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Paul Virilio

My copy of The Vision Machine contains an accident, made by the printing press. It’s a small one, but it proves its point. The first pages, including the colophon, comprise a separate book: a guide to training horses. It is a testament to the poetic texture of Paul Virilio’s thought that I first realized the printing error, which I assume to be the result of a rogue indexing algorithm, by the quality of the writer’s prose. The author of this misplaced equine guide notes, much as Virilio does in his book (which begins on page nineteen), that to place someone under your control, “you must understand his nature and behavior, and you must have his attention.” Virilio, like our greatest philosophers (of which he is one), had a writer’s talent. His books, like Vilém Flusser’s and Jean Baudrillard’s (with whom he’s often compared), read like good science fiction. Unlike Baudrillard’s, they’re actually true.

Virilio understood our condition as an uninterruptible war—a total surround. Less than two days after he died, this total war reached another generation in the United States. Teenagers born on or after September 12, 2001, can now enlist and die in a war that was set off by an event they were not even alive to witness, but which resounds today on TV—the redux of a war Baudrillard claimed (admittedly, with irony) “did not take place.” Virilio followed esoteric strands of thought to prescient conclusions, and knew better than to be deluded by his own physical vision, a sense which he understood to be a construction subject to external influence and cooptation. Though he was not a prophet for me—I began reading him too late—he’s someone who has always held answers. It would be an impossible task to trace where he gained his own information—David Levi Strauss said, in his Bases of Criticism seminar, that Virilio had a military informant—but a writer learns from reading him that meaning is to be found not where an event occurs or an image appears, but where it originates. Virilio’s literature is a literature of origins.

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