James Der Derian
‘Is the author dead?’ To this day I am not sure why I chose this as my first question to ask of Paul Virilio. Back in 1995 I persuaded Wired Magazine to front me funds to interview Paul Virilio in Paris. The interview took place in what was clearly his booth at La Coupole, the art deco restaurant at the intersection of Montparnasse and Raspail where Rodin’s corpuscular sculpture of Balzac served as good company for our three-hour, four-course, two-bottle, five-question lunch.
I only managed to get in five questions because Virilio responded to each one with sentences full of concatenated clauses; paragraphs that unfolded like Eisenstein montages; and verbal essays that could not possibly be reduced to the contracted thousand-word limit. From one course to the next he worked his best hits: the ascendance of pace over space; the logistics of perception; the aesthetics of disappearance; the technological colonization of the body; and the importance of post-Einsteinian science for the social critic; stuff then that seemed outlandish, and now all too normal. Between bites he grilled me on the Gulf War, electoral data polling and the decline of democracy in America.
I think it was over dessert that we plunged into his idée fixe of the accident, as both disaster and diagnostic of the human condition. I told him how an accident had first introduced me to his work, when, working as a photographer’s assistant in Paris I had ran into a friend from Montreal at the Montparnasse post office, who insisted that I go see a great photography exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Arts – Virilio’s Bunker Archeology. As it turns out one accident followed on another and that same year, 1976, we both were beaten up during a manifs by a group of right-wing extremists. His arm, my nose had been broken. In that comparison of scars at La Coupole, lifting shirt sleeves and tilting heads, I am reminded, after all our talk of war machines, prosthetic humans, and virtual technologies, that bones break, the flesh weakens but the author lives on.