Virilio, Paul. "The Third Interval: A Critical Transition." Rethinking
Technologies. Ed. Verena Andermatt Conley. Trans. Tom Conley. Minneapolis:
Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1993. 3-12.
Virilio anticipates an ominous shift wrought by the interval of light as it
proliferates in "teletopical technologies" that allow for speedier
transmissions. "Act[ing] over distance" is, as a result, increasingly
commonplace. Virilio builds a case for the implications of this shift for
demography, urbanization, and insularity–matters that can be understood
relative to human culture at-large and also to the academic institution.
Virilio is important for his foreboding stance toward the "critical
transition" involving an onset of real-time technologies that "kill ‘present’
time by isolating it from its presence here and now for the sake of
another commutative space that is no longer composed of our ‘concrete presence’
in the world, but of a ‘discrete telepresence’ whose enigma remains forever
intact" (4). It’s not entirely clear to me, though, how concrete presence and
discrete telepresence are divisible or separable.
Twitter seems to me a fine example of the
implements Virilio would find so disconcerting (more general transmission
technologies, too, of course, are worrisome to him in ~1993).
The third interval–light–is positioned here as a threat, as a force with
tremendous destructive power. Teletopical technologies, following the
transition, will, if they haven’t already, crush the present as we know it,
converting reality and duration into "’alternation’ or ‘flickering’ that is also
related to a sort of commotion of present duration" (7). Virilio goes on
to suggest the implications of this "radical inversion" for cities. But I want
to use it to understand skepticism toward distance–and distant reading (like
about Moretti’s work). Two thoughts about this:
(-1-) One is cautionary. If distant reading is justified on the basis
of efficiency (it makes large bodies of texts differently accessible), is it
just another example of what Virilio calls the "tyranny of real time"? We
can generate distant readings, in other words, and while they will make texts
differently accessible (allowing scalable designations, etc.), do they
simultaneously overload the present with an assumption that it can hold more?
I suppose I’m not making this plain. If the article abstract, as a form of
distant reading, functions as a teaser into the article, the present moment is
still held under a heavy burden by x+1 number of abstracts. Distant
reading paradoxically reduces and multiplies the labors of reading.
Still, this is unavoidable, and the conditions for reading the discipline are
even less tenable without such measures. A cynical response could expand
the notion of domotics (domestic robotics) to something like acadomotics (the
reduction and routinization of intellectual life; the flooding of a working
present, the disolution of duration).
(-2-) The second requires a switch from the broad domain of human culture to
the circulation of scholarship. Virilio writes, "Where, in the past,
physical displacements from one point to another presupposed a departure, a
voyage, and an arrival, more than a century ago revolutions in modes of
transport had already set in place a liquidation of delay and oriented the very
nature of travel (on foot, on horseback, and in a car!) toward the arrival at a
final point that remained, however, a restricted arrival by virtue of the
very duration of the voyage" (8). This goes along with the critical
transition: teletopic technologies move the present instant from scarcity to
abundance (the attention economy is embroiled in this transition), from delay
and duration to plentitude. Read this quotation as an analogy to publication
cycles. Restricted arrival gives way to general arrival; this is true for
journals, such as The Journal of
Literacy and Technology, that use rolling deadlines. Rolling cycles
challenge us to read differently. Duration fades, the journal is
potentially ever-present, its departures and arrivals highly irregular. How to
read such a thing?
"Today we are beginning to realize that systems of telecommunications do not
merely confine extension, but that, in the transmission of
messages and images, they also eradicate duration or delay" (3).
"What is becoming critical here is no longer the concept of three spatial
dimensions, but a fourth, temporal dimension–in other words, that of the
present itself" (4).
"In the future, speed will be used more and more to act over distance,
beyond the sphere of influence of the human body and its behavioral
"Critical transition is thus not a gratuitous expression: behind this
vocable there lurks a real crisis of the temporal dimension of immediate
"Where, in the past, physical displacements from one point to another
presupposed a departure, a voyage, and an arrival, more
than a century ago revolutions in modes of transport had already set in place a
liquidation of delay and oriented the very nature of travel (on foot, on
horseback, and in a car!) toward the arrival at a final point that remained,
however, a restricted arrival by virtue of the very duration of
the voyage" (8). [Analogy: scholarly publishing]
"Thus the mobile human who had become automobile
will now become motile, willfully limiting his or her bodily
sphere of influence to a few simple gestures, to the emission–or zapping–of
several signs" (9).
"Telemarketing, tele-employment, fax work, bit-net, and e-mail transmissions
at home, in apartments, or in cabled high rises–these might be called
cocooning: an urbanization of real time thus follows the urbanization of
real space" (11).
Phrases: teletopical technologies (4), static audiovisual vehicle (5),
electromagnetic conditioning (5), interval of light (6), immediate action (7),
present instant (7), restricted arrival (8), general arrival (8), domotics (9,
11), tyrrany of distances (10), tyranny of real time (10), mobilization and
intertia (11), chain of displacement (11), cocooning (11)