on 8 March 2010
This book is about the interrelated technological developments of war and cinema, how they have been driven by the military imperative of needing to represent the battlefield in order to make operational decisions.
The battlefield is a field of perception for the general and weapons are tools of perception. Nothing now distinguishes the function of the weapon and the function of the eye: observation and destruction develop at the same pace. The soldier's 'obscene gaze' patterns the chaos of vision in particular ways, orders everything. Yet this is done at a distance so that more often than not the enemy is invisible and all that is seen is the image; so there's a 'disintegration of the warrior's personality' - the pilot's experience is of being cocooned in the cockpit surrounded by displays. Nothing is real; battle is indistinguishable from training.
Virilio charts the osmosis between industrialised warfare and photography/cinema. The need to see a distant enemy spurred the research and development. He provides many interesting examples of common cinematographic techniques and how, in the early years, several directors and cameramen also worked in the military sphere. There was a need to record and film war and this process has been unstoppable, from aerial balloon photography to satellites. It is also a matter of a wider cultural spillover, however, for he refers to the picture palaces of the 1930s as cinema-cathedrals of the military state and to dictators as film directors. Above all, these changes over the past century have also changed the way we perceive the world, foreshortened and pre-ordered everything.
A fascinating book which makes one think. Full of little gems of information and observation.