Space according to Virilios’ Overexposed City
Virilio argues that technologies like automobile, train and airplane did not fundamentally present problems for the representational paradigm that understands speed and communication forces to produce effects that are visible, but distorted and interrupted the rationalized space of the industrialization city of the 19th century. To him surfaces of architecture formed boundaries and cities still well composed on locale clusters and space was still managed appropriately. Guided by his proximity law, Virilio argues that the relevant analysis interval shifts to time from space and finally to light- to the waves that allows the relativization and interactivity of time and space, with the passage to the absolute speed of today’s telecommunication from the mechanical transport of a past era. To him, the future’s city is the pleasure or the result of interval. As it follows, when the interval is light, essentially proximate space results to electromagnetic proximity and the grid of the city to the network of information; teleaction replaces immediate practice and chronopolitics replace geopolitics (Virilio 542- 49).
According to Virilio, this is the city that is overexposed, whose images range from the moderately benevolent ubiquity of computer screens, televisions and fax machines to the horrifying forced entry of the nuclear flash into the darkest recesses of Hiroshima. To him, space has disappeared. For in the city that has been overexposed, the organism of architecture is not opaque anymore, it is not occlusive and it has been inscribed with information that is visible just like the body of humans, on which it took its ideas and inspiration from, vulnerable and porous to the intrusion forces that are just as visible as an electron, and just as less real. These distinctions, there and here, exterior and interior, and private and public, on which architecture depends on, are no longer useful and they no longer hold, and the resulting territory insecurity ranges into one’s own body from the cities (Virilio 542- 49).
His later works pursued the notions of the fusion of biology, technology, and the way the environment is arranged, and points out to us that destruction and perception can be distressingly coterminous. This article, however, explores the notions of disappearance and shows new ways which one can use to analyze the structures of a city that can no longer be seen in the locations and materials that realize it. Since the current system of the world is not as global as fundamental, like a shot of a cinema of the night tables of the author receding into pixels that are one dimensional, information technology becomes the only representational solution to the new representational challenges. According to these arguments, it is clear that Virilio thinks and indicates that space has disappeared (Virilio 542- 49).
To further indicate and express this point, an example of a statement made by the mayor of Philadelphia in the 1960s when the black revolts were in full swing is used. The mayor pointed out that ‘….from now on, state lines cross inside the city….. (Virilio 543). While this statement was largely a political reality for numerous individuals in the United States, it more essentially opened onto a dimension that was more meaningful and wider especially because the Berlin wall had just been put up. Since this time, the statement the mayor made kept on being proved true. This is exemplified by the case of Belfast and Londonderry whereby the two streets recently were marked with a yellow line. This band was supposed to divide Catholics and Protestants, before the two warring groups moved away leaving a no- man’s land behind that even created a stronger division between these two neighborhoods (Rondanini 234- 54). After this, another city, Beirut followed suit with its west and east regions, its local frontiers, mined boulevards, and tunnels. It is argued that this declaration made by a large American metropolitan leader underlined general phenomenon that affected provincial cities and capitals (Virilio 542- 49).
This phenomenon of compulsory bashfulness, in which industrial companies, just like cities, suffered the first effects of an economy that was multinational, led to an essential redeployment of cities. On one hand this led to the disruption of some cities that were predominantly working – class cities like Sheffield, and Liverpool in England, St. Louis and Detroit in the US, and German’s Dortmund. On the other hand, new city centers came up around large international airports- what are referred to as the metroplex. These airports were build with the beginning of the international economic crisis that occurred in the 1970s for the purposes of conforming to the imperatives in defense against buildings that were hijacking cities and were no longer build in respect to the traditional constraints of technology, but were build to reduce the risk of contamination by terrorists (Virilio 542- 49).
Sites were designed to discriminate between a non- sterile zone from a sterile zone. All circuits and breaks of circuits, as well as, the general traffic flow were put through a discriminatory system of transit. As it follows, the architectural forms of the buildings became less the outcome of the individual personality of architects than of the required precautions taken for the safety of the public. As the last gateway of the state the airport was more established as a fort, the train station or the harbor of the past, the place where it is necessary to regulate communication and exchange. For the same reason, it also became the appropriate field to exercise high surveillance and intense control experimentation. A border and air patrol was also established, and their exploits on antiterrorism made news headlines.
From this time, it was not simply matter of segregating the suspected or contagious person through confinement like it was done in the past, but rather of intercepting the threat in the course of their journey so as to examine his clothing and baggage electronically; thus the sudden abundance of cameras, detectors, and radar at compulsory passageways (Virilio 542- 49).
Absurdly, the very equipment and technology designed and developed for the greatest freedom in travel provided for a model for prison incarceration. In the past, in a number of residential areas in the US, security was performed only by televisions that well closed- circuit connected to police headquarters. In supermarkets, banks, and highways, several tollbooths were erected to resemble the old city gates, too show that the passage rites are no longer broken, that they have in turn become immanent (Virilio 542- 49).
With such a perspective without horizons, the manner through which an individual gains access to a city is not through a city gate, or a triumph arch, but rather through an audience system managed and controlled electronically whose users are not really inhabitants of the city or privileged residents as they are interlocutors who are permanently on the move. From this point, continuity breaks occur a few times within the boundary of an urban space that is physical or its register than within a time’s span, a span that industrial and technology redeployments have incessantly restructured through sets of interruptions like unemployment, company closures and work schedules that are variable; and through simultaneous or successive transformations that have managed to reorganize and organize the milieu of the city, like, for example, the large townhouses located near Lyons whereby the inhabitant turnover rates went so high that it resulted to the destruction of a residential complex otherwise seen as satisfactory (Virilio 542- 49).
It is argued that since men first began to make use of enclosures, the idea of what a boundary was has gone through different changes which concern both what it faces and façade. To the screen from the fence, the surface of boundaries has been continually altered, either imperceptibly and perceptibly. Its more current changes are maybe that one of the interface. The queries of a city’s accessibility then must be rephrased to ask whether a greater metropolis still has a façade. To ask at what time the city can be indicated to facing us. The author further argues that the popular expression of the past century that people had of saying that they are going into the city has been notably been replaced by going to the city. This according to the author embodies an uncertainty concerning relations or associations of the opposites, as if individuals were no longer ever at the city’s front but always inside it. If the city still is located and takes a considerable amount of land, or a geographical position, it no longer keeps in touch with the ancient division between a country and a city, nor with the opposition between periphery and center (Virilio 542- 49).
The axiality and the localization of the layout of the city faded some time ago. It is argued that the suburbia was not the sole culprit of this dissolution. The very opposition extramural versus intramural was itself made weak by the revolution in the communication and telecommunications development and in transportation, which in turn resulted to the vague conurbation of a city fringe. The author puts it that we are currently witnessing a phenomenon that is paradoxical in which the construction opacity materials is virtually being done away with. With the emergence of structures that are portative, curtain walls made of transparent materials and light are replacing the faced made of stone at the same time that the paper used for tracing, plexiglass and acetate used in project surveys are replacing the opaque characteristic of papers (Virilio 542- 49).
The issue of disappearance of space is further emphasized by Henri Lefebvre who launched a search for a unitary theory of mental, physical, and social space with the declaration that, ‘…..the fact is that around 1910 a certain space was shattered. It was the space of common sense, of knowledge, of social practice, of political power, a space hitherto enshrined in everyday discourse, just as in abstract thought, as the environment of and channel for communications…..’ (Lefebvre 177). He further points out that perspective and Euclidean space have disappeared as reference systems, along with other past commonplaces like history, town, paternity, traditional morality, the tonal music system, among others.
Daniel Defert, on the other hand, argues that for almost twenty years, spaces remained substantially misunderstood and unexplored. He further puts it that urbanism and architecture do not constitute an entirely autonomous or isolated field (Defert 280- 81). Tom McDonough is another author who talks of disappearing and disappeared space. This particular author argues in one of his articles that under capitalism that is advanced, ‘…. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation…..’ (McDonough 254). Just as Lefebvre argued, this author puts it that the corollary to this in spatial discourse was that space that was directly lived in or what he referred to as the representational space had gone away into the space of the perceived and conceived or what he called the representations of space. He argues that concrete, social space was denied in favor of abstract, mental space, or commodity’s free space. According to him, however, this thoroughly dominated space was not faultless, in fact, he argues that it was filled with contradictions, hidden and covered by an ideology that was homogenizing.
These contradictions are what according to the author made it possible for the struggle resulting from the situationist project; the construction of spaces and exploration of psychogeography that made the difference. The experimental behavior of situationists and their inhabiting practice was an operation or activity in space that had become dominated that meant to contest or compete for the retreat of the directly lived into the representation of realm, and hence, to compete or challenge the society’s organization of the spectacle itself. This, just like the other two authors, supports that claims by Virilio that space has already disappeared.
Defert, Daniel. ‘Foucault, Space and the Architects’. 1997. Print
Lefebvre, Henri. From ‘the Production of Space.’ From La Production de l’espace. Paris: Anthoropos, 1974. Print
McDonough, Tom. ‘The Naked City’.
Rondanini, Nunzia Architecture and Social Change Heresies II, Vol. 3, No. 3, New York, Neresies Collective Inc., 1981. Print
Virilio, Paul. ‘The Overexposed City.’ La Ville Superposee from L’espace critique. Paris: Christian Bourgeois, 1984. Print