Crepuscular Dawn

Paul Virilio and Sylvere Lotringer

Translated by Mike Taormina

(Semiotext[e]) $12

Paul Virilio is an urban philosopher, and Paris is his model city. Until very recently, he rarely left the limits of the city of lights, or the city of mirrors, as Walter Benjamin, another urban philosopher, once described it. Benjamin wrote (in The Arcades Project): "Paris is the city of mirrors. The asphalt of its roadways smooth as glass... A profusion of windowpanes and mirrors in cafés... Women here look at themselves more than elsewhere, and from this comes the distinctive beauty of the Parisienne. Before any man catches sight of her, she already sees herself ten times reflected.... Even the eyes of passersby are veiled mirrors, and over that wide bed of the Seine, over Paris, the sky is spread out like the crystal mirror hanging over the drab beds in brothels."

Virilio's Paris is defined by speed. The city is where the pace of life is fast, and the circulation of people, commodities, and information is accelerated to levels that he believes are dangerous. Virilio is an apocalyptic philosopher. He fears the total accident, a massive crash caused by the recklessly high speeds of life in the city and--because of the globalization of capital and communication systems--the whole planet. In Crepuscular Dawn, a collection of lucid and entertaining conversations with Sylvere Lotringer about speed, war, and architecture, Virilio says: "Speed is carrying us along, but we have not mastered it. An accident is bound to happen."

Speed is a class issue. Those who can move fast, or have access to high speeds, are usually wealthy. Virilio calls this a "dromocracy." "[The elite] are residents in absolute motion-speed, the super-speed of the train, or the supersonic jet, or the super-fast boat, and the super-speed of the instantaneous telecommunication which allows them to play the stock market instantaneously on Wall Street or in Hong Kong," he says early in the conversation.

Virilio believes the political solution to this dromocracy, or society of speed, is putting the brakes on it, and making things, especially the body, world-heavy. Virilio is also a philosopher of architecture, and his theoretical structures are designed to resist the body because "resistance makes you aware of the body." Unlike the modernist architects, such as Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe and Le Corbusier, Virilio emphases the ground, the honesty of the floor. The ground slows life down; and the slower life is, the less likely there will be accidents in the world, and, of course, in Paris--the city of lights, mirrors, and speed.

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