Virilio, War and Technology: Some Critical Reflections

Theory, Culture and Society 16 (5-6):103-125 (1999)
Paul Virilio is one of the most prolific and penetrating critics of the drama of technology in the contemporary era, especially military technology, technologies of representation, computer and information technologies, and biotechnology. For Virilio, the question of technology is the question of our time and his life work constitutes a sustained reflection on the origins, nature and effects of the key technologies that have constituted the modern/ postmodern world. In particular, Virilio carries out a radical critique of the ways that technology is transfonning the contemporary world and even the human species. Yet I want to argue in this study that Virilio has a flawed conception of technology that is excessively negative and one-sided, thus missing the empowering and democratizing aspects of new computer and media technologies. My argument is that his vision of technology is overdetermined by his intense focus on war and military technology and that this optic drives him to predominantly technophobic perspectives on technology per se as well as the new technologies of the contemporary era. I contend that Virilio's project is essentially conservative, wishing to preserve the human body and natural life against the assaults of what he regards as a demonic technology which he considers as having a highly destructive impact, on nature, human beings and socio-political life. However, it is precisely the extremely critical discourse on war and military technology, as well as his penetrating reflections on war, cinema, technologies of representation and vision machines, and biotechnology, that constitute the valuable aspects of his work
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DOI 10.1177/02632769922050890
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