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Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007, 11:34 AM
Paul Virilio and the Phenomenology of the Political Body

Jason Adams


The argument that technological progress has been complementary to the fight against totalitarian forms of government is repeated often within the social sciences, based largely upon the notion that it has brought people from the most distant corners of the earth ‘together’ in such a way as to inscribe the liberal democratic values of liberty, equality and fraternity at a global level for the first time. What these arguments ignore however, are the ties that bind the Nazi and Soviet forms of totalitarianism to the mass liberal democracies under which we live today through their common embrace of the ideology of progress, under which all that is external to technology is redefined as raw material for its ‘inevitable’ expansion. This thesis considers the shape that this complicity has taken over the course of the twentieth century through an engagement with the thought of Paul Virilio, whose life’s work has demonstrated that technologization has depended upon the uprooting, fragmentation and totalization of the ‘animal bodies’ of men, women and children, the ‘social bodies’ of families, cities and nations and the ‘territorial bodies’ of forests, oceans and mountains. By drawing attention to this aspect of his thought, the study demonstrates the bases on which Virilio stakes his claim that the lived bodily experience of the territorial and social ecologies has been subordinated to the artificial prosthetic experience of the technical ecology, thus laying the groundwork for a totalitarian individualism to take over where the conviviality of the ‘political body’ left off. The study not only analyzes the deconstructive effects of technology on political community, but also investigates the many attempts of civilian populations to mount a popular defense against such incursions, while also considering the question of how the disassembled political body might be reconstructed through the reinvention of art, architecture and the city. Ultimately, the thesis concludes that while Virilio is pessimistic about the liberating potentiality of technology under fascism, Communism and liberalism, he nevertheless allows for the possibility of a ‘new politics’ and a ‘new technology’ through his uniquely phenomenological and anarchist approach.

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