and divides ... Such a backlash and such
repercussions are contained by definition within the tech-
nologies of acceleration. And terrorism and advertising
have long built their doctrine on such media violence.
From now on, it will be no use saying 'no'; they will
hear 'yes'.
CHAPTER 9
Mter the tragedy of the Apollo XIII capsule and the mid-
air explosion of the Challenger shuttle, the Mir space
station provides in its turn an illustration of the generalized
accident that has befallen the adventure of space explo-
ration.
Circumterrestrial space has at last become in everyone's
eyes what it actually has been for the past thirty years: a
cosmic dustbin, the dump where the astronautical industry's
rubbish is deposited.
However, before it began to string together its long
series of technical breakdowns over the course of 1997, this
Titanic station had as early as 1991 instituted another type
of accident with the Soviet Ozon mission: the time acddent,
the accident of that historic time of which Andrej Ujica's
documentary Out of the Present depicts the succeeding
episodes.
One of the cosmonauts, Sergei Krikalev, who ultimately
remained in orbit against his will for ten long months, can
be seen to have anticipated not only the acceleration of his
78 PAUL VIRILIO
country's history - with the collapse of the Soviet Union and
the return of Holy Russia - but also the acceleration of real-
ity. In fact the Mir space station is now merely a monument
among the stars. As a cosmic ruin, it is, like the Pyramids,
beginning to show its great age: eleven years. It is becom-
ing loaded with memory and it is showing its obsolescence,
not to mention the confusion on the part of those aboard,
accused of all evils as they are by the orbital power of the
City of the Stars.
By contrast with the great inter-sidereal dream of
Wernher von Braun, the Russian space station reveals the
fall from grace of a caste of stellar navigators elevated to
heroic status for nearly half a century for the purposes of
the military-industrial complex.
After the catastrophic collapse of the USSR, reality is
reasserting itself. The era of political science fiction is
coming to an end and the techno-scientific myth of the
industrial omnipotence of man in space is imploding.
Hence the determined struggle to preserve Mir on the
part of the last great world power, and also the PR launch
on the Internet of the Mars Pathfinder operation, with its
cute litde robot.
Here again, time has passed. The 'cosmic illusion' has
become derisory - a 'comic' illusion.
With the successive reverses met with by the passengers
on this rusty 'vessel', which is due for the breaker's yard,
Mir is another kind of Red Square Mausoleum. Following
the example of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, whose
ruin led up to the end of the Soviet Union, the premature
decaying of the Mir space station is the premonitory sign of
an imminent collapse of the progressive myth of the con-
quest of the stars by humanity - of that cosmism which
THE INFORMATION BOMB 79
stepped into the void left by communism's decline at the
end of the 1980s.
But today the last word is with the laws of astrophysics:
the sidereal void remains a void and the current demythifica-
tion of the glorious future of astronautics is probably more
important for the history of our societies than the demythi-
fication of Marxism-Leninism.
Mter the fall of the Berlin Wall, we now see a whole
swathe of techno-scientific positivism crumbling away
noiselessly, with the ruination of the first zenithal historic
monument.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, with the end of the
Cold War and the geopolitics of the Eastern and Western
blocs, we have been seeing not only the unfreezing, the
decomposition of the old Soviet empire, but also the col-
lapse of the astronautical empire - in spite of the endless
proliferation of observation and telecommunications satel-
lites.
1
Being based on the advance research of men like
Hermann Oberth, to which the ruins ofPeenemiinde still
bear witness, the astronautics industry is today taking on a
new complexion, orientating itself, as is the case through-
out the field of production, towards the automation of
space probes and other astronomical reconnaissance
devices, so proving the inventor of tele-technologies v.K.
1 The New China Agency announced that, on Monday 1
September 1997, the Chinese rocket Long March 2.m put
into orbit two Iridium satellites for the American Motorola
Corporation. This network is to comprise in total sixty-six
satellites of this type, twenty-four of which were already in
orbit by late 1997.
80 PAUL VIRILIO
Zworykin right when he declared in the 1930s that the
future of electronic television consisted in its one day being
made into the 'telescope of the future' by installing TV
cameras on rockets, the alleged conquest of space thus
never being anything more than a mere conquest of the
image of space for a world of TV viewers. All this explains
today the undeniable success of both the 'Martian chroni-
cles' of the Sojourner robot and the disastrous saga of the
Mir space station.
'I feel as though I'm on the fo'c'sle of Christopher
Columbus's caravel, reaching the coasts of America; mar-
velled a French astronomer on the Voyager 2 expedition, as
the space probe reached the vicinity of Neptune.
Launched barely twenty years ago, the Voyager 1 and
Voyager 2 probes have today travelled almost 6 billion
miles at more than 40,000 miles per hour - astronomical
figures which have, however, no meaning for us Earth
creatures.
According to NASA, which is responsible for their
launch, the performances of these automatic spacecrqft might
be said to represent one of the finest adventures of the
space age: 'an achievement greater than sending a man into space
or landing on the moon'.
'These two 815 kg robots,' which have cost far less
than the space shuttle, 'have taught us much more about the
solar system than all the astronomers since Ptolemy put
together.'2
2 'Les Voyager retent leurs vingt ans aux frontieres du systeme
solaire'; Le Monde, 4 September 1997.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 81
In space, it has definitely been the case for some time
now that human beings are just an additional handicap.
The extra cost which astronauts represent makes them
like contemporary proletarians in the great global compa-
nies. Sooner or later they will have to be dismissed, since,
there also, hyper-productivity requires automation and a
slimmed-down workforce.
If, for example, we believe Edward Stone, the director
of the NASA centre responsible for carrying out automatic
probes and the man at the origin of the Voyager pro-
gramme,
3
these robots were supposed to observe only two
planets, but the wealth of data garnered when Jupiter and
Saturn were overflown in 1979 and 1981 made the
Americans decide to extend their mission to the bounds of
our galaxy, 'where no humanly produced instrument has ever
gone to make measurements'.
4
The word is out. The point is not so much now to
explore as to measure. And in this particular 'Star Wars',
there is a future for the the chercheuse.
5
The disappointments of the cosmonauts of the Mir space
station marvellously illustrate the discredit into which men at
work have fallen - those voyagers on 'manned flights' who
are not content merely to read the gauges, but wish to gauge
the foil reality of the world and what lies beyond it.
Surely this reflects once more the baneful influence of
the technical rat race?
3 Edward C. Stone is the director of NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory (JPL) at Pasadena (Trans).
4 'Les Voyager .. .'.
5 The French term means both a pioneering researcher and a
homing device. (Trans.)
82 PAUL VIRILIO
'Acceleration weighs more heavily than work itself,'
wrote Ernst Jiinger. 'Growing haste is a symptom of a
world turned into figures.'6
Today, beneath the very extremism of the results of
research in the fields of physics and biophysics, doubt is
creeping in, not only regarding the nature of progress, but
as to what is becoming of'science'.
Troubled by the development of 'accidents', some
researchers are even becoming wary of their own work
and are desperately trying to set some limits beyond which
they will not go, thus bringing about the 'integral accident'
of positivism.
'Behind the unquenchable thirst of scientific speculation
lies more than mere curiosity. The first steps on the moon
did, admittedly, advance knowledge, but they disappointed
our hopes,' wrote Jiinger once again. 'Space travel can lead
to other goals than the ones it sets itself.'7
With the opposing sagas of the Mir space station and the
Mars Pathfinder probe, this sudden disheartening effect of
science is solidly back on the agenda.
In a recent interview Claude Allegre, the French min-
ister for 'research and technology', declared: 'We were
clearly on the wrong track with manned flight. On the
other hand, I'm convinced that the exploration of Mars or
Venus offers genuine scientific prospects.'
An official declaration in these terms amounts to a
declaration of war on the already ancient company of
6 Ernst Jiinger, Siebzig venveht, vol. 1, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart,
1980, p. 402.
7 Ibid, p. 230.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 83
astronauts - a challenge to whichJean-Loup Chretien, the
French space-flight veteran (aged fifty-nine), reacted by
readying himself to join the Mir space station.
And a similar response can be seen from Senator John
Glenn (aged seventy), the American pioneer of orbital
flight, who requested readmission to the space programme
to carry out a shuttle mission aimed at 'studying the effects of
weightlessness on old age'.
'Exile is a long insomnia,' wrote Victor Hugo, who well
knew what he was talking about.
Is this, then, the end of extra-terrestrial emancipation,
an end to the dream of humanity's great cosmic escape?
If this were actually dIe case, the present globalization of
history would also be the closure, the end of scientific pos-
itivism.
Cosmonauts who, in the early years of the space race,
had to play second fiddle to laboratory animals (Laika the
dog, monkeys and various other 'guinea pigs'), are now, at
the end of the twentieth century, in the same position with
regard to automatic machines. They are faced with the
domestic robots which are most probably set to take over
from them.
In this context, it is easier to understand the hype there
has been - in connection with the Internet - for that 'vir-
tual space' which is destined tomorrow to supplant the
'real space' of the cosmos.
After the computer and the chess-player, the moment
has perhaps come for us to give way to the 'bachelor
machines' ...
CHAPTER 10
'The aircraft brushes the ground and the ground opens it
up more daintily than a gourmet peeling his fig .... With
cinematic slow-motion, the most violent impact, the most
lethal accident seems as gentle as a series of caresses.'l The
film can also be run backwards. The fragments of the
wreckage of the aircraft are then put back together again
before our eyes with all the precision of the pieces of a
jigsaw puzzle. The plane emerges unharmed from the dust
cloud, which disappears, and, in conclusion, rises from the
ground in reverse, before disappearing from the screen as
though nothing had happened.
When it was claimed at the beginning of the twentieth
century that dnema represented a new age Jor humanity, people
did not realize how true this was.
In cinema, not only does nothing stop but, most impor-
tant, nothing necessarily has any direction or sense, since
1 Paul Morand, L'Homme presse, Gallimard, Paris, 1929.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 85
on the screens physical laws are reversed. The end can
become the beginning, the past can be transformed into
the future, the right can be the left, the bottom the
top, etc.
In a few decades, with the lightning progress made by
industrial cinema, humanity has unwittingly passed into an
era of directionlessness, of nonsense, into an age of what
Americans call the 'shaggy dog story'. In slow-motion or
speeded up, here or elsewhere, everywhere and nowhere,
with cinematic optics and its very special effects, not only
was humanity knocked out of kilter, but it began to see
double.
Henceforth, what the acceleration of physical move-
ment partially denied to -the familiar gaze would be found
on the screen within everyone's reach. The mechanics of
bird flight or the galloping of horses, the ultra-rapid tra-
jectories of projectiles, undetectable movements of air or
water, the fall of bodies, the deflagration of matter, etc.
And also, conversely, what was hidden in the extreme nat-
ural slowness of things: the germination of plants, the
opening of flowers, biological metamorphoses, etc. - and
you could see all these things in the order in which they
happened or some other order, as you wished.
From the late nineteenth century onwards, the objec-
tivity of the old scientific observation was to be shamefully
compromised by this new imagery and the great concern
of this 'cinedramatic age' (Karl Kraus) would become the
conquest of this 'beyond' of the visible, this hidden face of
our planet - no longer hidden by great distances, which
were now mastered, but by Time itself-by its extra-tempo-
rality rather than its extra-territoriality.
This unprecedented fusion/confusion of the visible and
86 PAUL VIRILID
the invisible cannot but remind us of the origins of popu-
lar cinema as a music-hall or fairground attraction, which
found its place, from 1895 onwards, between the stands of
the illusionists and the stalls of genuine impecunious sci-
entists, those 'mathemagicians' who performed their tricks
of 'entertaining physical science' at fairgrounds.
In the words of Robert Houdin, a c o ~ u r o r , but also a
designer, in the nineteenth century, of androids and optical
equipment, 'Illusionism is an art entirely concerned with
taking advantage of the visual limits of the onlooker by
attacking his innate capacity to distinguish between the
real and what he believes to be real and true, thus inducing
him to believe firmly in that which does not exist.'
Today, when an illusionist like David Copperfield (a dis-
ciple and admirer of Houdin) wants to perform his magic
tricks in front of the cameras, he has the greatest difficulty
not only making them credible, but above all making them
extraordinary - not for want of skill, but because the field of
public credulity has expanded considerably in recent years,
keeping step, indeed, with the progress of the mass media.
The move from a few hours of television a day to twenty-
four-hour TV; but more especially the 'see-it-now' culture
of real-time television, has reinforced in viewers - particu-
larly the youngest among them - what are known as 'states
of delusional conviction'.2
To astonish the audience, Copperfield will in future
have to make not a dove disappear, but a Boeing - or
something even bigger.
2 Absolute certainty inaccessible to any criticism and resistant
even to the clearest of evidence.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 87
Similarly, with regard to the surprising collective suicide
of the Heaven's Gate sect, no one has really asked how
these computer experts came to believe themselves capable
of conjuring themselves away physically into an eternal
realm, aided by a particular astronomic conjuncture.
But this does not seem so extravagant if we remember
the slogan launched live on television on 21 July 1969 by
Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the surface of
the moon: 'One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for
mankind.'
On domestic television screens, the real small step
looked like a vague litde hop. Conversely, the virtual giant
leap was more than 200,000 miles in length and 650 mil-
lion people on Earth had the illusion of accomplishing it at
the same moment. So 650 million people had entered
weighdessness in their own homes, 'with a sense of having
taken part in a great epic of exploration', as an American
journalist was to write. Today, there would be billions
believing that.
All because mechanics - all forms of mechanics (kinetic,
wave, statistical, etc.) - have demonstrated mathematically
that they were capable of freeing humanity from the phys-
ical constraints of the real world, and of its dimensions,
which are supposed to be opposed to its potentialities and
the worst of which is thought to be time.
It is not, then, a Boeing which our mathemagicians
propose to make vanish, but the living Earth; and it is its
metaphysical double which they are progressively
unveiling to us. A dead star, rapidly dubbed cyberworld
or cyberspace, whereas the name cybertime would better
suit this nebula, this by-product of an illusionism which,
since earliest antiquity, has prospered from the public's
88 PAUL VIRILIO
visual limitations by destroying their capacity to distinguish
between the real and what they believe to be real and true . . .
Like those Greek magicians who, according to Plato,
claimed even in their day to be able to recreate the planet
at will.
In this Lewis Carroll-style novel, evil might be said to
have become the real through the multitude of its ana-
logue systems. Good would consist in eradicating these, in
pushing them to shameful excess.
We are even seeing, under the pressure of advertising,
the formation of a new bellicose mood, a kind of coalition
of opposites. Everyone now believes they have to take a
single, extra-terrestrial line in which, against all logic, the
materialist espouses the theologian, the scientist unites with
the journalist, the biologist mates with the fascist, the cap-
italist with the socialist, the colonialist with the
decolonized, etc. From the pan-destruction of the world
announced more than a century ago by Bakunin to the
crazed hurrahs of the European Futurists, 'breaking their
contacts with the contemptible Earth', who were soon to
hand on the baton to the Hiroshima atomic scientists, with
the recent psychokinetic madness of Internauts still to
come . . . the war of the worlds was declared long ago,
whether we like it or not, and, more than in any other war,
its first casualty is truth.
Just as the fierce Homeric lyrics, with their fantastical
population of bloodthirsty gods, superhuman heroes and
morphing monsters, prefigured the great land, sea and air
invasions of antiquity and our own times, why, since sci-
ence has become a romance, should we not take seriously
modern science-fiction tales which are obsessed with the
imminent arrival of a new race of ruthless conquerors, of
THE INFORMATION BOMB 89
murderers on a grand scale - the conquerors of the Time
war, that ultimate mythic odyssey in which the invaders'
will to overlordship would be exerted not upon geograph-
ical distances, but in perturbations of a spatio-termporal
vortex?
Let us again remember Hiroshima, more a crime against
matter than a war crime, which was received in the United
States as a 'gift from God', and more recently such ultra-
rapid conflicts as the Falklands/Malvinas in 1982 or the
Gulf in 1991. These, it was said, were 'war games', image
wars, but, more than this, they were metaphysical conflicts
between the real and the virtual.
However, let us come back to popular cinema, which from
the end of the nineteenth c e ~ t u r y onwards invited us to
revisit the planet thanks to 'world news'. We were to visit
it now not for its tourist charms, its natural marvels, but as
a huge terrain for all manner of calamities and catastro-
phes - fires, shipwrecks, hurricanes, earthquakes, wars and
genocides ...
The accident, which is by its nature rare, was henceforth
to be part of daily life. And, even better, as in the case of
Paul Morand's aircraft, it could be transformed into an
object of visual delectation, which could be served up
again at will and which, as it turned out, the general public
could not get enough of.
The pan-destruction of the world would no longer be
an elite entertainment reserved, Nero-style, for a few
potentates. With the cinema, it would become a mass
spectacle and, one might say, the true popular art of the twen-
tieth century. A century in which, as the Surrealists asserted,
'all that was previously called art seemed to have become
90 PAUL VIRILIO
paralytic'. And indeed, without movement, what would acci-
dents be?
Just before the carnage of 1914, American cinema of
the Mack Sennett type offered it up for our consumption
as comedy, with those short slapstick films in which hosts
of vehicles of different kinds (trains, cars, planes and ships)
collided, crashed, smashed, exploded and were quickly
repaired in a collection of catastrophes from which the
heroes emerged without pain and strangely unharmed.
'Ajoyful tragedy intended for a recent and as yet uncre-
ated humanity; prophesied Luis Bunuel.
The real accident would soon have the simulated one
for company. 'Disaster movies' aimed at a mass audience
would take as their model the wreck of the Titanic or the
San Francisco earthquake - and this is not to mention the
surfeit of war films.
:Jumping, falling and sweating!' This is how the actor
Harrison Ford recendy summed up his job. The achieve-
ment of star status itself would seem to be based not on
talent or good looks any more, but on the risks taken for
the camera by a whole host of stuntmen brought in from
the fairgrounds and circuses: trick riding, controlled falls,
suspended accidents and suicidal exploits, leading, with the
coming of 'live' transmission, to the 'confessional' TV pro-
gramme, to the so-called reality show, which shades over, at
the edges, into the snuff movie.
What would James Dean have been, for the public at
large, without his Porsche - or Ayrton Senna without his
Ferrari, or Princess Diana without the fatal Mercedes at the
end of her tragic road movie?
Shordy after the wild funeral accorded to the Brazilian
motor-racing champion came that of the Princess of Wales,
THE INFORMATION BOMB 91
which resembled nothing so much as a huge political
plebiscite, with the Union Jack flying over Buckingham
Palace and the Queen of England forced to make due apol-
ogy before the cameras and declare her people united in an
example to the world.
But what world and what people? And can we still
speak in these terms of the billions of TV viewers who
long ago got out of their depth and have since drowned in
the mass media?
Her poor Majesty, who is still at the horse-racing stage,
and her son Charles with his watercolours and organic
vegetable growing, like a latter-day Marie-Antoinette
tending her sheep in the Petit Trianon.
Poor LAbour Party, which, after sounding the alarm, is
now afraid it might hear the death-knell of the British
monarchy and soon also its own - the death-knell of the
old political class. Has not one of Tony Blair's political
advisers, Geoff Mulgan, just published a book entided Life
after Politics, in which he claims, as many others have done,
that with the Internet and globalization, 'Modern citizens
simply take it for granted that they have a right to run their
own lives, to have a say on how decisions are made, and to
create their own meanings'?3
Poor President Clinton, who was solemnly warned of this
in June 1997 by the self-proclaimed 'masters of the digital
universe', the members of the Business Software Alliance,
who came to present an ultimatum to the White House.
This is the first of the markers put down, they say, for
3 Geoff Mulgan, Life after Politics, Fontana (HarperCollins),
London, 1997, p. x.
92 PAUL VIRILIO
that 'democratic capitalism' which, with its universal net-
work, should very soon escape the existing institutions and
in shott order bring about the disappearance of all inter-
mediate bodies, be they economic, political, judicial or
cultural.
More 'down to earth', no doubt, and, more signifi-
candy, a product of the older 'eco' generation, Ted Turner,
the boss of CNN and vice-president of Time Warner,
declared himself a 'defender of the planet' and called on
President Clinton to pay the USA's debt to the United
Nations, while at the same time announcing that he was
giving a billion dollars to the organization for 'its charita-
ble work'. A take-over bid of a new, extra-terrestrial kind?
At the end of this summer of 1997 of our 'shaggy dog
story', we shall further note the ceremony which took
place in September at Star City near Moscow when the
two unfortunate members of the former crew of the Mir
space station, after being threatened with the direst penal-
ties, each received in the end a plot if land as a reward - a
litde bit of this living planet which had very nearly
become, for them, a lost world. As it is for those Brazilian
peasants of the MST (the Social Movement of Agricultural
Workers) who are dying in their hundreds at the moment
'for a patch ofland, a crust of bread, and so that their chil-
dren do not become oudaws'.
CHAPTER 11
A few years ago a troupe of Italian mime artistes offered
Parisian spectators the curious spectacle of a dozen grown
men wearing nappies and bibs and busding around on stage,
stumbling, fighting, falling, screaming, cuddling, playing ring
0' roses, shutting each other out of the circle and so on ...
These burlesque figures were like neither children nor adults.
They were false adults or false children - or perhaps carica-
tures of children. It was not easy to say precisely which.
Similarly, when Bill Gates, who is in his forties but has
the outward appearance of an adolescent, ventures to
declare publicly, 'It may be, you never know, that the uni-
verse exists only for me! If it were true, I have to admit I
would enjoy that!', then you wonder whether the boss of
Microsoft does not also suffer from a kind of dimensional
derangement, and whether this universe of which he speaks
is not, like that of the nursery, the scaled-down world of
the toys and games of an overgrown spoilt child.
1
1 VSD, Christmas and New Year special edition, 1997.
94 PAUL VIRILIO
As early as the first half of the twentieth century, Witold
Gombrowicz and a number of his contemporaries had
noted that the mark of modernity was not growth or
human progress, but rather the refusal to grow up.
'Immaturity and infantilism are the most effective cate-
gories for defining modern man,' Gombrowicz wrote.
After the telescopic metamorphoses of Alice, we had
reached the Peter Pan stage - the stage of the child stub-
bornly determined to escape his future.
It seemed no longer possible to make the transition to
adulthood, which was primordial in ancient societies, in a
civilization in which everyone carried on playing without
any age limit.
In a few years, social or political responsibilities, military
duties, the world of work, etc. would be swept away and
soon anyone or any activity which did not have aspects of
puerility would be dubbed 'elitist' and rejected as such.
The general tendencies of the market and of mass pro-
duction were to be gravely affected by this and we were to
pass inexplicably from the industrial to the post-industrial
age, from the real to the virtual, thus fulfilling the hopes of
a resolutely immature society.
To prefer the illusions of networks - drawing on the
absolute speed of electronic impulses, which give, or claim
to give, instantaneously what time aaords only gradually - means
not only making light of geographical dimensions, as the
acceleration of rapid vehicles has been doing for more than
a century now, but, above all, hiding the future in the
ultra-short time-span of telematic 'live transmission'. It
means making the future no longer appear to exist by having it
happen now.
No future - the eternal childhood of the Japanese
THE INFORMATION BOMB 95
'otakus' of the eighties - refusing to wake up to a life by leav-
ing the world of the digital imagination, by exiting from
manga land.
In a book of reminiscences completed on 22 February
1942, shortly before his suicide at Petropolis (Brazil), Stefan
Zweig described pre-1914 Europe and in particular the
Viennese society in which he had grown up. He related
how the obsessive concern with security had come to
amount virtually to a social system in which, in spite of
heightened nationalist tensions, the stability of political and
economic institutions, insurance of all kinds, the durability
of families and the severe control of manners were sup-
posed to protect everyone from the blows of fate. Zweig
wrote:
It is reasonable that we, who have long since struck
the word 'security' from our vocabulary as a myth,
should smile at the optimistic delusion of that
idealistically blinded generation, that the technical
progress of mankind must connote an unqualified
and equally rapid moral ascent.
A little further on, he added, 'We who, each new day,
expect things worse than the day before.'2
What concerns us here is the treatment reserved for
youth in this kind of progressive and, simultaneously,
'safety-first' society.
2 Stefan Zweig, The World of trans. Cedar and Eden
Paul, Cassell, London, 1987, p. 15.
96 PAUL VIRILIO
The child and the adolescent were in fact regarded as
part of the potential danger which the future harboured.
They were therefore treated harshly. Their upbringing and
schooling were quasi-military in character (Zweig said his
school had 'a barracks-like quality');3 they had arranged
marriages, dowries and inherited positions. In this way
youth was kept away from business matters, in a state of
perpetual dependency, with legal majority being set at the
age of twenty-three and a man in his forties still being
regarded as suspect. In order to be granted a responsible
position, he would have to 'disguise' himself as a solid,
staid citizen, if not indeed as an old man, with a long beard
and a reassuring
As a consequence, Zweig, who was to be a frequent vis-
itor of Freud's, believed more or less that the famous doctor
owed his theories in large part to the excesses of the
Austrian social system, such as, for example, the very
Viennese idea of a childhood that was without 'innocence'
and potentially dangerous for the adult (were not perverse
individuals referred to as 'overgrown children', afflicted
with 'psychical infantilization'?). And even more so to his
attention to the desire shared by an impatient youth to
'break the (cultural, linguistic and moral) protective shack-
les' of a safety-minded society, seen as representing a
typically paternal type of oppression, the abolition of
taboos being in reality the abolition of the exorbitant priv-
ileges of omnipotent old men, fearful of the future from
excess of caution.
*
3 Ibid., p. 34.
THE INFORMATION BOMB
97
This makes it easier to understand the violent reactions of
Karl Kraus, who called psychoanalysts the' dregs of human-
ity', or of Kafka speaking of psychoanalysis as 'an
unmitigated error'.
The fact is that beside - right alongside - the delusion
of the class struggle (which itself ended up sinking into the
neo-conservatism of gangsterish nomenclaturas governed
by old men), another revolution was taking place less
openly, a revolution which came out of the privately con-
ducted generational struggle and a physiological war as
immemorial as that between the sexes or ethnic groups.
The as yet sparse avant-garde of that youthful revolu-
tion was first to storm cultural power - and to do so, let us
note, essentially in the name of actes manques (from
Romanticism to Dada or Surrealism). However, this
emancipation of a youth which will later be dubbed illit-
erate would be accelerated by the very excesses of this
devastating century. As Jules Romains wrote, 'without the
extreme youth of the combatants in the First World War,
slaughters such as occurred at Verdun (almost 700,000
dead) would not have been possible'. And he added,
'young people do not think of the future. They are not
easily moved to pity. They know how to be ferocious and
laugh all the while.'
We may turn the argument around and look for an
explanation in the old men who had dragged them there,
from Franz-Joseph I, the emperor of Austria, who
unleashed the murderous conflict at the age of eighty-four,
to Georges Clemenceau, the promoter of decimation pour
l'exemple, who was getting on for eighty. And we should
not forget also the rationalism of a new military bureau-
cracy which was capable of managing the whole of the
98 PAUL VIRILIO
male population as an exercise in health administration,
on the basis of an age criterion in which the youngest
were automatically sacrificed.
4
Later, when even worse infamies than those which had pre-
ceded were constantly occurring, Hannah Arendt would lucidly
observe this wave of nihilism, which one might be tempted
to date historically to Hider, but also to Marx or Nietzsche;
this revolution of old values which are immediately
declared as new values - thus creating a reverse historical
process.
Nietzsche was not a philosopher, nor Hider a statesman.
Both were, rather, the paranoid interpreters of the apoca-
lyptic ultimatum of youth batding with the irreversibility of
time: 'For the Earth and what is in it there shall be no
more delay!'s
'No future' - the great hecatombs of industrial wars
and revolutions finally answered the prayers of an entire
younger generation, since they had the twofold merit of
destroying its (moral, cultural and social) past, and sparing
4 Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics: An Essay on Dromology, trans.
Mark Polizzotti, Semiotext(e), New York, 1986.
5 I have followed the author's own translation of this verse from
Revelation here, which is slightly at variance with the standard
English translations and with the French translation by Louis
Segond. The text from the Revised Standard Version is as fol-
lows: 'And the angel whom I saw standing on sea and land
lifted up his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives
for ever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the
Earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there
should be no more delay ... .' (Revelation 10:5-6, The RSV
Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, Samuel Bagster and
Sons, London, 1972, p. 985). (Trans.)
THE INFORMATION BOMB 99
it the shadow cast by a future seen as the irremediable
coming of a hated old age.
When peace was momentarily restored, the escapees
from the massacres carried on pursuing their race against
the clock, their attack on time.
Mter the artistes maudits of the nineteenth century came
the lost generations of the so-called roaring twenties. With
them we were to see a democratization of the trend. We
went from Scott Fitzgerald to Kerouac and a Beat genera-
tion with suicidal and criminal tendencies; then came the
angelism of Woodstock and the final upsurge of 1968
where, as Hannah Arendt foresaw, imagination would not
come to power.
6
After them would come the enforced idleness of the
new losers and the various other junkies, the swelling ranks
of the social dregs of a post-industrial world.
The dreams of liberation of a formerly oppressed youth,
avid for change, have in fact always led to dictatorships
and repressive paramilitary systems. After Hider and Stalin
in the Soviet Union - even though after the First World
War that country was seen as the Mecca of this youthful
cultural revolution - we come to the new technological
nannying offered to the world by an American nation
which has plunged into a complete globalitarian frenzy.
And we do so merely because the adverts for its old tradi-
tional products (Coke, jeans, Hollywood, Mickey Mouse,
etc.) paradoxically present the image of a young country.
Young or, more accurately, infantile.
6 Lecture delivered on 30 October 1970 at the New School for
Social Research.
100 PAUL VIRILIO
In fact, the citizens of that great nation are undergoing
a process Edgar Allan Poe had foreseen in the early nine-
teenth century (which will soon affiict all the world's
citizens): 'Even while he [Man] stalked a God in his own
fancy, an infantine imbecility came over him. . . . Arts -
the Arts - arose supreme, and, once enthroned, cast chains
upon the intellect which had elevated them to power.'7
If, as Zweig asserted, the older generations, not without
naivety, confused techno-scientific and moral progress, for
the new generations, who were eager to abrogate all cul-
ture and all morality (as a theory of the ends of human
actions), technologies would inevitably advance alone, leaving
behind them a humanity without a future, assuming defin-
itively pre-pubescent airs - the critical age in business still
being the forties, though now not for admitting candi-
dates to responsible positions, but for ejecting them
because they are too old.
This may also be taken to explain the development of
automatism as the ultimate substitute offered by technolog-
ical progress for the parapraxes of a resolutely immature
social body.
When one recalls, for example, ancient democracies
and the draconian control exerted direcdy by the citizens
over the leaders they elected, it is remarkable to note that
7 Edgar Allan Poe, 'The Colloquy of Monos and Una', in
Collected Works: Tales and Sketches 1831-1842, edited by
Thomas Ollive Mabbott with the assistance of Eleanor D.
Kewer and Maureen C. Mabbott, The Belknap Press of
Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass.) and London,
1978. (Trans.)
THE INFORMATION BOMB 101
today, at the pinnacle of the state, irresponsibility has become
a right, a privilege shielding the governing classes from
parliamentary or judicial control with regard to the acts
accomplished in the course of their duties (except where
otherwise specified in the constitution).
As we know, this staggering situation of an irresponsible
head of state was reinforced by the Cold War when the
automatic nature of responses to nuclear strikes had
gready downgraded the interventions of human decision-
makers.
In the early months of 1998 this condition of irrespon-
sibility was to take a grotesque turn when the president of
the world's most powerful state was in danger of being
turned out of his job for a tiny lie about his sex life and yet,
at the same time, was allowed, with impunity, to order an
Arab state to be reduced to rubble (this he could not really
be held responsible for; that is to say, he could not be seen
as truly conscious of it and guilty) in a ludic society which
had been not at all reluctant, some forty years ago, to
schedule the nuclear death of the planet as though it were
a board game.
To confound the multi-media and the political oppo-
nents who had put him in the hot seat, it would be
sufficient for President Clinton, in a keenly awaited State of
the Union address, to speak in sustained praise of the supe-
riority of American military technologies, thus forcing his
opponents to applaud him on pain of having their conser-
vative voters desert them.
Shordy afterwards, he went even further down the path
of presidential irresponsibility by proposing to automate
reprisal strikes against the enemies of American interests in
the world.
102 PAUL VIRILIO
To complete this curious picture of general illogicality,
and at a time when it was believed that a dangerous conflict
was looming, the government of the United States
announced on 10 February 1998 that it had decided not to
unleash its attack on Iraq before the end of the winter
Olympics, which were taking place at the same time in
Japan. That way, TV viewers would not be discommoded
by a mix of contradictory images, improperly mingling
the euphoria of the winter games with the far from reas-
suring sights of a new Gulf War, which would have forced
them to zap endlessly between channels, adversely affecting
the interests of the sponsors of these various lucrative activ-
ities. The intelligent intervention of Kofi Annan, a skilful
African diplomat, was happily to resolve this situation of
highly technological imbecility.
'They are a white family, four dummies displayed entirely
naked, standing hand in hand like a decorative lace pattern.
All four of the figures - the father, mother, son and daugh-
ter - have been designed to have exactly the same height:
4 feet 8 inches; wrote Elisabeth Lebovici on 25 April 1993
in Liberation. And she added:
This vaguely Hollywoodian scenario - Honey, I
enlarged the kids (which makes them look
completely stupid) and I shrank the parents (they are
literally small-scale dummies) - concocted by
Californian artist Charles Ray, inevitably prompts a
rather cheeky question: are not average Americans
perhaps overgrown children? But the message
offered by the Whitney Museum of American Art
in New York in the context of its 1993 Biennale is
THE INFORMATION BOMB
probably harder to swallow: is there an American
art? It is a question of rethinking the canons in
force in the American cultural world.
8
103
Mter the ideological collapse of the Soviet bloc in the
1990s, it is time to remember that, for the United States, all
culture is historically part of an anthropology of a colonial-
ist kind, rather than being part of artistic activities which
might be specific to that country.
Charles Ray's installation with its four human figures
gives us an idea, then, of the future of world culture as
conceived by the Americans. After the more or less suc-
cessful assimilation of the sexes, the races and the colours,
the generations will be assimilated. They will be 'hybridized'
through a levelling down, a little bit like those pygmy tribes
who cut off their taller enemies' legs to bring them down
to their level.
Let us imagine, for example, an adult and a small child
climbing a staircase. The child will not be able to cope
with the height of the steps and will rapidly be outdis-
tanced and left behind by the adult. By contrast, when
the adult and the child get into a lift together, they will
ascend at the same speed. Each in his way will be dis-pro-
portioned. The adult will have lost a little of his status of
'grown man' (we might even say he has grown younger
or smaller), whereas the child will have grown preco-
ciously or - why should we not see it this way? - will
have aged.
8 Charles Ray's mixed media installation IS called Family
Romance. (Trans.)
104 PAUL VIRILIO
With the proliferation of these kinds of technological
servants (domestic objects, work tools, instruments of com-
munication, armaments, vehicles, etc.), the adult man of
the industrial age and, even more, of the post-industrial
age, has progressively ceased not just to be a centre of energy,
as Paul Valery pointed out, but, by no longer putting his
body into things (two per cent of the energy expended on
Earth is bodily energy), he has ceased, most importandy, to
measure the world by his own scale (in feet, inches, 'paces',
power). In all senses of the term, man is no longer the yard-
stick of the world, or, as we used to say, he is no longer the
measure of all things.
Let us be in no doubt about it, then, technological
progress is merely completing the juvenile revolution of the
past century. As with our Italian mime-artists, transformed
into caricatures of children, play is now everywhere. Mter
the civilization of the image, which was merely the civi-
lization of the young illiterate's picture-book adapted for
adult consumption, from industrial photography to the
'curvaceous' lines of pornographic comics, and on to the
educational system and vocational training. To the gim-
mickification of the system of consumer goods, in which
everyone finds themselves equipped with objects not so
much built for use as subject to the changeable standards of
immaturity. We feed on unhealthy, sugary foods to the
point of indigestion and obesity. Gambling on the stock
market - and the stakes involved - exceeds all actual mate-
rial constraints. Anti-prohibition activists refer to
drug.:.taking as a 'recreational activity' ...
If marriage has become a precarious institution today,
this is because newly-weds reject the abominable idea of
growing old together, or, alternatively, because the immediacy
THE INFORMATION BOMB 105
of the present world prevents them from believing in any
kind oflasting future.
In what is not so much the reconstructed as the de-con-
structed family, adults have childish whims and share the
toys and other electronic equipment for which the young
are so gifted. With their uncertain progeny they assume the
position of partner, to the point indeed of paedophilia,
since, as everyone knows, sex is a wonderful toy.
9
Further accentuating this drift, the age of majority has
been lowered over a few years from twenty-one to eigh-
teen and now some members of parliament are suggesting
it should be brought down to sixteen or even fifteen.
In this generalized loss of markers of age, children are, at
a younger and younger age, abandoning daytime play, in
the form of sport and recreation, for night-time street
activities, moving out to join an immature world whose
toys they demand, and to become the main actors in a
revolution which was made for them. They will in their
turn be ferocious and laugh all the while, stealing cars and
motor-cycles, indulging in vandalism (toys are made to be
broken), using weapons unthinkingly.
As they are beyond the reach of the law - i.e. legally
irresponsible - and abandoned by divided, infantilized fam-
ilies, there will soon be millions of them (exploited in their
work) in the various branches of criminal activity. Not
forgetting the child-soldiers enrolled from the age of ten or
twelve in resistance movements and pseudo-wars of liber-
ation.
9 'Un joujou extra'. The reference is to a Jacques Dutronc pop
song. (Trans.)
106 PAUL VIRILIO
In February 1998 the United Nations counted thirty-
eight wars or conflicts in the world, and estimated the
number of such 'lost children' at 250,000. On the UN's
initiative, some forty countries have tried in vain to raise to
eighteen the minimum age for recruiting minors for
combat, which was set in the 1990 convention at fifteen.
A convention on the rights of the child which was not,
of course, signed by the United States, since it ran counter
to that country's great project of hybridizing the genera-
tions.
10
lOOn the military proletarianization of children, both aban-
doned children and the offspring of slaves, see Virilio, Speed
and Politics, p. 84.
CHAPTER 12
Every political revolution is a drama, but the coming tech-
nical revolution is without doubt more than just a drama.
It is a tragedy of knowledge, the Babelish confusion of indi-
vidual and collective bodies of learning.
As Aesop said oflanguage, the Internet is both the best
and the worst of things. It is the advance of a limitless - or
almost limitless - communication; and at some point it is
also the disaster - the meeting with the iceberg - for this
Titanic of virtual navigation.
The cybernetics of the network of networks, the prod-
uct of a 'techno-sophic' illusion contemporaneous with
the end of the Cold War as 'end of history', is a techno-
system of strategic communication which brings with it
the systemic risk of a chain reaction of damage that will
occur as soon as globalization has become effective.
There is no point today speculating on the regional
character - or otherwise - of the recent Asian stock market
crash. If the cybernetics of the financial market had actually
been globalized, the crash of autumn 1997 would have
108 PAUL VIRILlO
been instantaneously planetary and the economic catastro-
phe would have been total.
Thus, after the atom bomb and the deployment for over
forty years of generalized nuclear deterrence, the informa-
tion bomb which has just exploded will very soon require
the establishment of a new type of deterrence - in this case,
a sodetal one, with 'automatic circuit-breakers' put in place
capable of avoiding the over-heating, if not indeed the fis-
sion, of the social cores of nations.
With the real-time globalization of telecommunica-
tions - the unofficial model for which is provided by the
Internet - the information revolution shows itself to be also
a systematic snooping operation, which triggers a panic phe-
nomenon of rumour and suspicion, and which is set to
ruin the foundations of 'truth' in a professional ethics and
hence the freedom of the press. Everyone can see this from
the role of the Internet, for example, in the
Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, with the doubts cast on the
veracity of the facts asserted/denied, the uncontrollable
development of a manipulation of sources and hence of
public opinion itself - all of which are so many warning
signs that prove the revolution of real information is also a
revolution in virtual disinformation and hence in history as
currendy being written.
Radioactivity of the elements of matter, interactivity of
the constituents of information - the harm done by irradi-
ation is discreet and multifarious, at times amounting to
general contamination.
The actors and tele-actors of the cybernetic telecom-
munications revolution, acting and interacting in real time,
set a technical pace or tempo which now lords it over the
properly historical importance of the local time of societies
THE INFORMATION BOMB 109
and countries. This works to the exclusive advantage of a
world time which no longer belongs so much to the history
of nations as to the abstraction of a universal chrono-
politics for which no political representative is truly
responsible, except for certain military general staffs in the
case of cyberwar being declared.
What are we to say, for example, of researchers' silence
on the role of the National Security Agency in the history
of the development of the Internet? How are we to analyse
today the resolve of the American State Department to
make military strikes against a country which offends
against the new world order - as it happens, Iraq - auto-
matic?
Behind the libertarian propaganda for a direct ~ i v e )
democracy, capable of renovating party-based representative
democracy, the ideology of an automatic democracy is being put
in place, in which the absence of deliberation would be
compensated by a 'social automatism' similar to that found
in opinion polls or the measurement of TV audience rat-
ings.
A reflex democracy, without collective reflexion, in
which conditioning would have greater importance than
'electoral campaigning' and in which the 'demonstrative'
character of the party programmes would give way to the
strictly 'monstrative' and spectacular character of a drilling
of individual behaviour, the parameters of which were long
ago tested out by advertising.
Moreover, has not the network of networks, established
on the basis of the Arpanet system, which was designed to
resist the electromagnetic effects of an atomic war, pre-
sented an occasion - since the Gulf War - for launching
the very first universal advertising campaign for a systemic
110 PAUL VIRILIO
product which interests no one in particular and everyone in
general?
The promotion of the Web and its on-line services, an
unprecedented phenomenon of ideological contamination,
no longer bears any resemblance to the marketing of a
practical technology, such as the sale of a vehicle or even of
some kind of broadcasting equipment (radio, television),
since what is involved in this case is the most immense enter-
prise of opinion transformation ever attempted in 'peacetime',
an undertaking which has scant regard for the collective
intelligence or the culture of nations.
Hence, among other things, the general excessiveness -
of the provisions of the Multilateral Agreement on
Investment (MAl), for example, or of the NTM, the
'transatlantic free-trade project'.
These are globalitarian campaigns and they have about
them the intensity of American propaganda for 'info-war',
that revolution in military affairs initiated by the Pentagon at
the end of the Cold War.
Yet one would understand nothing of the Internet and
the future information superhighways if one forgot the
interactive dimension of the arrangement and the birth of
a real comparative advertising which is no longer con-
tent merely to vaunt the excellence of a particular
product, but is concerned, first and foremost, to impugn
the commercial competitor, to disarm the resistance of con-
sumers, by denigrating their position, or merely their
reticence.
Not content to satisfy the legitimate curiosity of the
purchasers of their goods, the advertising agencies are now
intent on calling for the symbolic murder of their competi-
tors. Hence the decision of the European Parliament to
THE INFORMATION BOMB 111
adopt effective legislation against these 'campaigns of sys-
tematic denigration'.
1
We should also point out that the Web can no longer be
separated from the technical development which aims to
replace the totality of analogue information by a digitaliza-
tion of the knowledge media over the next ten years.
With the digital on the verge of winning out in all
spheres of audiovisual production, the European
Community is currently examining a Green Paper on con-
vergence.
According to the authors of this report, the fact that a
single technology - the digital - is used for different pur-
poses (telephone, television or computers) should lead to a
re-examination of the special treatment accorded to the
Community's audiovisual sector and to that sector being
brought solely under market control, as is the case with
telecommunications.
The second strand in this tentacular convergence clearly
concerns the Internet, with the idea that, on this network
of American origin, since anything goes, future jurisdiction
over the system should be solely a matter for the United
States.
We are thus moving imperceptibly towards a sort of
image crash.
1 In May 1998 Fashion-TV; a women's fashion chain founded by
Adam Lisowski, took the Walt Disney Company (Europe SA)
to court for spreading defamatory rumours, and for a 'cam-
paign to blacken its name among the clients and partners of
Fashion-TV', which might be explained by the imminent
launch of a rival fashion chain by Disney. See Le Nouvel
Observateur, 30 May 1998, TV supplement.
112 PAUL VIRILIO
An eye for an eye - the competition between icons is
currently on the agenda and that competition, in assuming
worldwide proportions, is, like everything else in the era of
the great planetary market-place, destabilizing for the
regime of temporality of the whole of iconic information.
Screen against screen - the home computer terminal and
the television monitor are squaring up to each other in a
fight to dominate the global perception market, control of
which will, in the near future, open up a new era both in
aesthetics and in ethics.
'With 500,000 screens throughout the world tracking a
totally computerized stock market, the Asian crash was
watched everywhere as it happened,' declared a French
trader in autumn 1997.
But when there are 5 million live-cams spread all over the
world and several hundred million Internet users capable of
observing them simultaneously at their consoles, we shall see
the first visual crash, and so-called television will then give
way to the generalized tele-surveillance' of a world in which
the famous virtual bubble of the financial markets will be sup-
planted by the visual bubble of the collective imaginary, with
the attendant risk of the explosion of the information bomb
announced back in the 1950s by Albert Einstein himself.
If, today, the irrational is amplified in the various sectors
of financial globalization, it will flourish even more tomor-
row in the field of the globalization qf the collective imaginary,
since the multiplier effect of the old television (responsible,
among other things, for the Rodney King affair, the 0.J.
Simpson trial and the post mortem coronation of Princess
Diana) will be infinitely reinforced by the over-reactive
character of world tele-surveillance.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 113
'The generalization of individual positions, when they
are all moving in the same, direction, generates unstable
global conjunctures,' observed a CNRS analyst writing of
the Asian crash. 'The rationality qf individual behaviours makes
for an overall irrationality.'2
As world time ('live') takes over from the ancient,
immemorial supremacy of the local time of regions, both
the next step in interactive advertising and the even more
fearsome conditions for comparative advertising between
brands and investors are set to appear. This is a veritable
cold civil war, a guerrilla war involving the symbolic exe-
cution of competitors, for which the European Council is
set to give the go-ahead.
In this globalitarian conjuncture, the 'advertising space'
is no longer to be found in the breaks between films or the
TV slots between programmes: it is now the real space-time qf
all communication. Virtual inflation no longer relates solely to
the economy of manufactured products, the financial
bubble, but to the very understanding of our relation to the
world.
As a result, the great 'danger to the system' is no longer
that of the bankruptcy of companies or banks in a chain
reaction, such as we have recently seen in Asia, but the for-
midable threat of a blinding, of a collective blindness on the
part of humanity - the unprecedented possibility of a difeat
qf facts and hence a disorientation of our relation to reality.
The bankruptcy of phenomena, the catastrophic slump
of the visible, from which economic and political disinfor-
mation alone could derive advantage: with the analogue
2 Andre Orlan, I.e Monde, 5 November 1997.
114 PAUL VIRILIO
yielding its prerogatives to the digital, and with the recently
achieved 'data compression' making it possible henceforth
to speed up - that is to say, to concertina - our relation to
reality . . . but to do so on condition that we accept the
increasing impoverishment of sensory appearances.
In this way, with the progressive digitalization of
audiovisual, tactile and olfactory information going hand in
glove with the decline of immediate sensations, the ana-
logue resemblance between what is close at hand and
comparable would yield primacy to the numerical probabil-
ity alone of things distant - of all things distant. And would
in this way pollute our sensory ecology once and for all.
CHAPTER 13
Half a century ago, in 1948, Daniel Halevy published his
Essai sur l'acceleration de l'histoire, in which he marked out
the great historical perspectives which lay before humanity
after Hiroshima:
Poor old Earth, which we were happy in the
eighteenth century to measure, and whose features,
fauna and flora we were content to trace; poor old
Earth, source of an even more intense contentment
when we had succeeded in the nineteenth century
in girding it with waves, making it a living, vibrant
thing like a being, a soul!
Poor old humanity, obsessed with despotic
visions, equipped with weapons which seem forged
to make those very visions a reality!
Daniel Halevy, more perceptive in this than Francis
Fukuyama, already dimly saw that, far from bringing his-
tory to an end, techno-scientific progress was going to
116 PAUL VIRILIO
blast away all delay, all duration, and that historical science
would soon open up to a new tempo, a pace which
should, at some stage not too far distant, speed up even the
'truth' of history:
Just as, a quarter of a century ago, when Einstein
put forward his relativist equations, human beings
gave up understanding the overall physical context in
which they live, we can see them today giving up
understanding the overall political context in which
their lives unfold.
What are we to say, at the end of the twentieth century,
in the age of globalization, of this rtfosal if understanding,
other than that it is going on before our very eyes, with the
decline of the nation-state and the discrete revival in new
forms of politics by the media, by the multi-media consti-
tuted by these networks and screens which show us the
acceleration if time; the multi-media of that 'real time' of
interchanges which performs the relativistic feat of com-
pressing the 'real space' of the globe through the temporal
compression of information and images of the world?
Henceforth, here no longer exists; everything is now. The end
of our history has not happened, but we do have the pro-
grammed end of the' hie et nunc' and the 'in situ'.
The globalization of trade is not, then, economic, as has.
been the constant refrain since the development of the
single market; it is, primarily, ecological and relates not
merely to the pollution of substances, with, for example,
the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere, but also to the
pollution of distances and delays which make up the
world of concrete experience.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 117
In other words, globalization relates to the dromospheric
greenhouse tdfoct of confinement within the limit-accelera-
tion of telecommunications.
'The time of the finite world is beginning; declared
Paul Valery as early as the 1920s. With the 1980s, the
world of finite time began. In the face of this sudden
ending of all localized duree, the acceleration of history is
running up against the barrier of real time, that universal
world time which tomorrow will supplant all the local times
which were capable if making history.
Mter the discovery, in the eighteenth century, of the
deep time of those millions of years required for the geo-
logical concretion of the planet which bears us, we have
today the invention of this surface time of the dromological
reality-effect of remote action.
The matter-time of the hard geophysical reality of places
gives way to this light-time of a virtual reality which modi-
fies the very truth of all duree, thereby provoking, with the
time accident, the acceleration of all reality: of things,
living beings, socio-cultural phenomena.
What are we to say, for example, of the 'virtual com-
munities' organized in networks around the Internet?
There are already 70 million Internet users throughout the
world, communities if believers 'tele-present' one to another
thanks to the instantaneity - and, before long, the elec-
tronic ubiquity - of on-line cameras.
What, then, remains of the historical importance of the
public space of the city in the era of this META-CITY in
which the public image is king? An interactive image in
commerce, education and the post-industrial enterprise,
available at all times - and from one end to the other of our
small planet.
118 PAUL VIRILIO
Ultimately, it is not so much geography which is con-
ditioned by globalization, but present and future history.
The acceleration of real time, the limit-acceleration of the
speed of light, not only dispels geophysical extension, the
'life-size' character of the terrestrial globe, but, first and
foremost, it dispels the importance of the longues durees of
the local time of regions, countries and the old, deeply ter-
ritorialized nations.
By supplanting the 'chronological' successivity oflocal
times, thanks to the instantaneity of a universal world
time, tele-technologies over-expose not only all activity,
by making it interactive, but also all truth and historical
reality.
Past, present and future - that old tripartite division
of the time continuum - then cedes primacy to the imme-
diacy of a tele-presence which is akin to a new type of
relief. This is a relief not of the material thing, but of the
event, in which the fourth dimension (that of time) sud-
denly substitutes for the third: the material volume loses its
geometrical value as an 'effective presence' and yields to an
audiovisual volume whose self-evident 'tele-presence'
easily wins out over the nature of the facts.
This is a phenomenon of perspectivization of a new
kind, which makes itself felt today through the power of
the instantaneous emission and reception of signals. These
are currently analogue, but will soon give way to the dig-
ital, as the data which make up information undergo
temporal compression.
Thus what is now put into perspective is not so much
space as time. This is no longer the time of the longues
durees of the chronicles of yesteryear, but the time of light
THE INFORMATION BOMB 119
and its speed - a cosmological constant capable of condition-
ing human history.
To the three geometrical dimensions which previously
determined the perception of the relief of real space is now
added the third dimension of matter itself: after 'mass' and
'energy', the dimension of 'information' makes its entry
into the history of reality, overlaying the real presence of
things and places through the tele-surveillance and moni-
toring of the environment.
At that point, far from setting the actual perspective of
optical presence of the Quattrocento against the virtual
perspective of electro-optic tele-presence, the real-time per-
spective of telecommunications combines the two, thus
creating a 'field effect' in which the actual and the virtual
together produce a new kind of relief, not unlike the
'soundscape' of hi-fi with its treble and bass notes.
The material and geometrical volume of an object is
then succeeded by the immaterial and electronic volume of
information; acoustic and visual information, but also tac-
tile information, through the virtual reality gauntlet, and
olfactory information with the recent invention of digi-
tized chemical sensors.
After the stereophonic and stereoscopic effects we have
known, audiovisual representation is at last opening up to
the artifice of a presentation of reality that is both acceler-
ated and augmented: the 'stereo-reality' of a world without
any apparent horizon in which the .frame of the screen has taken
over from the distant horizon line. This square horizon of the
computer terminal or head-mounted screen (HMS) presents,
like certain kinds of spectacles, the very latest 'volume' - no
longer that of things perceptible to the naked eye, but of the
instantaneous superimposition of actual and virtual images.
120 PAUL VIRILIO
A de-localized perception, like our perception of the
volume of the hologram, which augments any perceptible
reality, but does so by accelerating it to the limit-velocity of
the propagation of the electromagnetic waves which carry
the various information signals. .
The conflict which rested on the geometric division
between the opposites of Right and Left gives way to the
axis of stereoscopic symmetry of that real-time perspective
which revolutionizes historical time and the culture of
nations by converting all present reality into wave form.
Thus, just as the European Renaissance is unimagin-
able without the invention of the perspective of real space
and of Galileo's telescope, so geopolitical globalization
will be inseparable from the unification of this real-time
perspective and this new spatio-temporal relief that is a
product of the electromagnetic radiation of telecommu-
nications.
After the era of the energy-based acceleration of steam
and internal combustion engines, or of the electric engine,
comes the age of the cyber-acceleration of the very latest
engines: the 'logical inference' engine of the computer
and its software, the 'reality' engine of virtual space and the
'search engine' of the Internet in which computational
speed succeeds the speed of the turbo-compressor of the
automobile engine, or the speed of the turbines and jets of
supersonic flight. The absolute speed of the new means of
telematic transmission coming in their turn to dominate
the relative speed of the old means of transport, the local
acceleration of vehicles ceding its primacy to the general
acceleration of the vectors of an information that is going
global.
It is easy to see, then, that de-localization is not merely
THE INFORMATION BOMB 121
a phenomenon of post-industrial business,
l
but a phenom-
enon of the appearance business, of the grand-scale
cybernetic optics which is capable of presenting the whole
world for our inspection by virtue of the transparency of appearances
instantly transmitted over a distance.
This is a means of transport for everyone's eyes, a tele-
scopy, the product of an electro-optic and acoustic
propagation which complements the direct transparency of
matter - such as that of air, water or glass - with the indi-
rect transparency of light and its speed.
Thus, after the development of the transport networks
in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with the net-
work of networks, the Internet, comes the imminent
establishment of real networks of transmission of the vision of
the world, the audiovisual information superhighways of
those on-line cameras which will contribute, in the
twenty-first century, to developing the panoptical (and
permanent) tele-surveillance of planetary sites and activi-
ties, which will very probably end in the implementation
of networks of virtual reality. This is a cyberoptics which
will leave intact neither the old aesthetics that was a product
of European modernity, nor the ethics of the Western
democracies.
I am referring to that 'representative democracy', which
tomorrow will be subject to the pressure of the acceleration
of historical reality, with the incalculable risk that the
1 The French 'delocalisation' has become synonymous with the
relocation of the production plants of multinational companies
in more profitable parts of the world, which has characterized
the recent period of post-industrial development in Europe.
(Trans.)
122 PAUL VIRILIO
'commerce of the visible' will bring about what no totali-
tarian regime has managed to create through ideology:
unanimous support.
A slow and measured democracy, locally situated, in the
style of the direct democracy of the assemblies of the Swiss
cantons, or a 'live', media democracy, on the lines of the
measurement of audience ratings in commercial televi-
sion or the opinion poll? Ultimately, it is the whole
problem of immediacy and instantaneity in politics that is
posed today. After the authority oj human beings over their
history, are we going to yield, with the acceleration of the
real, to the authority oj machines and those who programme
them? Shall we see the mechanical transference of the
power of the political parties to the power of electronic or
other devices?
After the disasters of technocracy, are we going to go
from the frying pan into the fire by yielding to the social
cybernetics so dreaded by the inventors of automation?
Are we going to cede the administration of life to inani-
mate but ultra-rapid devices which are capable of scaling
the heights of technical progress? To espouse that (virtual)
automatic democracy, the practical efficacy of which is con-
fined solely to the time saved in announcing election
results? In fact, with the acquisition of the global speed of
telecommunications, as opposed to the local speed of our
previous 'means of communication', we are moving
towards inertia, towards the sterility of movement.
Every time we introduce an acceleration, not only do
we reduce the expanse of the world, but we also sterilize
movement and the grandeur of movement by rendering
useless the act of the locomotor body. Similarly, we lose the
THE INfORMATION BOMB 123
mediating value of 'action', while that of the immediacy of
'interaction' gains in comparison.
In this way great speeds are gradually replacing the great
expanses, and the surface - the immense surface areas of
the terrestrial globe - is giving way to the interface of
global speed.
This is precisely what 'live action' is: the 'real time' of
globalization. In that process, the light oj speed supplants the
light of the sun and the alternation of day and night. The
electromagnetic radiation of waves wins out over the sun's
rays and the shadows they cast, to the point where the local
day of calendar time abandons its historical importance to
the global day of universal time.
One example, among others, of the disqualification of
all distance - and hence of all genuine action - is that of
the ocean, of all the world's oceans, with the appearance of
the supersonic speed of aviation. Or alternatively, and more
simply, we have the example of the 'grand staircase', which,
with the appearance of the lift, became the 'service stairs'
or the 'emergency exit'.
Just as the Atlantic and the Pacific are merely maritime
expanses disqualified by the great atmospheric speeds
achieved as aeronautics has supplanted sea travel, every
time we introduce a higher speed we discredit the value of
an action, alienating our power to act for the sake of our
power to react, which is another, less elevated name for
what we currently term 'interaction'.
But this is as nothing beside the coming introduction of
the 'automatable processing of knowledge', that general-
ization of amnesia which will be the ultimate achievement
of the oblivion industry, since the sum total of analogue
information (audiovisual and other) should soon be
124 PAUL VIRILIO
replaced by the digital, with computer codes taking over
from the language of 'words and things'.
Figures are thus readying themselves to reign in their
mathematical omnipotence, the instrument of number is
preparing to dominate the analogon once and for all - in
other words, to dominate anything which presents a resem-
blance, or relations of similitude, between beings and
things.
This leads, self-evidendy, to the denial of any phenome-
nology. Far from wishing to 'save phenomena', as
philosophy demanded, we shall henceforth have to mislay
them, to lose them beneath calculations, beneath the speed
of a calculation which outstrips any time of thought, any
intelligent reflection.
In this field, the crisis of contemporary art is in fact
merely a clinical symptom of the crisis of contemporaneity
itself - one indicator among many others of the break in
temporality which lies before us.
At the end of the twentieth century, art no longer
speaks of the past or represents the future; it is becoming
the privileged instrument of the present and simulaneity. As
an 'art of presence', ranged against the industry of tele-
presence, and in the face of the coming of the 'live',
contemporary art has stopped representing the figure of the
world so as to present its 'reality' - first through the denial
of all figuration in the European abstraction of the imme-
diate post-war period; then, conversely, with American
hyper-realism. Still to come was that sudden motorization
of computer-generated images, which had been prefaced
by video-art and its de-localized installations - not to men-
tion that origin of 'motor art' already represented by
cinema at the end of the nineteenth century.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 125
But let us come to the body and its real presence in the
theatre and in contemporary dance, in the age of the emer-
gence of virtual reality. Curiously, temporality has now
become a topical subject and a new form of theatrical - and
other - action.
As a punctual form of 'time compression', historicity
shrinks away to nothing now, being in the end a mere
'citation', a gradually reducing relic, in which unfolding
time becomes a kind of 'present continuous', a perpetual
present.
'We then find the loss of that founding element of the-
atrical fiction termed the unity of time, made up of a
beginning, a middle and an end,' wrote Hans-Thies
Lehmann, a specialist in contemporary dramaturgy. And he
went on:
This is done in order to establish the dimension of
time shared, in all senses of the term hie et nunc, by
actors and audience. To such a point that it can
happen, in this perspective, that actual duration
ceases to apply, with all events remaining
suspended, stricdy centred on the nunc and the
present of its immediate now-ness to the detriment
of the hie, the 'here' of the scene - of any 'scene' or
any'act'.2
Here no longer exists; everything is now, as we put it
above.
2 From a version of a text published as 'Time Structures/Time
Sculptures', Theaterschrift 12, December 1997, pp. 28-47.
126 PAUL VIRILIO
The new 'theatrical representation', characteristic of the
perspective of the time of the acceleration of the real and
its relief, attempts uneasily to react to the hu"ied presentation
of events by the media of mass communication, all of
which favour the 'scoop' and the 'sound-bite' over the
narrative and its unbearable' longueurs'. The aim is to avoid
at all costs the remote-control handset coming into play,
that sudden symmetry-breaking between transmitter and
receiver.
Deterring theatre from being theatre - in other words,
from showing a body (on the stage) in the era of the fiction
of virtual-reality clones and avatars (on the screen) - this is
the new 'paradox of the actor' (Diderot).
The dramaturgy of real time is, in fact, everywhere today:
in the precariousness of the job market, fixed-term con-
tracts or long-term unemployment; in families broken and
reconstructed by succeeding divorces . . . The fear of zap-
ping is becoming universal.
If the 'present' is indeed the axis of symmetry of passing
time, this omnipresent centre now controls the totality of
the life of the 'advanced' societies and we have at all costs
to avoid the 'breaking' of that axis, which would lead back
to the 'past', to dead memory and - who knows? - to
remorse. Have we not in recent years seen the emergence
of a vogue for repentance, a wave of guiltless officials apol-
ogizing for offences committed by their predecessors, but
less worried, it would seem, about the crimes they may
currently be committing? Or, alternatively, we must avoid
that sudden temporal 'symmetry-breaking' which could
project us into the future - something we have been par-
tially cured of by the failures of economic planning.
THE INFORMATION BOMB
127
'No future' is indeed the slogan which suits the relief of
the 'real time' of this globalization, in which everything
a"ives without there being any need to depart, to move towards
the beings around us, the surrounding places and things.
Whereas formerly, in the age of the transport revolu-
tion, the length of journeys and the scope of physical
movement meant that moments of arrival were limited, in
the age of the transmission revolution everything comes
straight in, arrives immediately, given a general absence of
delay, instantaneity of information and the development of
that interaction which surpasses any action, any con-
crete act.
The actual reality of communications, supplanted by the
virtual reality of telecommunications, then falls into a dis-
credit comparable to that which in the past hit the world's
oceans - those stretches of nautical miles now polluted as
much by aeronautical speed as they are by the oil tankers
sluicing out their tanks which has turned them into a
sewage farm.
Thus, just as the 'heavier-than-air' mode of aviation is
based, thanks to rapidity of propulsion, on mere wind, so
our 'accelerated reality' is based on the 'lift' provided by the
propagation of waves conveying signals instantaneously.
The history of the end of this millennium, held in a lev-
itated state, is based almost solely on the incessant
tele-presence of events which do not really succeed each
other, since the relief of instantaneity is already winning
out over the depth of historical successivity.
Finally, everything is reversed. What arrives, what sud-
denly comes to us is far more important than what leaves,
what goes off to the depths of our memories or the far
reaches of the apparent geographical horizon. Hence the
128 PAUL VIRILIO
decline, which is so revealing, of theatrical representation,
the concrete fiction of which stands opposed, by the actor's
being there, to the discrete fiction of the electromagnetic
spectres which fill our screens.
In these last performances, the unhappy attempt 'is also
made in some forms of theatre to absorb and outdo the
speed of the media .... Lines are delivered in such rapid
succession that you get the impression of the kind of speed
and abrupt transitions usually associated with channel-surf-
ing or zapping.'3
The 'acts' of the play then become 'inter-acts', if not
indeed 'inter-vals', in which actor and spectator cease to be
different in nature. We have the fusion/confusion of , roles'
or, more exactly, the superfusion [suifUsion] of the scenic
fiction of the theatre and that of the past-less and future-less
moment of virtual reality. The drip-feed [suifUsion] of a
body whose state has ceased to respond to the outer con-
ditions of the stage, but still has its physical equilibrium
maintained most precariously, as the Accident which will
unfailingly bring down this house of cards is temporarily
staved off.
How can we avoid mentioning once again here the
emblematic example of the 'financial scene' and its specu-
lative bubble, that virtual bubble of a planetary economy
which is based today on the automatic interaction between
market prices, which bear no relation whatever to the real
wealth of the production of nations? And the implementa-
tion, a dozen or so years ago, of 'program trading', which
automated the actions of the players, the traders on Wall
3 Ibid., p. 41.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 129
Street and the other stock exchanges, and also that specu-
lative Big Bang, soon to be followed by the crash of '87,
which subsequently meant that what amounted to 'circuit
breakers' had to be put in to prevent the system running
out of control? A form of channel-hopping aimed at pre-
venting the reorganization oflocal financial markets into a
single global market from producing a repetition of that
'accident'. It did not, however, prevent the Asian crash of
autumn 1997.
There again, the 'dramaturgy of real time' can be seen
to have played its fateful role, depriving the economic
actors of the thinking time essential to rational action.
It is the same, in the end, in the cultural field, with the
collapse of the 'art market', which has not just triggered a
collapse in the relative importance of particular, clearly
over-rated artists, but has also gravely compromised the
very reality of the values of contemporary art. To confirm
this, one has only to follow the burgeoning debates in
Europe on the crisis in art, of the kind which take place,
for example, around major events such as the last
Documenta at Kassel.
After the acceleration of the history of so-called classi-
cal art in the period when 'modern art' was emerging, we
now have the acceleration of the reality of so-called con-
temporary art and the appearance of an 'art actuel' which is
apparently attempting to counter the impending arrival of
a virtual art, the age of cyberculture.
Extending the dislocation of the figure, which we saw at
the beginning of the twentieth century with Cubism, and
its disappearance into forms of abstraction, geometric or
otherwise, de-localization - the product of the age of the
virtual - leads today to an art of interactive feedback
130 PAUL VIRILIO
between the artist and his/her visitors, along the lines of
those infographic paintings which change and metamor-
phose as you contemplate them, doing so from the
particular viewpoint of each of the actors/spectators.
Moreover, the decomposition of figures in Pointillism or
Divisionism leads today, thanks to fractal geometry, to
another type of deconstruction: the dismantling of the
space-time of the work.
In the age of the sudden electronic motorization of the
artwork, dislocation of forms and de-localization of the
art object go hand in hand and accompany the acceleration
not in this case of history, but of the reality of the plastic arts.
This represents, on the one hand, a questioning of the
roles of actor and spectator, and, on the other, an interro-
gation of the notions of author and viewer. And it is a
calling into question of the site of art, after the questioning
of the site of the theatrical scene. These are all so many
harbingers of an unprecedented change - premonitory
signs of the new time scheme within which culture will
operate in the era of the emergence of cyberculture.
CHAPTER 14
With the end of the twentieth century, it is not merely the
second millennium which is reaching its close. The Earth
too, the planet of the living, is being closed off.
Globalization is not so much, then, the accomplishment of
the acceleration of history as the completion, the closure, of
the field of possibilities of the terrestrial horizon.
The Earth is now double-locked by the endless round of
satellites and we are running up against the invisible outer
wall of habitable space, in the same way as we bump up
against the envelope, the firm flesh, of a liveable body. As
mere men and women, mere terrestrials, the world for us
today is a dead-end and claustrophobia an agonizing threat.
Our metaphysical hopes have wasted away and our desires
for physical emancipation are similarly withered.
The Earth of the great multiplication of the species is
becoming, then, the colony, the camp of the great ordeal.
Babel is returning - as cosmic ghetto, city and world all in
one - and perhaps this time it is indestructible.
Less than a thousand days before the end of a pitiless
132 PAUL VIRILIO
century, a series of f a ~ t s , of events of all kinds, alerts us to
an untimely emergence of limits, the end of a geophysical
horizon which had till then set the tone of history.
Between the astrophysical suicide of the Heaven's Gate
sect and the Assumption of Princess Diana, we had the
announcement, the official annunciation of the genetic
bomb, the unprecedented possibility of cloning human
beings on the basis of a computer read-out of the map of
the human genome.
Since then, thanks to the coupling of the life and infor-
mation sciences, the outlines of a cybernetic eugenicism
have emerged, a eugenicism which owes nothing to the
politics of nations - as was still the case in the laboratories of
the death camps - but everything, absolutely everything, to
science - an economic techno-science in which the single
market demands the commercialization of the whole of
living matter, the privatization of the genetic heritage of
humanity. Besides this, the proliferation of atomic weapons,
freshly boosted by India, Pakistan and probably other desta-
bilized countries on the Asian continent, is prompting the
United States - the last great world power - to accelerate its
famous 'revolution in military affairs' by developing that
emergent strategy known as 'information war', which con-
sists in using electronics as a hegemonic technology: a role
it now takes over from nuclear physics.
The atom bomb can then be merely a last guarantee,
provided of course that the information bomb effectively
proves its credentials as the new absolute weapons system.
It is in this context of financial instability and military
uncertainty, in which it is impossible to differentiate
between information and disinformation, that the question
of the integral accident arises once again and that we
,
1
THE INFORMATION BOMB 133
learn, at the Birmingham summit of May 1998, that the
Central Intelligence Agency not only takes seriously the
possibility of a 'widespread computer catastrophe' in the
year 2000, but that it has scheduled this hypothetical event
into its calendar, indicating on a state-by-state basis how far
individual nations still have to go to forearm themselves
against it.
1
Similarly, the United States Senate announced the cre-
ation of a committee to assess this potential electronic
disaster and the Bank ofInternational Settlements in New
York followed suit shordy afterwards, setting up a high-
level committee to attempt to forestall a computer crash
in which the damage caused by the serial downturns in the
Asian economies might produce global meltdown.
As the first great global manoeuvre in 'Information
Warfare' ,2 what we see here is the launch of a new logistics,
that of the cybernetic control of knowledge: politico-
economic knowledge, in which the single market affords a
glimpse of its military and strategic dimension in terms of
'information transfer'. To the point where the systemic risk
of a chain reaction of the bankruptcy of the financial mar-
kets (for so long masked during the promotional launch of
the Internet) is now officially acknowledged, showing that
this major risk can also be used to exert pressure on those
nations which are reluctant to give in to free-trade black-
ail
3
m .
1 Michel Alberganti, 'Un probleme majeur pour la commu-
naute internationale', Le Monde, 21 May 1998.
2 In English in the original. (Trans.)
3 As with the Multilateral Agreement on Investment and the
New Transatlantic Market.
134 PAUL VIRILIO
As I pointed out some considerable time ago, if interac-
tivity is to information what radioactivity is to energy, then
we are confronted with the fearsome emergence of the
'Accident to end all accidents', an accident which is no
longer local and precisely situated, but global and general-
ized. We are faced, in other words, with a phenomenon
which may possibly occur everywhere simultaneously.
But what we might add today is that this global systemic
risk is precisely what makes for the strategic supremacy of
the future 'weapons systems' of the infowar, that electro-
economic war declared on the world by the United States
and that, far more than the viruses and other 'logical
bombs' hidden away by hackers in the software of our
computers, this integral accident is the true detonator of
the information bomb, and hence of its future power of
deterrence over the political autonomy of nations.
As the ultimate exemplar of monopoly, the cyberworld
is thus never anything else but the hypertrophied form of a
cybernetic colonialism, with the interconnectedness of the
Internet prefiguring the imminent launch of the cyber-
bomb - the future information superhighways - and,
subsequendy, the establishment, still under the aegis of the
United States, not just of an expanded NATO but also of
new all-out defences on the Cold War model, with cyber-
glaciation here supplanting nuclear deterrence.
On 12 May 1998, again at the meeting of heads of state
in Birmingham, the American president, in his report on
'the strategy for controlling cybernetic crime', stressed the
urgent need to establish legislation against the cybercrime
of mafias using remote technologies and also against the
risks involved in the emergence of 'digital money', 'e-
cash', which too easily evades any economic control.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 135
'Cybercriminals can use computers to raid our banks ...
extort money by threats to unleash computer viruses,'
declared Bill Clinton,
4
explaining to the heads of state pre-
sent that the United States was in the front line of the
battie against this, but that 'international crime requires an
international response. America is prepared to act alone
when it must, but no nation can control cybercrime by itself any
more.'5
It is hard to believe one's ears. The president of the state
responsible for the greatest economic deregulation in his-
tory still seeks to pose as the first person daring to shout
'fire!' so as to lead a crusade against a chaos he himself has
organized, together with his vice-president, prime mover
in the creation of the future information superhighways.
The atom bomb, the information bomb and the demo-
graphic bomb - these three historical deflagrations evoked
by Albert Einstein in the early 1960s are now on the
agenda for the next millennium. The first is there, with
the dangers of nuclear weapons becoming generally com-
monplace, as heralded in the Indian and Pakistani nuclear
tests. And the second is also present, with the threat of
4 Aurelien Daudet, 'Les chefs d'Etat contre Ie cybercrime', Le
Figaro, 16/17 May 1998. The full text of this part of the
speech, as published by the White House, reads: 'As Agent
Riley's remarks suggest, cybercriminals can use computers to
raid our banks, run up charges on our credit cards, extort
money by threats to unleash computer viruses'. (Trans.)
5 Ibid. The text of the speech as released by the White House
refers simply to 'crime' here, not to 'cybercrime' as in Le
Figaro's report. The italics are Paul Virilio's. (Trans.)
136 PAUL VIRILIO
cybernetic control of the politics of states, under the indi-
rect threat of a generalized accident, as we have seen above.
As for the third, the demographic bomb, it is clear that if
the use of computers is indispensable in the development
of atomic weapons, it is equally indispensable in the deci-
pherment of the genetic code and hence in the research
aimed at drawing up a physical map of the human genome,
thus opening up a new eugenicism promoting not the nat-
ural but the artifidal selection of the human species.
6
And given the considerable growth in the demography
of our planet in the twenty-first century, are we not right
to suspect that experiments on the industrialization of living
matter will not be content merely to treat patients and assist
infertile couples to have children, but will soon lead back
to that old folly of the 'new man'? That is to say, the man
who will deserve to survive (the superman), whereas the
man without qualities, the primate of the new times, will
have to disappear - just as the 'savage' had to disappear in
the past to avoid cluttering up a small planet - and give
way to the latest model of humanity, the transhuman,
built on the lines of transgenic crops, which are so much
better adapted to their environment than the natural prod-
ucts. That this is indeed the case is confirmed by the recent
declarations of Professor Richard Seed on his attempt to
achieve human cloning, or the statements of those who
6 While Darwin, in The Origin of Species, had advanced the prin-
ciple of the natural selection of the individuals fittest to survive,
in 1860 his cousin, Francis Galton, proposed the principle of
artificial selection or, in other words, a voluntary policy of the
elimination of the least fit, thus institutionalizing the struggle
against the alleged degeneracy of the human species.
, i
i.
THE INFORMATION BOMB 137
openly advocate the production of living mutants, which are
likely to hasten the coming, after the extra-terrestrial, of
the extra-human, another name for the superhuman race
which still looms large in our memories.
And is the 'human genome project', which has now
been running for ten years and which is financed to the
tune of $3 billion by the Department of Energy and the
National Institute of Health for the purpose of deciphering
DNA, anything other than a race at last to acquire the data
of life, just as, in another age, the United States aimed for
the moon by financing NASA?
It is always a race! Has not the geneticist Graig Venter just
set up a private company with the aim of deciphering, in a
project parallel to the public one, the whole of the genetic
code in just three years, by linking up with a subsidiary of
the pharmaceuticals group Perkin Elmer, who are special-
ists in DNA-sequencing machines, and doing this with an
investment of just $200 million?7
Mter Kasparov's symbolic failure against the Deep Blue
computer, the summer saga of the automatic Mars
Pathfinder probe and the misadventures of the Mir space
station, we are seeing the scheduled end of manned flight
and a questioning of even the usefulness of the future inter-
national orbital station. This is the end of an
'extra-terrestrial' adventure for our generation but we have
before us, by contrast, the spectacular launch of the 'extra-
human' epic, as astrophysics gradually gives way to
biophysics.
7 Fabrice Node Langlois, "'Coup d'accelerateur" dans la course
aux genes', Le Figaro, 16/17 May 1998.
138 PAUL VIRILIO
These are all so many signs of the inuninent supplanting
of macro-physical exotidsm by micro-physical endotidsm. A
probable end to the external colonization of the space of
distant lands and the dubious dawning of a colonization
which will be internal - the colonization of the space-
time of living matter, the new frontier of the will to power
of the techno-sciences.
'Homo est clausura mirabilium dei', wrote Hildegard of
Bingen, thus expressing a reality previously masked by the
anthropocentrism of origins: man might not be said to be
the centre of the world, but its closure, the end of the world.
Significantly, this phrase was uttered by a woman born in
the year 1098. It is a phrase which stands opposed to the
eugenic myth by throwing a singular light on the origin of
nihilism in the omnipotence of the impotence of sciences as
soon as they reopen the question of the origins of life.
Genetic engineering is fundamentally eugenicist, but
only the memory of the Nazi extermination requires it to
admit this. Hence the seriousness of the negationist threat,
not just against the prophetic memory of the death camps
but against the principle of the continuity of the living, that
'principle of responsibility' towards the future of humanity.
This is a shamefully 'conservative' principle in the eyes
of those who desire nothing so much as the revolution of the
end, that nihilism of an omnipotent progress which runs
through the twentieth century from the Titanic to
Chernobyl, with an eye always to the coming of the
Survivor, the messiah so fervently desired by the cult of
madness of present times.
In fact, since the end of the Cold War we have been
constantly trying to reproduce other ends on this identical
pattern: the end of history, the end of representative
THE INFORMATION BOMB 139
democracy or, again, the end of the subject, by attempting
to create the double (the clone) or the hybrid (the mutant)
thanks to genetic manipulation.
Far from being some kind of achievement, this 'post-
industrial' undertaking deploys the energy of despair in an
effort to escape the conditions favourable to life and thus to
arrive at chaos, or, in other words, to regress to the initial
conditions which prevailed, as it is believed, before the
origins of life.
Transgenic, transhuman - these are all terms which
mark the headlong charge forward, in spite of all the evi-
dence, of a transpolitical community of scientists solely
preoccupied with acrobatic performances. In this they are
following the example of those fairground shows mounted
in the nineteenth century by the self-styled 'mathemagi-
. ,
Clans ...
Ultimately, this so-called post-modern period is not so
much the age in which industrial modernity has been sur-
passed, as the era of the sudden industrialization of the end,
the all-out globalization of the havoc wreaked by progress.
To attempt to industrialize living matter by bio-techno-
logical procedures, as is done in the semi-official project of
reproducing the individual in standard form, is to turn the
end into an enterprise, into a Promethean factory.
In the age of the 'balance of nuclear terror' between
East and West, the military-industrial complex had already
succeeded in militarizing scientific research to ensure the
capability of mutual destruction - the 'MAD' concept.
Genetic engineering is now taking over from the atomic
industry to invent its own bomb.
Thanks to computers and the advances ofbio-technol-
ogy, the life sciences are able to threaten the species no
140 PAUL VIRILIO
longer (as in the past) by the radioactive destruction of the
human environment, but by clinical insemination, by the
control of the sources of life, the origin of the individual.
We can see now that, just as the total war outlined at the
end of the First World War was to be actualized during the
Second, threatening, between 1939 and 1945, with
Hiroshima and Auschwitz, not the enemy but the human
race, the global warfare prefigured today in the great
manoeuvres of 'information warfare' will be based on a sci-
entific radicalization, threatening - not so much with
extermination as with extinction - not a particular popu-
lation or even the human race (as the thermo-nuclear
bomb might), but the very principle of all individuated life,
the genetic and information bombs now forming a single
'weapons system'.
Moreover, if information is indeed the third dimension of
matter, after mass and energy, each historical conflict has in
its time shown up the mastery of these elements. Mass war:
from the great ancient invasions to the organization of the
firepower of armies during the recent European wars.
Energy war: with the invention of gunpowder and, most
significandy, of atomic weapons, with the 'advanced' or
high-energy laser still to come. And lasdy, tomorrow, the
information war, which will make general what espionage
and police surveillance inaugurated long ago, though they
were unable to draw, as we are today, on the limit-acceler-
ation of 'global information'.
'He· who knows everything fears nothing,' declared
Joseph Goebbels, the head of the Propagandastaffel. In fact,
here as elsewhere, the question is not so much one of fear-
ing as of spreading fear by the permanent over-exposure of
THE INFORMATION BOMB 141
life, of all lives, to 'all-out' control, which is a fait accompli -
or almost - thanks to computer technology. But let us go
back for a moment to the third dimension of organized
matter: whether it be speed of acquisition, transmission or
computation, iriformation is inseparable from its acceleration in
energy terms - slowed-up information being no longer even
worthy of that name, but mere background noise.
As we may recall, a journalist at the time of the creation
of CNN offered the thought: 'Slow news, no news?'
In fact the limit-speed of the waves which convey mes-
sages and images is the information itself, irrespective of its
content, to the point where Marshall McLuhan's famous
formula has to be corrected: 'it is not the medium which is
the message, but merely the velocity of the medium'. An
ultimate and absolutely final velocity, which has just tele-
scoped the 'time barrier', while tomorrow the photonic
computer will calculate in perfect synchronism with the
speed of light, which today promotes instantaneous
telecommunications.
The 'information war' will soon be based, then, on
global interactivity, just as the war of atomic energy was
based on local radioactivity - and this will be so to the point
that it will be entirely impossible to distinguish a deliberate
action from an involuntary reaction or an 'accident'; or to
distinguish an attack from a mere technical breakdown, as
was already the case on 19 May 1998 (synchronizing almost
perfecdy with the Birmingham summit) when the Galaxy
IV telecommunications satellite suddenly interrupted the
messages of some 40 million American pager devotees after
the device's on-board computer had slighdy shifted the
satellite's position. An unforeseen accident or afull-scale test for
infowar?
142 PAUL VIRILIO
It is impossible to be certain, but the affair immediately
triggered a debate on the vulnerability of the USA to break-
downs in a technology essential to the life of the country.
8
As one might imagine, the Internet, the direct descen-
dant of Arpanet, helped to keep certain American public
services up and running, such as the NPR radio channel
which resorted to the Net to re-establish the link with
some of its 600 local stations.
We should not forget that the cybernetic system of the
Web was set in place more than twenty years ago to
counter the electromagnetic effects of an atomic explosion
at altitude and thus to forestall a generalized accident affect-
ing strategic telecommunications.
If war has always been the invention of new types of
destruction, the promotion of a series of deliberately pro-
voked accidents (the 'war machine' is only ever the inversion
of the productive machine), with the infowar which is cur-
rently in preparation the very notion of 'accident' is taken to
extremes, with the extraordinary possibility of a generalized
accident which, like a cluster bomb, would embrace a very
great range of accidents of all kinds.
Not a local accident, as in the past, but a global one,
capable of halting the life of a continent, if not indeed of
several at once, as with the threat to the operation of our
computers on the eve of the year 2000.
In the field of information warfare, everything is, then,
hypothetical; and just as information and disinformation
have become indistinguishable from each other, so have
8 'Un satellite qui devie et c'est l'Amerique qui deraille',
Liberation, 22 May 1998.
r
THE INFORMATION BOMB 143
attacks and mere accidents . . . And yet the message here is
not scrambled, as was still the case with the counter-mea-
sures in electronic warfare; it has become cybernetic.
That is to say, the 'information' is not so much the explicit
content as the rapidity of its feedback.
Interactivity, imme.diacy, ubiquity - this is the true mes-
sage of transmission and reception in real time.
Digital messages and images matter less than their
instantaneous delivery; the 'shock effect' always wins out
over the consideration of the informational content. Hence
the indistinguishable and therefore unpredictable character
of the offensive act and the technical breakdown.
The indeterminacy principle then spreads from the
quantum world to that of a computerized information
strategy which is independent - or almost independent - of
the conditions of the geophysical milieu where its effects
are nonetheless felt.
Thanks to the patient establishment of an interactivity
extended to the whole of our planet, 'information warfare'
is preparing the first world war of time or, more precisely,
the first war of world time, of that 'real time' of exchanges
between the interconnected networks.
We can easily see, then, that the current globalization of
the market also has three dimensions to it: geophysical,
techno-saentific and ideological. Hence the inevitable con-
nection to be made between the United States's resolve to
aim for global free trade by the period 2010-20
9
and the
preparations for an information war.
9 Martine Laronche, 'QueUes limites au libre-echange?', I.e
Monde, 26 May 1998.
144 PAUL VIRILIO
It is, in fact, impossible clearly to distinguish economic
war from information war, since each involves the same
hegemonic ambition of making commercial and military
exchanges interactive.
10
Hence the repeated efforts of the World Trade
Organization (WTO) to deregulate the various different
national sovereignties with the MAl, the Multilateral
Agreement on Investment, or, alternatively, with
European Commissioner Leon Brittan's New Transadantic
Market.
One would in the end understand nothing of the sys-
tematic deregulation of the market economy if one did not
connect it with the systemic deregulation of strategic infor-
mation.
To render all exchanges cybernetic, whether they be
peaceful or belligerent, is the discreet aim of the contem-
porary innovations of the end of this millennium. But here
the very last 'fortress' is no longer the Europe of the EEC
so much as the living human being - that isolated 'human
planet', which has at all costs to be invaded or captured
through the industrialization of living matter.
Let us sum up: yesterday's was a totalitarian war, in which
the dominant elements were quantity, mass and the power
of the atomic bomb. Tomorrow's war will be globalitarian,
in which, by virtue of the information bomb, the qualita-
tive will be of greater importance than geophysical scale or
population size.
10 On the control of flows of commercial imagery by the
Pentagon, see the development of the National Imagery and
Mapping Agency (NIMA).
THE INFORMATION BOMB 145
Not 'clean war' with zero deaths, but 'pure war' with zero
births for certain species which have disappeared from the
bio-diversity of living matter.
11
The warfare of tomor-
row - and here it will be comparable with the 'desk
murders' of yesteryear - will not be so much an affair of
desks as of laboratories - of laboratories with their doors
flung wide to the radiant future of transgenic species, sup-
posedly better adapted to the pollution of a small planet
held in suspension in the ether of telecommunications.
11 Catherine Vincent, 'Les Suisses convies a un choix de societe
sur les biotechnologies', I.e Monde, 27 May 1998. For the first
time a sovereign people was on 7 June 1998 to vote on the
initiative 'for genetic protection' aimed at reinforcing regula-
tion with regard to transgenic manipulation.
.,.
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THE INFORMATION BOMB

THE INFORMATION BOMB

Paul Virilio
Translated by Chris Turner

VERSO

London • New York

Noone can say what will be 'real' for people when the wars which are now beginning come to an end. Werner Heisenberg

Originally published as La Bombe informatique by Editions Galilee, Paris 1998 © Editions Galilee 1998 Translation first published by Verso 2000 © Chris Turner 2000 This edition published by Verso 2005 All rights reserved The moral rights of the author and translator have been asserted 3579108642

Verso UK: 6 Meard Street, London WIF OEG USA: 180 Varick Street, New York NY 10014-4606 www.versobooks.com
Verso is the imprint of New Left Books ISBN 1-84467-059-7

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Printed and Bound in the United Kingdom by Bookmarque

.Some of these pieces appeared between 1996 and 1998 in three newspapers: the Frankfurter Rundschau. the Tagesanzeiger of Ziirich. and Der Standard of Vienna.

. Greenland. to the inter-library loan department of Birmingham City Library and. more unusually.TRANSLATOR'S ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to thank Glynis Powell and MarieDominique Maison for their assistance in the preparation of this translation. to the Atuagkat Bookstore in Nuuk. as ever. Thanks are also due.

to the detriment of any effort to discover a coherent truth useful to humanity. has developed solely with a view to the pursuit of limitperformances. except for a few ecological and religious leaders. Modern science. the truth of contemporary science is not so much the extent of progress achieved as the scale of technical catastrophes occasioned. 1 1 Pope John Paul II was criticizing the militarization of science and its culture of death as early as the late 1980s. without anyone taking umbrage at this.CHAPTER 1 The civilianization or militarization of science? If truth is what is verifiable. .the product of the fatal confusion between the operational instrument and exploratory research . Science. having progressively become technoscience .has slipped its philosophical moorings and lost its way. after having been carried along for almost half a century in the arms race of the East-West deterrence era.

after having largely contributed to speeding up the various means for the representation of the world. 'Science without conscience is mere ruination of the soul' (Rabelais). of the acceleration of history. of boosting knowledge. in the aesthetics of scientific disappearance. is today bogged down in a technological adventurism that denatures it. the science of the appearance of a relative truth. After having been drawn. the anabolic steroids and such like. resolutory truth of scientific thought . A science of verisimilitude.those in which one deliberately risks one's life on the pretext of achieving a record performance. into the planetary death race of the 'balance of terror'. we are told. then. which was once a rigorous field thriving on intellectual adventure. destroy the meaning of the athletes' effort by an abuse of the pharmacopoeia. of the plausible. . Science. digital procedures.contemporary science is losing itself in the very excessiveness of its alleged progress. as mass techno-culture. 'Extreme sports' . 'Science of the excess'. As a panic phenomenon . Thus. As the tragic phenomenon of a knowledge which has suddenly become cybernetic. a contrario. Like an Olympic sport in which the performance drugs.the science which runs the incalculable risk of the disappearance of all science. Only a few centuries after having been. its civic fall from grace . 'post-modern' science is now engaging in a new type of competition that is equally insane: a race to achieve limitpeiformances in the fields of robotics or genetic engineering. with optics. in the eclipsing of the real. is now drifting towards its decline. Science.a limit-science or the limit of science? As everyone knows. and a techno-science without a consciousness of its impending end is. electro-optics and even the recent establishment of the space of virtual reality. we cannot but notice today the decline of that analogue mental process. Much as a strategic offensive can wear itself out by the scale of its tactical conquests. which are fused here without anyone apparently becoming alerted to the situation. in favour of instrumental. with Copernicus and Galileo.a fact concealed by the success of its devices and tools . extreme science is moving away from patient research into reality to become part of a phenomenon of generalized virtualization. . but more to immediate 'effectiveness'.and that to the detriment of all verisimilitude. which are capable.two fundamentally distinct aspects of knowledge.2 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 3 Indeed. merely a sport. against its own better nature. which is not so attached to 'truth' as once it was. as in the past. 'Extreme science' . techno-science is once again becoming a science of the disappearance of that same truth with the coming of a knowledge which is not so much encyclopaedic as cybernetic. still attached to . of extremes . however unwittingly. so techno-science is gradually wrecking the scholarly resources of all knowledge. Operational reality of the technical instrument. the agent not. contemporary sciences are engaging. which in its turn draws the various scientific disciplines on to the path of a 'post-scientific extremism' that exiles them from all reason. this techno-science becomes. a knowledge which denies all objective reality. that which is excessive is insignificant. if the 'experience of thought' does in fact lie at the origin of the experimental sciences. but of the dizzying whirl of the acceleration of reality . .

however. in which the doctor's participation is confined to developing a buck-passing machine. he clicked on 'yes' a second time. The choice before him at that point was: 'If you click on "yes". has managed to take advantage not just of the ambiguity of the apdy named 'Terminal Act'. On Thursday 26 September 1996. but of the nihilism of the coming cybernetic era. the only scientific horizon is authenticity. that what took place .) Linked to a computer managing his IV system. when what is really going on is litde more than an exercise in the conditioning of public opinion by an extremist science. we may usefully criticize the carefully sustained confusion between the sporting hero and the sdentist. Like Kasparov. for example. Philip Nitschke. we know what media abuses surround certain 'discoveries'. That science is now concerned less with truth than with the effect created by the announcement of a new discovery . the Bob Dent-Philip Nitschke affair. of a science which is here akin to therapeutic extinction. the experimental rigour of researchers. as used to be the case. playing a game against a computer specially designed to defeat him. thirty seconds to change your mind . together with the scientist's responsibility. a cancer patient in his sixties. as laid down by law. In fact.there arises the question of the limits of science. innocent of the crime of active euthanasia. and no more responsible than a dealer in firearms or knives. Let us not forget. between the adventurer who pushes himself violendy to his physical limits and the white-coated adventurer who pushes himself to the ethical limits. Let us examine. was the first person to make use of an Australian law which had been in force since 1 July of the same year: the so-called Terminal Act. 2 2 The Northern Territory'S Rights of the Terminally III Act remained in force until 27 March 1997. but that of the human race. when it was overturned by the Australian federal government. Mter a period of nine days. Is this the science of programmed decease or computer-aided suidde? There is much to be said about this 'decisional death'.though not. Philip Nitschke has just pioneered the creation of a new 'fatal' couple. a genuine discovery serving the common good. (Trans.' From these facts taken as a whole . nine days to die voluntarily.nine months to be born without any choice in the matter. In illustration of these disenchanted remarks. We know the promotional character of the premature announcement of the results of a particular experiment. the world chess champion. Philip Nitschke. the adventurer who experiences the elation of risking not just his own death. in which remote electronic action wipes away the patient's guilt. the cause of active euthanasia advancing behind the mask of a cybernetic procedure for inflicting sudden death. committed today to the research and development of a heightened virtual reality? This is the alternative we are offered. Bob Dent. Unfortunately.4 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 5 the discovery of a relative truth? Or a sdence oj implausibility. a lethal injection will be administered within thirty seconds and you will die. A clinical example of the new virtualization of action. Dent said 'yes' a first time to the machine developed by his doctor.

as it happens. . CHAPTER 2 Totality or all-inclusiveness? We can scarcely avoid the question today of what is meant by the endlessly repeated word globalization.impatient. Hamish Hamilton. with the system of 'Mutually Assured Destruction' (MAD) between East and West.of a genuine 'doomsday machine' capable of deciding the passive euthanasia of humanity by automatically triggering the nuclear apocalypse. The End of History and the Last Man. After the 'end of history'. Is this a term intended to take over from the word internationalism. London. and the development . Let us not forget that 'excellence is a completion' (Aristotle).6 PAUL VIRILIO between the doctor and his 'patient' .had already been in play in the age of the balance of programmed terror. or. 1992.interrupted by the implosion of the Soviet Union . is it a reference to single-market capitalism? Either answer is wide of the mark. as is often claimed. and perfect accomplishment a definitive conclusion. 1 Francis Fukuyama. l what is being revealed here are the beginnings of the 'end of the space' of a small planet held in suspension in the electronic ether of our modern means of telecommunication. prematurely announced a few years ago by Francis Fukuyama. to put an end to his life . associated too closely with communism.

We are not seeing an 'end of history'. or. from one edge to the other of present reality. After the extreme political importance assumed by the geophysics of the globe over the history of societies separated not so much by their national frontiers as by communications distances and timelags. the endless feedback. the telescoping of industrial or post-industrial activities. This is a gap which now stretches to the other side of the world. but of reality itself. But this is a meta-geophysical reality which strictly regulates the tele-continents of a virtual reality that monopolizes the greater part of the economic activity of the nations and. since the . but what of geophysics and metageophysics? There is still doubt over the meaning of the latter term. we shall understand nothing of the sudden 'globalization of history' if we do not go back to physics and the reality of the moment. the old time intervals produced an auspicious distancing between the various societies. when the urgent need is in fact for a new geostrategic approach to discover the scale of the phenomenon that is upon us? And we need to do this to come back to the Earthnot in the sense of the old earth which sustains and nourishes us.8 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 9 The time of the finite world is coming to an end and. more precisely. To claim. a time whose instantaneity definitively cancels the reality of distances . as is now the case. conversely. has just lost its concrete foundations). to its dimensions and to the coming loss of those dimensions in the acceleration not now of history (which. the importance of which had been shown by the Cold War in the age of (East/West) bloc politics. while the factual reality clearly shows that the continents have lost their geographical foundations and been supplanted by the tele-continents of a global communication system which has become quasi-instantaneous. destroys cultures which are precisely situated in the space of the physics of the globe. This point can be illustrated by a particularly significant anecdote: in the last few years. that globalism illustrates the victory of free enterprise over totalitarian collectivism is to understand nothing of the current loss of time intervals. How are we to conceive the change wrought by computerization if we remain tied to an ideological approach. but of the unique celestial body we occupy.an accident of which the stock market crash might be a symptom. but we are seeing an end of geography. the telepresence of the era of the globalization of exchanges could only be established across the widest possible gap. 'Physics' and 'metaphysics' are two terms which have been current in philosophy and understood in that discipline since Aristotle. with the loss oflocal time. until the transport revolution of the nineteenth century. we have in recent times seen the transpolitical importance of this kind of meta-geophysics which the cybernetic interactivity of the contemporary world represents for us at the end of the twentieth century. Whereas.the reality of those geographical intervals which only yesterday still organized the politics of nations and their alliances. with the new-found importance of this world time. the ceaseless feedback of human activities is generating the invisible threat of an accident befalling this generalized interactivity . To return to the world. in the age of the current transmission revolution. Since all presence is presence only at a distance. unless we are astronomers or geophysicists.

the metropolis provides a focus for the vitality of the nations of the globe. together with the highspeed air and rail links. but all that is in situ. the periphery. And. Today. the global is the interior of a finite world whose very finitude poses many logistical problems. A global de-localization. . which affects the very nature not merely of 'national'. the transformation which extraverts localness . For American military leaders. but deports their living space. the city is foregrounded once more. There lies the great globalitarian transformation. this historic phrase spoken by the American president ushers in the meta-political dimension of a power which has become global and permits us to believe that domestic policy will now be handled as external policy was in the past. which is situated in a precise place and which gave its name to the politics of nations. all that is precisely localized. But this local city is now only a district. The exterior is not simply the skin. And the local is the exterior.all localness and which does not now deport persons. is giving way to the virtual dty. throwing into question not so much the nation-state. wherever it may be. the place where they subsist economically. for which the acceleration of transport and transmissions made the government of dispersed populations easier. which have all the telecommunications infrastructure. there is speed and its concentration. or the power of the national state. We had no doubt forgotten that alongside wealth and its accumulation. the surface of the Earth. The metropolitical phenomenon of a catastrophic human hyper-concentration that is gradually coming to suppress the urgent need for a genuine geopolitics of populations which were previously spread harmoniously over the whole of their territories. The virtual hypercentre. declared President Clinton. As one of humanity's major historic forms. the pips are no longer inside the apples. this phenomenon is further accentuating the decline of medium-sized towns. with the desertification of rural space.admittedly with the exception of the topological reversal effected previously by the Pentagon and the State Department. 'there is no longer any difference between domestic and foreign policy! No longer any distinction between the outside and the inside . but of 'social' identity. but the city. that de-territorialized meta-city which is hence to become the site of that metropolitics. For the US general staff. nor the segments in the middle of the orange: the skin has been turned inside out. if not indeed the 'outer suburbs' of the world. the Pentagon has taken the view that geostrategy is turning the globe inside out like a glove. the totalitarian or rather globalitarian character of which will be plain for all to see. The real dty. the geopolitics of nations. one borough among others of the invisible world meta-city whose 'centre is everywhere and whose circumference nowhere' (pascal). then. 'For the first time.10 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 11 early 1990s. In fact. or entire populations. of which real cities are only ever the periphery. incapable of holding out for long against the attraction of the metropoles. without which the centralization of the powers that have succeeded each other throughout history would quite simply not have taken place: feudal and monarchic power. with the new policy of trade globalization. as in the past.

'The destiny of every image is enlargement. Two complementary aspects of globalization have. the current general spread of tele-surveillance.. A new vision of a world that is constandy 'tele-present' twenty-four hours a day. one last anecdote: since the sudden proliferation of mobile phones. those squads are now entirely defeated by the random and essentially de-localized meetings between dealers and users who all have mobile phones and can meet wherever they decide . it will do so with a domestic tele-surveillance that will exceed the stricdy military dimensions of this phenomenon. This sudden focusing . which has taken responsibility for this fate of images. anywhere. on the other. With this false day. techno-science. in the past.' wrote Ernst Junger of that illumination which lights up the reality of the world. drug dealing in its various forms was precisely situated in a number of districts that were easily monitored by the narcotics squads. to be taken into account today: on the one hand. It is science. transforms the old 'tele-vision' into a planetary grand-scale optics. produced by the illumination of telecommunications. an emergency lighting system which ushers in a new time: world time. an artificial sun rises. which totally escapes the diurnal-nocturnal alternation that previously structured history. The more that time intervals are abolished.' declared Gaston Bachelard. which is a product of the unremarked pollution by . which has now declined in importance. very soon). The least nook and cranny are dragged out of the shade by a stark light.a security-orientated phenomenon of the media monitoring of the life of nations .literally. thanks to the artifice of this 'transhorizon optics' which puts what was previously out of sight on display. in the future (at all events.heralds the dawn of a particular form of day. A single technical phenomenon which both facilitates metropolitan concentration and the dispersal of major risks .. In the past. The coming of the 'live'. hence the relendess advance of the Internet.12 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 13 To illustrate the recent consequences of domestic telecommunications for municipal politics. the political frontiers were themselves to shift from the real space of geopolitics to the 'real time' of the chronopolitics of the transmission of images and sounds. With visual (audiovisual) continuity progressively taking over from the territorial contiguity of nations. of 'direct transmission'. the Los Angeles police have found themselves presented with a difficulty of a new kind. Whereas. a cybernetic control appropriate to domestic networks was to be developed . the recendy dvilianized military network. brought about by turning the limit-speed of waves to effect. the extreme reduction of distances which ensues from the temporal compression of transport and transmissions. in which the simultaneity of actions should soon gain precedence over their successive character. seven days a week.this needed to be borne in mind if. the more the image of space dilates: 'You would think that an explosion had occurred all over the planet. domestic television has given way to tele-surveillance. In the future. With CNN and its various offshoots. it did so with the telescope and the microscope. The exhaustion of the political importance of extension. then.

the development of globalitarianism. alternatively.' An amplification which attempts to compensate for the contraction of distances on the Earth. on the other. a contraction brought about by the temporal compression of instantaneous telecommunications. economic. with optical density. etc. television can no longer be what it has been for half a century: a place of entertainment or of the promotion of culture. to split the reality of the world in two. political . first and foremost. The much-vaunted 'virtual reality' is not so much a navigation through the cyberspace of the networks. bass from treble. the recent development of live-cams on the Internet. a world without dead angles. but. All this contributing.. In a world in which obligatory tele-presence is submerging the immediate presence of individuals (in work. demands the invention of a substitute grand-scale optics. would be ineffective. it is essential today to effect a split in primary reality by developing a stereo-reality. give birth to the world time of exchanges.). Not until this new 'reality effect' becomes generally accepted as commonplace will it be possible really to speak of globalization. to make it easier to perceive audiovisual relief. It is. This helps us better to understand the sudden multiplication of those 'great lights'2 that are meteorological or military observation satellites.. And doing so as though the loss of the horizon-line of geographical perspective imperatively necessitated the establishment of a substitute horizon: the 'artificial horizon' of a screen or a monitor. Grand-Scale Transhorizon Optics is. the site of all (strategic. capable of permanently displaying the new preponderance of the media perspective over the immediate perspective of space. replacing in a thoroughgoing way the passive (geometric) optics of the era of Galileo's spy-glass. To provide the coming globalization with relief.. made up on the one hand of the actual reality of immediate appearances and. To manage at last to 'bring to light' an over-exposed world. trade. as we have seen. first and foremost. of the virtual reality of media trans-appearances. to this virtual vision which is supplanting the vision of the real world around us. This is an active (wave) optics. The repeated sending into orbit of communications satellites. without 'areas of . With the relief of the 'tele-present' event then taking precedence over the three dimensions of the volume of objects or places here present . which is preparing to revive the totalitarianisms of the past. it is necessary not merely to connect up to the cybernetic networks. most important. Finally. it must.) virtualization. Without it. therefore. As with stereoscopy and stereophony. which distinguish left from right. the amplification of the optical density of the appearances of the real world. this generalized visualization is the defining aspect of what is generally known today as virtualization. to the inversion of the usual conceptions of inside and outside.. the spread of metropolitan video-surveillance or. 2 'Grands luminaires': a reference to Genesis 1:16: 'And God made two great lights.14 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 15 acceleration of the life-size nature of the terrestrial globe.

and even view an Antarctic station in its polar darkness . . far from being satisfied with the classic poster or with breaks between TV or radio programmes. before becoming in the twentieth an industry for stimulating desire.this is the objective of the technologies of synthetic vision. a number of towns forgotten by tourists vaunt the merits of their regions there. but a window which would not so much allow you to receive data as to view the horizon of globalization. Happening is no longer a coming to pass. the camera enables you to discover in real time what is going on at the other end of the planet at that very moment. they offer up their private lives for everyone to watch. To this end it will require the unfurling of an advertising space which stretches to the horizon of visibility of the planet. Let us now take an example whose significance is widely misrecognized: that of 'live-cams'. on the hidden side of the planet. In spite of its poor optical quality. Thus. To come back again to the Internet. is set in the twenty-first century to become pure communication. with the telescope.16 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 17 shadow' (like the micro-video which replaces both car reversing lights and rear-view mirrors) . which is not far offnow. by way of the offices and apartments of a few exhibitionists. the space of its accelerated virtualization . Global advertising. it was simply a matter of observing something unexpected looming up over the horizon. . The collectivist introspection of these people. Some Internet enthusiasts are even happy to live their lives 'on screen Interned in the closed circuits of the Web. which in the nineteenth century was simply the publicizing of a product. speed of the single world advertising market. 'live transmission' has become a promotional tool directing anyone and everyone's gaze to some privileged vantage points. The aim is to make the computer screen the ultimate window. . Here the computer is no longer simply a device for consulting information sources. is set to expand at the J. while proponents ofland art are preparing to equip their works with multiple Web cameras. You can also travel vicariously: you can tour America. in the past. operating within the space of an entirely virtualized geographical reality. now requires the imposition of its 'environment' on a mass of TV viewers who have in the interim become tele-actors and tele-consumers. who exemplify a universal voyeurism. Electronic optics is becoming the 'search engine' of a now globalized fore-sight. for foreseeing (in a manner not unlike present weather-forecasting) the world that lies just around the corner. Alpine hotels show off their fine vistas on the screen. the aim of multimedia is to turn our old television into a kind of domestic telescope for seeing. those video imaging devices which have been set up all over the place and which are only accessible through the Internet. Since a picture is worth a thousand words. . If. but an automatic vision machine. it is now a question of seeing what is happening at the other end of the world. Though apparently aimless and insignificant. the phenomenon is nonetheless spreading to all parts of an increasing number of countries: from San Francisco Bay to jerusalem's Wailing Wall. without the aid of the 'artificial horizon' of . it is merely a passing away. visit Hong Kong. Advertising.

with the USA standing at the head of a whole world of democracies. there is no possible way of negotiating the electronic ether of globalization. we may even ask. no longer extends as far as the eye can see. then? An Americanization of the world or the disorders of a pseudo-third-worldism extending to assume planetary proportions? And what is an American century anyway? And what. . is America? 1 White House. heading. that 'black box' which increasingly poorly conceals the great culminating moment of history.18 PAUL VIRILIO multi-media. that phantom limb. of the single eye of the cyclops who governs the cave. broken-down democracy. Office of the Press Secretary. The sudden multiplication of 'points of view' merely heralds the latest globalization: the globalization of the gaze. press release 20 January 1997. for a major political catastrophe. He further stated that 'we will redeem the promise of America in the twenty-first century'.05 pm EST. What is it to be. in the same address.12. CHAPTER 3 On 20 January 1997. a fractured. it presents all aspects of itself for inspection in the strange litde window. a history fallen victim to the syndrome of total accomplishment. if they were not careful. The Earth. 1 Yet. the president also spoke of a run-down American model. Bill Clinton reasserted in his inaugural address that in the last hundred years the 'promise of America exploded onto the world stage to make this the American Century'.

such as the Genoese Leon Battista Alberti. In 1894 the historian Frederick]. This perennial rebirth. 'America is Rembrandt and Walt Disney. which means seeing through. The Frontier in American History. more Italian than Dutch. one of the inventors of 'aid' or 'sixth-class climbing'. pp. in the strictest sense of the term 'per-spectiva'. Now. 1964. . a nation that would merely be a series of virtual trajectories. the person who 'takes his body to where his eyes have been'. Holt. The chapter in question was actually read at a meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago on 12 July 1893. when Bill Gates (the 'get wired' man) recently wanted to spend some of the pennies he'd been putting aside. in the end. It is merely a delusion. the 'ever-changing skyline' of the historic rush towards the American west is the line of the horizon. this fluidity of American life. .2 Before eating up space 'with a voracity unique in the history of human migrations'. the dimensions of the American state were unstable because they were more astronomical than political. America was discovered towards the end of the Quattrocento by the Florentine navigator Amerigo Vespucci and the Genoese Christopher Columbus. Ray D. the United States represents something 2 The expression was coined by Gaston Rebuffat.' Yet. Hispanic or even WASP. furnish the forces dominating American character. he bought not a Rembrandt. Bradbury was fond of replying. Everywhere and nowhere. . Rinehart and Winston. The frontier is the line of most rapid and effective Americanization.in America everything begins and ends with covetousness of the eyes. From the beginning. German. but the pioneer. an evanescent optical illusion . at a time when other Italians. . 2-4. were introducing the West to perspectival vision. New York. (Trans. its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society. . but the manuscript of Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Leicester. It is because the Earth is round that the European flotilla discovered the New World on the course which led west to Japan and China. 3 Frederick Jackson Turner.20 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 21 To this latter question. The true hero of the American utopia is neither the cowboy nor the soldier. here and elsewhere. Turner wrote: American social development has been continually beginning over again on the frontier. Because. the pioneer eats it up with his eyes . the pathfinder. this expansion westward with its new opportunities. 3 Even today. that it slips away and endlessly recedes as they approach it. heading off at great speed towards an unpopulated horizon.not so much an appearance as a transappearance. It is again because of the roundness of the planet that the 'ever-changing skyline' of the pioneers can never be reached. as everyone knows. we old European continentals find it difficult to imagine a state at peace which would deny any constant strategic value to its geographical localization. Perhaps because the United States is. the vanishing point of the Italian Renaissance.) . . Russian. The wilderness masters the colonist. neither inside nor outside.

On the eve of this 'American century' of which Bill Clinton spoke in his inaugural address. As President William McKinley declared at the beginning of his term of office. which was the engine of its pseudo-democracy. 'One must first speak to the eyes. one engine for another. someone asked Francis Ford Coppola why bad American cinema continued. hungry to carry on moving so as to carry on being American. It would not be going back into the past. 311. There would be no resisting the obvious solution: exchanging one lie for another. the American people did not want 'to go back to the past'.substitute horizons. McKinley also declared that if America elected him. One can imagine the mileage the America of perspectiva . the land of the one-way ticket the fateful amalgam of endless racing and the ideas of freedom.' retorted the ItalianAmerican director. capable of carrying your gaze to other places.'4 The futurist mise-en-perspective of the history of the United States seemed to be completed. even if you yourself did not move. but also flouted the distances and dimensions of real space. even ~t the end of the nineteenth century. it's America. frequendy turned around to familiarize himself with the lie of the land by which he might return. however. still hungry . and with its going has closed the first period of American history. the frontier has gone. on the horizon of the Pacific.for which 'to halt is to die' .22 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 23 which had until then no name. an offihore nation. And why not? Since there was no longer a horizon towards which to rush. hungry to deploy its compulsive desire for movement. forced to acknowledge: 'Four centuries from the discovery of America . that the cinematograph was a substitute for human vision which not only flouted time (thanks to the illusion known as persistence of vision). America bears no real relation to the old diaspora or migration of the nomad of former times. . Turner was. to be the stuff of dreams the world over. it did so because it was happy to become an industrial nation. progress and modernity. who. one illusion for another. . 4 I'-W" p. at the very point when the 'ever-changing skyline'. the Lumiere brothers had already shown. the United States was. 'It isn't the films which are the stuff of dreams. while advancing rapidly across the treeless plain. . It is the country of no going back. The cinema was.not so much for territories as for trajectories. which has become a kind of huge Hollywood. The American people would be satisfied. in spite of everything.' said Bonaparte. in fact. It would carry on moving towards a 'beyond'. seemed halted at the outer limit of the continent. In conclusion to his famous analysis. The other day. a 'beyond' of the ancient colony. In sending their reporters to the four corners of the Earth. they would invent fake ones . There are films you are tempted to walk into because you believe they are three-dimensional. then. had just come to a juddering halt. a new energy.would be able to draw from this technique of fake movement.

the sick and the infected were pushed back. the post-industrial era. 'by other means'. It was ringed by the 'blockade'. by upping its false frontier fjfects to the point of overdose. burlesques.then. 5 The US films Speed (1994) and Speed 2 (1997) were directed by Jan de Bont. deceived by this optical illusion. road movies. however. right up to the sinister 1950s. when he speaks of that 'frontier effect' which 'is productive of individualism'. 'What a good joke!' he wrote. to get into the fortress-studios of American industrial cinema. etc. in 1903.and their brutal deportation. holly brings good luck. which Mrs Wilcox immediately named Hollywood because. such as the Speed series.24 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 25 The 'second part of American history' begins not only in the east of the continent. a trompe-l'oeil frontier. and when he argues that 'complex society is precipitated by the wilderness into a kind of primitive organization based on the family [on survivor groups?]. its endless race. people of colour. in fact. the catastrophe of the de-realization of the world. industrial cinema. . Things came to such a pass. What began with the grand-scale Hollywood of the 1920s was. an air of mystification. 'taking the bread from the mouths of jobless Americans' . with three divisions of police officers patrolling the frontiers (which had now become internal frontiers) of Oregon. civil and religious leagues. in this democracy .who but the sovereign people?' If we believe Turner's analysis. When.. the czar of censorship. in 1936. very real migrants. through the years of William Randolph Hearst's all-powerful press influence and pressure from the upper echelons of the police forces. in the mechanical factories of Detroit where production-line working came into operation at the Ford plant around 1914. For the leaders of the time the push west was now merely some vague 'cowboy movie'. tramps. as in the rest of the country. It was to be in this outlying suburb of Los Angeles that the American nation was to pursue. The tendency is antisocial' . And we should not forget also the mass raids on Mexicans who were. Indigents. With westerns. when. capable of restoring the highest velocity to an 'authentic Americanization'. not without difficulty. health criteria here becoming mingled with social and racial prejudices. Hollywood nonetheless lived under close political and ideological surveillance. that in the early 1930s California had to cut itself off from the rest of the Union to avoid being submerged by the tide of humanity. a certain Mr Wilcox registered a development of 700 inhabitants in the state of California. trail movies. musicals and its most recent productions. or pitilessly interned in camps in the desert. 'But who are they trying to fool here. as she remarked. Though. indeed. in the twenties. influential army chiefS. 5 it created a cinema of acceleration. the dark years of McCarthyism. its journey of no return. at the time. he sensed there. but also in the west. Blaise Cendrars managed. Arizona and Montana. must inevitably generate social collapse and the generalized political debacle we find at this 'American century' -end. it was felt. From Will Hays. American cinema could not be nationalized. abandoned children. still continued to charge towards the Pacific in droves. lone women. as Soviet cinema was.

by.' says one of those west coast gurus. Among da Vinci's famous 'futuritions'. no head. but on this occasion it was also prepared to drag down a planet which had grown too small for it. 'we shall abandon part of the population to their fate when we enter the cyber age. 'People who don't like television don't like America!' claimed Berlusconi during a memorable election campaign in the Italian style. forty per cent had only a minimum of sanitary provision. Maybe the old Italian master was not far wrong. .' The question which now arises is whether we have the freedom to say 'no' to the 'promise' of a yet more 'American century' which lies before us. 'no' to the nihilistic discourse which the America of perspectiva and trani-appearance has been endlessly trotting out for 600 years .. cyber is an additional reality. . because he 'led his people out of the desert of poverty . cyber is universal. John Perry Barlow. 'Admittedly. the freedom high-tech machines give us is the freedom to be able to say "yes" to their potential. vice-chair of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. cyber must reflect the society of individuals.. Beneath water or waves perhaps . . and there were between 18 and 28 million unemployed. after the Wall Street crash in 1929. . etc.'6 Meanwhile.'. who was dubbed the 'New Moses'. but techno is our destiny. 'Cyber is a new continent. it has no authorities. in the form of the New Deal with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Bill Gates was quite happy to put his Codex on show at the Musee du Luxembourg in Paris. Clearly the United States was going through a period of 'growing pains'.those who do not favour blind adherence to the ravings of the metaphysicians of technoculture. Before leading them into a total war in January 1943 at Casablanca. we find a description of the end of the world.26 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 27 It was a grandiose age in which. In the past one might have said the same of those who did not like cinema and today one could say it of people who don't like the Internet or the future information superhighways . 6 From comments made at the Cannes Salon du Milia 1996-7. . among others. Government by technocrats was soon to follow. its disappearance beneath water. fifty per cent of the American population lived in near-poverty conditions.

hundreds of men and women are requesting exact copies of themselves or duplicates of one of their dear departed from the famous Dr Wilmut. trans. 'The cinema involves putting the eye into uniform. of the optical illusion. We might say that.and also oj the images of those bodies . London. Goronwy Rees. 2 Gustav Janouch. but of optics . misappropriate. subsequendy. security and intelligence needs have gradually drawn us into an intolerable situation in which industrial optics have run wildly out of control. 1 As the century of unbounded curiosity. . human cloning is becoming as simple an operation as having one's portrait taken by a photographer in the nineteenth century. This has produced the new opto-electronic arsenal. buying a ticket to see the Lumiere brothers' baby guzzling its food up on a screen.of the military and the police. Conversations with Kafka. like any totalitarian regime. 160. since it will be possible before the end of the twentieth century to produce them? Even now. which ranges from remote medical detection devices.and. of this dictatorship exerted for more than half a century by optical hardware which has become omniscient and omnipresent and which. in terms of current laws. Or. with the promised emergence of the cyber-circus still to come. covetous looking and the de-regulation of the gaze. explore and manipulate without our knowing it. indeed. p. as is often claimed.THE INFORMATION BOMB 29 CHAPTER 4 After Dolly. we are in fact the owners of our bodies .' claimed Kafka. since 1895. during the long period of Cold War and nuclear deterrence.it weighed barely twelve pounds and was patented on 13 February 1895 . particularly to film his friends and relations. will there soon be human clones? And why not. Since pre-1914 days. His stated ambition was to reproduce life. then. 1968. Andre Deutsch. in particular. 2 What are we to say.steal. to global remote surveillance (from the street-corner camera to the whole panoply of orbital satellites). for a section of today's public. financial. engaged Louis Lumiere had used a portable camera .our prolific audiovisual environment has long since induced us to cease having any concern for those multiple appearances of ourselves which unknown general staffi . industrial and advertising establishments . political. the imperatives of propaganda (of advertising) and. but also the medical. probing our 'hearts and loins' in real time.as an amateur photographer. the twentieth has not been the century of the 'image'. encourages us to forget we are individuated beings? If. which are supposed to protect individual liberties. the predestined sheep.

it was doubtless because our history was rather disreputable. if not informed.30 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 31 as they are in secretly fighting over our optical clones. 1991. Your conditioned notion of a unique and immutable body will give way to a far more liberated notion of" body" as something quite disposable.'3 Mter the disclosure in March 1996 of the 'mad cow' affair. carrying each other forward. most significantly. the huge marketing operation launched by the 'food power' multinationals is likely. 'there is no need to move about in a body like the one you possess in physical reality... she has.. then. then. She is a clone in the full sense of the term. * 3 Howard Rheingold. We are currently creating a kind of experimental judidal system on an international scale which has been given the task of reassuring us. or rather. after the end of East-West nuclear deterrence and the resounding failure of the social experimentation of the early part of the twentieth century. It is this which should worry us. . roleplaying games. into unconscious actors in their virtual worlds. after a fashion. as the saying goes. in the short term. the divergent and scattered elements of a future cyberspace in which..all crime . followed closely by transgenic foodstuffs and animal cloning. Before having a future. as Antonin Artaud put it. in which scientific futurology and crime . The public will be ready finally to accept that. From now on. in the years of global crisis which apparently lie before us. 191. socio-fiction. . the global economic warfare which has descended on our planet may in turn become experimental and. bio-experimental. it is the same with science as it is with war: there is no longer any really innocent science. and of restoring a semblance of conscience to an applied science which has begun to carry on like an economic 'bad boy' . but there are no innocent armies'. An old Japanese friend recently confided to me: 'I can't forgive the Americans for the fact that Hiroshima wasn't an act of war. Rheingold is citing a paper by Walser and Gullichsen. in public relations terms the ravages and excesses of an experimental sdence which has itself fallen into rather ill repute. Seeker and Warburg. . Science-fiction. 'There are perhaps just wars. creatures condemned to die alive.' The fear today must be that. naturally. parallel strategies. p.. but an experiment.. to find an audience which. an innovation. a slip or cutting (klon) in the strict sense. and in a physical world entirely doomed to a joyful Lust am Untergang. the evolution of the human species may depend more and more blindly on the expeditious procedures of animal experimentation. .have been closely associated and have progressed together. or so the saying goes. Virtual Reality. to turn them. is already half-converted. If we have long claimed that there existed somewhere a 'tribunal of history'. this fraught past of our not so much industrial as military-industrial society. by managing. the dissection of living creatures. or even an event. political fiction . their nomadic games. our modern mortal remains.. London. Dolly is not. This had long seemed to be presaged in the practice of vivisection. 'a past'.

a hulk with its containers full oflegally prohibited human merchandise. the mad stampede generated by a general abandonment in which the level of exactions increases and inhibitions explode. those deportees of another age in this post-military-industrial world where triumphalism has grown rare? A physical world which now offers the spectacle of a routed army . to be replaced by the specialists of the new scientific warfare.? After the disappearance of the old national armies. . we should not doubt that a case could soon be made for human cloning. liberal hedonism being nothing more than an 'every man for himself'. a few rare 'moral' personalities and. With pseudo-individualism. this would indeed seem a logical step. in Clausewitzian fashion.a great headlong flight. with its general stafiS of decision-makers vanishing into thin air and yet continuing to issue irresponsible orders and directives no one follows. . and that it could be made legal in the eyes of credulous or profit-hungry populations. 'a resource to be mined like any other'. most recently. or even advocate the formation of a new sub-proletariat which could be exploited in the event of a great nuclear catastrophe (which is still possible) or genocide? Yet would such repair have what we still by common consent call an ethical value? Would it even bear any relation to article 1 of the old Hippocratic oath. 'humanity being what remains when you . shall we have to admit. destined. after the horrors of war. a disguised cruelty? At the very moment Unesco is granting the ruins of Hiroshima and Auschwitz (those two fields of experimentation) 'historic monument' status. But with a little more audacity. the errors and errings of a dubious peace? And can we really contemplate in the near future the industrial breeding and all-out commercialization of human clones. Why shouldn't it happen . for a living death behind the barbed-wire fences of some experimental farm in the depths of some prohibited area because at least there we wouldn't be able to see these fellows of ours or hear their cries? Or will these sophisticated procedures merely be transitory? Will they not soon seem too burdensome to their investors and will we not return to the old military and carceral methods in which the soldier (or the condemned man) is no longer treated as an individual. but becomes once again. could not these spokespeople for scientific futurology soon present it as a possible repair technique on an industrial scale. representatives of the big corporations. This tabula rasa is an ideal situation. and when ever more radical treatment is being inflicted on migrant populations.32 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 33 With the support of the work of these special tribunals of a new kind. the 'primum non nocere'? Or would it in the end be anything other than death killing death. like animals.in an age when the British have refound a vocation as slave-traders and are chartering a prison-ship. made up in disparate fashion from scientific and technical experts. a disposable product . a prime opportunity for a scientific futurology which declares itself resolutely schizophrenic and advocates the complete virtualization of living matter. Among these famous committees of' the great and the good' there are some who are already arguing the benefits of the bio-medical applications of human cloning.

to suppressing once and for all the pain ofliving since. even though he long ago died of old age. lastly. It's a bit like the baby who. human beings could still cherish the hope of surviving themselves while at the same time having ceased to exist. already applying to the human organism the standard switching of parts which applies in the mechanical world. With the new super-conservatism cif living matter outside the 'natural channels' that has insidiously developed within cultures and mentalities during this extraordinary period.the point at which the first glimmers of terrestrial life seemingly appeared . in the photographic print or the Lumiere brothers' film. 4 Mter the collapse of the hope of any spiritual survival. to the interchangeability of new transhuman beings and. and the absolute reversal of the accepted logic of the evolution of species. then.34 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 35 have taken from human beings all that can be touched and all that can be seen'. with the manifest refusal of our age to generate the succeeding ones. . to in vitro and in vivo bio-cultures. this half-century of nuclear deterrence in which we have effectively become temporarily reprieved hostages.. begun. has gone on guzzling his food just as hungrily since the beginning of the twentieth century. by a possible substitutability of cloned bodies. populations of living-dead.. 4 Remarks made in March 1997 by a French geneticist and Nobel laureate who sits on an ethics committee. the great regression of living matter has. to the multiplication of eschatological or pseudo-scientific and technological sects. To the feats of virtual transplants and nanomachines. From the virtual survival of cryogenics to the vogue for cocooning and the Near Death Experience movement of Dr Moody. with the most accomplished link in the chain (the human being?) re-situating itself on its own initiative not far from the very first cell .

Fontana. their record-breaking feats . They were a nightmare in which reality stopped.THE INFORMATION BOMB 37 CHAPTER 5 'The war years do not seem like real years . one feels it no longer takes a war to kill the reality of the world. at the same time. Industrial typography. Seveso. thanks among other things to live TV. Even as our famous 'Gutenberg galaxy' was claiming to put reading within everyone's grasp. Up till then we had in fact stubbornly refused to concern ourselves with the unparalleled scope of the more perverse harm and more personal troubles caused. An Autobiography. Chernobyl. literally for want of breath.. but merely displaces them . 1977. not by the spectacular failures of our technical innovations.the tremendous technological victories won in this critical period in the fields of communications and representation. but also its spatial relief (its emphases. by spreading the habit of solitary . we simply contented ourselves with ticking off the events. with enumerating the unfortunate victims of our scientific reverses. derailments. having reached a high degree of's#' stupor. p. the reader will note that.525. ... We might say the same of technical and industrial progress. Thus printing forced a degree of impoverishment upon language. destruction. If we go on drawing up the list of the sensory deprivations we owe to the technological and industrial wastage . . 1 Agatha Christie.. to our new nightmare and. then dying. our technical and industrial mistakes. It has been claimed that psychoanalysis does not resolve problems. the greenhouse effect. London. Thus. This was a popular poetics which was not long in withering away. was gradually to deprive the peoples of that use of speech and hearing which had previously been involved in the (public. Minamata. before lapsing into academicism and the unambiguous language of all propaganda. 1 Today. and where the de-realization of the physical world was concerned. acid rain . polyphonic) reading aloud made necessary by the relative scarcity of manuscripts.' wrote Agatha Christie not so very long ago. pollution. after a fashion. But we had seen nothing yet.reading. In those days of deterrence we eventually got used.. we were soon going to pass on to the next stage. Crashes.and hence silent . of all advertising. explosions. but by their very performances. etc. its prosody). which lost not only its sodal relief (primordial eloquence). it mass-produced populations of detif-mutes. the long death throes of the planet assumed the familiar guise of one series of scoops among others.

piled up any old how. with the rapid emergence of the 'Net junkies'. running.was the logical forerunner of instant transmission sickness. as Ray Bradbury observed. lastly. It was to become deafening with the 'Walkman' and blinding with television and 'that intensification of detail and colour. their mobility. sperm or blood.those distant offshoots of the silent reader . as a prelude to the brutal incursions that are to follow. are already going down with hyperactivity disorders due to a brain dysfunction which produces erratic activity. Without even suspecting it.' observed Kafka. but they are simply running on the spot and falling into the void. but that it had made foolishness noisier'. affective. charging through the age. each with their full complement of specific injuries. They alone will suffer the full range of communication disturbances acquired over the recent centuries of technology. used and shop-soiled symbols.known technically as 'kinetosis'. with access to the information superhighways set to become more commonplace. etc. sight. It does not simply ciffect individuals. their memories turned into junkshops . but of what these centuries of progress have made of us and if our own bodies. we can cite. the consenting victims of electricity. but through an unutterable technical contamination. the prisoners of hereditary defects transmitted now not through the genes. an increase in the number of armchair travellers . according to preference. Those disabled in war or injured in serious road or work accidents.38 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 39 of our perceptual capacities. with their noses stuck to the screen from infants' school onwards. 'Webaholics' and other forms of cyberpunk struck down with lAD (Internet Addiction Disorder). a paramnesia. to the dogmatism of a totalitarian techno-cult in which everyone is caught in the trap not of a society and its moral. speech or virility are all afflicted at the same time by a forgetting. all criticism of technology has just about disappeared and we have slid unconsciously from pure technology to techno-culture and.) detrital disorders which it has taken on with each innovation. And. By virtue of this loss of 'behavioural freedom'. Jean Rostand reckoned that radio 'had not perhaps made us more foolish. those of the photographic snapshot and those of the optical illusion of cinema .great dumps of images of all kinds and origins. sexual. serious attention deficits and uncontrollable impulsive acts. They think they are advancing. social or cultural laws and prohibitions. psycho-motor. accumulates and condenses in each of us the full range of (visual. a condition which makes us part-time members of the disabled community. social. Even in his day. While the youngest children. victims of terrorism and people who have lost arms.is yet to come. traveller-voyeurs . that is all. legs. In this field progress acts like a forensic scientist on us. 'The masses are rushing. that bombardment of images which have now replaced words'.these various items of representational equipment which have swelled the ranks of the partially sighted and of those whom Walter Benjamin dubbed the image illiterates. Motion sickness . they more or less consciously repress . we have become the heirs and descendants of some fearsome antecedents. On the one hand. violating each bodily orifice that is to be autopsied. it penetrates them. It heaps up. intellectual.

In weightless worlds.the phantasy. often recruited from American college campuses. in short. like the invalid. such infantilism. moving at supernatural speeds. in sleep or in half-sleep. nose spasms. Arnette. We should not doubt that it is the same with our technological autotomy with those reflex self-mutilations. drug abuse and also risk behaviours (excessive speed. by the phantasmatic pursuit of different worlds and modes in which the old 'animal body' would be out of place. How. new visions force themselves upon their minds. techno-branchiae.). those who can no longer see the light now devour it with eyes filled with wonder. our sensuality. etc. in which we would achieve total symbiosis between technology and the human.) But let us listen also to Dr Touzeau. . wandering tongues. cyber ears. by a kind of cosmic lack of proper 'measure'.' Those individuals described by a literature which is. those who can no longer walk find themselves back on their feet. the collective self-immolation of the members of the Heaven's Gate cybersect. riding motorcycles without crash-helmets. sexes without secretions and other organs without bodies. . . they said. 'merely an imposture attempting to evade the certainty of death. announced on the Internet several weeks before the fateful date of 25 March 1997. we are obsessed. on the other hand. mutism. Those who can no longer embrace hug each other for all they are worth. such as anorexia. 1998. Far from arousing compassion. we know that mere tapping on a keyboard can become a risk-behaviour. The backdrop to these violent confrontations with limits is the classic phantasy of being at last able to dominate one's destiny . 'A conglomerate of scanner eyes.40 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 41 the unbearable images of the accident which violently deprived them of their able-bodied state. of total accomplishment. have reached such a degree of credulity. (Trans. Jaquot. as though they permanently rejected their manhood. (Trans. their adulthood? 3 The author. says the Canadian Kroker. As we are gradually deprived of the use of our natural receptor organs. could technically sophisticated people. has been taken as a personal affront by the unquestioning multi-media enthusiasts. with C. Since the 'Bob Dent affair' of 26 September 1996. It is no accident that cybernetic eternity is one of the recurrent themes in a discourse in which the physical world dissolves and the cosmos finds itself planted squarely in the computer. as a compensation for the motor and sensory privations that now afflict them. individuals believe they can overcome their own impotence. 3 who is familiar with other extreme situations: By behaviour equivalent to suicide attempts.'2 2 Personal communication from Arthur Kroker to Paul Virilio. of Traitements de substitution pour les usagers de drogues.) . when the Australian became the first man to decide to schedule his computer-aided suidde. as led some of them to have themselves castrated. Paris. whose true causes and circumstances we have long tried to put out of our minds.

cross the space between the real and the figurative. an obscure gangster type who had become the king of the pornographic press in the Reagan years. launched . us. expressed an opinion in favour of removing these posters on grounds if not obstructing the public highway. why shouldn't Internauts take themselves for cosmonauts? Why would they not.' This was the Liberation headline which announced.. affective and psycho-motor disorders. it was difficult to escape the omnipresent image of a kind of crucified figure hanging from the G-string of a tiny woman. On 17 February 1997 in Paris it was not easy to avoid the posters for a Milos Forman film devoted to the exploits of Larry Flynt. with its intellectual. But let us recall the facts.. On 18 February the deputy public prosecutor for the Paris region. sexual. CHAPTER 6 'Larry Flynt is still in the street. The next day. judge Yves Breillat. the fundamentalists are screwed. An immature state which a culture that has become inorganic creates and releases within . those bodies they had long since got out of the habit of using. and the immaturity of individuals who remain arrested in childhood. taking his lead from an American ruling. the thirty-nine members of the Heaven's Gate cybersect left only their decomposed remains. the conclusion of the trial which had pitted the extreme-right French fundamentalist AGRIF organization against Columbia Tristar Film France. in that newspaper's own inimitable style.42 PAUL VIRILIO This was a question which already troubled Witold Gombrowicz: 'Immaturity is the most effective term to define our contemporaries . like overgrown fairy-tale children. Might not the acknowledged disturbance of the maturation process.. retreating perhaps from a decision which might set a precedent. be the logical outcome and final manifestation of technological defects which have become hereditary? When cosmonauts floating in their interstellar dustbins cry out to the camera that 'the dream is alive!'. reaching as far as the interface with a virtual paradise? Why would they not believe that the extra-terrestrial light of the HaleBopp comet is the light that lights up an emergency exit from the physical world? In their luxurious residence of Rancho Santa Fe.

we may note.).which would force every city-dweller on the planet. Since. one might in fact wonder what the public prosecutor could possibly mean by 'obstructing the public highway'. and the density and proliferation of advertising material outside large conurbations. one of the major difficulties encountered by the porn market is that it is not really accepted in the public sphere. unless one were.this banal affair of indirect advertising had at least the merit of revealing once again the shortcomings of a magistracy which is trying as best it can to cope with the progressive disappearance of its traditional reference points. but also for its infringement of essential freedoms. Like prostitution. By proceeding against the poster for Milos Forman's film not merely for its blasphemous content or its obscenity. by their own admission. to update his argument. Was it our prosecutor's ambition to see these restrictive measures extended to the cityscape? Might what is illicit in the countryside also become so in the town? Why not? .when we know that. to view something now no longer offered for their contemplation. in fact.the traffic in culture. against their will. A prosecutor pleading infringement of liberties. the option chosen by judge Breillat. as everyone knows. sex. American advertisers are now setting about what they term a new world ecology. The real issue in the Larry Flynt affair was this fusion/ confusion of pornography with that freedom of expression generally accorded to cultural activities. are among the last legal refuges of a certain morality and its prohibitions (on drugs. it has difficulty escaping 'the private world of indecency' and finding a proper legal footing in public spaces and on our highways and byways. it is regarded as dangerous for precisely these reasons and is duly regulated along fast roads and on the main highways. the Christ of porn. no blockage had occurred around the posters in question. Unless pornography achieves a conflation with another form of international traffic . This was. the public prosecutor was projecting us into a completely opposite scenario: was not the blustering Larry Flynt.direct and indirect . in which it will be possible within a few hours to inundate all the great cities of the planet with thousands of copies of a single poster . One frequently hears it proclaimed that 'Art cannot be . but also the lighting. at the time.44 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 45 into a 'scholarly iconographic analysis' and in the end persuaded the court not to follow the prosecutor's recommendation: the film posters were not to be withdrawn. the martyr of freedom of expression. which. which may be caused by not only the positioning. the defender of non-conformism.advertising campaign surrounding Flynt's exploits is concerned. The law of 1979 in France even accepts the notion of 'visual pollution'. another pressing question arises: can the world of the night be over-exposed and dragged into the light without ceasing to be itself? Can what was marginal yesterday become mainstream with impunity? As we see once again with the rather lame verdict arrived at on 19 February 1997. actually the symbolic instrument of an enterprise with totalitarian aims? Indeed. but imposed upon their gaze. where the . Since the posting of advertisements is designed to arrest the gaze and capture attention. etc. a judge dismissing the case in the name of specious aesthetic convictions . alcohol.

Flammarion. commerce and piracy. In losing any sacred character. and sex. 'What Surrealism means officially: an advertising enterprise carried on with sufficient savoir-faire and conformism to have as much success as other enterprises. in spite of the praiseworthy efforts of the organizers. Cea n'est pas une Magritte. and even opposing. . travel. CDs. with culture it might finally escape the last legal restrictions and would also profit from non-discrimination with regard to 'services' . . the national museums and art galleries were to achieve culturally. etc. ethnic massacres and other criminal acts (tomb-raiding. you can better discern the objectives of a porn market which is not without its by-products either... too. In 1993.. etc. nicht zu trennen' (Act 5.2 It was noted in 1996 in Paris that the major Cezanne exhibition did not achieve the expected success (600. Scene 2.000 visitors). at the time of the General Agreement on Tariffi and Trade (GATT) negotiations.1 For a long time now. the three in one. Anglo-Saxon free-market economics merely confirms this state of affairs when it advocates non-discrimination in trade and wishes to include culture in the 'service category' and as one of the many spin-off products offered to consumers by the multinationals (games.' Cited by Georges Roque. the visible trade in goods. as Magritte noted. Handel und Piraterie/Dreieinig sind sie. And when you see professionals like those in the Disney Corporation shedding the Puritanism appropriate to a disappearing family market and going in for hyper-violence on the ABC channel. The Musee d'Orsay having no doubt decided to revive its financial fortunes. 2 The formation of the sex-culture-advertising enterprise did not take place yesterday. 1983. What Benetton and other advertisers had attempted on commercial pretexts. films. With the invisible trade in services succeeding. 'Gay days' at Disneyland and Disneyworld. lines 1187-8). advertisers assert that they are no longer there simply to sell objects. . which were clearly more exciting than Cezanne's austere bathers. and becoming confused.). among other things. Thus the "surrealist woman" was an invention as stupid as the "pin-up girl" which is now replacing her. with. whereas what ought to be said is that it cannot be illegal.). it long since entered the baneful Goethean triangle of 'war.46 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 47 immoral'. dismantling of religious buildings. the 'art lover' has been transformed into a silent witness wandering through galleries and museums which with total impunity contain the illicit products of wartime plunder. By merging. Conversely. this type ofimmaterial operation already accounted for more than sixty per cent of the gross national product (GNP) of the industrialized countries and represented thirty-five per cent of international transactions. but to create new forms of behaviour and to serve as counterweights to industrialist pressure. inseparable' (Faust 11). that November one could not avoid 1 'Krieg. Paris. at the same time the public rushed to the Georges Pompidou Centre to see the little exhibition 'Masculin/Feminin' with its rows of genital organs and its pornographic graffiti.

sold both her artworks and her body: 'As long as the public hasn't made love. simulations of rectal penetration. architects and graphic artists went crazy over sex maliciously or crudely. a 'Museum of Eroticism' was opened in Pigalle. one after the other. Not wanting to be left behind.as certain British advertisers claim joined with the throng of art-lovers and they all headed off for the Musee d'Orsay to take a closer look between the legs of Courbet's sturdy maiden. designers. from Los Angeles to Hanover. with new stocks coming in all the time'. the Georges Pompidou Centre organized its 'Seven Deadly Sins' exhibition the following year. Bazart. the central aim of which was to convince the general public that our great artists.' complained a Parisian critic. Private collection. which 'gets back to the spirit of the boutique'. In this itinerant exhibition and sale. art becomes. the classical music world also joined in. indicating her prices. 'a consumer product like any others. while the Cartier Foundation offered 'Amours' . from Rodin to Delacroix and from Brecht to Bataille. This was not the case with Angela Marshall. 46 x 55cm. were sexually obsessed and had never feared moral opprobrium. where 'Some twenty photographers.48 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 49 its posters reproducing part of Gustave Courbet's painting entitled The Origin of the World. since the 110 works on display (a portrait of the 3 1866. Since the game typically consists in taking on. in a London gallery.significantly. we are told. which was far more pornographic than the one for the Milos Forman film. This slippage which was occurring from the culture market (and even hypermarket)4 to the pornography market became a cause for concern to the genuine professionals of the night. designed by the sex-culture-advertising movement. who saw a large number of their traditional outlets slipping away. allegedly to showcase young British artists. The crowd of those people who 'think of sex every seventy seconds' . In reality. (Trans. the bastions of a certain 'cultural respectability'. and the respectable Opera de Paris staged Rossini's Italian Girl in Algiers in a 'hardcore' version in which the 'director revelled in allusions (pairs of inflatable breasts. in galleries and museums they stopped practising dissimulation. London's Royal Academy of Art was the next obvious target.) 4 Cf. Still in pursuit of a majority market. 3 The part in question was in fact a quasi-photographic close-up of the pubic region of a reclining woman with her thighs parted. an American artist who. Oil on canvas. The cultural pretext did its job perfectly in this case: no one lodged a complaint and no public prosecutor was found to request the withdrawal of this poster. however. it isn't art!' she explained. A literature also emerged. it was a new 'war machine'. . That was where an exhibition named 'Sensation' was held in 1997. In Barcelona.' Everywhere. Turkish massages) without. it was the 'Primavera del Disseny' (the Spring Festival of Design). daring to become pornographic. in the plural. the hypermarket of contemporary art founded in Barcelona in 1994. To attempt to rectify this situation. which was present in full there.

It is widely used throughout the world in the teaching of anatomy. as time goes by. etc. 6 He presented flayed figures. casts of childlike bodies with mouths replaced by phalluses. involves replacing water with a curable polymer. without exception. pathology. the exhibition's curator merely repeated the time-honoured formula: 'Art is never immoral. etc. one will soon be able to apply the term 'avant-garde artists' not just to the German Expressionists inciting to murder. but to others among their unknown contemporaries.000 visitors thronged there to contemplate 200 human corpses presented by a certain Gunther von Hagens. to mere anatomical casts. Around 780. is not an immoral attitude. one room ill the gallery. to Charles Saatchi. Take. (Trans. 1994. one of Britain's great advertising moguls. who should have their place in the very particular collections of our century. some brandishing their skins like a trophy. known as 'plastination'. Paris.s The reader will have noted that up to this point the new artists contented themselves with using animal corpses preserved in formalin. Les Editions de Paris. sculpting them by coating them with plastic.) . it seems. where human beings were concerned. was out of bounds to those under eighteen years of age. all reserve. This German anatomist actually invented a process for preserving dead bodies and. The line was to be crossed in 1998 with the 'Korperwelten' (Body Worlds) exhibition at the Landesmuseum fur Technik und Arbeit in Mannheim. for example. It was not long before he was able to verify. the 5 Pierre Mac Orlan. a sign of a fearsome future. confining themselves. up to and including the danse macabre painted on the wall of the charnel houses'. 'what horrors the human imagination could conceive on the basis of an almost ingenuous idea called love.' Abandoning all modesty. As early as the 1920s. he was seized with apprehension and felt no good would come of them. 6 Dr von Hagens's technique. that the word 'obscene' comes from the Latin obscenus. that romantic blonde who in 1939 alighted upon a shaded valley near Weimar.' There is a slippage going on here and.50 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 51 child-murderer Myra Hindley. It is to forget. which means ill-omened. As his sole explanation. Use Koch. most important.) belonged. when the great art dealer Rene Gimpel had the chance to see the works of the German Expressionists in Berlin. in which the most violent and obscene works were grouped. Dr von Hagens was content merely to mouth the slogan: 'I am breaking down the last taboos. In another unprecedented move. Nuits aux bouges. others exhibiting their viscera in the manner ofDali's Venus de Milo if the Drawers. it is a dangerous attitude. standing like ancient statues. This marks the abolition of one of the last differences that still existed between so-called cultural events and any other X-rated show. In response to the scandal the organizers had been hoping for. in the Neuengamme concentration camp (where he was to die on 1 January 1945).

in a private encounter between the artist and a camera. who give theirs up to the 'art' of Dr von Hagens. is to suffer . but she had aesthetic aspirations quite similar to his. In 1906 The World. Young Minik. a precipitation towards pain and death for individuals who have acquired the ill-considered habit of leaving their corpses to scientific voyeurism. to the plea of a young Inuit (Eskimo) boy who had discovered that the skeleton on display in a case in the New York Natural History Museum was that of Quisuk. which Schopenhauer referred to as the suspension of the pain of living. who was later to reach the North Pole. in the twentieth century. 'The artist first contributes his body. 8 Robert Peary. see also Walter Laqueur. as 'the useful instruments of his Arctic work'. bloody ritual'.'7 The woman who was subsequently to be nicknamed 'the bitch of Buchenwald' clearly could not have known Dr von Hagens's ingenious procedure. not long after landing on American soil.' said Paul Valery. After Hermann Nitsch's 'masses'. During the 1960s. the most extreme example of Actionism will surely remain that of Rudolf Schwarzkogler. in the same way as one speaks of 'extreme sports'. with four of his Eskimo companions. in anticipating the 'cabinet of horrors of the twentieth 7 G. 1980. and now these others. who wished to appropriate the remains and prevent the child from discovering that his father was now part of the museum's collection.. Blacklead Books. These visual arts.terminal arts. in fact. the Viennese Actionists had followed this watchword to the letter. 'Le chene de Buchenwald'. j 52 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 53 very spot where Goethe loved to walk and where he had conceived his Mephistopheles. one of his 'actions' which took place with no audience. but this had just been a masquerade organized by scientists from Columbia University's anthropology department. Nine years earlier the father had died. who was then eight years old. Rabinovitch. became. Paris. Nunavut. since they require nothing for their fulfilment but a confrontation between a tortured body and an automatic camera. for he regarded the Eskimos as sub-humans. 3. ran the headline: 'Give Me My Father's Body!' This referred. 1986. bears considerable responsibility in this affair. 8 Kenn Harper. Weidenfeld and Nicholson. nor alone (far from it). since she had her unfortunate lovers flayed and from their skins made objects such as lampshades or wallets. in particular. Our visual arts were neither first. Give Me My Father's Body. in which he sacrificed animals 'in a lewd. since it was their own bodies they used as the medium of their art. his own father. in which the main object. Traces. the universally nay-saying spirit: 'The work began at once and the camp quite naturally received the name of the forest so dear to the poet Buchenwald. had attended the funeral. Iqaluit. The Terrible Secret: Suppression of the Truth about Hitler's 'Final Solution'. These are extreme arts. no. . His death was attributed to the after-effects of the castration he inflicted upon himself during one of his performances. from the ravages of tuberculosis. London. a New York daily.

Stock. Paris. p. 1976. the new major event which might be said to be its direct consequence. which was soon to encompass a scientific complex ranging from physics to biology and psychology. Carcanet. 11 Paul Virilio. People were sated with the North Pole. . then. sporting.. Harry Zohn. from the 1940s onwards. the owners if the world.that last. p. is an effective extemporization of a past development. but in natural history museums like the one in which the young Inuit was to discover. such as those which attended the end of slavery and the defence of human rights. would become the first total war of humanity against man thanks to the deployment of a military-industrial arsenal of mass destruction. the abandonment of the nourishing countryside for the over-populated and 9 'The Discovery of the North Pole'. of a first world war which. social and moral prohibitions . in alarmist despatches. .. the next hour bestows it upon someone else.. In the New York museum we see a troubling updating of these practices of impunity. relatively protected by the last cultural. 55. In These Great Times: A Karl Kraus Reader. by its very universalism. . revealed in 1906 by The World. Essai sur l'insecurite du territoire.' 10 The international press. five years later... One has only to look to see this: with the rise of unemployment and cultural integration.. Once it had been reached. And for the solemn celebrations. In the classical art museum. Manchester. The discovery of the North Pole . cultural. ed. to become merely sinister masquerades .. 10 Ibid. it is just a pole from which a flag waves .. That was the coming.54 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 55 century'. registered the painful completion of the geographical conquest and anticipated.only poorly concealing the drift. . and never before had they been disillusioned so suddenly and so painfully.. his father's skeleton transformed into a numbered specimen. 1976. should have let ourselves be deprived if its last little slice .50.thus worse than nothing. [emphasis added]9 t And Kraus concluded: '''The greatest man of the century" is the tide of the hour. that we.objectives of our civilization. of a colonial savoir1aire towards a world-scale project of an endocolonial nature. was absolved in advance at the moment when the world's press was making the conquest of the North Pole one of the most exciting scientific. The avant-garde of modernity did not fashion itself in the shadow of the art galleries and national museums. For the only valuable thing about the North Pole was that it had not been reached.' wrote Karl Kraus. among the ruins of the civilization of Thule. for the transfer of the West's expansionist drives from the exhausted geography of the terrestrial to the human body . a crutch of fulfilment and a barrier to imagination. less changeable than it seemed. A moment when humanity could stand the strain if waiting no longer: 'It was a disgrace. the fruits of dubious expeditions were exhibited as though legal exemption had already been granted. still-unexplored corner of the planet.. Thus the sordid crime of the New York museum.11 It was merely a question of time. .

a privileged feature of the scientific gaze .11 56 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 57 unproductive ghettos. and closed systems such as Georges Cuvier's law of subordination of the organs and the correlation of forms which inspired Balzac in his studies of social life. whose ambition is to reduce to the state of specimen every member of a humanity which has had its day. might be said no longer precisely to be an individual. Latin America or the Far East. fall 1970. one can better discern the usefulness of the new sex-culture-advertising complex and the predominant promotional role it plays in this 'phenomenon of evil deeds committed on a gigantic scale.:. the anonymity of anatomy beneath the human skin had already showed through in the work of da Vinci. 38. " As the dominant influence of the nineteenth-century scientistic and positivistic philosophies draws to a close. Writing of photography.12 So far as the so-called arts of representation are concerned. as Apollinaire remarked. t :. p. like young Minik's father. 13 However. and even in the Cubism of Picasso. the exploitation of the cartography of the human genome is already well advanced. design or even the social and economic utopias of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This banalization of cold perception . 12 Hannah Arendt. opening up a field in which all intimacy yields to the illumination of detail. 147. Social Research. 'Thinking and Moral Considerations: A Lecture'.' This precisely describes the endocolonization of a world without intimacy which we are seeing . seen on the eve of the French Revolution. entirely given over to information technologies and the over-exposure of detail. but belongs to the instruments of technological investigation. a development later to be confirmed by Rembrandt and later Gericault hovering around the morgues of the great hospitals. when the Viennese Actionists insist upon the private encounter with the camera for their performances. Walter Benjamin incautiously explained: 'It prepares that salutary movement by which man and the surrounding world become alien to each other. literature. to the combined industrialization of perception and information. . industry.a world which has become alien and obscene. the watching gaze has long since ceased to be that of the artist or even the scientist. after the unrestrained exploitation of the living Earth and its geography. 3. And we can rest assured that. vol. who painted his portraits of women 'the way you dissect a corpse'. examples of which we find in Africa. no.:\1 \ . and galloping pauperization.in fact developed an aesthetics specific to that gaze: a kind of elementary structuralism which was to infuse fields as various as the visual arts. This is a project which tells us a great deal about a booming industrial techno-biology. which could not be traced to any particularity of wickedness' . our post-industrial world is already the spitting image of the old colonial world. 13 'The invisible truth of bodies'.paradoxically. in works like Jacques Agoty's claiming to illustrate 'the interaction between the scalpel and the engraver's chisel'. no longer individuum-indivisible. every human being who.

a television which no longer has the task of informing or entertaining the mass of viewers. So. tele-surveillance takes on a new meariing. Moreover. the space-time of everyone's apartment becomes potentially connected to all others.THE INFORMATION BOMB 59 CHAPTER 7 To fight against the ghosts which seemed to be assailing her. June Houston.' By this admission. indicating what they believe they have seen in her home. June Houston illustrates the nature of the so-called virtual community and the phantasmic existence of a new type of localness. . It is no longer a question of forearming oneself 1 Le Monde. 'I don't want people to come physically into my space. the fear of exposing one's private life gives way to the desire to over-expose it to everyone. one's obsessive fears with a whole network. The site is code-named 'Flyvision' . So the visitors who consult this site become 'ghost watchers'. or of a building or district. which she so dreads. is merely the pretext for the invasion of her dwelling by the 'virtual community' of furtive Internet inspectors and investigators. but of exposing and invading individuals' domestic space. This anecdote shows strikingly the emergence of a new kind of tele-vision. in the basement. stolen vision: a vision from which the blind spots of daily life disappear. a twenty-five-year-old American. the arrival of 'ghosts'. 'It is as though the Internauts were becoming neighbours. but of sharing one's anxieties. through over-exposure of a living space. has just installed fourteen cameras in her house. witnesses to what is happening to me.'vision volante' . A dialogue box allows you to send a message to alert the young woman via the Internet if any kind of' ectoplasm' should manifest itself. which is capable of revolutionizing the notion of neighbourhood unit. 18 November 1997. against an interloper with criminal intent. until I understood the potential of the Internet. Flyvision . I couldn't get any outside help. of social 'tele-Iocalness' which totally revolutionizes the notion of neighbourhood. providing constant surveillance of strategic sites: under the bed.is also 'vision volfe'. outside the front door. Each of these 'live-cams' is supposed to transmit sightings on to a Web site. the temporal and spatial unity of physical cohabitation. Thanks to this 'real-time' illumination. like a new form of lighting. some Internet users send the young woman genuine 'surveillance reports'. for June Houston.' declared June Houston. to the point where. etc. 1 With this voyeurism.

in the direction of a purely mediatic trans-appearance of the real space of living beings. Like June Houston. since the aim is now. Hence the sudden. For a multinational company or a society. .e Monde. The much-vaunted globalization requires that we all observe each other and compare ourselves with one another on a continual basis. the companies created by these mergers are pioneering an indirect lighting of the world for the twenty-first century. to inaugurate a genuine visual market. societies and even consumers themselves. to this end. capable of helping a panoptical vision to appear. After the direct lighting of cities by the magic of electricity in the twentieth century. which was once an electricity production company and has now moved into the world telecommunications business. not simply certain categories of 'target populations' . which goes far beyond the promoting of a particular company. It revolutionizes the broadcasting of information programmes by contributing to the total transformation of the transparency of sites and spaces of habitation. the gigantic concentration of telephone. electro-optic lighting is going to assist in the emergence of the virtual reality of cyberspace. comparative advertising.) 2 I. 'all-out' being a term that has fallen into disuse since the end of the Cold War ('all-out' nuclear war.the MCI-WORLD COM merger (the biggest transaction of all time) and the sudden conversion of Westinghouse. in fact. it requires the simultaneous creation of competition between companies. untimely emergence of a universal. this paradoxical situation is currendy becoming widespread. Building the space of the multi-media networks with the aid of tele-technologies surely then requires a new 'optic'. the very latest form of 'publicity'. Seen like this. Hence a recent decision by the European Community to pass legislation on 'comparative advertising'. forbidding any of them to free themselves for any length of time from this competitive approach. a vision which is indispensable if the 'market of the visible' is to be established. . a new global optics. every economic and political system in its turn enters the private life of all the others. which now means individuals. since the 'globalization of the single market' demands the over-exposure of every activity. 16 September 1997. etc. Thanks to the promises of the magic of electronics. Now. control of the environment is very largely supplanting the sodal control of the constitutional state and. This is the meaning of the commerce of the visible.1i 60 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 61 It is. it has to establish a new type of transparency: the transparency of appearances instantaneously transmitted over a distance . in order to oppose systematic negative advertising campaigns and to ensure the protection of consumers from the verbal violence involved in this type of commercial promotion. television and computer communications companies becomes easier to understand . 2 Today. through the commerce if the visible. the aim of acquiring a global dimension requires all-out competition. which has relatively litde to do with publicizing a brand or a consumer product of some kind. . fair to say that this practice revolutionizes classical local television from top to bottom.

which was capable of using the energy of radioactivity to smash matter. there is a permanent temptation to engage in terrorism. in South Africa. Arte. investigators and consultants of various kinds . understand nothing of the information revolution if you are unable to divine that it ushers in. the atom bomb.will have nothing more to fear from his immediate competitors. the Executive Outcomes agency.generally natives of the countries concerned . How indeed is one to keep watch on the initiatives of one's competitors at the other end of the planet and obtain a sample of a product which threatens your own? Since 1991. 10 July 1997. the British companies Control Risk and DSI. s 'On the Internet. Paris-Match. as it is easy to inflict damage with impunity. 4 These are all variants on an investigation market which is taking on something of the appearance of totalitarian espionage. . with the putting into orbit of a new type of panoptical control. is in many ways going to resemble the practices and uses of military intelligence. and also political propaganda and its excesses. You will. which is necessary in the age of the great planetary market.have had the task of maintaining an all-out technological vigil. invented by advertising people. declared a one-time hacker who is now a company director. but the unscrupulous little businessmen who will go to any lengths to do down a competitor who gets in their way. From now on. or. 4 See the article by Laurent Leger. the French company Pick Up has met such a demand by creating a network of informers in twenty-five countries. 5 'La bombe informatique: entretien de Paul Virilio et Frederick Kittler'. battling over highly lucrative markets throughout the world. which can submerge a particular server in a veritable 'mail-bombing' campaign that enables anyone to become a 'cyber-terrorist' at little risk to themselves. The worst are not. in fact. After the first bomb. he who sees everything .62 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 63 Making information resonate globally. Its journalists. 'He who knows everything fears nothing. As examples. some investigation agencies now act like real private information multinationals. then. the revolution ifgeneralized snooping.or almost everything . in purely cybernetic fashion. claimed Joseph Paul Goebbels not so long ago. Once again. 15. in fact. 3 And. we see economic warfare advancing under the cover of promoting the greatest freedom of 3 Le Nouvel Observateur. we might cite the American Kroll agency. 1995. capable of using the interactivity of information to wreck the peace between nations. Their preferred weapons? The new bulk-mailing software. autumn 1997. This is the information bomb. the spectre of a second bomb is looming at the end of this millennium. as is generally believed. the political activists. and this danger grows with the arrival of new categories of Internet users.

64 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 65 communication. Thus the misleading nature of enforced competition becomes a part of our economic. their actions and innermost reactions. Michel Hebert. 11 November 1997. that will be true democracy!' Mter ordinary 'grassing'.as with the remote surveillance of roads . These are emblematic of a universal voyeurism which directs everyone's gaze towards privileged 'points of view'. . but also into the home: in the housing estates of the poorer districts and. not just into the streets. but not rational here in a statistical phenomenon of the massification of social behaviour which threatens democracy itself. banks or supermarkets. Might is right. 6 Hence the resistible rise of so-called interactive advertising. 6 'Naissance du business de guerilla'. As Albert Camus wittily observed.but also of persons. 'Comparisons are misleading'. From interactive to comparative advertising is only a small step. but a giant leap for inhumanity. LA Publicite est-elle une anne absolue?. Or. calumny and slander. as the old saying goes.not to mention the social ravages of rumour-mongering. political and cultural activities. a server which already has 172 cameras sited in twenty-five countries. you can have access through Netscape Eye to thousands of on-line cameras angled not just at tourism and business but towards a generalized introspection. In his book. above all. Le Figaro. the chairman of the Jump agency. The multinational enterprise sidelines the weak at their keypads. This is the consecration on mass TV of a kind of advertising which previously existed only on the Internet. 'When we are all guilty. advertising strategies have to be recast. their behaviour. alternatively. with the single market's requirement for global competition.000 households can show their interest in a product presented in a television advert by simply pressing the OK button on their remote control keypad. This is bringing a general spread of surveillance cameras. it sidelines these new 'citizens of the world' as mere consumers of a kind of parlour game in which the conditioned reflex wins out over shared reflection. A small step for man. tries to demonstrate the need for 'guerrilla business'. the industrialization of informing. comparison has become a globalitarian phenomenon. the sudden increase in 'points of view' never being any other than a heralding of the future 'points of sale' of the latest globalization: the globalization oj the gaze oj the single eye. which combines audiovisual entertainment with marketing effectiveness.we are now entering the era of optical snooping. explaining that the chain of communication has to be transformed from top to bottom. avenues. A giant leap towards 'mass snooping'. with the worldwide proliferation of 'live-cams' on the Internet. where you can visit the planet from your armchair thanks to Earthcam. In France today. But currendy. free telephone lines for 'informers' and telephone taps on suspects . 700. which requires the full-scale over-exposure not just of places . and in this kind of 'informational' conflict. thanks to the 'Open TV' and 'Media Highway' software (for the TPS and Canal Satellite channels respectively).

66 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 67 Active (wave) optics. but the whole world . cheaper' . June Houston. as though the loss of the horizon of geographical perspective necessitated the establishment of a substitute horizon . which revolutionizes the traditional passive (geometric) optics of the era of Galileo's telescope.the world of business and global geopolitics. ofTeledesic and the Akatel company's Skybridge. Have they not in France just authorized the use of electronic tagging devices on prisoners released on parole. The societies of confinement denounced by Michel Foucault are being succeeded. the more violently situations are concertinaed. it calls and you come running. looking for a spectre which is no longer haunting Europe alone. to those who do not conform to the norm . The reinvention of a domestic servility ultimately on a par with the electronic incarceration of offenders in the closed circuit of a police station. since the speed and smallness in question would no longer refer to devices designed to conquer extra-terrestrial space.which will undoubtedly be extended in the future to other categories of deviants. updating the site report on her home every two or three minutes.which are preparing to saturate the orbital space of our planet. Hence this proliferation of 'great lights in the sky' observation or communications satellites . thus avoiding further pressure on already overcrowded prisons? These inaugural practices . then.are today described as 'humanitarian'. our paranoid American. smaller. When the company needs you. a game in which everyone inspects and watches over all the others.this NASA slogan could shortly become the watchword of globalization itself. transponders which enable them to be located at any point. thus keeping up the attentiveness of watchers who -like New York's traders . the relief of the 'tele-present' event taking precedence over the three dimensions of the volume of the objects or places here present. The smaller the world becomes as a result of the relativistic effect of telecommunications.are never really . And what are we to say of the enthusiasm of post-industrial companies for the cellphone which enables them to abolish the distinction between working hours and private life for their employees? Or the introduction in Britain not simply of 'parttime' but of 'zero-hour' contracts. accompanied by the provision of a mobile phone. But with one nuance. with the launch of Motorola's Iridium project.the artificial horizon of a screen or a monitor capable of permanently displaying the preponderance of the media perspective. by the societies of control announced by Gilles Deleuze. in which the virtual bubble of the (interconnected) financial markets is never any other than the inevitable consequence of that visual bubble of a politics which has become both panoptical and cybernetic. 'Faster. but to our geography at the moment of its sudden temporal compression. Furthermore. is then the unwitting heroine of a game which is merely beginning. with the risk of an economic and social crash that would merely be the extension of the visual crash of this 'market of the visible'. our unbalanced American friend takes her inspiration from the screens of Wall Street.

with apologies from the advertising agency. Yet this typically audiovisual phenomenon is reproduced every day in the mass media. On the poster in question. a poster extolling the merits of a major chocolate brand was immediately withdrawn. of course. the current affairs reporters are required to comment on them in expurgated language. etc. sex and gore. in order not to offend or deter any category of listeners.cream.' What alerted the anti-rape defence league was not so much the image of this defiled female body as the commentary accompanying it: a 'no' heard as a 'yes'. racial. CHAPTER 8 Following a complaint lodged by a feminist anti-rape collective. . were the words 'It's no use saying "no". And alongside.) community. and hence keep the audience figures stable. in large lettering.68 PAUL VIRILIO discouraged by anything. her body naked and dripping with long patches of white . clinical. All the more so as our attractive American lady posts photos of herself on the site from time to time . you saw the black supermodel Tyra Banks. When the control room puts through images of violence. The metaphor of a voice being silenced. in particular in television. they hear "yes". any (economic. no doubt.still photos. sexual.

enabling the first direct television link-up between the USA and Europe to take place.70 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 71 With live coverage (either in real time or with a slight delay). to laboratory sufferings . The new electronic Babel might be said to be dying not from the plethora oflanguages. the world has made a sudden transition from the 'hear-it-now' to the over-exposure of the 'see-it-now'. In the early years of the twentieth century. From now on. The supermodels are already mutants ushering in an unprecedented event: the premature death of any living language.from plastic surgery to testosterone. the name of which is 'Rape in the Highlands'. when American Telephone and Telegraph's Telstar satellite was successfully launched. when a top dress designer was recently asked why super models had replaced actresses and movie stars in the popular press. since to the technical hitches of yesteryear have now been added the formidable dangers of the instant commentary for reporters who find themselves at the frontiers of the word and the image. for a time. writing and thinking. the dilemma of audiovisual communication has been resolved by lopping off speech altogether. then. but from their disappearance. if they are starting a fashion. For example. and the generalized switching between multi-media we see today. And it seems not to be a matter of speaking to one another. like the North Americans. turns them into a mortal impact. but doing all these things at the same time. took over the old fashion houses such as Dior or Givenchy. any entry into communication. the revolutionary ethic of a (hard) image perceived in real time will soon lead to a lifting of the moral prohibitions which still applied to pornography and obscene acts on the screen. We can hardly be surprised. the novelist Paul Morand observed: 'Speed. like the English 'rude boys' who. in slamming two caresses together. we are told. indeed. Their bodies are not just denuded. It also explains the size of the market for these things on the Minitel system or the Internet. without saying a word. permanently caught between a 'soft' (politically correct) language and the 'hard' (visually incorrect) images of 'see-it-now' -style broadcasting. 'Because they don't speak. . We also find this dilemma among other professionals .to manage. he simply replied. Let us make no mistake about it. the designer of a collection of women's clothing and underclothes which are torn and stained blood-red. more and more quickly. it is not a fashion in clothing. One of these is. any interpersonal relationship. designers will do anything for the international cameras. any cognitive procedure involves us unconsciously in that unsanctioned violence of an optical shock which has become global. at the new visual trends of a haute couture which has become Babelish and those fashion shows where. in a standard pseudo-English. In this way.' For the international supermodel.' Has not rape perhaps become the unacknowledged by-product of a technological emergency that is becoming routinized? Between July 1962.the dilemma of a language which has become embarrassing and embarrassed.if not indeed impossible . whether we like it or not. but silently exposed. this internal contradiction has become very difficult . There is nothing enticing about our supermodels any more once they have been reduced to silence.

and anxieties going without a prayer . in spite of the fax revolution which was allegedly going to give letter-writing a new lease oflife. The screen has today replaced the scaffold where. Once this question on the future of political representation . Today it is the spoken word which is logically withering away before the instantaneity of the real-time image. With the spread of illiteracy. because we shall shordy have nothing to say to each other. The foremost political art was eloquence. ultimately. 'I am capable of reducing the most complex situation to its simplest expression. The instruments will not remain unused on account of any technical failings. but for lack of sociability. take pride in themselves. And the billionaire George Soros for his part asserts. 'The peoples will no longer have a voice.72 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 73 'Brevity is the soul of e-mail: Nicholas Negroponte tells internauts in Being Digital. the era of silent microphones and the mute telephone opens before us. poets . that . not that there would be anyone to hear the wailing. inept political clones? And after being put through the audiovisual mill in this way. who learned the lesson to his cost.' Technological acceleration initially brought about a transference from writing to speech . a language now unlearned and supplanted by the global vocabulary of email.. As Caspar David Friedrich sensed. Their speeches might last three or four hours. one can better understand that the dream of most of the major parties is to have members of parliament who are so 'soft'.and. an authorless novel. In fact. just as we already no longer know how to write.from the letter and the book to the telephone and the radio.' 'Politics is a theatre often played out on a scaffold: said (more or less) St Thomas More. which are so apdy named 'representative'. writers. Our statesmen were men of the forum. has been raised. journalists. They were lawyers. One may ask oneself today this simple question: how would great historic tribunes like Churchill or Clemenceau be made to look today on those television programmes of the Spitting Image type which daily clutter the screens of the world's democracies with their gesticulating. But also. comics without speech-bubbles . according to the author of Utopia. the political was killed in the past. save democracy from pure and simple disappearance? One may legitimately doubt it. would these statesmen still have enough charisma to mobilize populations and. the popular suffrage.. we may now envisage planetary life becoming progressively a story without words. in the generalized violence of acceleration. the audiovisual dilemma has become the most certain threat hanging over our old democracies. horrors going unbewailed. we shall no longer know how to go about listening to or saying something. above all. in return. gathers to it the voice of the nation . we can envisage suffering passing without complaint. or really the time to say it . They will no longer be allowed to be aware of themselves. that democratic eloquence which..the popular votes. and their replacement by the academic language of expanding nations.and without even an analysis. After the brutal extinction of the host of dialects spoken by tribes and families. the platform and the public meeting. a silent cinema.. so much like silent soap stars. publicists.

fine fellow that he was. Jorg Haider. Tony Blair.. thanks to a live head-to-head debate with the physically rather unattractive Richard Nixon. young. had to atone for this before the whole nation by mocking her own appearance. his wife. Nixon was already of the opinion in the early 1970s that the presidents of the great powers were no longer really essential to the internal life of nations. looked disarmingly like the popular actor Mickey Rooney. but. with the robust physique of a dynamic grandmother. George Bush was not unattractive and was very much the soap-opera figure. . he had to be able to say everything on a particular theme in less than ninety seconds . but to that new state of consciousness which the instantaneous violence of universal communication at every second implies. By contrast. above all. The popular media then set about their only daughter. in addition. New political mutants have recendy appeared on our screens. these characters have understood that in a rapidly globalizing world there is no longer. If the old leaders were concerned to please by correcting their appearance. Here again. They would. his wife. tanned and relaxed as the Great Gatsby . She had to modify her appearance to enable her father to win victory in the presidential election of 1996. Obeying strict television rules. go with the general flow of the silent revolution of the audiovisual world.before going on to say nothing at all about it after he was elected. they speak. either Right or Left. a pleasant adolescent of thirteen but not exacdy prepossessing. all in all. But if you step out of line.74 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 75 no grotesque puppet could be made of them. indeed.as rich. strictly speaking. So the team which trained Clinton for the last election got him to speak as fast as possible. All that remains is the great audiovisual dilemma. etc. jogging. the president and the representatives of a nation would. an ageing Hollywood matinee idol. the conflict between the soft (the word) and the hard (the image). did a lot ofjogging and. with a John Fitzgerald Kennedy . And their speech is not addressed to any collective unconscious. jiving. no stupid comment attributed to them. Bill Clinton was first elected because he looked like Kennedy and because Hillary. and that. Ronald Reagan. these things literally no longer have any meaning. Jimmy Carter. you lose your place. Apart from a visually correct physical appearance. since the fall of the Berlin Wall. In other words.who won the presidential race in 1960 in front of 85 million TV viewers of both sexes. cease to address themselves to that nation. the Americans were the innovators. the new supermodels also know how to do this. such as Benjamin Netanyahu. These examples have been followed elsewhere and political supermodels have increased in number in recent years the world over. in the great political and social silence of populations left to their own devices by their own leaders. one of the survivors from Hollywood's heyday. these new political supermodels will speak a language which is 'hard' and impactful. once elected. was believed to have undergone various forms of plastic surgery. Unlike the general run of the representatives of the old parties which are collapsing all around. was still an imposing figure and his wife Nancy had a faultless figure. And.

it will be no use saying 'no'. before it began to string together its long series of technical breakdowns over the course of 1997. they will hear 'yes'. rejects and divides . who ultimately remained in orbit against his will for ten long months. And terrorism and advertising have long built their doctrine on such media violence. Sergei Krikalev.. However.. the dump where the astronautical industry's rubbish is deposited. can be seen to have anticipated not only the acceleration of his . the Mir space station provides in its turn an illustration of the generalized accident that has befallen the adventure of space exploration. this Titanic station had as early as 1991 instituted another type of accident with the Soviet Ozon mission: the time acddent. Circumterrestrial space has at last become in everyone's eyes what it actually has been for the past thirty years: a cosmic dustbin. excludes. Such a backlash and such repercussions are contained by definition within the technologies of acceleration. From now on.76 PAUL VIRILIO The talk of gathering together and drawing closer together now gives way to a language which banishes. the accident of that historic time of which Andrej Ujica's documentary Out of the Present depicts the succeeding episodes. One of the cosmonauts. CHAPTER 9 Mter the tragedy of the Apollo XIII capsule and the midair explosion of the Challenger shuttle.

whose ruin led up to the end of the Soviet Union.K.in spite of the endless proliferation of observation and telecommunications satellites. beginning to show its great age: eleven years. the astronautics industry is today taking on a new complexion. Mter the fall of the Berlin Wall. time has passed.78 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 79 country's history . . accused of all evils as they are by the orbital power of the City of the Stars.a 'comic' illusion. With the successive reverses met with by the passengers on this rusty 'vessel'. so proving the inventor of tele-technologies v. orientating itself. Hence the determined struggle to preserve Mir on the part of the last great world power. which is due for the breaker's yard. towards the automation of space probes and other astronomical reconnaissance devices. After the catastrophic collapse of the USSR. twenty-four of which were already in orbit by late 1997. As a cosmic ruin. like the Pyramids. The era of political science fiction is coming to an end and the techno-scientific myth of the industrial omnipotence of man in space is imploding. to which the ruins ofPeenemiinde still bear witness.of that cosmism which stepped into the void left by communism's decline at the end of the 1980s. with its cute litde robot.m put into orbit two Iridium satellites for the American Motorola Corporation. we have been seeing not only the unfreezing. reality is reasserting itself. Mir is another kind of Red Square Mausoleum. the Chinese rocket Long March 2. on Monday 1 September 1997.with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the return of Holy Russia . 1 Being based on the advance research of men like Hermann Oberth. with the ruination of the first zenithal historic monument. But today the last word is with the laws of astrophysics: the sidereal void remains a void and the current demythification of the glorious future of astronautics is probably more important for the history of our societies than the demythification of Marxism-Leninism. we now see a whole swathe of techno-scientific positivism crumbling away noiselessly. In fact the Mir space station is now merely a monument among the stars. 1 The New China Agency announced that. Since the beginning of the 1990s. not to mention the confusion on the part of those aboard. It is becoming loaded with memory and it is showing its obsolescence. it is. the Russian space station reveals the fall from grace of a caste of stellar navigators elevated to heroic status for nearly half a century for the purposes of the military-industrial complex. as is the case throughout the field of production. with the end of the Cold War and the geopolitics of the Eastern and Western blocs. Following the example of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. the premature decaying of the Mir space station is the premonitory sign of an imminent collapse of the progressive myth of the conquest of the stars by humanity . the decomposition of the old Soviet empire. By contrast with the great inter-sidereal dream of Wernher von Braun. The 'cosmic illusion' has become derisory . and also the PR launch on the Internet of the Mars Pathfinder operation. Here again.but also the acceleration of reality. but also the collapse of the astronautical empire . This network is to comprise in total sixty-six satellites of this type.

'I feel as though I'm on the fo'c'sle of Christopher Columbus's caravel. 3 these robots were supposed to observe only two planets. Sooner or later they will have to be dismissed.those voyagers on 'manned flights' who are not content merely to read the gauges. 4 The word is out.' which have cost far less than the space shuttle.) 2 'Les Voyager retent leurs vingt ans aux frontieres du systeme solaire'. . And in this particular 'Star Wars'.000 miles per hour . If. the alleged conquest of space thus never being anything more than a mere conquest of the image of space for a world of TV viewers. 5 The disappointments of the cosmonauts of the Mir space station marvellously illustrate the discredit into which men at work have fallen . the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes have today travelled almost 6 billion miles at more than 40.. as the space probe reached the vicinity of Neptune. 5 The French term means both a pioneering researcher and a homing device. for example. 4 September 1997.astronomical figures which have. it has definitely been the case for some time now that human beings are just an additional handicap. we believe Edward Stone. which is responsible for their launch. but the wealth of data garnered when Jupiter and Saturn were overflown in 1979 and 1981 made the Americans decide to extend their mission to the bounds of our galaxy. reaching the coasts of America. 'where no humanly produced instrument has ever gone to make measurements'. . The extra cost which astronauts represent makes them like contemporary proletarians in the great global companies. the performances of these automatic spacecrqft might be said to represent one of the finest adventures of the space age: 'an achievement greater than sending a man into space or landing on the moon'.'. Le Monde. hyper-productivity requires automation and a slimmed-down workforce. Launched barely twenty years ago. however. Stone is the director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at Pasadena (Trans). 4 'Les Voyager .80 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 81 Zworykin right when he declared in the 1930s that the future of electronic television consisted in its one day being made into the 'telescope of the future' by installing TV cameras on rockets.'2 In space. 'have taught us much more about the solar system than all the astronomers since Ptolemy put together. (Trans. no meaning for us Earth creatures. marvelled a French astronomer on the Voyager 2 expedition. According to NASA. but wish to gauge the foil reality of the world and what lies beyond it. The point is not so much now to explore as to measure. since. Surely this reflects once more the baneful influence of the technical rat race? 3 Edward C. there also. there is a future for the the chercheuse. 'These two 815 kg robots. All this explains today the undeniable success of both the 'Martian chronicles' of the Sojourner robot and the disastrous saga of the Mir space station. the director of the NASA centre responsible for carrying out automatic probes and the man at the origin of the Voyager programme.

who well knew what he was talking about. 1980.' An official declaration in these terms amounts to a declaration of war on the already ancient company of astronauts . who requested readmission to the space programme to carry out a shuttle mission aimed at 'studying the effects of weightlessness on old age'. Troubled by the development of 'accidents'. 402. And a similar response can be seen from Senator John Glenn (aged seventy). 'Growing haste is a symptom of a world turned into figures.'6 Today. thus bringing about the 'integral accident' of positivism.in connection with the Internet . the French space-flight veteran (aged fifty-nine). . monkeys and various other 'guinea pigs'). After the computer and the chess-player. Siebzig venveht. some researchers are even becoming wary of their own work and are desperately trying to set some limits beyond which they will not go.. an end to the dream of humanity's great cosmic escape? If this were actually dIe case. 'Exile is a long insomnia. not only regarding the nature of progress. at the end of the twentieth century. the present globalization of history would also be the closure. 'Behind the unquenchable thirst of scientific speculation lies more than mere curiosity. this sudden disheartening effect of science is solidly back on the agenda. the French minister for 'research and technology'.'7 With the opposing sagas of the Mir space station and the Mars Pathfinder probe. had to play second fiddle to laboratory animals (Laika the dog.. but as to what is becoming of'science'. advance knowledge. Cosmonauts who. They are faced with the domestic robots which are most probably set to take over from them. 7 Ibid.' wrote Victor Hugo. In a recent interview Claude Allegre. admittedly. 1. On the other hand. 230. doubt is creeping in. the moment has perhaps come for us to give way to the 'bachelor machines' . are now.' wrote Jiinger once again. Stuttgart. declared: 'We were clearly on the wrong track with manned flight.' wrote Ernst Jiinger. then. it is easier to understand the hype there has been . 'Space travel can lead to other goals than the ones it sets itself. Klett-Cotta. In this context. vol. but they disappointed our hopes. reacted by readying himself to join the Mir space station.a challenge to whichJean-Loup Chretien. the end of scientific positivism. the American pioneer of orbital flight. p. p. Is this. the end of extra-terrestrial emancipation. 6 Ernst Jiinger. in the same position with regard to automatic machines. in the early years of the space race. beneath the very extremism of the results of research in the fields of physics and biophysics.for that 'virtual space' which is destined tomorrow to supplant the 'real space' of the cosmos. I'm convinced that the exploration of Mars or Venus offers genuine scientific prospects. The first steps on the moon did.82 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 83 'Acceleration weighs more heavily than work itself.

THE INFORMATION BOMB 85 CHAPTER 10 'The aircraft brushes the ground and the ground opens it up more daintily than a gourmet peeling his fig .. and. the deflagration of matter. but by Time itself-by its extra-temporality rather than its extra-territoriality. in conclusion.and you could see all these things in the order in which they happened or some other order. into an age of what Americans call the 'shaggy dog story'. what the acceleration of physical movement partially denied to -the familiar gaze would be found on the screen within everyone's reach. the most violent impact. as you wished. And also.. the right can be the left. this hidden face of our planet . The plane emerges unharmed from the dust cloud. people did not realize how true this was. L'Homme presse. etc. When it was claimed at the beginning of the twentieth century that dnema represented a new ageJor humanity. This unprecedented fusion/confusion of the visible and . of nonsense. biological metamorphoses. the ultra-rapid trajectories of projectiles. since 1 Paul Morand. The mechanics of bird flight or the galloping of horses. here or elsewhere.'l The film can also be run backwards. rises from the ground in reverse. not only was humanity knocked out of kilter. From the late nineteenth century onwards. nothing necessarily has any direction or sense. with cinematic optics and its very special effects. . which were now mastered. the bottom the top. with the lightning progress made by industrial cinema. humanity has unwittingly passed into an era of directionlessness. before disappearing from the screen as though nothing had happened. the most lethal accident seems as gentle as a series of caresses. Gallimard. In slow-motion or speeded up. but it began to see double. which disappears. the objectivity of the old scientific observation was to be shamefully compromised by this new imagery and the great concern of this 'cinedramatic age' (Karl Kraus) would become the conquest of this 'beyond' of the visible. 1929. the fall of bodies. Paris. undetectable movements of air or water. The fragments of the wreckage of the aircraft are then put back together again before our eyes with all the precision of the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The end can become the beginning. the opening of flowers. everywhere and nowhere. conversely. the past can be transformed into the future.. etc. most important.no longer hidden by great distances. not only does nothing stop but. what was hidden in the extreme natural slowness of things: the germination of plants. With cinematic slow-motion. Henceforth. etc. on the screens physical laws are reversed. In cinema. In a few decades.

It is not. In the words of Robert Houdin. The move from a few hours of television a day to twentyfour-hour TV. All because mechanics .not for want of skill. the real small step looked like a vague litde hop. But this does not seem so extravagant if we remember the slogan launched live on television on 21 July 1969 by Neil Armstrong. keeping step. a co~uror. but a Boeing . since earliest antiquity.' Today. which are supposed to be opposed to its potentialities and the worst of which is thought to be time.all forms of mechanics (kinetic. Conversely. and of its dimensions. but because the field of public credulity has expanded considerably in recent years. there would be billions believing that. but the living Earth. rapidly dubbed cyberworld or cyberspace.' On domestic television screens. this by-product of an illusionism which. but also a designer. 'Illusionism is an art entirely concerned with taking advantage of the visual limits of the onlooker by attacking his innate capacity to distinguish between the real and what he believes to be real and true.or something even bigger. in the nineteenth century. between the stands of the illusionists and the stalls of genuine impecunious scientists. statistical. as an American journalist was to write.what are known as 'states of delusional conviction'. Similarly. with the progress of the mass media. Today. Copperfield will in future have to make not a dove disappear. 'with a sense of having taken part in a great epic of exploration'. indeed. whereas the name cybertime would better suit this nebula. and it is its metaphysical double which they are progressively unveiling to us. a Boeing which our mathemagicians propose to make vanish. which found its place. he has the greatest difficulty not only making them credible. one giant leap for mankind. of androids and optical equipment. A dead star. but above all making them extraordinary .2 To astonish the audience. has prospered from the public's . has reinforced in viewers . thus inducing him to believe firmly in that which does not exist. those 'mathemagicians' who performed their tricks of 'entertaining physical science' at fairgrounds. the virtual giant leap was more than 200. when an illusionist like David Copperfield (a disciple and admirer of Houdin) wants to perform his magic tricks in front of the cameras.86 PAUL VIRILID THE INFORMATION BOMB 87 the invisible cannot but remind us of the origins of popular cinema as a music-hall or fairground attraction.particularly the youngest among them .) . from 1895 onwards. aided by a particular astronomic conjuncture. etc. then. 2 Absolute certainty inaccessible to any criticism and resistant even to the clearest of evidence. the first man to set foot on the surface of the moon: 'One small step for [a] man. So 650 million people had entered weighdessness in their own homes. but more especially the 'see-it-now' culture of real-time television. with regard to the surprising collective suicide of the Heaven's Gate sect.000 miles in length and 650 million people on Earth had the illusion of accomplishing it at the same moment.have demonstrated mathematically that they were capable of freeing humanity from the physical constraints of the real world. no one has really asked how these computer experts came to believe themselves capable of conjuring themselves away physically into an eternal realm. wave.

However.. a kind of coalition of opposites. they were metaphysical conflicts between the real and the virtual. These. but as a huge terrain for all manner of calamities and catastrophes . Everyone now believes they have to take a single. of murderers on a grand scale . which is by its nature rare. with the recent psychokinetic madness of Internauts still to come . The accident. which was received in the United States as a 'gift from God'. Good would consist in eradicating these. more than this. whether we like it or not. . was henceforth to be part of daily life. since science has become a romance. the true popular art of the twentieth century. . extra-terrestrial line in which. the capitalist with the socialist. sea and air invasions of antiquity and our own times. and more recently such ultrarapid conflicts as the Falklands/Malvinas in 1982 or the Gulf in 1991. wars and genocides . it was said. We are even seeing. but in perturbations of a spatio-termporal vortex? Let us again remember Hiroshima. earthquakes. 'breaking their contacts with the contemptible Earth'. the scientist unites with the journalist.. shipwrecks. that ultimate mythic odyssey in which the invaders' will to overlordship would be exerted not upon geographical distances. even better. it could be transformed into an object of visual delectation. for a few potentates. And. as in the case of Paul Morand's aircraft. which from the end of the nineteenth ce~tury onwards invited us to revisit the planet thanks to 'world news'. why. one might say. The pan-destruction of the world would no longer be an elite entertainment reserved. the biologist mates with the fascist. its first casualty is truth. it would become a mass spectacle and. but. With the cinema. which could be served up again at will and which. claimed even in their day to be able to recreate the planet at will. more a crime against matter than a war crime. the general public could not get enough of. Nero-style. in pushing them to shameful excess. hurricanes. against all logic. superhuman heroes and morphing monsters. etc. From the pan-destruction of the world announced more than a century ago by Bakunin to the crazed hurrahs of the European Futurists. as it turned out. In this Lewis Carroll-style novel. the formation of a new bellicose mood.fires. prefigured the great land. image wars. as the Surrealists asserted. who were soon to hand on the baton to the Hiroshima atomic scientists. the colonialist with the decolonized. . and. Just as the fierce Homeric lyrics.88 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 89 visual limitations by destroying their capacity to distinguish between the real and what they believe to be real and true . Like those Greek magicians who. under the pressure of advertising. evil might be said to have become the real through the multitude of its analogue systems. more than in any other war. the war of the worlds was declared long ago. A century in which. let us come back to popular cinema. according to Plato. were 'war games'. the materialist espouses the theologian. its natural marvels. 'all that was previously called art seemed to have become . should we not take seriously modern science-fiction tales which are obsessed with the imminent arrival of a new race of ruthless conquerors. We were to visit it now not for its tourist charms. with their fantastical population of bloodthirsty gods. .the conquerors of the Time war.

like a latter-day Marie-Antoinette tending her sheep in the Petit Trianon. or Princess Diana without the fatal Mercedes at the end of her tragic road movie? Shordy after the wild funeral accorded to the Brazilian motor-racing champion came that of the Princess of Wales. who is still at the horse-racing stage. American cinema of the Mack Sennett type offered it up for our consumption as comedy. suspended accidents and suicidal exploits. without his Porsche . after sounding the alarm. p. and to create their own meanings'?3 Poor President Clinton. the members of the Business Software Alliance. who came to present an ultimatum to the White House. What would James Dean have been. The real accident would soon have the simulated one for company. for 3 Geoff Mulgan. that with the Internet and globalization. what would accidents be? Just before the carnage of 1914. smashed. :Jumping. just published a book entided Life after Politics. falling and sweating!' This is how the actor Harrison Ford recendy summed up his job. 1997. x. planes and ships) collided.and this is not to mention the surfeit of war films. This is the first of the markers put down. for the public at large. which shades over. into the snuff movie. Poor LAbour Party. 'Disaster movies' aimed at a mass audience would take as their model the wreck of the Titanic or the San Francisco earthquake . without movement. Life after Politics. they say. to the 'confessional' TV programme. in which he claims. 'Ajoyful tragedy intended for a recent and as yet uncreated humanity. exploded and were quickly repaired in a collection of catastrophes from which the heroes emerged without pain and strangely unharmed. London. to the so-called reality show. which resembled nothing so much as a huge political plebiscite. and her son Charles with his watercolours and organic vegetable growing. . to have a say on how decisions are made. And indeed. with the coming of 'live' transmission. with those short slapstick films in which hosts of vehicles of different kinds (trains. who was solemnly warned of this in June 1997 by the self-proclaimed 'masters of the digital universe'. Geoff Mulgan. Fontana (HarperCollins).or Ayrton Senna without his Ferrari. at the edges. as many others have done. but on the risks taken for the camera by a whole host of stuntmen brought in from the fairgrounds and circuses: trick riding. cars. with the Union Jack flying over Buckingham Palace and the Queen of England forced to make due apology before the cameras and declare her people united in an example to the world. crashed. which. But what world and what people? And can we still speak in these terms of the billions of TV viewers who long ago got out of their depth and have since drowned in the mass media? Her poor Majesty. controlled falls. The achievement of star status itself would seem to be based not on talent or good looks any more. is now afraid it might hear the death-knell of the British monarchy and soon also its own . leading. prophesied Luis Bunuel.the death-knell of the old political class. Has not one of Tony Blair's political advisers. 'Modern citizens simply take it for granted that they have a right to run their own lives.90 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 91 paralytic'.

These burlesque figures were like neither children nor adults. ventures to declare publicly. More 'down to earth'. a lost world. cuddling. no doubt. the scaled-down world of the toys and games of an overgrown spoilt child. should very soon escape the existing institutions and in shott order bring about the disappearance of all intermediate bodies. be they economic. who is in his forties but has the outward appearance of an adolescent. playing ring 0' roses.. and. political. while at the same time announcing that he was giving a billion dollars to the organization for 'its charitable work'. As it is for those Brazilian peasants of the MST (the Social Movement of Agricultural Workers) who are dying in their hundreds at the moment 'for a patch ofland. and so that their children do not become oudaws'. like that of the nursery. you never know. the boss of CNN and vice-president of Time Warner. Ted Turner.a litde bit of this living planet which had very nearly become.92 PAUL VIRILIO that 'democratic capitalism' which. CHAPTER 11 A few years ago a troupe of Italian mime artistes offered Parisian spectators the curious spectacle of a dozen grown men wearing nappies and bibs and busding around on stage. stumbling. I have to admit I would enjoy that!'. for them. each received in the end a plot if land as a reward . shutting each other out of the circle and so on . judicial or cultural. It was not easy to say precisely which. 'It may be. extra-terrestrial kind? At the end of this summer of 1997 of our 'shaggy dog story'. A take-over bid of a new. with its universal network. They were false adults or false children .or perhaps caricatures of children. a crust of bread. fighting. .. 1 1 VSD. we shall further note the ceremony which took place in September at Star City near Moscow when the two unfortunate members of the former crew of the Mir space station. screaming. Christmas and New Year special edition. falling. when Bill Gates. then you wonder whether the boss of Microsoft does not also suffer from a kind of dimensional derangement. that the universe exists only for me! If it were true. a product of the older 'eco' generation. 1997. after being threatened with the direst penalties. and whether this universe of which he speaks is not. more significandy. Similarly. declared himself a 'defender of the planet' and called on President Clinton to pay the USA's debt to the United Nations.

would be swept away and soon anyone or any activity which did not have aspects of puerility would be dubbed 'elitist' and rejected as such. etc. Cedar and Eden Paul. instantaneously what time aaords only gradually . the durability of families and the severe control of manners were supposed to protect everyone from the blows of fate. which give. the stability of political and economic institutions. simultaneously. or claim to give.the stage of the child stubbornly determined to escape his future. the world of work. expect things worse than the day before. Witold Gombrowicz and a number of his contemporaries had noted that the mark of modernity was not growth or human progress. thus fulfilling the hopes of a resolutely immature society. but. Cassell. hiding the future in the ultra-short time-span of telematic 'live transmission'. After the telescopic metamorphoses of Alice. trans. in a civilization in which everyone carried on playing without any age limit. but rather the refusal to grow up. as the acceleration of rapid vehicles has been doing for more than a century now. The general tendencies of the market and of mass production were to be gravely affected by this and we were to pass inexplicably from the industrial to the post-industrial age.refusing to wake up to a life by leaving the world of the digital imagination. Stefan Zweig described pre-1914 Europe and in particular the Viennese society in which he had grown up. from the real to the virtual. It seemed no longer possible to make the transition to adulthood. p. we had reached the Peter Pan stage .94 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 95 As early as the first half of the twentieth century. he added. In a few years. 'safety-first' society. The World of ~sterday.'2 What concerns us here is the treatment reserved for youth in this kind of progressive and. It means making the future no longer appear to exist by having it happen now. 15.means not only making light of geographical dimensions. 'We who.' Gombrowicz wrote. that the technical progress of mankind must connote an unqualified and equally rapid moral ascent. Zweig wrote: It is reasonable that we. above all. military duties. No future . which was primordial in ancient societies. A little further on. shortly before his suicide at Petropolis (Brazil). 2 Stefan Zweig.the eternal childhood of the Japanese 'otakus' of the eighties . To prefer the illusions of networks . insurance of all kinds. He related how the obsessive concern with security had come to amount virtually to a social system in which. social or political responsibilities. London. 'Immaturity and infantilism are the most effective categories for defining modern man. in spite of heightened nationalist tensions. each new day. who have long since struck the word 'security' from our vocabulary as a myth.drawing on the absolute speed of electronic impulses. by exiting from manga land. 1987. should smile at the optimistic delusion of that idealistically blinded generation. In a book of reminiscences completed on 22 February 1942. .

in a state of perpetual dependency. Their upbringing and schooling were quasi-military in character (Zweig said his school had 'a barracks-like quality'). This makes it easier to understand the violent reactions of Karl Kraus. As Jules Romains wrote. who called psychoanalysts the' dregs of humanity'. And we should not forget also the rationalism of a new military bureaucracy which was capable of managing the whole of the .the delusion of the class struggle (which itself ended up sinking into the neo-conservatism of gangsterish nomenclaturas governed by old men). from Franz-Joseph I.. 'young people do not think of the future. They know how to be ferocious and laugh all the while. with legal majority being set at the age of twenty-three and a man in his forties still being regarded as suspect. let us note. the very Viennese idea of a childhood that was without 'innocence' and potentially dangerous for the adult (were not perverse individuals referred to as 'overgrown children'. who was to be a frequent visitor of Freud's. afflicted with 'psychical infantilization'?).3 they had arranged marriages. if not indeed as an old man. 'without the extreme youth of the combatants in the First World War. dowries and inherited positions. In this way youth was kept away from business matters. or of Kafka speaking of psychoanalysis as 'an unmitigated error'. In order to be granted a responsible position. However.' We may turn the argument around and look for an explanation in the old men who had dragged them there. with a long beard and a reassuring '~orporation'. seen as representing a typically paternal type of oppression. linguistic and moral) protective shackles' of a safety-minded society. such as. The as yet sparse avant-garde of that youthful revolution was first to storm cultural power . he would have to 'disguise' himself as a solid. staid citizen. believed more or less that the famous doctor owed his theories in large part to the excesses of the Austrian social system. They were therefore treated harshly. this emancipation of a youth which will later be dubbed illiterate would be accelerated by the very excesses of this devastating century. for example. slaughters such as occurred at Verdun (almost 700. As a consequence. the abolition of taboos being in reality the abolition of the exorbitant privileges of omnipotent old men.000 dead) would not have been possible'.96 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 97 The child and the adolescent were in fact regarded as part of the potential danger which the future harboured. essentially in the name of actes manques (from Romanticism to Dada or Surrealism). another revolution was taking place less openly. The fact is that beside . p. who unleashed the murderous conflict at the age of eighty-four. Zweig. the promoter of decimation pour l'exemple. fearful of the future from excess of caution. to Georges Clemenceau. And he added. the emperor of Austria. And even more so to his attention to the desire shared by an impatient youth to 'break the (cultural. who was getting on for eighty.and to do so. * 3 Ibid. They are not easily moved to pity. 34. a revolution which came out of the privately conducted generational struggle and a physiological war as immemorial as that between the sexes or ethnic groups.right alongside .

cultural and social) past.) paradoxically present the image of a young country. 4 Later. jeans. We went from Scott Fitzgerald to Kerouac and a Beat generation with suicidal and criminal tendencies. Speed and Politics: An Essay on Dromology. 985). avid for change. that there should be no more delay. The RSV Interlinear Greek-English New Testament. Hollywood. who created heaven and what is in it. on the basis of an age criterion in which the youngest were automatically sacrificed. . Both were. as Hannah Arendt foresaw. 1972. infantile. The text from the Revised Standard Version is as follows: 'And the angel whom I saw standing on sea and land lifted up his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives for ever and ever. The dreams of liberation of a formerly oppressed youth.) come to power. Semiotext(e). then came the angelism of Woodstock and the final upsurge of 1968 where. but also to Marx or Nietzsche.even though after the First World War that country was seen as the Mecca of this youthful cultural revolution . 6 After them would come the enforced idleness of the new losers and the various other junkies. Mark Polizzotti. With them we were to see a democratization of the trend. the escapees from the massacres carried on pursuing their race against the clock. rather. this revolution of old values which are immediately declared as new values . their attack on time. which is slightly at variance with the standard English translations and with the French translation by Louis Segond. and the sea and what is in it.we come to the new technological nannying offered to the world by an American nation which has plunged into a complete globalitarian frenzy.the great hecatombs of industrial wars and revolutions finally answered the prayers of an entire younger generation. Mickey Mouse. imagination would not 4 Paul Virilio. nor Hider a statesman. the Earth and what is in it.thus creating a reverse historical process. 5 I have followed the author's own translation of this verse from Revelation here. Hannah Arendt would lucidly observe this wave of nihilism.. when even worse infamies than those which had preceded were constantly occurring. (Trans. the swelling ranks of the social dregs of a post-industrial world.. London. the paranoid interpreters of the apocalyptic ultimatum of youth batding with the irreversibility of time: 'For the Earth and what is in it there shall be no more delay!'s 'No future' . Mter the artistes maudits of the nineteenth century came the lost generations of the so-called roaring twenties. more accurately.' (Revelation 10:5-6. have in fact always led to dictatorships and repressive paramilitary systems. 6 Lecture delivered on 30 October 1970 at the New School for Social Research. 1986. p. since they had the twofold merit of destroying its (moral. Nietzsche was not a philosopher. trans. When peace was momentarily restored. And we do so merely because the adverts for its old traditional products (Coke. Young or. etc. which one might be tempted to date historically to Hider. Samuel Bagster and Sons. and sparing it the shadow cast by a future seen as the irremediable coming of a hated old age. . After Hider and Stalin in the Soviet Union . New York.98 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 99 male population as an exercise in health administration.

thus forcing his opponents to applaud him on pain of having their conservative voters desert them. to order an Arab state to be reduced to rubble (this he could not really be held responsible for. Shordy afterwards. technologies would inevitably advance alone. it is remarkable to note that 7 Edgar Allan Poe. in a keenly awaited State of the Union address. he went even further down the path of presidential irresponsibility by proposing to automate reprisal strikes against the enemies of American interests in the world. ancient democracies and the draconian control exerted direcdy by the citizens over the leaders they elected. as Zweig asserted. Kewer and Maureen C. Cambridge (Mass. Arts the Arts . cast chains upon the intellect which had elevated them to power. leaving behind them a humanity without a future. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. who were eager to abrogate all culture and all morality (as a theory of the ends of human actions). . he could not be seen as truly conscious of it and guilty) in a ludic society which had been not at all reluctant. .) today. confused techno-scientific and moral progress. the citizens of that great nation are undergoing a process Edgar Allan Poe had foreseen in the early nineteenth century (which will soon affiict all the world's citizens): 'Even while he [Man] stalked a God in his own fancy. a privilege shielding the governing classes from parliamentary or judicial control with regard to the acts accomplished in the course of their duties (except where otherwise specified in the constitution). (Trans. not without naivety. Mabbott. for the new generations. In the early months of 1998 this condition of irresponsibility was to take a grotesque turn when the president of the world's most powerful state was in danger of being turned out of his job for a tiny lie about his sex life and yet. edited by Thomas Ollive Mabbott with the assistance of Eleanor D. at the same time. the older generations. at the pinnacle of the state. When one recalls. assuming definitively pre-pubescent airs . was allowed. but for ejecting them because they are too old. to schedule the nuclear death of the planet as though it were a board game. this staggering situation of an irresponsible head of state was reinforced by the Cold War when the automatic nature of responses to nuclear strikes had gready downgraded the interventions of human decisionmakers. once enthroned. 'The Colloquy of Monos and Una'.100 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 101 In fact. . 1978. an infantine imbecility came over him.) and London. that is to say.the critical age in business still being the forties. it would be sufficient for President Clinton. To confound the multi-media and the political opponents who had put him in the hot seat. in Collected Works: Tales and Sketches 1831-1842. and. This may also be taken to explain the development of automatism as the ultimate substitute offered by technological progress for the parapraxes of a resolutely immature social body.arose supreme. to speak in sustained praise of the superiority of American military technologies. irresponsibility has become a right. though now not for admitting candidates to responsible positions. with impunity. . As we know. some forty years ago. for example.'7 If.

) IS called Family .will have aged. And she added: This vaguely Hollywoodian scenario . improperly mingling the euphoria of the winter games with the far from reassuring sights of a new Gulf War. for the United States. (Trans. After the more or less successful assimilation of the sexes. adversely affecting the interests of the sponsors of these various lucrative activities. The child will not be able to cope with the height of the steps and will rapidly be outdistanced and left behind by the adult. mother.why should we not see it this way? . and at a time when it was believed that a dangerous conflict was looming.102 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 103 To complete this curious picture of general illogicality. an adult and a small child climbing a staircase. it is time to remember that. All four of the figures . 8 Mter the ideological collapse of the Soviet bloc in the 1990s. That way. rather than being part of artistic activities which might be specific to that country. 8 Charles Ray's mixed media installation Romance. the government of the United States announced on 10 February 1998 that it had decided not to unleash its attack on Iraq before the end of the winter Olympics. of the future of world culture as conceived by the Americans. inevitably prompts a rather cheeky question: are not average Americans perhaps overgrown children? But the message offered by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in the context of its 1993 Biennale is probably harder to swallow: is there an American art? It is a question of rethinking the canons in force in the American cultural world. standing hand in hand like a decorative lace pattern. all culture is historically part of an anthropology of a colonialist kind. Let us imagine. they will ascend at the same speed. when the adult and the child get into a lift together. which would have forced them to zap endlessly between channels.concocted by Californian artist Charles Ray. I enlarged the kids (which makes them look completely stupid) and I shrank the parents (they are literally small-scale dummies) . wrote Elisabeth Lebovici on 25 April 1993 in Liberation.the father. for example. They will be 'hybridized' through a levelling down. Charles Ray's installation with its four human figures gives us an idea. which were taking place at the same time in Japan. TV viewers would not be discommoded by a mix of contradictory images. the races and the colours. Each in his way will be dis-proportioned. was happily to resolve this situation of highly technological imbecility. The adult will have lost a little of his status of 'grown man' (we might even say he has grown younger or smaller). son and daughter . four dummies displayed entirely naked.Honey. then. 'They are a white family. The intelligent intervention of Kofi Annan. whereas the child will have grown precociously or . a little bit like those pygmy tribes who cut off their taller enemies' legs to bring them down to their level. a skilful African diplomat. By contrast.have been designed to have exactly the same height: 4 feet 8 inches. the generations will be assimilated.

. using weapons unthinkingly. to the point indeed of paedophilia. With their uncertain progeny they assume the position of partner. As they are beyond the reach of the law . Gambling on the stock market . which was merely the civilization of the young illiterate's picture-book adapted for adult consumption. as Paul Valery pointed out. he is no longer the measure of all things.:. armaments. at a younger and younger age. and to become the main actors in a revolution which was made for them. technological progress is merely completing the juvenile revolution of the past century. Anti-prohibition activists refer to drug.. since. inches. play is now everywhere. Mter the civilization of the image. man is no longer the yardstick of the world. work tools.exceeds all actual material constraints. We feed on unhealthy. Let us be in no doubt about it. indulging in vandalism (toys are made to be broken). for night-time street activities. even more. abandoning daytime play. to measure the world by his own scale (in feet. 'paces'. infantilized families. children are. transformed into caricatures of children. sex is a wonderful toy. but. Not forgetting the child-soldiers enrolled from the age of ten or twelve in resistance movements and pseudo-wars of liberation. then.). alternatively.) . in the form of sport and recreation. or. this is because newly-weds reject the abominable idea of growing old together. If marriage has become a precarious institution today. there will soon be millions of them (exploited in their work) in the various branches of criminal activity. he has ceased. has progressively ceased not just to be a centre of energy. from industrial photography to the 'curvaceous' lines of pornographic comics. and on to the educational system and vocational training. As with our Italian mime-artists. In what is not so much the reconstructed as the de-constructed family. To the gimmickification of the system of consumer goods. 9 'Un joujou extra'. power). The reference is to a Jacques Dutronc pop song. instruments of communication. as we used to say. or. as everyone knows. etc. (Trans.104 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 105 With the proliferation of these kinds of technological servants (domestic objects. They will in their turn be ferocious and laugh all the while. sugary foods to the point of indigestion and obesity.and the stakes involved . In all senses of the term.taking as a 'recreational activity' . adults have childish whims and share the toys and other electronic equipment for which the young are so gifted. of the post-industrial age. vehicles. legally irresponsible .i. most importandy. by no longer putting his body into things (two per cent of the energy expended on Earth is bodily energy). because the immediacy of the present world prevents them from believing in any kind oflasting future. 9 Further accentuating this drift. moving out to join an immature world whose toys they demand. stealing cars and motor-cycles. In this generalized loss of markers of age. the adult man of the industrial age and. in which everyone finds themselves equipped with objects not so much built for use as subject to the changeable standards of immaturity.e. the age of majority has been lowered over a few years from twenty-one to eighteen and now some members of parliament are suggesting it should be brought down to sixteen or even fifteen.and abandoned by divided.

000. of course.the meeting with the iceberg . If the cybernetics of the financial market had actually been globalized. but the coming technical revolution is without doubt more than just a drama. the crash of autumn 1997 would have . 10 CHAPTER 12 lOOn the military proletarianization of children.or almost limitless . which was set in the 1990 convention at fifteen. On the UN's initiative. and estimated the number of such 'lost children' at 250.of the recent Asian stock market crash.106 PAUL VIRILIO In February 1998 the United Nations counted thirtyeight wars or conflicts in the world. 84. p. A convention on the rights of the child which was not. As Aesop said oflanguage. the product of a 'techno-sophic' illusion contemporaneous with the end of the Cold War as 'end of history'. Every political revolution is a drama. see Virilio.for this Titanic of virtual navigation. and at some point it is also the disaster . the Internet is both the best and the worst of things. It is a tragedy of knowledge. signed by the United States.or otherwise . since it ran counter to that country's great project of hybridizing the generations. some forty countries have tried in vain to raise to eighteen the minimum age for recruiting minors for combat. both abandoned children and the offspring of slaves. is a technosystem of strategic communication which brings with it the systemic risk of a chain reaction of damage that will occur as soon as globalization has become effective. the Babelish confusion of individual and collective bodies of learning. It is the advance of a limitless . The cybernetics of the network of networks. Speed and Politics. There is no point today speculating on the regional character .communication.

With the real-time globalization of telecommunications .for launching the very first universal advertising campaign for a systemic . established on the basis of the Arpanet system. What are we to say.automatic? Behind the libertarian propaganda for a direct ~ive) democracy. for example. This works to the exclusive advantage of a world time which no longer belongs so much to the history of nations as to the abstraction of a universal chronopolitics for which no political representative is truly responsible.108 PAUL VIRILlO THE INFORMATION BOMB 109 been instantaneously planetary and the economic catastrophe would have been total. of the social cores of nations.in this case.the information revolution shows itself to be also a systematic snooping operation.the unofficial model for which is provided by the Internet . at times amounting to general contamination. which was designed to resist the electromagnetic effects of an atomic war.the harm done by irradiation is discreet and multifarious. Everyone can see this from the role of the Internet. the information bomb which has just exploded will very soon require the establishment of a new type of deterrence . Moreover. has not the network of networks. and which is set to ruin the foundations of 'truth' in a professional ethics and hence the freedom of the press.since the Gulf War . if not indeed the fission. after the atom bomb and the deployment for over forty years of generalized nuclear deterrence.all of which are so many warning signs that prove the revolution of real information is also a revolution in virtual disinformation and hence in history as currendy being written. without collective reflexion. in which conditioning would have greater importance than 'electoral campaigning' and in which the 'demonstrative' character of the party programmes would give way to the strictly 'monstrative' and spectacular character of a drilling of individual behaviour.as it happens. which triggers a panic phenomenon of rumour and suspicion. The actors and tele-actors of the cybernetic telecommunications revolution. interactivity of the constituents of information . of researchers' silence on the role of the National Security Agency in the history of the development of the Internet? How are we to analyse today the resolve of the American State Department to make military strikes against a country which offends against the new world order . presented an occasion . in which the absence of deliberation would be compensated by a 'social automatism' similar to that found in opinion polls or the measurement of TV audience ratings. in the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. except for certain military general staffs in the case of cyberwar being declared. with 'automatic circuit-breakers' put in place capable of avoiding the over-heating. A reflex democracy. Radioactivity of the elements of matter. a sodetal one. the uncontrollable development of a manipulation of sources and hence of public opinion itself . set a technical pace or tempo which now lords it over the properly historical importance of the local time of societies and countries. the parameters of which were long ago tested out by advertising. for example. with the doubts cast on the veracity of the facts asserted/denied. capable of renovating party-based representative democracy. Thus. the ideology of an automatic democracy is being put in place. acting and interacting in real time. Iraq .

the advertising agencies are now intent on calling for the symbolic murder of their competitors. television). as is the case with telecommunications. According to the authors of this report. which might be explained by the imminent launch of a rival fashion chain by Disney. by denigrating their position. With the digital on the verge of winning out in all spheres of audiovisual production. The second strand in this tentacular convergence clearly concerns the Internet. among other things. that revolution in military affairs initiated by the Pentagon at the end of the Cold War. a women's fashion chain founded by Adam Lisowski. an unprecedented phenomenon of ideological contamination. since anything goes. an undertaking which has scant regard for the collective intelligence or the culture of nations.110 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 111 product which interests no one in particular and everyone in general? The promotion of the Web and its on-line services. the European Community is currently examining a Green Paper on convergence. . 1 In May 1998 Fashion-TV.is used for different purposes (telephone. since what is involved in this case is the most immense enterprise of opinion transformation ever attempted in 'peacetime'. on this network of American origin. for example. Not content to satisfy the legitimate curiosity of the purchasers of their goods. to impugn the commercial competitor. 30 May 1998. took the Walt Disney Company (Europe SA) to court for spreading defamatory rumours. and for a 'campaign to blacken its name among the clients and partners of Fashion-TV'. TV supplement. television or computers) should lead to a re-examination of the special treatment accorded to the Community's audiovisual sector and to that sector being brought solely under market control. first and foremost. or of the NTM. no longer bears any resemblance to the marketing of a practical technology. the 'transatlantic free-trade project'. the general excessiveness of the provisions of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAl).the digital . the fact that a single technology . Yet one would understand nothing of the Internet and the future information superhighways if one forgot the interactive dimension of the arrangement and the birth of a real comparative advertising which is no longer content merely to vaunt the excellence of a particular product. We are thus moving imperceptibly towards a sort of image crash. See Le Nouvel Observateur. to disarm the resistance of consumers. but is concerned. Hence. or merely their reticence. These are globalitarian campaigns and they have about them the intensity of American propaganda for 'info-war'. future jurisdiction over the system should be solely a matter for the United States. Hence the decision of the European Parliament to adopt effective legislation against these 'campaigns of systematic denigration'. 1 We should also point out that the Web can no longer be separated from the technical development which aims to replace the totality of analogue information by a digitalization of the knowledge media over the next ten years. such as the sale of a vehicle or even of some kind of broadcasting equipment (radio. with the idea that.

The bankruptcy of phenomena. a guerrilla war involving the symbolic execution of competitors. control of which will. I. but the formidable threat of a blinding.112 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 113 An eye for an eye .'2 As world time ('live') takes over from the ancient. when they are all moving in the same. Screen against screen . the 'advertising space' is no longer to be found in the breaks between films or the TV slots between programmes: it is now the real space-time qf all communication. 'With 500. the catastrophic slump of the visible. This is a veritable cold civil war. for the Rodney King affair. destabilizing for the regime of temporality of the whole of iconic information.the home computer terminal and the television monitor are squaring up to each other in a fight to dominate the global perception market. since the multiplier effect of the old television (responsible. in the near future. we shall see the first visual crash.the competition between icons is currently on the agenda and that competition. both the next step in interactive advertising and the even more fearsome conditions for comparative advertising between brands and investors are set to appear. 5 November 1997. and so-called television will then give way to the generalized tele-surveillance' of a world in which the famous virtual bubble of the financial markets will be supplanted by the visual bubble of the collective imaginary. 'The generalization of individual positions.000 screens throughout the world tracking a totally computerized stock market. open up a new era both in aesthetics and in ethics.' observed a CNRS analyst writing of the Asian crash. among other things. But when there are 5 million live-cams spread all over the world and several hundred million Internet users capable of observing them simultaneously at their consoles. today. Simpson trial and the post mortem coronation of Princess Diana) will be infinitely reinforced by the over-reactive character of world tele-surveillance.' declared a French trader in autumn 1997. immemorial supremacy of the local time of regions. the irrational is amplified in the various sectors of financial globalization. such as we have recently seen in Asia. the 0. the Asian crash was watched everywhere as it happened. Virtual inflation no longer relates solely to the economy of manufactured products. the great 'danger to the system' is no longer that of the bankruptcy of companies or banks in a chain reaction.e Monde. in assuming worldwide proportions. As a result. generates unstable global conjunctures. for which the European Council is set to give the go-ahead. of a collective blindness on the part of humanity . . If. 'The rationality qf individual behaviours makes for an overall irrationality. from which economic and political disinformation alone could derive advantage: with the analogue 2 Andre Orlan. but to the very understanding of our relation to the world. the financial bubble. it will flourish even more tomorrow in the field of the globalization qf the collective imaginary. direction. like everything else in the era of the great planetary market-place.the unprecedented possibility of a difeat qffacts and hence a disorientation of our relation to reality. is. with the attendant risk of the explosion of the information bomb announced back in the 1950s by Albert Einstein himself. In this globalitarian conjuncture.J.

but to do so on condition that we accept the increasing impoverishment of sensory appearances. in which he marked out the great historical perspectives which lay before humanity after Hiroshima: Poor old Earth. fauna and flora we were content to trace.that is to say.our relation to reality . In this way. already dimly saw that. poor old Earth. making it a living. which we were happy in the eighteenth century to measure. a soul! Poor old humanity. and whose features. in 1948. more perceptive in this than Francis Fukuyama. CHAPTER 13 Half a century ago. vibrant thing like a being. to concertina . the analogue resemblance between what is close at hand and comparable would yield primacy to the numerical probability alone of things distant .of all things distant.114 PAUL VIRILIO yielding its prerogatives to the digital. Daniel Halevy published his Essai sur l'acceleration de l'histoire. equipped with weapons which seem forged to make those very visions a reality! Daniel Halevy. with the progressive digitalization of audiovisual. tactile and olfactory information going hand in glove with the decline of immediate sensations. And would in this way pollute our sensory ecology once and for all. obsessed with despotic visions. . . far from bringing history to an end. source of an even more intense contentment when we had succeeded in the nineteenth century in girding it with waves. techno-scientific progress was going to . and with the recently achieved 'data compression' making it possible henceforth to speed up .

but we do have the programmed end of the' hie et nunc' and the 'in situ'. primarily. In the face of this sudden ending of all localized duree. With the 1980s. communities if believers 'tele-present' one to another thanks to the instantaneity . for example. human beings gave up understanding the overall physical context in which they live. it is. all duration. at some stage not too far distant.116 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 117 blast away all delay. available at all times . remains of the historical importance of the public space of the city in the era of this META-CITY in which the public image is king? An interactive image in commerce. socio-cultural phenomena. the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere. in the eighteenth century. . living beings. declared Paul Valery as early as the 1920s. here no longer exists. ecological and relates not merely to the pollution of substances. The matter-time of the hard geophysical reality of places gives way to this light-time of a virtual reality which modifies the very truth of all duree. at the end of the twentieth century. with the decline of the nation-state and the discrete revival in new forms of politics by the media.of on-line cameras. the electronic ubiquity . but also to the pollution of distances and delays which make up the world of concrete experience. In other words. and that historical science would soon open up to a new tempo. of the 'virtual communities' organized in networks around the Internet? There are already 70 million Internet users throughout the world. the acceleration of history is running up against the barrier of real time. a pace which should. What are we to say. globalization relates to the dromospheric greenhouse tdfoct of confinement within the limit-acceleration of telecommunications. for example. the world of finite time began. in the age of globalization. The globalization of trade is not. then. other than that it is going on before our very eyes. 'The time of the finite world is beginning. What. Mter the discovery. everything is now. before long. been the constant refrain since the development of the single market. we have today the invention of this surface time of the dromological reality-effect of remote action. with the time accident.and from one end to the other of our small planet. when Einstein put forward his relativist equations.and. What are we to say. we can see them today giving up understanding the overall political context in which their lives unfold. with. thereby provoking. speed up even the 'truth' of history: Just as. the acceleration of all reality: of things. The end of our history has not happened. as has. the multi-media of that 'real time' of interchanges which performs the relativistic feat of compressing the 'real space' of the globe through the temporal compression of information and images of the world? Henceforth. that universal world time which tomorrow will supplant all the local times which were capable if making history. by the multi-media constituted by these networks and screens which show us the acceleration if time. a quarter of a century ago. of the deep time of those millions of years required for the geological concretion of the planet which bears us. economic. then. education and the post-industrial enterprise. of this rtfosal if understanding.

thus creating a 'field effect' in which the actual and the virtual together produce a new kind of relief. but also tactile information. This square horizon of the computer terminal or head-mounted screen (HMS) presents. acoustic and visual information.frame of the screen has taken over from the distant horizon line.118 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 119 Ultimately. overlaying the real presence of things and places through the tele-surveillance and monitoring of the environment. but will soon give way to the digital. By supplanting the 'chronological' successivity oflocal times. the dimension of 'information' makes its entry into the history of reality. thanks to the instantaneity of a universal world time. but the time of light and its speed . At that point.that old tripartite division of the time continuum . To the three geometrical dimensions which previously determined the perception of the relief of real space is now added the third dimension of matter itself: after 'mass' and 'energy'. The acceleration of real time. but of the instantaneous superimposition of actual and virtual images. in which the fourth dimension (that of time) suddenly substitutes for the third: the material volume loses its geometrical value as an 'effective presence' and yields to an audiovisual volume whose self-evident 'tele-presence' easily wins out over the nature of the facts. not only dispels geophysical extension. far from setting the actual perspective of optical presence of the Quattrocento against the virtual perspective of electro-optic tele-presence. This is a relief not of the material thing. present and future . the 'life-size' character of the terrestrial globe. it dispels the importance of the longues durees of the local time of regions. but also all truth and historical reality. the real-time perspective of telecommunications combines the two. countries and the old. This is a phenomenon of perspectivization of a new kind.then cedes primacy to the immediacy of a tele-presence which is akin to a new type of relief. Past. which makes itself felt today through the power of the instantaneous emission and reception of signals. as the data which make up information undergo temporal compression. like certain kinds of spectacles. but. . After the stereophonic and stereoscopic effects we have known. first and foremost. the limit-acceleration of the speed of light. it is not so much geography which is conditioned by globalization. but present and future history. The material and geometrical volume of an object is then succeeded by the immaterial and electronic volume of information. These are currently analogue.a cosmological constant capable of conditioning human history. not unlike the 'soundscape' of hi-fi with its treble and bass notes. audiovisual representation is at last opening up to the artifice of a presentation of reality that is both accelerated and augmented: the 'stereo-reality' of a world without any apparent horizon in which the. through the virtual reality gauntlet. tele-technologies over-expose not only all activity. deeply territorialized nations. by making it interactive.no longer that of things perceptible to the naked eye. and olfactory information with the recent invention of digitized chemical sensors. but of the event. Thus what is now put into perspective is not so much space as time. This is no longer the time of the longues durees of the chronicles of yesteryear. the very latest 'volume' .

to developing the panoptical (and permanent) tele-surveillance of planetary sites and activities. l but a phenomenon of the appearance business. which augments any perceptible reality. just as the European Renaissance is unimaginable without the invention of the perspective of real space and of Galileo's telescope. like our perception of the volume of the hologram. which tomorrow will be subject to the pressure of the acceleration of historical reality. The conflict which rested on the geometric division between the opposites of Right and Left gives way to the axis of stereoscopic symmetry of that real-time perspective which revolutionizes historical time and the culture of nations by converting all present reality into wave form. which has characterized the recent period of post-industrial development in Europe. . water or glass . which will very probably end in the implementation of networks of virtual reality. nor the ethics of the Western democracies. but does so by accelerating it to the limit-velocity of the propagation of the electromagnetic waves which carry the various information signals. Thus. or of the electric engine.such as that of air. the local acceleration of vehicles ceding its primacy to the general acceleration of the vectors of an information that is going global.) . a telescopy. or the speed of the turbines and jets of supersonic flight. in the twenty-first century.120 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 121 A de-localized perception. I am referring to that 'representative democracy'. the 'reality' engine of virtual space and the 'search engine' of the Internet in which computational speed succeeds the speed of the turbo-compressor of the automobile engine. comes the age of the cyber-acceleration of the very latest engines: the 'logical inference' engine of the computer and its software. then. with the incalculable risk that the 1 The French 'delocalisation' has become synonymous with the relocation of the production plants of multinational companies in more profitable parts of the world. This is a means of transport for everyone's eyes. The absolute speed of the new means of telematic transmission coming in their turn to dominate the relative speed of the old means of transport. of the grand-scale cybernetic optics which is capable of presenting the whole world for our inspection by virtue of the transparency of appearances instantly transmitted over a distance. comes the imminent establishment of real networks of transmission of the vision of the world. After the era of the energy-based acceleration of steam and internal combustion engines. This is a cyberoptics which will leave intact neither the old aesthetics that was a product of European modernity. that de-localization is not merely a phenomenon of post-industrial business. with the network of networks.with the indirect transparency of light and its speed. Thus. the Internet. It is easy to see. the product of an electro-optic and acoustic propagation which complements the direct transparency of matter . (Trans. after the development of the transport networks in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. the audiovisual information superhighways of those on-line cameras which will contribute. so geopolitical globalization will be inseparable from the unification of this real-time perspective and this new spatio-temporal relief that is a product of the electromagnetic radiation of telecommunications.

Just as the Atlantic and the Pacific are merely maritime expanses disqualified by the great atmospheric speeds achieved as aeronautics has supplanted sea travel. less elevated name for what we currently term 'interaction'.is giving way to the interface of global speed. locally situated. and more simply. among others. on the lines of the measurement of audience ratings in commercial television or the opinion poll? Ultimately. media democracy. and the surface .122 PAUL VIRILIO THE INfORMATION BOMB 123 'commerce of the visible' will bring about what no totalitarian regime has managed to create through ideology: unanimous support. are we going to yield. it is the whole problem of immediacy and instantaneity in politics that is posed today. that generalization of amnesia which will be the ultimate achievement of the oblivion industry. Or alternatively. alienating our power to act for the sake of our power to react. of the disqualification of all distance .and hence of all genuine action . This is precisely what 'live action' is: the 'real time' of globalization. with the appearance of the supersonic speed of aviation. we lose the mediating value of 'action'. of all the world's oceans. The electromagnetic radiation of waves wins out over the sun's rays and the shadows they cast. we have the example of the 'grand staircase'. or a 'live'.is that of the ocean. which. to the point where the local day of calendar time abandons its historical importance to the global day of universal time. with the acceleration of the real. with the acquisition of the global speed of telecommunications. In this way great speeds are gradually replacing the great expanses. Similarly. we are moving towards inertia. are we going to go from the frying pan into the fire by yielding to the social cybernetics so dreaded by the inventors of automation? Are we going to cede the administration of life to inanimate but ultra-rapid devices which are capable of scaling the heights of technical progress? To espouse that (virtual) automatic democracy. Every time we introduce an acceleration. not only do we reduce the expanse of the world. In that process. But this is as nothing beside the coming introduction of the 'automatable processing of knowledge'. towards the sterility of movement. A slow and measured democracy. every time we introduce a higher speed we discredit the value of an action. as opposed to the local speed of our previous 'means of communication'. with the appearance of the lift. the light oj speed supplants the light of the sun and the alternation of day and night. which is another. After the authority oj human beings over their history. became the 'service stairs' or the 'emergency exit'. but we also sterilize movement and the grandeur of movement by rendering useless the act of the locomotor body. the practical efficacy of which is confined solely to the time saved in announcing election results? In fact. One example. since the sum total of analogue information (audiovisual and other) should soon be . in the style of the direct democracy of the assemblies of the Swiss cantons. while that of the immediacy of 'interaction' gains in comparison.the immense surface areas of the terrestrial globe . to the authority oj machines and those who programme them? Shall we see the mechanical transference of the power of the political parties to the power of electronic or other devices? After the disasters of technocracy.

the 'here' of the scene . in this perspective. Figures are thus readying themselves to reign in their mathematical omnipotence. art no longer speaks of the past or represents the future. . as philosophy demanded. or relations of similitude. any intelligent reflection. made up of a beginning.and other . to the denial of any phenomenology. pp. with American hyper-realism. with computer codes taking over from the language of 'words and things'. temporality has now become a topical subject and a new form of theatrical .not to mention that origin of 'motor art' already represented by cinema at the end of the nineteenth century. As an 'art of presence'.action. Still to come was that sudden motorization of computer-generated images.' wrote Hans-Thies Lehmann. Far from wishing to 'save phenomena'. 28-47.one indicator among many others of the break in temporality which lies before us. between beings and things. to lose them beneath calculations. as we put it above. a middle and an end. 2 From a version of a text published as 'Time Structures/Time Sculptures'. a gradually reducing relic. the instrument of number is preparing to dominate the analogon once and for all . being in the end a mere 'citation'.of any 'scene' or any'act'. conversely. Theaterschrift 12. contemporary art has stopped representing the figure of the world so as to present its 'reality' . in which unfolding time becomes a kind of 'present continuous'. it is becoming the privileged instrument of the present and simulaneity. the crisis of contemporary art is in fact merely a clinical symptom of the crisis of contemporaneity itself . stricdy centred on the nunc and the present of its immediate now-ness to the detriment of the hie.first through the denial of all figuration in the European abstraction of the immediate post-war period. But let us come to the body and its real presence in the theatre and in contemporary dance. ranged against the industry of telepresence. a specialist in contemporary dramaturgy. This leads. December 1997.in other words. As a punctual form of 'time compression'.124 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 125 replaced by the digital. self-evidendy. Curiously. and in the face of the coming of the 'live'. a perpetual present. In this field. To such a point that it can happen. beneath the speed of a calculation which outstrips any time of thought. And he went on: This is done in order to establish the dimension of time shared. by actors and audience. in all senses of the term hie et nunc. in the age of the emergence of virtual reality. 'We then find the loss of that founding element of theatrical fiction termed the unity of time.2 Here no longer exists. to dominate anything which presents a resemblance. then. historicity shrinks away to nothing now. which had been prefaced by video-art and its de-localized installations . with all events remaining suspended. At the end of the twentieth century. everything is now. that actual duration ceases to apply. we shall henceforth have to mislay them.

Thus. we must avoid that sudden temporal 'symmetry-breaking' which could project us into the future . in the age of the transmission revolution everything comes straight in. held in a levitated state. to dead memory and . in fact. characteristic of the perspective of the time of the acceleration of the real and its relief. this omnipresent centre now controls the totality of the life of the 'advanced' societies and we have at all costs to avoid the 'breaking' of that axis. in the age of the transport revolution. to move towards the beings around us. thanks to rapidity of propulsion. what goes off to the depths of our memories or the far reaches of the apparent geographical horizon. The dramaturgy of real time is.those stretches of nautical miles now polluted as much by aeronautical speed as they are by the oil tankers sluicing out their tanks which has turned them into a sewage farm. everywhere today: in the precariousness of the job market. attempts uneasily to react to the hu"ied presentation of events by the media of mass communication. . about the crimes they may currently be committing? Or.something we have been partially cured of by the failures of economic planning. 'No future' is indeed the slogan which suits the relief of the 'real time' of this globalization. in which everything a"ives without there being any need to depart. is based almost solely on the incessant tele-presence of events which do not really succeed each other. If the 'present' is indeed the axis of symmetry of passing time. supplanted by the virtual reality of telecommunications. instantaneity of information and the development of that interaction which surpasses any action. just as the 'heavier-than-air' mode of aviation is based. What arrives. The actual reality of communications. everything is reversed. all of which favour the 'scoop' and the 'sound-bite' over the narrative and its unbearable' longueurs'. Whereas formerly.to remorse. which would lead back to the 'past'. it would seem. the length of journeys and the scope of physical movement meant that moments of arrival were limited. Deterring theatre from being theatre . fixed-term contracts or long-term unemployment. in families broken and reconstructed by succeeding divorces .126 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 127 The new 'theatrical representation'. what suddenly comes to us is far more important than what leaves. any concrete act. arrives immediately. given a general absence of delay. since the relief of instantaneity is already winning out over the depth of historical successivity. but less worried. The history of the end of this millennium. Have we not in recent years seen the emergence of a vogue for repentance. alternatively. The aim is to avoid at all costs the remote-control handset coming into play.who knows? . Hence the . then falls into a discredit comparable to that which in the past hit the world's oceans . a wave of guiltless officials apologizing for offences committed by their predecessors. on mere wind. Finally.in other words. . so our 'accelerated reality' is based on the 'lift' provided by the propagation of waves conveying signals instantaneously. the surrounding places and things. The fear of zapping is becoming universal. from showing a body (on the stage) in the era of the fiction of virtual-reality clones and avatars (on the screen) .this is the new 'paradox of the actor' (Diderot). that sudden symmetry-breaking between transmitter and receiver.

'3 The 'acts' of the play then become 'inter-acts'. clearly over-rated artists. prevent the Asian crash of autumn 1997. more exactly. we now have the acceleration of the reality of so-called contemporary art and the appearance of an 'art actuel' which is apparently attempting to counter the impending arrival of a virtual art. de-localization . in the end. the 'dramaturgy of real time' can be seen to have played its fateful role. which we saw at the beginning of the twentieth century with Cubism. Extending the dislocation of the figure. of theatrical representation. We have the fusion/confusion of .. Street and the other stock exchanges.. soon to be followed by the crash of '87. which has not just triggered a collapse in the relative importance of particular. depriving the economic actors of the thinking time essential to rational action. which subsequently meant that what amounted to 'circuit breakers' had to be put in to prevent the system running out of control? A form of channel-hopping aimed at preventing the reorganization oflocal financial markets into a single global market from producing a repetition of that 'accident'. which bear no relation whatever to the real wealth of the production of nations? And the implementation.the product of the age of the virtual . one has only to follow the burgeoning debates in Europe on the crisis in art. the concrete fiction of which stands opposed.. by the actor's being there.roles' or. It is the same. as the Accident which will unfailingly bring down this house of cards is temporarily staved off.. however.128 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 129 decline. the superfusion [suifUsion] of the scenic fiction of the theatre and that of the past-less and future-less moment of virtual reality. with the collapse of the 'art market'. geometric or otherwise. the age of cyberculture. In these last performances. in which actor and spectator cease to be different in nature.leads today to an art of interactive feedback . for example. a dozen or so years ago. but has also gravely compromised the very reality of the values of contemporary art. There again. if not indeed 'inter-vals'. around major events such as the last Documenta at Kassel. that virtual bubble of a planetary economy which is based today on the automatic interaction between market prices. After the acceleration of the history of so-called classical art in the period when 'modern art' was emerging. How can we avoid mentioning once again here the emblematic example of the 'financial scene' and its speculative bubble. which automated the actions of the players. 41. of 'program trading'. which is so revealing. To confirm this. and its disappearance into forms of abstraction. in the cultural field. The drip-feed [suifUsion] of a body whose state has ceased to respond to the outer conditions of the stage. but still has its physical equilibrium maintained most precariously. the traders on Wall 3 Ibid. Lines are delivered in such rapid succession that you get the impression of the kind of speed and abrupt transitions usually associated with channel-surfing or zapping. the unhappy attempt 'is also made in some forms of theatre to absorb and outdo the speed of the media. and also that speculative Big Bang. p. to the discrete fiction of the electromagnetic spectres which fill our screens. of the kind which take place. It did not.

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between the artist and his/her visitors, along the lines of those infographic paintings which change and metamorphose as you contemplate them, doing so from the particular viewpoint of each of the actors/spectators. Moreover, the decomposition of figures in Pointillism or Divisionism leads today, thanks to fractal geometry, to another type of deconstruction: the dismantling of the space-time of the work. In the age of the sudden electronic motorization of the artwork, dislocation of forms and de-localization of the art object go hand in hand and accompany the acceleration not in this case of history, but of the reality of the plastic arts. This represents, on the one hand, a questioning of the roles of actor and spectator, and, on the other, an interrogation of the notions of author and viewer. And it is a calling into question of the site of art, after the questioning of the site of the theatrical scene. These are all so many harbingers of an unprecedented change - premonitory signs of the new time scheme within which culture will operate in the era of the emergence of cyberculture.

CHAPTER

14

With the end of the twentieth century, it is not merely the second millennium which is reaching its close. The Earth too, the planet of the living, is being closed off. Globalization is not so much, then, the accomplishment of the acceleration of history as the completion, the closure, of the field of possibilities of the terrestrial horizon. The Earth is now double-locked by the endless round of satellites and we are running up against the invisible outer wall of habitable space, in the same way as we bump up against the envelope, the firm flesh, of a liveable body. As mere men and women, mere terrestrials, the world for us today is a dead-end and claustrophobia an agonizing threat. Our metaphysical hopes have wasted away and our desires for physical emancipation are similarly withered. The Earth of the great multiplication of the species is becoming, then, the colony, the camp of the great ordeal. Babel is returning - as cosmic ghetto, city and world all in one - and perhaps this time it is indestructible. Less than a thousand days before the end of a pitiless

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century, a series of fa~ts, of events of all kinds, alerts us to an untimely emergence of limits, the end of a geophysical horizon which had till then set the tone of history. Between the astrophysical suicide of the Heaven's Gate sect and the Assumption of Princess Diana, we had the announcement, the official annunciation of the genetic bomb, the unprecedented possibility of cloning human beings on the basis of a computer read-out of the map of the human genome. Since then, thanks to the coupling of the life and information sciences, the outlines of a cybernetic eugenicism have emerged, a eugenicism which owes nothing to the politics of nations - as was still the case in the laboratories of the death camps - but everything, absolutely everything, to science - an economic techno-science in which the single market demands the commercialization of the whole of living matter, the privatization of the genetic heritage of humanity. Besides this, the proliferation of atomic weapons, freshly boosted by India, Pakistan and probably other destabilized countries on the Asian continent, is prompting the United States - the last great world power - to accelerate its famous 'revolution in military affairs' by developing that emergent strategy known as 'information war', which consists in using electronics as a hegemonic technology: a role it now takes over from nuclear physics. The atom bomb can then be merely a last guarantee, provided of course that the information bomb effectively proves its credentials as the new absolute weapons system. It is in this context of financial instability and military uncertainty, in which it is impossible to differentiate between information and disinformation, that the question of the integral accident arises once again and that we

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learn, at the Birmingham summit of May 1998, that the Central Intelligence Agency not only takes seriously the possibility of a 'widespread computer catastrophe' in the year 2000, but that it has scheduled this hypothetical event into its calendar, indicating on a state-by-state basis how far individual nations still have to go to forearm themselves against it. 1 Similarly, the United States Senate announced the creation of a committee to assess this potential electronic disaster and the Bank ofInternational Settlements in New York followed suit shordy afterwards, setting up a highlevel committee to attempt to forestall a computer crash in which the damage caused by the serial downturns in the Asian economies might produce global meltdown. As the first great global manoeuvre in 'Information Warfare' ,2 what we see here is the launch of a new logistics, that of the cybernetic control of knowledge: politicoeconomic knowledge, in which the single market affords a glimpse of its military and strategic dimension in terms of 'information transfer'. To the point where the systemic risk of a chain reaction of the bankruptcy of the financial markets (for so long masked during the promotional launch of the Internet) is now officially acknowledged, showing that this major risk can also be used to exert pressure on those nations which are reluctant to give in to free-trade blackm ail .3

1 Michel Alberganti, 'Un probleme majeur pour la communaute internationale', Le Monde, 21 May 1998. 2 In English in the original. (Trans.) 3 As with the Multilateral Agreement on Investment and the New Transatlantic Market.

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As I pointed out some considerable time ago, if interactivity is to information what radioactivity is to energy, then we are confronted with the fearsome emergence of the 'Accident to end all accidents', an accident which is no longer local and precisely situated, but global and generalized. We are faced, in other words, with a phenomenon which may possibly occur everywhere simultaneously. But what we might add today is that this global systemic risk is precisely what makes for the strategic supremacy of the future 'weapons systems' of the infowar, that electroeconomic war declared on the world by the United States and that, far more than the viruses and other 'logical bombs' hidden away by hackers in the software of our computers, this integral accident is the true detonator of the information bomb, and hence of its future power of deterrence over the political autonomy of nations. As the ultimate exemplar of monopoly, the cyberworld is thus never anything else but the hypertrophied form of a cybernetic colonialism, with the interconnectedness of the Internet prefiguring the imminent launch of the cyberbomb - the future information superhighways - and, subsequendy, the establishment, still under the aegis of the United States, not just of an expanded NATO but also of new all-out defences on the Cold War model, with cyberglaciation here supplanting nuclear deterrence. On 12 May 1998, again at the meeting of heads of state in Birmingham, the American president, in his report on 'the strategy for controlling cybernetic crime', stressed the urgent need to establish legislation against the cybercrime of mafias using remote technologies and also against the risks involved in the emergence of 'digital money', 'ecash', which too easily evades any economic control.

'Cybercriminals can use computers to raid our banks ... extort money by threats to unleash computer viruses,' declared Bill Clinton, 4 explaining to the heads of state present that the United States was in the front line of the battie against this, but that 'international crime requires an international response. America is prepared to act alone when it must, but no nation can control cybercrime by itself any more.'5 It is hard to believe one's ears. The president of the state responsible for the greatest economic deregulation in history still seeks to pose as the first person daring to shout 'fire!' so as to lead a crusade against a chaos he himself has organized, together with his vice-president, prime mover in the creation of the future information superhighways. The atom bomb, the information bomb and the demographic bomb - these three historical deflagrations evoked by Albert Einstein in the early 1960s are now on the agenda for the next millennium. The first is there, with the dangers of nuclear weapons becoming generally commonplace, as heralded in the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests. And the second is also present, with the threat of

4 Aurelien Daudet, 'Les chefs d'Etat contre Ie cybercrime', Le Figaro, 16/17 May 1998. The full text of this part of the speech, as published by the White House, reads: 'As Agent Riley's remarks suggest, cybercriminals can use computers to raid our banks, run up charges on our credit cards, extort money by threats to unleash computer viruses'. (Trans.) 5 Ibid. The text of the speech as released by the White House refers simply to 'crime' here, not to 'cybercrime' as in Le Figaro's report. The italics are Paul Virilio's. (Trans.)

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cybernetic control of the politics of states, under the indirect threat of a generalized accident, as we have seen above. As for the third, the demographic bomb, it is clear that if the use of computers is indispensable in the development of atomic weapons, it is equally indispensable in the decipherment of the genetic code and hence in the research aimed at drawing up a physical map of the human genome, thus opening up a new eugenicism promoting not the natural but the artifidal selection of the human species. 6 And given the considerable growth in the demography of our planet in the twenty-first century, are we not right to suspect that experiments on the industrialization of living matter will not be content merely to treat patients and assist infertile couples to have children, but will soon lead back to that old folly of the 'new man'? That is to say, the man who will deserve to survive (the superman), whereas the man without qualities, the primate of the new times, will have to disappear - just as the 'savage' had to disappear in the past to avoid cluttering up a small planet - and give way to the latest model of humanity, the transhuman, built on the lines of transgenic crops, which are so much better adapted to their environment than the natural products. That this is indeed the case is confirmed by the recent declarations of Professor Richard Seed on his attempt to achieve human cloning, or the statements of those who

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6 While Darwin, in The Origin of Species, had advanced the principle of the natural selection of the individuals fittest to survive, in 1860 his cousin, Francis Galton, proposed the principle of artificial selection or, in other words, a voluntary policy of the elimination of the least fit, thus institutionalizing the struggle against the alleged degeneracy of the human species.

openly advocate the production of living mutants, which are likely to hasten the coming, after the extra-terrestrial, of the extra-human, another name for the superhuman race which still looms large in our memories. And is the 'human genome project', which has now been running for ten years and which is financed to the tune of $3 billion by the Department of Energy and the National Institute of Health for the purpose of deciphering DNA, anything other than a race at last to acquire the data of life, just as, in another age, the United States aimed for the moon by financing NASA? It is always a race! Has not the geneticist Graig Venter just set up a private company with the aim of deciphering, in a project parallel to the public one, the whole of the genetic code in just three years, by linking up with a subsidiary of the pharmaceuticals group Perkin Elmer, who are specialists in DNA-sequencing machines, and doing this with an investment ofjust $200 million?7 Mter Kasparov's symbolic failure against the Deep Blue computer, the summer saga of the automatic Mars Pathfinder probe and the misadventures of the Mir space station, we are seeing the scheduled end of manned flight and a questioning of even the usefulness of the future international orbital station. This is the end of an 'extra-terrestrial' adventure for our generation but we have before us, by contrast, the spectacular launch of the 'extrahuman' epic, as astrophysics gradually gives way to biophysics.

7 Fabrice Node Langlois, "'Coup d'accelerateur" dans la course aux genes', Le Figaro, 16/17 May 1998.

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that nihilism of an omnipotent progress which runs through the twentieth century from the Titanic to Chernobyl.the colonization of the spacetime of living matter. the life sciences are able to threaten the species no . since the end of the Cold War we have been constantly trying to reproduce other ends on this identical pattern: the end of history. the end of representative democracy or.. This is a shamefully 'conservative' principle in the eyes of those who desire nothing so much as the revolution of the end. to regress to the initial conditions which prevailed. this 'postindustrial' undertaking deploys the energy of despair in an effort to escape the conditions favourable to life and thus to arrive at chaos. with an eye always to the coming of the Survivor. in spite of all the evidence. the all-out globalization of the havoc wreaked by progress. not just against the prophetic memory of the death camps but against the principle of the continuity of the living. but its closure. In this they are following the example of those fairground shows mounted in the nineteenth century by the self-styled 'mathemagi.. In the age of the 'balance of nuclear terror' between East and West. the end of the subject. Hence the seriousness of the negationist threat. Thanks to computers and the advances ofbio-technology. Significantly. A probable end to the external colonization of the space of distant lands and the dubious dawning of a colonization which will be internal . that 'principle of responsibility' towards the future of humanity. Genetic engineering is fundamentally eugenicist. again. by attempting to create the double (the clone) or the hybrid (the mutant) thanks to genetic manipulation.these are all terms which mark the headlong charge forward. this phrase was uttered by a woman born in the year 1098. but only the memory of the Nazi extermination requires it to admit this. Ultimately. thus expressing a reality previously masked by the anthropocentrism of origins: man might not be said to be the centre of the world. as it is believed. as is done in the semi-official project of reproducing the individual in standard form. . the military-industrial complex had already succeeded in militarizing scientific research to ensure the capability of mutual destruction . into a Promethean factory. in other words.138 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 139 These are all so many signs of the inuninent supplanting of macro-physical exotidsm by micro-physical endotidsm. before the origins of life. the end of the world. To attempt to industrialize living matter by bio-technological procedures.the 'MAD' concept. wrote Hildegard of Bingen. as the era of the sudden industrialization of the end. It is a phrase which stands opposed to the eugenic myth by throwing a singular light on the origin of nihilism in the omnipotence of the impotence of sciences as soon as they reopen the question of the origins of life. Far from being some kind of achievement. Genetic engineering is now taking over from the atomic industry to invent its own bomb. Clans . is to turn the end into an enterprise. the messiah so fervently desired by the cult of madness of present times. of a transpolitical community of scientists solely preoccupied with acrobatic performances. In fact. 'Homo est clausura mirabilium dei'. the new frontier of the will to power of the techno-sciences. transhuman . Transgenic. this so-called post-modern period is not so much the age in which industrial modernity has been surpassed. or.

transmission or computation. to 'all-out' control. with Hiroshima and Auschwitz.slowed-up information being no longer even worthy of that name.not so much with extermination as with extinction . by the control of the sources of life. on the limit-acceleration of 'global information'.not a particular population or even the human race (as the thermo-nuclear bomb might). which today promotes instantaneous telecommunications. but merely the velocity of the medium'. irrespective of its content. between 1939 and 1945. But let us go back for a moment to the third dimension of organized matter: whether it be speed of acquisition. on global interactivity. the genetic and information bombs now forming a single 'weapons system'. Moreover. after mass and energy. which will make general what espionage and police surveillance inaugurated long ago. here as elsewhere. In fact. just as the total war outlined at the end of the First World War was to be actualized during the Second. just as the war of atomic energy was based on local radioactivity . most significandy. As we may recall. but mere background noise. to the point where Marshall McLuhan's famous formula has to be corrected: 'it is not the medium which is the message. but the very principle of all individuated life. We can see now that. The 'information war' will soon be based. as we are today. Energy war: with the invention of gunpowder and. And lasdy. the global warfare prefigured today in the great manoeuvres of 'information warfare' will be based on a scientific radicalization. if information is indeed the third dimension of matter. An unforeseen accident or afull-scale test for infowar? . though they were unable to draw. the question is not so much one of fearing as of spreading fear by the permanent over-exposure of life. An ultimate and absolutely final velocity. not the enemy but the human race.140 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 141 longer (as in the past) by the radioactive destruction of the human environment. the head of the Propagandastaffel.thanks to computer technology. but by clinical insemination. of all lives. 'He· who knows everything fears nothing. of atomic weapons. which has just telescoped the 'time barrier'.' declared Joseph Goebbels. Mass war: from the great ancient invasions to the organization of the firepower of armies during the recent European wars. threatening . while tomorrow the photonic computer will calculate in perfect synchronism with the speed of light. the origin of the individual. threatening. tomorrow. or to distinguish an attack from a mere technical breakdown.and this will be so to the point that it will be entirely impossible to distinguish a deliberate action from an involuntary reaction or an 'accident'. then. as was already the case on 19 May 1998 (synchronizing almost perfecdy with the Birmingham summit) when the Galaxy IV telecommunications satellite suddenly interrupted the messages of some 40 million American pager devotees after the device's on-board computer had slighdy shifted the satellite's position. each historical conflict has in its time shown up the mastery of these elements. iriformation is inseparable from its acceleration in energy terms . with the 'advanced' or high-energy laser still to come. the information war. which is a fait accompli or almost . a journalist at the time of the creation of CNN offered the thought: 'Slow news. no news?' In fact the limit-speed of the waves which convey messages and images is the information itself.

of the conditions of the geophysical milieu where its effects are nonetheless felt.or almost independent . 8 As one might imagine. In the field of information warfare. And yet the message here is not scrambled. 26 May 1998. . 'QueUes limites au libre-echange?'. as was still the case with the counter-measures in electronic warfare. the 'information' is not so much the explicit content as the rapidity of its feedback. Not a local accident. If war has always been the invention of new types of destruction. everything is. but the affair immediately triggered a debate on the vulnerability of the USA to breakdowns in a technology essential to the life of the country. then. Thanks to the patient establishment of an interactivity extended to the whole of our planet. such as the NPR radio channel which resorted to the Net to re-establish the link with some of its 600 local stations. but a global one. capable of halting the life of a continent. the promotion of a series of deliberately provoked accidents (the 'war machine' is only ever the inversion of the productive machine). hypothetical. techno-saentific and ideological. as with the threat to the operation of our computers on the eve of the year 2000. 'information warfare' is preparing the first world war of time or. 22 May 1998.e Monde. as in the past. if not indeed of several at once.this is the true message of transmission and reception in real time. 9 Martine Laronche. the 'shock effect' always wins out over the consideration of the informational content. with the infowar which is currently in preparation the very notion of 'accident' is taken to extremes. would embrace a very great range of accidents of all kinds. Hence the inevitable connection to be made between the United States's resolve to aim for global free trade by the period 2010-209 and the preparations for an information war. more precisely. 8 'Un satellite qui devie et c'est l'Amerique qui deraille'. imme. We can easily see. it has become cybernetic. Hence the indistinguishable and therefore unpredictable character of the offensive act and the technical breakdown. so have attacks and mere accidents . The indeterminacy principle then spreads from the quantum world to that of a computerized information strategy which is independent . and just as information and disinformation have become indistinguishable from each other. Interactivity.r 142 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 143 It is impossible to be certain. . the first war of world time. with the extraordinary possibility of a generalized accident which. We should not forget that the cybernetic system of the Web was set in place more than twenty years ago to counter the electromagnetic effects of an atomic explosion at altitude and thus to forestall a generalized accident affecting strategic telecommunications. like a cluster bomb. the direct descendant of Arpanet. the Internet. I. that the current globalization of the market also has three dimensions to it: geophysical. of that 'real time' of exchanges between the interconnected networks. helped to keep certain American public services up and running. then.diacy. ubiquity . Digital messages and images matter less than their instantaneous delivery. . That is to say. Liberation.

27 May 1998. supposedly better adapted to the pollution of a small planet held in suspension in the ether of telecommunications. see the development of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA). 10 Hence the repeated efforts of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to deregulate the various different national sovereignties with the MAl. or. But here the very last 'fortress' is no longer the Europe of the EEC so much as the living human being .that isolated 'human planet'. but 'pure war' with zero births for certain species which have disappeared from the bio-diversity of living matter. in which the dominant elements were quantity. is the discreet aim of the contemporary innovations of the end of this millennium. For the first time a sovereign people was on 7 June 1998 to vote on the initiative 'for genetic protection' aimed at reinforcing regulation with regard to transgenic manipulation. by virtue of the information bomb. Not 'clean war' with zero deaths. 11 Catherine Vincent. with European Commissioner Leon Brittan's New Transadantic Market.will not be so much an affair of desks as of laboratories . the qualitative will be of greater importance than geophysical scale or population size. To render all exchanges cybernetic. . in fact. Let us sum up: yesterday's was a totalitarian war. 'Les Suisses convies aun choix de societe sur les biotechnologies'. in which. since each involves the same hegemonic ambition of making commercial and military exchanges interactive. which has at all costs to be invaded or captured through the industrialization of living matter. mass and the power of the atomic bomb. 11 The warfare of tomorrow . impossible clearly to distinguish economic war from information war. whether they be peaceful or belligerent.e Monde. One would in the end understand nothing of the systematic deregulation of the market economy if one did not connect it with the systemic deregulation of strategic information. alternatively. Tomorrow's war will be globalitarian.and here it will be comparable with the 'desk murders' of yesteryear . I. 10 On the control of flows of commercial imagery by the Pentagon. the Multilateral Agreement on Investment.144 PAUL VIRILIO THE INFORMATION BOMB 145 It is.of laboratories with their doors flung wide to the radiant future of transgenic species.

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