Open Sky (Radical Thinkers) Paperback – 17 Jan 2008
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Paul Virilio taught Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari the basics of nomadology and he is the only post-modernist who has the stature to intelligently go beyond Jean Baudrillard's hip extremism. He is the most important of the new wave of French social critics focusing his ire on the destructive, anti-democratic essence of speed (he has learned well the lessons Heidegger bequeathed to continental theorists from Adorno onward). His "dromadology", politics of the critique of speed, dominates his ever increasing number of texts. A hugely challenging read, that seems sometimes to give succour to the faux sophisticated scientific critiques of continental philosophy by the likes of Alan Sokal et al, Virilio is, counter to this claim, essential. Open Sky, a text that opens with the hugely pessimistic aphorism: "One day the day will come when the day does not come", further entrenches the belief that Virilio's combination of erudition, pessimism, science fiction, Christianity and post-Situationist critique is the one style out there that really could help us all to come to terms with the disorienting rapidity of social change and the totalitarian stench barely masked by the cheap utopian perfume of universal internet access, digital TV and the whole of downloadable culture.
Open Sky's drunken mix of paranoia, Nietzschean conceit and genuine, gentle, ethical concern feels closer to a truth about our perceived social situation, where the ground of space and time has collapsed, than our post-critical wariness feels comfortable with. Supping in the same bar as Virilio soon becomes a necessity. Only an urbanist of his stature can explain both the city's ubiquity and its imminent disappearance; it sometimes seems only Virilio can explain the horrible truth behind the dystopic propaganda of modern life. --Mark Thwaite --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"One of the most original thinkers of our time."--"Liberation"
"A refreshing antidote to the 'global village' mantra of net gurus, Virilio writes in the subversive tradition of Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard."--"Publishers Weekly"
"Virilio is an impressive commentator on the conditioning power of the mass media ... he has become essential reading for anyone trying to make sense of America's out-of-control war of prevention."--"Guardian"
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I read it in French when it was published. As an avid reader of cyberculture, I found _Open Sky_ very well informed indeed. Paul Virilio, however, is no fan of computers: He feels sheer panic in front of the virtualization of society. This is what makes his book so exhilarating to read: I suppose I felt the same as an amateur of military history craving for Waterloos from Napoleon's point of view or Little Big Horns through Custer's eyes.
Some of the content of this book seems a bit dated (references to the cybersuit for instance) but that does not necessarily mean that something similar won't come to pass in the future (possibly more like the Matrix?). It is worth noting that one of the previous reviews on Amazon (from 1998 I believe) made light of Virilio's take on the global economy, belittling his ideas and summarily dismissing them for his being 'French,' but as I write this now (in 2010) it seems that Virilio was prescient in his analysis of where late-capitalism and information technology are leading society (rampant unemployment that seems as if it will be a permanent fixture of the new global economy, etc.). There still may be time for Verilio to be proved wrong though.
Virilio does come off as somewhat of an alarmist, tending to focus on the downside of technological advance, but I think that his sense of alarm is not without reason and lends to provoke serious thought in the reader about the potential consequences of technology, consequences that we often seem to remain blissfully ignorant of. Technological advance may not bring the utopia that is promised in the television commercials, but it may not be as bleak as Virilio might imagine; still his point of view provides a counterweight to balance a general naivete that serves the assumption that new technologies can only make our lives a better.
In some ways I find his work in this book to be similar to, or covers similar themes as that covered by the likes of Lyotard and Baudrillard, and I am thinking here specifically of the former's "The Inhuman" and the latter's "Simulations" (but as I am not as well read of these two authors as I would like to be, there may be other works that fit better) and it might be advantageous to read these other works in conjunction with "Open Sky" (although a more casual reader might find both Lyotard and Baudrillard wholly inaccessible).
The author speaks of three intervals that have shaped man's cognitive history. The first interval is TIME, the way in which its daily, seasonal, and annual cycles have shaped our sense of human identity as a time-bound being. The second interval is SPACE, and this refers to our habit of locating (and thus measuring) ourselves in terms of what amounts to geographic relativism; the key idea here is distance and its historical role in the way that we conceive of ourselves and design reality.
Now the third interval is SPACE-TIME, that is, the way the speed of light serves as the technological and increasingly practical standard for "the perception of duration and of the world's expanse as phenomena" (p. 13), also referred to in the text as 'time-light'. What we now casually accept as the 'real-time' occurrence of events is a reflection of how instantaneous telecommunications have (1) dissolved time's traditional flow of past, present, and future, (2) eliminated distance and any physically-defining sense of horizon, and (3) allowed a world defined in terms of continuous 'telepresence' to emerge. This means that, ironically, the age-old religious and philosophical ideal of living in the present, for the moment, in the now, etc. will only now be realized in fact and EN MASSE by means of our burgeoning communications technologies and the forms of perceptual servitude accompanying them.
Virilio mentions in passing the possible anthropological impact of these developments in areas such as politics, social life, economics, and sexuality, and these will strike the reader as insightful, alarmist, or prematurely ridiculous depending upon his own attitudes about these matters, but there is no denying the assertion that we are currently in the process of having some very ancient and fundamentally formative ways of reckoning human reality forever changed and not necessarily for the sake of a brighter tomorrow that, by Virilio's estimation, the techno-bondage of the 'telepresent' prevents.
A few years of online work and an interest in the implications of the increasing importance of tech. mediation of our environment/communication were rewarded (in my case) by Virilio's intriguing discourses--essays, really-- on how we perceive and relate to the world.
The one section on the globalization of the economy, though, was so off-base, I can only attribute it to the French academic community's expertise in theory and absolute cluelessness with real life (see: French economy).
I respect the views of neo-luddites, and anarcho-primitivists, but Virilio acts as if he knows everything in fields that I assume he has yet to delve into.
Overall, it is an incredibly dull book and I wouldn't wish this read on my worst enemy.