Paul Virilio / Speed & Politics

This is just a brief blog post about the theorist Paul Virilio, his book titled Speed & Politics and how his book relates to my dissertation.
As I have posted before my dissertation looks at specific typography and its connection to space and events at its time of use.

In this book Virilio discusses his concerns surrounding the link between speed, technologies, individuals, the state, politics and military development.
Speed is suggested to be the main factor with regards to technology, culture and conflict. Speed is something that doesn’t stop therefor if individuals can not keep up this is where conflict occurs. The unstoppable acceleration of society causes the social elite to experience the positives of speed where as those who are unable to keep up are at a disadvantage.
Speed is connected to the creation of wealth and this can be seen in the political economy. Warfare involves a lot of money.

Virilio is an urbanist therefore his essay begins naturally with the city and the roads within it. The city and its perception is changing.

Despite convincing examinations of city maps, the city has not been recognised as first and foremost a human dwelling-place penetrated by channels of rapid communication (river, road, coastline, railway). It seems we’ve forgotten that the street is only a road passing through an agglomeration, whereas everyday laws on the “speed limit” within the city walls remind us of the continuity of displacement, of movement, that only the speed laws modulate. (pg. 5)

He compares the city to a medieval castle which is protected by a fortification. The city has tollbooths and speed limits which creates a way of controlling the traffic that goes around and through it. This system of control and limits were used to slow traffic therefor slowing down the speed at which people moved.

As Virilio speaks about this control of movement, he also goes on to mention how the city is not a static place, it is always moving and changing. The people within the city are free to move around as well as leave. The traffic control has no intention to hold people within the space. The issue of who is coming into the city is far more greater than those who are leaving. The city is somewhere that social progress can be measured as Virilio suggest,

One can measure the magnitude of the social flow, predict is overflowings.

Speed is a dominant factor throughout this book and Virilio feels that due to its importance throughout history, it is speed that has created civilisation today. This text is not just about themes of technology, culture and conflict but how these elements change societies and how it is done (by movement and control of territories). Dromology does not just refer to the logic of speed but also the impact that speed can have.

The industrial revolution was considered to be one of the most influential events ever to take place which changed society so dramatically. With this revolution technology advanced meaning that people could move around easily via train or road. Virilio makes it clear that movement is not something that is new or even revolutionary.

The time has come, it seems, to face the facts: revolution is movement, but movement is not revolution. Politics is only a gear-shift, and revolution only its overdrive: war as “continuation of politics by other means” would be instead a police pursuit at greater speed, with other vehicles. (pg.18)

Movement is something that civilisation has always done, but the speed at which people can move is now dramatically different. Virilio continues to explain his ideas surrounding the industrial revolution by suggesting that there is was no such thing as an industrial revolution.

In fact, there was no “industrial revolution,” but only a “dromocratic revolution”; there is no democracy, only dromocracy; there is no strategy, only dromology. It is precisely at the moment when Western technological evolutionism leaves the sea that the substance of wealth begins to crumble, that the ruin of the most powerful peoples and nations gets under way – viz. Carter’s declarations about the end of the American dream. It is speed as the nature of dromological progress that ruins progress; it is the permanence of the war of Time that creates total peace, the peace of exhaustion. (pg. 46)

Virilio raises his concerns about speed by proposing that speed is the opposite of progress and speed “ruins progress” and that time is what causes peace.

The strong themes of speed and social progression link heavily to the industrial revolution, at the time speed was seen as the future, modern was seen as fast. Along with speed the issues of control arise and this is where typography comes in. Typography can be and is used as a form of control. It controls a space, whether it is the surface the text is placed or the instructions and information that it is communicating. Using typography to standardise an area allows control, which in turn can allow the control of movement and people.

As Virilio mentions, speed can be dangerous, especially if the wrong people are moving quickly and to avoid the accidents that speed can cause. The environment in which people experience speed has to be safe, standardising the use of speed enables those (usually the social elite) to take control of the rate in which specific people progress.

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