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Pure War

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Pure War [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Paul Virilio and Sylvère Lotringer, trans. Mark Polizzotti and Brian O’Keeffe, part of the Semiotext(e) / Foreign Agents series.

Virillio Lotringer Pure War

“I am the warrior Lord of the Forties: the Eighties cower before me, & are abased.” CCXX III:46

Pure War is a book-length interview — arbitrarily broken into chapters — of Paul Virilio by Sylvère Lotringer. Urbanist intellectual Virilio is a theorist of the mechanisms by which war drives technology (and vice versa), and the inventor of dromology as the study of how “speed” transforms social relations. His authorities on military theory include J.F.C. Fuller (57, 69). Virilio posits an essential conflict between military and civil society, or more hypostatically, between war and politics. Although the Pure War interview took place in 1983, during what the participants did not know was the twilight of the Cold War, the trends which Virilio describes have only intensified in the following decades. He sees war with the upper hand, and politics teetering on the edge of an exterminating abyss. 

As I reflect on the relevant changes since the publication of Pure War, I observe that the ongoing militarization of society has meant that some technologies of speed (e.g. SST) have been withdrawn from the civil sphere while being advanced in the military one. Virilio contemplated the dromological potential of the orbital laser, but the Internet and the predator drone both suit his model without being instanced by it. Also, the advancing commercialization of the US military (Halliburton food service, Blackwater/XE mercenaries, etc.) vindicates Virilio’s observations, as war further frees itself from politics. The spasm of US militarism during which the President was almost universally referenced as the “Commander in Chief” has subsided somewhat, but not due to any reduction in the dedication of US resources to the military. Virilio’s notions about endocolonization could hardly be more apt to the current American scene, in which the massive military expenditures of the first decade of the century are being exacted from the civil society of the second.

As an interviewer, Lotringer asks few actual questions. His contributions often seem to be attempts to condense Virilio’s theses more pithily, for instance: “The peak of speed is the extermination of space. The end of time is absolute deterritorialization.” (74) These remarks then goad Virilio into clarifications and enlargements.

Virilio offers a genealogy in which civil society (originally the city) was actually twin-born with military society from pre-civilized “tumults” of all-against-all violence. He posits this in contradistinction to the model of trade as the basis for civilization. According to him, war has evolved from tactics (pre-martial violence), through strategy (control of space), to logistics (control of time). The global fruition of logistics is the “pure war” in which humanity is increasingly subject to a non-human technological agenda predicated on abstract, hyperreal conflict. 

The fascination with and prioritization of war does not mean that Virilio sides with it against politics — quite the reverse. Virilio himself is a Christian who opposes theocracy in favor of civil liberty, and in fact he declares, “Pure War is the absolute idol.” (171) All of his prescience is somewhat gloomy in that respect, even if I don’t share his values. He does credit the regime of nuclear deterrence positively with reawakening a religious sense in the secular world; he even calls Nietzschean atheism “the abomination of desolation.” For someone who doesn’t worship the Crowned and Conquering Child, he seems nevertheless to have the number of the Lord of the Aeon.

O nameless splendour of the Gods,
          Begotten hardly of Heaven!
Unspoken treasure of the abodes
          Beyond the lightning levin!
No misery, no despair may pay
The joy to hold thee for a day!

Aleister Crowley, The Argonauts

Hermetic quote Crowley The Argonauts nameless splendour gods heaven unspoken treasure abodes no misery despair pay joy hold thee a day

Century 1969

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1969 [Amazon, Amazon (Collected), Local Library] by Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill, &al.

Moore O'Neill The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century 1969

The bad and the good of the latest regarding Mina Harker and her peculiar company:

Moore’s alternate history in this book is not compelling (“hippy fascism” in the US?)–I thought that Warren Ellis’ Planetary did a far better job of this sort of thing. Unsurprisingly, as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has progressed through the 20th century, it has come more and more to seem like an inferior version of Planetary, which started out doing for the 20th century what The League originally did for the 19th. 

Moorcock “crossover” homages? They’re not exciting to me the way they would have been when I was a teenager. Modeling the villain on Aleister Crowley — as was set up in 1910? Meh. Professed Magus Moore either proves that he has no idea what a moonchild is (and has never bothered to read Crowley’s novel of that name), or he’s gratuitously throwing dust in the eyes of the profane. 

There were lots of fun little in-jokes; the incorporation of Rosemary’s Baby into the plotline was a nice touch. I couldn’t help feeling that I was missing dozens of cameos in O’Neill’s crowded panels. 

The art in the psychedelic sequences is great! I also thought that Moore’s rewrite of “Sympathy for the Devil” was just splendid.

Listen, you! We expect nothing from you…we have burnt our hope as far as you are concerned…we want to speak to the ones who are prepared to stop eating their food. Misery is your food… scum-filth party politics is your food…when will you look down and see what is on the end of your fork – the naked lunch? We give up, you little people, your tenacity, your insistence on little wretched miseries amazes us. Stop reading this now. Because it is highly unlikely that you are one of those able to understand us.

Blood

Hermetic quote TOPY Blood stop reading this little wretched miseries highly unlikely you are one able to understand

Briefing for a Descent Into Hell

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Briefing for a Descent Into Hell [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Doris Lessing.

Lessing Briefing for a Descent into Hell

This novel is beautifully written. I felt like it was very demanding of my attention, because although styles and speakers vary in the course of the text, there are no full page-stop chapter breaks. In the absence of dialogue, paragraphs tend to run for multiple pages, and the prose (sometimes breaking into poetry or incantation) has an insistent restlessness in keeping with its subject matter–especially in the first half, where a narcotized sleep is an ambivalent power for desired healing or feared imprisonment.

“I never learned to live awake. I was trained for sleep. Oh let me sleep and sleep my life away. And if the pressure of true memory wakes me before I need, if the urgency of what I should be doing stabs into my sleep, then for God’s sake doctor, for goodness sake, give me drugs and put me back to dreaming again.” (139)

This waking/sleep dialectic is one of the features that insinuates a mystical subtext throughout. Others include the intimation of people destined for companionship, the foreboding of illusion in consensual phenomena, and reflections on the urge to engender praeterhumanity in our children.

There are many different levels of storytelling involved, of which the outermost is a set of clinical notes and correspondence surrounding the hospitalization of a man with what seems to be traumatic amnesia. Within that setting are conversations, and within those are dreams and memories. In one dream an entire governance of the solar system is set forth as background to the protagonist’s sense of dislocation and urgency. In an unreliable memory, guerrilla warfare becomes the setting for a tragic encounter with idyllic nature.

Others have noted that this is a book worth re-reading, and I’m inclined to agree.