Logics Of Reintegration

Like Jameson, Virilio addresses vision in terms of its spatio-temporal conditions, and therefore he also sees the fate of visual experience in terms of a growing disparity between an inherited configuration of vision and the technological reformulation of the phenomenal world. However, Virilio does not structure his analysis around an account of the historical transformation of the aesthetic nor a conception of reification, but maps technological developments directly onto the organization of the gaze. Consequently, while the disparity between a routinized aesthetic perception and the 'global space of late capitalism' coalesces as a fixed opposition in Jameson, Virilio is able to introduce a dynamic element into his account, in that technology is understood to produce not only a new condition within which vision takes place, but also a new configuration of vision itself. And so where Jameson's account of the history of vision comes to an end in the spatial intensities of postmodernism, Virilio offers an account of visual experience whose trajectory seeks to anticipate the direction of ongoing technological developments. For Virilio, vision is not inherently abstract, as it is for Debord, nor is it inherently spatial, as it is for Jameson, but rather it is understood as a historically variable configuration of space and time.

In The Vision Machine (1988), Virilio draws on Merleau-Ponty's notion of embodied perception in order to develop a conception of vision that is ordered according to the human body's spatial reach and time of response. He sees this initial configuration of vision as an 'original, ideally human happiness', because it orders appearances within 'the "I can" of sight', and so renders the visible world in terms of the capacities of the embodied subject (1994, p. 7). Modern vision thus emerged out of the inhabitation of a world that could be assimilated by the human organism, and which therefore allowed it to develop a correspondingly secure sense of itself. The visual apprehension of a 'world-within-reach' gives rise to what Virilio calls 'topographical memory', the subject's memory of itself within an enduring three-dimensional space, which allows it to imagine itself and the universe which it inhabits as substantial entities persisting through time. Against this backdrop Virilio charts the impact of technology, which he introduces in the form of the telescope. The historical emergence of the telescope in early modern Europe is understood to have destabilized this sense of secure inhabitation because it 'projected an image of the world beyond our reach and thus another way of moving about the world', so 'telescoping near and far' and 'obliterating our experience of distances and dimensions'. The subsequent development of optical instruments and mechanisms of visual reproduction is seen to bring about a profound reformulation of visual experience by 'delocalizing' vision, or withdrawing vision's imbrication within a configuration of space and time that could be assimilated to the human body. The telescoping of space by the lens disrupts the secure image world of properly human vision, producing 'a phenomenon of acceleration' in which the stable arrangement of space gives way under the accelerated time of technology (ibid., p. 4). What is lost here is the sense of the determinate spatial relations which would cohere as a substantial world, but which are now shown to have depended on topographical memory and the subject's ability to imagine or represent itself within secure spatio-temporal co-ordinates.

The initial impact of technology is thus understood as the creation of a disparity or conflict between the phenomenal world and an inherited configuration of vision, and Virilio emphasizes the violent nature of this conflict by siting his history of vision on the modern battlefield. The battlefield replaces the city as the exemplary locus of vision in modernity, and the conflictual nature of vision is developed in military terms, so that the rapidly shifting world of technological appearance is imaged in the constantly mutating landscape of the front, where time and space are given by the range and speed of artillery, ground attack aircraft, surveillance instruments, and command and control systems. However, the crucial point for Virilio is not simply that the technological landscape of war is visually disorientating, but that it presages a reformulation of the stable co-ordinates of vision which the modern subject had inherited. The response which such a predicament produces is understood as a new 'faith in the technical sightline' within which 'the visual field' is 'reduced to the line of the sighting device' (ibid., p. 1 3): in the face of the terrifying acceleration of appearances, the isolated subject feverishly presses its eye to the instrument's eyepiece, hoping that its 'delocalizing geometrical optics' will bring the visual flux to order (ibid., p. 12). Ironically then, the disorientation generated by technology is met by a desperate and unreserved faith in that very same technology, which Virilio identifies in terms of an unprecedented 'dependence on the lens'. Technology is seen as replacing the 'natural speed and sensitivity' of vision by a 'logistics of perception', a usage designed to stress the violent dynamic underlying technology's role in reorganizing the subject's gaze. This dependence on technology imposes a 'rigid and practically invariable structure of immobility' on the eye: 'One can only see instantaneous sections seized by the Cyclops of the lens', observes Virilio, and so 'vision, once substantial, becomes accidental' (ibid., p. 13). For Virilio, contemporary culture mirrors the experience of the front, and the soldiers' terror in the face of a landscape that exceeds their conceptions of proximity and causality exemplifies the broader reformulation of vision in modernity. The condition of modernity is thus described as a 'moment of panic when the mass of Americans and Europeans could no longer believe their eyes' (ibid., p. 13). The new technological condition of appearance is exemplified by cinema, since the technology of film organizes visual coherence primarily in temporal rather than spatial terms. Just as much as the computer maps of the military commander, the diegetic image space of Hollywood film offers a compensatory synthesis of appearances which provides the spectator with a coherent image of the world. But crucially for Virilio this 'coherence' does not arise from the substantial space of 'human'

sensory perception, but from the speed at which truncated image fragments are spliced together.

The trajectory which Virilio maps out here moves from an initial disparity between an inherited configuration of vision and the technologically ordered co-ordinates of appearance, to the penetration and colonization of vision by technology. The condition of appearances is now ordered according to the temporal succession of cinema, rather than the stable spatial arrangement of embodied vision and its topographical memory. But if the technologically organized world of modernity mutates according to logics which exceed the capacities of the subject, then once the co-ordinates of vision are themselves supplied by technology, this trajectory implies the inescapable liquidation of 'human' sight. Thus Virilio argues that 'the absolute culmination of the inexorable march of progress of representational technologies, of their military, scientific and investigative instrumentalization over the centuries', means the 'solemn farewell to the man behind the camera' and 'the complete evaporation of visual subjectivity into an ambient technical effect' (ibid., p. 47). Virilio refers to this condition as the 'industrialization of vision', yet this is only an intermediary step: 'after synthetic images [and] after the digital image processing of computer-aided design', he writes, 'we are on the verge of synthetic vision, the automation of perception'. Virilio's trajectory thus leads to a technological condition which he calls the 'vision machine', within which properly visual images are transcoded into the digital information of computer systems, whose 'sightless vision' is in fact a matter of the sequential flow of information (ibid., pp. 61—2). The 'sightless vision' of the 'vision machine' marks the end of the modern paradigm of vision, which Virilio understands to have depended on the confrontation of the subject and a substantial world set over and against it. Technology both colonizes the subject's framing of appearance and reorganizes the phenomenal world in terms of its own autonomous logics, and so there can no longer be a conflict between the configuration of vision and that of the phenomenal world. Visual experience no longer offers the subject a sense of its inhabitation and imbrication within space and time, Virilio argues, because 'the categories of space and time have become relative' (ibid., p. 71). Technology withdraws what Virilio calls the 'extensive' time which was understood to have been made possible by a substantial and independent world. This is what he means when he refers to the 'cinematic derealization' or 'dematerialization' of the world, a new condition in which 'the image prevails over the object present' so that 'the virtual prevails over the real' (ibid., p. 73).

If this new condition of vision is ordered according to the temporal acceleration of cinema, the corresponding organization of vision is identified by Virilio in the phenomenon of retinal retention or persistence. Retinal retention occurs as the prolongation of activity in the retinal receptor cells for a short period after stimulation has ended; the receptors continue to signal an image, although without an accompanying stimulus. Virilio sees retinal persistence as underlying the perception of movement in film, and thus as the perceptual corollary of film's temporal organization of appearance: in retinal persistence, each projected image is understood to persist for a short time after the photogram has moved on so that, if the film speed is sufficient, the black spaces between the projected images are not registered, and continuous movement is perceived. Crucially for Virilio, this virtual image is a 'time take', a discrete fragment within a temporally ordered succession that is determined by the filmic apparatus, and which depends on its protocols of editing and on the speed of projection. Thus, where the spatial image-world of embodied vision corresponded to the secure coordinates of a world within reach, the disconnected 'virtual images' of retinal retention are understood to correspond to this new technological condition by releasing the image from its reliance on an 'external' stimulus (ibid., p. 61). Retinal retention thus offers a kind of finality which confirms the trajectory of Virilio's analysis, since now that the virtual images of retinal retention correspond to the accelerated time of technology, the human organism is finally attuned, or 'plugged in', to the technological apparatus: 'It is the discovery of aJreeze-Jrame effect which speaks to us of some kind of unscrolling', Virilio argues, which points to 'the intensive time of human perceptiveness' (ibid., p. 75).

The significance of retinal retention, then, is that it reveals the predominance of time over space, so that time becomes a principle of flux that sweeps away the conceptual frameworks of modern thought and culture, and its comfortable illusions of subjective autonomy and agency. And Virilio's sober new view is indeed uncomfortable. In War and Cinema (1984) he identifies the emergence of this new condition as the historical development of the total and inescapable power of technology after the Second World War:

Cinematic derealization now affected the very nature of power, which established itself in a technological Beyond with the spacetime not of ordinary mortals but of a single war machine. In this realm sequential perception, like optical phenomena resulting from retinal persistence, is both origin and end of the apprehension of reality, since the seeing of movement is but a statistical process connected with the nature of the segmentation of images and the speed of observation characteristic of humans (1989, p. 79).

The 'derealization' or 'dematerialization' of the world effected by the new optical technologies generates a culture which liquidates the modern paradigm of vision, and so locks the subject into the 'vision machine' which is in truth identical to the 'war machine'. The urge towards the mastery of the phenomenal world which Virilio sees as being inherent within modern vision is now radicalized under the increasing dependence on technology, and so modern societies are characterized by a propensity to war. If visual coherence once entailed the violent ordering of the phenomenal world by the subject, this 'sightless vision' marks a massive intensification of violence: ordered only by purely technological logics, the 'vision machine' is unencumbered by the social, political, economic, or moral goals pursued by the modern subject, and so is freed from any restraint or mitigation such goals may once have imposed. Virilio thus draws a straight line between the cultural forms of technology, the structure of human consciousness, and the violent nature of modern societies: 'the macro-cinematography of aerial reconnaissance, the cable television of panoramic radar, the use of slow or accelerated motion in analysing the phases of an operation', Virilio contends in War and Cinema, 'all this converts the commander's plan into an animated cartoon or flow chart' (ibid.). In the retinal persistence generated by the technologically mediated form of film animation, the violence of the military—industrial complex finds its truth.

Virilio's approach is significant because it rejects the kinds of fixed conception of vision offered by Debord, Baudrillard, and Jameson, which cast vision as, alternatively, abstract, homogenous, and purely spatial. Instead, Virilio sees vision as a historically determinate configuration of space and time, and as such, his analyses are often suggestive: his siting of visual experience in the landscape of modern warfare, for example, restores its conflictual and fraught nature by reminding us of vision's location in a world that increasingly comes into conflict with its inherited co-ordinates. And yet the very forcefulness and single -mindedness of the trajectory we have traced here raises significant questions about Virilio's approach. Centrally, this trajectory depends on a fixed moment of origin which reduces the histories which precede it, and which circumscribes the conceptual understanding of vision that lies at its heart. Virilio's conception of an 'original' configuration of visual experience, measured against a conception of the 'technologically naked' human body, underestimates the role of technology in the historical constitution of what he conceives of as a purely 'human' perception. Equally, it implies a restricted conception of experience which limits his subsequent analysis. Virilio's account of embodied vision at the beginning of The Vision Machine is intended as a critical description of the experiential limits inherited by the modern subject, but in fact it does not only function in these terms. Crucially, this conception of visual experience organizes the relationship between subjectivity and the phenomenal world around an a posteriori conception of form, and it is this conception of form which drives Virilio's teleology. The coherence of perception is not discovered or produced through the activity of the subject, but occurs as the correspondence of the spatio-temporal co-ordinates of the phenomenal world and the configuration of subjectivity: thus, Virilio identifies the initially stable 'personality' of the modern subject as a function of 'the permanence of the natural environment' in pre-industrial Europe (1994, p. 13). Such an a posteriori conception of form ties subjectivity to the configuration of the phenomenal world, so that its historical development is directly read off from technology's recasting of the world. The central problem here is that such a conception of visual experience assumes the terms of its formal coherence: vision may be active for Virilio in the sense that it forms appearances, but its activity does not extend to any role in configuring form, which instead occurs as a correspondence whose terms are simply given. Consequently, while the spatio-temporal co-ordinates of vision may be variable, the goal of visual experience is fixed as the achievement of a coherence which is defined at the outset, in terms of the 'world-within-reach'. Thus, in the face of technology's reformulation of the phenomenal world, the subject mechanically responds by attempting to restore this original coherence of the world over and over again.

This restricted conception of visual experience is best illuminated by the pivotal role played by retinal retention in Virilio's conception of the vision machine. Retinal retention provides the bridge that links the new technological condition of appearance to the consequent reformulation of consciousness by providing a physiological mechanism for moving between the visible world and the activity of consciousness, much like the pineal gland in Descartes. It identifies a temporal organization within the physiological processes underlying perception which matches that of the cinematically organized world of appearance: 'How can we have failed to grasp', asks Virilio, 'that the discovery of retinal retention [has] propelled us into the totally different province of the mental retention of images?' (ibid., pp. 60—1). The significance of retinal retention, then, is that it provides a new physiological basis for perception, which functions in terms of the same kind of mechanical correspondence which Virilio sees in the stable spatial perception of the 'technologically naked' human body: its direct correspondence with the new condition of technological appearance effectively 'updates' the correspondence between topographical memory and the stable environment of pre-industrial humanity. However, Virilio's reliance on retinal retention is curious: although it was initially proposed as an explanation for the perception of motion in film, it was soon realized that the phenomenon does not give rise to the perception of continuous movement, but to a blurred vision composed of superimposed images. While the phenomenon certainly exists, it has long been discounted as a plausible explanation for the experience of cinematic movement, and the current scientific consensus identifies Wertheimer's 'phi effect', first proposed in 1912, as the most plausible explanation (Aumont, 1994, pp. 30—2). Significantly, the phi effect primarily involves post-retinal processes, and therefore applies just as much to the movement of objects in space as it does to the apparent movement of film. The point here is not simply that Virilio fails to keep up with the scientific literature, but that his enthusiasm for retinal retention points to broader problems in his conception of visual experience. The pivotal role played by retinal retention arises because it appears to offer a direct homology between the technological condition of appearance and the physiological processes underlying perception, within which the spatio-temporal coordinates of perception can simply be read off from the configuration of appearances. Such a homology therefore reduces visual experience to an automatic mechanism of correspondence, casting it as a mechanical reflex rather than an inventive or active production. The irony here is that Virilio deploys retinal persistence in order to present visual experience as ineluctably caught within a technologically organized coherence, yet the visual experience produced by retinal persistence is in fact one of blurring and superimposition, varieties of visual experience which are ignored by Virilio's approach.

Despite Virilio's invocation of the battlefield, within his account visual experience is not the site of a conflict between configurations of vision and the changing co-ordinates of the visible world, but simply the site for an automatic transcription. This is why the historical trajectory of vision is so undifferentiated and unidirectional, since each reformulation of the phenomenal world leads to a single response which points in only one possible direction. At each step along the way, the impact of technology produces an automatic reconfiguration of vision, which doggedly plays out technology's internal logics. In turn, consciousness is conceived of as an extension of vision, and so rationality is understood as the reflection of technology in consciousness. The delocalized geometrical optics of the vision machine thus translate technology's invisible logics into the principle of modern rationality, which is defined in visual terms as 'the will to see all, to know all, at every moment, everywhere' (Virilio, 1994, p. 70). According to Virilio this 'omnivoyance' produces coherence 'by repressing the invisible', and so is identified with 'Western Europe's totalitarian ambition' (ibid., p. 33). Yet it might just as easily be objected that it is Virilio's assumption of a fixed configuration of form which orders visual experience according to the unchanging goal of coherence, and so suppresses the activity of vision. Visual experience becomes the perennial search for an integrated image-world that harks back to the integrated appearance of an originary, embodied vision, and in this sense, technology changes nothing, but simply offers new mechanisms for achieving the unchanging goal of visual coherence. Virilio fails to consider the experiences of incoherence, blurring, superimposition, or dissonance implied by his own account, preferring instead to focus only on visual coherence. This means that the emergence of other possibilities within the history of vision go unnoticed and remain invisible, and so he is unable to envisage any way in which vision might negotiate or reconfigure technologically organized appearance.

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