Tuesday, 4 September 2007

MS-352 Virtual Life week 10

10. Turn on, Log-in and Switch off: Forster, Huxley, Bradbury, Baudrillard, Virilio

Most of the authors we have covered in the module have been optimistic about the benefits for human life and relations of contemporary technological advances. From Rheingold and Turkle’s view of the reality of virtual relations and community, to the valorisation of networked crowds, to proponents of cyborg technologies and posthuman prophets, the underlying faith in our media and its future is palpable. But new media also has its critics and in this lecture we explore how science fiction and media theory have offered similar warnings about developments in technology. The critique of technological development is obviously a major theme in science fiction but I want to focus here on three texts. We begin with Forster’s 1909 vision of a future of individuals cocooned in boxes, never meeting anyone in person and communicating instead through tele-technologies (coordinated through a single web-like machine) that bring the world to them; Huxley’s 1932 vision of pleasure-seeking masses bought off through drugs and entertainment (by virtual reality ‘feelies’) and Bradbury’s 1954 vision of a society that voluntarily gave up books and knowledge due to their love of easy information and entertainment and the new technologies of immersive television rooms, ear-shell audio devices, plot-less reality-TV shows, live television police chases, TV fakery, popular quiz shows and television childcare… Whilst each of these fictions remains very much of their time (ultimately reflecting the ideas of their own age about technology and its organisation and effects) they share a critical position, each warning of the danger inherent in the path of technology of a disconnection from the world, from human relations and from reality. Contemporary media critics Jean Baudrillard and Paul Virilio explore the same ideas, seeing electronic media as realising these warnings. Both have developed an extreme social theory of the effects of technology and the losses it entails. Their critique is simple – perhaps even at its core simplistic – but in their work new media finds its most implacable critics.



Forster, E. M. (1909) ‘The Machine Stops’, at: http://brighton.ncsa.uiuc.edu/prajlich/forster.html
Huxley, A. (1932) Brave New World, available at: http://www.huxley.net/bnw/index.html
Bradbury, R. (1954) Fahrenheit 451,

On Baudrillard:

My own paper offers the easiest way into Baudrillard’s media theory and critique of new media:

Merrin, W. (2006) ‘“The Horizon of a Programmed Reality: Baudrillard and New Media’, at: http://evatt.org.au/publications/papers/173.html

For a related overview of his broader career and critique look at:

Merrin, W. (2007) ‘“Speculation to the Death”: Jean Baudrillard’s Theoretical Violence’, in Edwards, T. (ed.) Cultural Theory. Classical and Contemporary Positions, London: Sage.

As regards work by Baudrillard, I’d recommend focusing upon the following:

(1988) ‘The Ecstasy of Communication’, in The Ecstasy of Communication, New York:
Semiotext(e) [1987].

(1997) ‘Aesthetic Illusion and Virtual Reality’, in Zurbrugg, N. (ed.) Jean Baudrillard. Art and Artefact, London: Sage, pp. 19-27.

(1996) ‘The Automatic Writing of the world’, in The Perfect Crime, London: Verso, pp. 25-34 [1995].

(2000) ‘The Murder of the Real’, in The Vital Illusion, New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 59-83.

(2002) ‘Screened Out’, in Screened Out, London: Verso, pp. 176-80 [2000].

(2005) ‘Violence of the Virtual and Integral Reality’, in the International Journal of
Baudrillard Studies
, Vol. 2., No. 2. at: http://www.ubishops.ca/BaudrillardStudies/vol2_2/baudrillard.htm

(2005) ‘Integral Reality’, ‘The Mental Diaspora of the Networks’ and ‘Virtuality and Events’, in The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact, Oxford: Berg. (the events chapter is also available online as ‘Virtuality and Events: The Hell of Power’ at: http://www.ubishops.ca/BaudrillardStudies/vol3_2/jb_virt.htm

These will give you an overview of his comments on new media and virtuality. This then needs to be placed in the context of his broader media theory. My book offers a detailed summary of this:

Merrin, W. (2005) Baudrillard and the Media. A Critical Introduction, Cambridge: Polity.

For a basic understanding of Baudrillard’s own comments upon media the following are the best points of entry:

(1996) ‘Conclusion: Towards a Definition of Consumption’ in The System of Objects, London: Verso, pp. 199-205 [1968].

(1998) ‘The Consumed Vertigo of Catastrophe’, ‘The Orchestration of Messages’, ‘Medium is
Message’, ‘Pseudo-Event and Neo-Reality’ and ‘beyond the True and the False’, from The Consumer Society, London: Sage [1970].

(1981) ‘Requiem For the Media’, in For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, St Louis: Telos Press, pp. 164-84 [1971].

(1993) ‘The Order of Simulacra’, in Symbolic Exchange and Death, London: Sage, pp. 50-86 [1976].

(1983) In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities, New York: Semiotext(e) [1978].

(1990) ‘Stereo-Porno’, from Seduction, Montreal: New World Perspectives, pp. 28-36 [1979].

(1994) ‘The Precession of Simulacra’, ‘The Implosion of Meaning in the Media’, ’Holocaust’ and
‘Absolute Advertising, Ground-Zero Advertising’, in Simulacra and Simulation, Michigan: University of Michigan Press [1981].

(1993) ‘After the Orgy’, in The Transparency of Evil, London: Verso, pp. 3-13 [1990].

(1995) The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, Sydney: Power Publications [1991].

(2002) The Spirit of Terrorism, London: Verso.

(2005) ‘War Porn’, in the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1, at:

If you want to look at the other secondary works on Baudrillard for more detail and different interpretations try the following (but avoid any student cultural theory etc. textbook – most of these have too simplistic and often just plain wrong discussions of his work). The best known critiques of Baudrillard are found in Kellner, D. (1989) Jean Baudrillard. From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond (Cambridge: Polity) and Norris, C. (1992) Uncritical Theory (London: Lawrence and Wishart). More positive analyses of his work can be found in Gane, M. (1991) Baudrillard’s Bestiary (London: Routledge), (1991) Baudrillard: Critical and Fatal Theory (London: Routledge), and (2000) Jean Baudrillard. In Radical Uncertainty (London: Pluto). Easier student books include Lane, R. J. (2000) Jean Baudrillard (London: Routledge) and Hegarty, P. (2004) Jean Baudrillard. Live Theory (London: Continuum). Genosko, G. (1999) McLuhan and Baudrillard. The Masters of Implosion (London: Routledge) is useful for more advanced students as are the essays in the online International Journal of Baudrillard Studies at http://www.ubishops.ca/baudrillardstudies/ .

On Virilio:

The best text to read for this lecture is Virilio’s 1995 book:

Virilio, P. (1997) Open Sky, London: Verso.

Further reading by Virilio is easy to find – he has published many books and most are now available in translation. The following is a list of his major works. Not all are entirely relevant for the lecture, though most contain chapters, sections or ideas that relate to the lecture themes. Be warned that Virilio’s style of thought and writing is complex and highly compressed and this can be a problem for many students. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed or confused, just focus on the ideas in Open Sky.

(1994) Bunker Archaeology, New York: Princeton Architectural Press [1975]

(1986) Speed and Politics, New York: Semiotext(e) [1977]

(1989) War and Cinema, London: Verso [1984]

(1991) The Lost Dimension, New York: Semiotext(e) [1984]

(2005) Negative Horizon [1984]

(1995) The Vision Machine, London: BFI [1988]

(2000) Polar Inertia, London: Sage [1990]

(2002) Desert Screen, London: Continuum [1991]

(1995) The Art of the Motor, London: University of Minnesota Press [1993]

(1999) Politics of the Very Worst, New York: Semiotext(e) [1996]

(2000) A Landscape of Events, London: MIT Press [1996]

(2000) The Information Bomb, London: Verso [1998]

(2000) Strategy of Deception, London: Verso [1999]

(2003) Art and Fear, London: Continuum [2000]

(2002) Crepuscular Dawn, New York: Semiotext(e)

(2002) Ground Zero, London: Verso

(2005) City of Panic, Oxford: Berg [2004]

(2007 ) The Original Accident [2005]

(2005) The Accident of Art, New York: Semiotext(e)

(2007) Art As Far As the Eye Can See, Oxford: Berg

You could also look at:

Virilio, P. (1996) ‘“A Century of Hyperviolence”: Paul Virilio: An Interview’, in Economy and Society, Vol., 25, No. 1, pp.111-26.

Armitage, J. (ed.) (2001) Virilio Live, London: Sage

Der Derian, J. (ed.) (1998) The Virilio Reader, Oxford: Blackwell

Redhead, S. (2004) The Paul Virilio Reader, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Secondary texts and commentaries on Virilio include:

Armitage, J. (ed.) (2000) Paul Virilio: From Modernism to Hypermodernism and Beyond, London: Sage.

James, I. (2007) Paul Virilio (Routledge Critical Thinkers), London: Routledge.

Redhead, S. (2004) Paul Virilio. Theorist For an Accelerated Culture, Edinburgh: Edinburgh
University Press.

Rose, J. (2007) Paul Virilio: Live Theory, London: Continuum (forthcoming for a long time).

Kellner, D. (no date) ‘Virilio, War and Technology: Some Critical Reflections’, at:

On the net look at:

Virilio, P. (1994) ‘Cyberwar, God and Television’, interview with Louise Wilson, at:

Virilio, P. (1995) ‘Speed and Information. Cyberspace Alarm!’, at:
http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=72 also available as ‘Red Alert in Cyberspace’, at: http://www.radicalphilosophy.com/default.asp?channel_id=2187&editorial_id=10735

Virilio, P. (1995) ‘The Art of the Motor’, at:

Virilio, P. (1996) ‘The Silence of the Lambs. Paul Virilio in Conversation’, interview with Carlos
Oliveira, at: http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=38

Virilio, P. (1996) ‘Speed Pollution’, an interview with James Der Derian, at: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/4.05/virilio.html

Virilio, P. (1997) Interview with James Der Derian, at: http://proxy.arts.uci.edu/~nideffer/_SPEED_/1.4/articles/derderian.html

Virilio, P. (2000) ‘The Kosovo War Took Place in Orbital Space’, interview with John Armitage, at: http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=132

Virilio, P. (no date) ‘The Game of Love and Chance. An Interview With Paul Virilio’, interview with Jerome Sans, at: http://www.watsoninstitute.org/infopeace/vy2k/sans.cfm

Virilio, P. (no date) ‘Future war. A Discussion with James Der Derian’, at: http://www.watsoninstitute.org/infopeace/vy2k/futurewar.cfm

Virilio, P. (no date) ‘A Crash of Strategic Thought’, at: http://slash.autonomedia.org/article.pl?sid=01/10/16/1227234

Special online issue of Speed (1997, issue 1.4) devoted to Virilio, at: http://proxy.arts.uci.edu/~nideffer/_SPEED_/1.4/resultsSPEED.html?Paul%20Virilio

No comments: