In Mark Fisher’s talk he repeated the recent intervention made by the Institute for Precarious Consciousness where it states that we have moved from a world of boredom to one of anxiety. Mark was quick to add that he felt that it isn’t so much that boredom has disappeared, as that today we can say that everything is boring but no one is bored. This is a formulation that really struck me. In this statement boredom appears detached from its usual understanding as an emotional condition, a state one can or can’t be inside of, and as such is also uncoupled from its phenomenological understanding. A stimulus without a response, the boring has no subject that it bores down and into. Why? How is this possible?
In the introductory section of his talk Mark placed two “speeds” beside one another. Mark doesn’t deny the idea that we live at an accelerated pace, that the rhythms of everyday life have been pushed into overdrive, and that we therefore race to keep up with ourselves, with the demands placed on us by work, social media and a consumerism that isn’t limited to the closing time of the local shop or the high street store. This is the accelerationism of Virilio, the acceleration that is tied to the dromological study of speeds, the analysis that places technology at the centre of history (the engine is the engine of history), and which proclaims that wars are won by leaps in speed. It is the same accelerationism of Bifo’s cybertemporality that punishes the limits of organic information processing: semiocapital, capital become units and streams of data, informational products, financial signs, all of which move at a speed that is always approaching the speed of light, the speed of thought, an electrical speed, outpaces the capacities of the human brain. And not just in terms of its speed but also in terms of its volume. Everyday life is too fast for us to keep up with. “There isn’t enough time in the day” is still a common exacerbated cry in an age when we are surrounded by machines apparently designed to liberate time.
Virilio is one of our most important philosophers, not least for his early recognition of the importance of speed and his analysis of the acceleration of everyday life. For Virilio the speeding up of everyday life is driven by the speeding up of our technologies. Indeed, Virilio begins by staking his concerns in received Marxist wisdom as early as Speed and Politics in which he develops the idea that the transition from Feudalism to capitalism was driven by technomilitary concerns rather than purely economic ones, and he is keen to stress that the bourgeoisie would have been nothing without the military class- what Bifo today speaks of as “the warrior”. First it is the military who take a territory and hold it, and it is for reasons of defence that the territory forms itself into an enclosure, a bordered space that is internally policed as it is defended from the externalities of strangers. This policing is necessary when industrialisation calls on a mass migration to the great centres of production where the factories had been erected and hungrily awaited the swarm of living labour that would set them and keep them in motion- and this is in part the continuation of a much older policy of protecting the rich from the masses. Part of what marks the bourgeoisie as the bourgeoisie was its ability to maintain itself in permanent dwellings, to have a settled home, and so to be marked off from the workers who would be lodged in temporary dwellings or- in the case of infrastructure projects- would be, and remain, largely mobile.
At the same time the bourgeoise was thus able to solidify itself as a propertied class via the ownership of land which in contrast to the emergent proletariat secured it to a particular territory in order to allow for fixed property. Such property could be held by deed in order to act as a source of valorisation in itself via rent, and as a form of transgeneration transmission of wealth and right. Virilio sees this economic distinction of bourgeoisie and proletariat as also a spatial one: the bourgeoisie are able to domesticate the proletariat by keeping it dependent upon its property at a distance from it. We see this continued today wherever we find gated communities and favelas; the estates of the rich and the housing estates of the poor; the affluence of home owners and the capacity it gives for both philanthropic and abject gestures towards the homeless, who today are not even so much as allowed to appear. Accordingly, ‘the political triumph of the bourgeois revolutions consists of spreading the state of siege of the communal city machine…’ (39). Virilio generalises these ideas about hold over a territory by military means to put forward the provocative idea that
The state’s power is, therefore, only secondarily power organised by one class to oppress another. More materially it is the polis, the police, in other words highway surveillance, insofar as since the dawn of the bourgeois revolution, the political discourse has been…confusing social order with the control of traffic (of people, of goods), and revolution, revolt, with traffic jams, illegal parking, multiple crashes, collisions (39).
Very rapidly and schematically we have gone through a central idea in Virilio’s history: class society emerges as a result of a confluence between the military and the bourgeoisie centring on the conquest of territory and logistical control of the movement of bodies. At root we’re talking about the command of mobility and immobility in which the bourgeoisie and the military class together determine who moves, where, and when. This is clearly true of the contemporary petrostate and the larger political bodies that have swallowed the deterritorialised nation into their phagocytic chambers. These bodies are entirely concerned with the movement of populations- they must legislate for, allow, track, monitor, and count the movement of workers from city to city, nation to nation, state to state, state to union and so on; they must even encourage the migratory flows of workers between production centres to ensure their survival and the survival of those for whose benefit they exist as final protectors of private property; consumer products have to be allowed to circulate; resources must be shipped, hauled, organised, dispatched and delivered; for all this must exist roads, water and air routes, entire infrastructures, and organisations that exist specifically to police the various forms of access to those infrastructures. Add to this the infosphere and the circulation of data and metadata and the new infrastructures being made and remade to support it. Power is Virilio is quickly seen to be all about the circulation of all these bodies and the control of these infrastructures. In his later works Virilio will link this to surveillance in a much more total sense, approaching what Foucault calls the panopticon in positing a society made transparent to the eye of power. At root then; movement, and movement implies speed.
The infrastructural attention Virilio pays here is important. For him wars are won by speed. Immobility is the secret of fortification. Wars have been won and lost based on the speed of navies. Who can identify who first determines who gets the first shot away. The rifle is faster than the spear- a crucial part of the military aspect of colonialism- and the machine gun is faster than either. Weapons of speed conquer distance rendering territories smaller, more compact, less meaningful, transforming them into interruptions to be overcome. The promise of laser weapons presents the ultimate fantasy in which the moment of the trigger pull is the moment of the target’s death; and why not eradicate the trigger? Couldn’t a neuromodulation device inserted into the brain of the soldier mean that few seconds of delay could be eradicated too? Based on these observations we could suggest a formulation: the speeding up of everyday life is a military phenomena.