(transl. by Chris Turner: Verso, 2006). 1,327 views
April 30, 2015
Totality or all-inclusiveness? We can scarcely avoid the question today of what is meant by the endlessly repeated word globalization. Is this a term intended to take over from the word internationalism, associated too closely with communism, or, as is often claimed, is it a reference to single-market capitalism?
Either answer is wide of the mark. After the ‘end of history,’ prematurely announced a few years ago by Francis Fukuyama, what is being revealed here are the beginnings of the ‘end of the space’ of a small planet held in suspension in the electronic ether of our modern means of telecommunication.
Let us not forget that ‘excellence is a completion’ (Aristotle), and perfect accomplishment a definitive conclusion.
The time of the finite world is coming to an end and, unless we are astronomers or geophysicists, we shall understand nothing of the sudden ‘globalization of history’ if we do not go back to physics and the reality of the moment.
To claim, as is now the case, that globalism illustrates the victory of free enterprise over totalitarian collectivism is to understand nothing of the current loss of time intervals, the endless feedback, the telescoping of industrial or post-industrial activities.
How are we to conceive the change wrought by computerization if we remain tied to an ideological approach, when the urgent need is in fact for a new geostrategic approach to discover the scale of the phenomenon that is upon us? And we need to do this to come back to the Earth — not in the sense of the old earth which sustains and nourishes us, but of the unique celestial body we occupy. To return to the world, to its dimensions and to the coming loss of those dimensions in the acceleration not now of history (which, with the loss of local time, has just lost its concrete foundations), but of reality itself, with the new-found importance of this world time, a time whose instantaneity definitively cancels the reality of distances — the reality of those geographical intervals which only yesterday still organized the politics of nations and their alliances, the importance of which had been shown by the Cold War in the age of (East/West) bloc politics.
‘Physics’ and ‘metaphysics’ are two terms which have been current in philosophy and understood in that discipline since Aristotle, but what of geophysics and metageophysics? There is still doubt over the meaning of the latter term, while the factual reality clearly shows that the continents have lost their geographical foundations and been supplanted by the tele-continents of a global communication system which has become quasi-instantaneous.
After the extreme political importance assumed by the geophysics of the globe over the history of societies separated not so much by their national frontiers as by communications distances and timelags, we have in recent times seen the transpolitical importance of this kind of meta-geophysics which the cybernetic interactivity of the contemporary world represents for us at the end of the twentieth century.
Since all presence is presence only at a distance, the tele-presence of the era of the globalization of exchanges could only be established across the widest possible gap. This is a gap which now stretches to the other side of the world, from one edge to the other of present reality. But this is a meta-geophysical reality which strictly regulates the tele-continents of a virtual reality that monopolizes the greater part of the economic activity of the nations and, conversely, destroys cultures which are precisely situated in the space of the physics of the globe.
We are not seeing an ‘end of history,’ but we are seeing an end of geography. Whereas, until the transport revolution of the nineteenth century, the old time intervals produced an auspicious distancing between the various societies, in the age of the current transmission revolution, the ceaseless feedback of human activities is generating the invisible threat of an accident befalling this generalized interactivity — an accident of which the stock market crash might be a symptom.
This point can be illustrated by a particularly significant anecdote: in the last few years, or, more precisely, since the early 1990s, the Pentagon has taken the view that geostrategy is turning the globe inside out like a glove.
For American military leaders, the global is the interior of a finite world whose very finitude poses many logistical problems. And the local is the exterior, the periphery, if not indeed the ‘outer suburbs’ of the world.
For the US general staff, then, the pips are no longer inside the apples, nor the segments in the middle of the orange: the skin has been turned inside out. The exterior is not simply the skin, the surface of the Earth, but all that is in situ, all that is precisely localized, wherever it may be.
There lies the great globalitarian transformation, the transformation which extraverts localness — all localness — and which does not now deport persons, or entire populations, as in the past, but deports their living space, the place where they subsist economically. A global de-localization, which affects the very nature not merely of ‘national,’ but of ‘social’ identity, throwing into question not so much the nation-state, but the city, the geopolitics of nations.
‘For the first time,’ declared President Clinton, ‘there is no longer any difference between domestic and foreign policy.’ No longer any distinction between the outside and the inside — admittedly with the exception of the topological reversal effected previously by the Pentagon and the State Department.
In fact, this historic phrase spoken by the American president ushers in the meta-political dimension of a power which has become global and permits us to believe that domestic policy will now be handled as external policy was in the past.
The real city, which is situated in a precise place and which gave its name to the politics of nations, is giving way to the virtual city, that de-territorialized meta-city which is hence to become the site of that metropolitics, the totalitarian or rather globalitarian character of which will be plain for all to see.
We had no doubt forgotten that alongside wealth and its accumulation, there is speed and its concentration, without which the centralization of the powers that have succeeded each other throughout history would quite simply not have taken place: feudal and monarchic power, or the power of the national state, for which the acceleration of transport and transmissions made the government of dispersed populations easier.
Today, with the new policy of trade globalization, the city is foregrounded once more. As one of humanity’s major historic forms, the metropolis provides a focus for the vitality of the nations of the globe.
But this local city is now only a district, one borough among others of the invisible world meta-city whose ‘centre is every where and whose circumference nowhere’ (Pascal).
The virtual hypercentre, of which real cities are only ever the periphery. And, with the desertification of rural space, this phenomenon is further accentuating the decline of medium-sized towns, incapable of holding out for long against the attraction of the metropoles, which have all the telecommunications infrastructure, together with the high-speed air and rail links. The metropolitical phenomenon of a catastrophic human hyper-concentration that is gradually coming to suppress the urgent need for a genuine geopolitics of populations which were previously spread harmoniously over the whole of their territories.
To illustrate the recent consequences of domestic telecommunications for municipal politics, one last anecdote: since the sudden proliferation of mobile phones, the Los Angeles police have found themselves presented with a difficulty of a new kind. Whereas, in the past, drug dealing in its various forms was precisely situated in a number of districts that were easily monitored by the narcotics squads, those squads are now entirely defeated by the random and essentially de-localized meetings between dealers and users who all have mobile phones and can meet wherever they decide — literally, anywhere.
A single technical phenomenon which both facilitates metropolitan concentration and the dispersal of major risks — this needed to be borne in mind if, in the future (at all events, very soon), a cybernetic control appropriate to domestic networks was to be developed … hence the relentless advance of the Internet, the recently civilianized military network.
The more that time intervals are abolished, the more the image of space dilates: ‘You would think that an explosion had occurred all over the planet. The least nook and cranny are dragged out of the shade by a stark light,’ wrote Ernst Jünger of that illumination which lights up the reality of the world.
The coming of the ‘live,’ of ‘direct transmission,’ brought about by turning the limit-speed of waves to effect, transforms the old ‘tele-vision’ into a planetary grand-scale optics.
With CNN and its various offshoots, domestic television has given way to tele-surveillance.
This sudden focusing — a security-orientated phenomenon of the media monitoring of the life of nations — heralds the dawn of a particular form of day, which totally escapes the diurnal-nocturnal alternation that previously structured history.
With this false day, produced by the illumination of telecommunications, an artificial sun rises, an emergency lighting system which ushers in a new time: world time, in which the simultaneity of actions should soon gain precedence over their successive character.
With visual (audiovisual) continuity progressively taking over from the territorial contiguity of nations, which has now declined in importance, the political frontiers were themselves to shift from the real space of geopolitics to the ‘real time’ of the chronopolitics of the transmission of images and sounds. Two complementary aspects of globalization have, then, to be taken into account today: on the one hand, the extreme reduction of distances which ensues from the temporal compression of transport and transmissions; on the other, the current general spread of tele-surveillance. A new vision of a world that is constantly ‘tele-present’ twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, thanks to the artifice of this ‘trans-horizon optics’ which puts what was previously out of sight on display.
‘The destiny of every image is enlargement,’ declared Gaston Bachelard. It is science, techno-science, which has taken responsibility for this fate of images. In the past, it did so with the telescope and the microscope. In the future, it will do so with a domestic tele-surveillance that will exceed the strictly military dimensions of this phenomenon.
The exhaustion of the political importance of extension, which is a product of the unremarked pollution by acceleration of the life-size nature of the terrestrial globe, demands the invention of a substitute grand-scale optics.
This is an active (wave) optics, replacing in a thorough-going way the passive (geometric) optics of the era of Galileo’s spy-glass. And doing so as though the loss of the horizon-line of geographical perspective imperatively necessitated the establishment of a substitute horizon: the ‘artificial horizon’ of a screen or a monitor, capable of permanently displaying the new preponderance of the media perspective over the immediate perspective of space.
With the relief of the ‘tele-present’ event then taking precedence over the three dimensions of the volume of objects or places here present…
This helps us better to understand the sudden multiplication of those ‘great lights’ that are meteorological or military observation satellites. The repeated sending into orbit of communications satellites, the spread of metropolitan video-surveillance or, alternatively, the recent development of live-cams on the Internet.
All this contributing, as we have seen, to the inversion of the usual conceptions of inside and outside.
Finally, this generalized visualization is the defining aspect of what is generally known today as virtualization.
The much-vaunted ‘virtual reality’ is not so much a navigation through the cyberspace of the networks. It is, first and foremost, the amplification of the optical density of the appearances of the real world.
An amplification which attempts to compensate for the contraction of distances on the Earth, a contraction brought about by the temporal compression of instantaneous telecommunications. In a world in which obligatory tele-presence is submerging the immediate presence of individuals (in work, trade, etc.), television can no longer be what it has been for half a century: a place of entertainment or of the promotion of culture; it must, first and foremost, give birth to the world time of exchanges, to this virtual vision which is supplanting the vision of the real world around us.
Grand-Scale Transhorizon Optics is, therefore, the site of all (strategic, economic, political…) virtualization. Without it, the development of globalitarianism, which is preparing to revive the totalitarianisms of the past, would be ineffective.
To provide the coming globalization with relief, with optical density, it is necessary not merely to connect up to the cybernetic networks, but, most important, to split the reality of the world in two.
As with stereoscopy and stereophony, which distinguish left from right, bass from treble, to make it easier to perceive audiovisual relief, it is essential today to effect a split in primary reality by developing a stereo-reality, made up on the one hand of the actual reality of immediate appearances and, on the other, of the virtual reality of media trans-appearances.
Not until this new ‘reality effect’ becomes generally accepted as commonplace will it be possible really to speak of globalization.
To manage at last to ‘bring to light’ an over-exposed world, a world without dead angles, without ‘areas of shadow’ (like the micro-video which replaces both car reversing lights and rear-view mirrors) — this is the objective of the technologies of synthetic vision.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, the aim of multi-media is to turn our old television into a kind of domestic telescope for seeing, for foreseeing (in a manner not unlike present weather-forecasting) the world that lies just around the corner.
The aim is to make the computer screen the ultimate window, but a window which would not so much allow you to receive data as to view the horizon of globalization, the space of its accelerated virtualization…
Let us now take an example whose significance is widely misrecognized: that of ‘live-cams,’ those video imaging devices which have been set up all over the place and which are only accessible through the Internet.
Though apparendy aimless and insignificant, the phenomenon is nonetheless spreading to all parts of an increasing number of countries: from San Francisco Bay to Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, by way of the offices and apartments of a few exhibitionists, the camera enables you to discover in real time what is going on at the other end of the planet at that very moment.
Here the computer is no longer simply a device for consulting information sources, but an automatic vision machine, operating within the space of an entirely virtualized geographical reality.
Some Internet enthusiasts are even happy to live their lives ‘on screen.’ Interned in the closed circuits of the Web, they offer up their private lives for everyone to watch.
The collectivist introspection of these people, who exemplify a universal voyeurism, is set to expand at the speed of the single world advertising market, which is not far off now.
Advertising, which in the nineteenth century was simply the publicizing of a product, before becoming in the twentieth an industry for stimulating desire, is set in the twenty-first century to become pure communication. To this end it will require the unfurling of an advertising space which stretches to the horizon of visibility of the planet.
Global advertising, far from being satisfied with the classic poster or with breaks between TV or radio programmes, now requires the imposition of its ‘environment,’ on a mass of TV viewers who have in the interim become tele-actors and tele-consumers.
To come back again to the Internet, a number of towns forgotten by tourists vaunt the merits of their regions there. Alpine hotels show off their fine vistas on the screen, while proponents of land art are preparing to equip their works with multiple Web cameras. You can also travel vicariously: you can tour America, visit Hong Kong, and even view an Antarctic station in its polar darkness…
In spite of its poor optical quality, ‘live transmission’ has become a promotional tool directing anyone and everyone’s gaze to some privileged vantage points.
Happening is no longer a coming to pass; it is merely a passing away. Electronic optics is becoming the ‘search engine’ of a now globalized fore-sight.
If, in the past, with the telescope, it was simply a matter of observing something unexpected looming up over the horizon, it is now a question of seeing what is happening at the other end of the world, on the hidden side of the planet. Thus, without the aid of the ‘artificial horizon’ of multi-media, there is no possible way of negotiating the electroruc ether of globalization.
The Earth, that phantom limb, no longer extends as far as the eye can see; it presents all aspects of itself for inspection in the strange little window. The sudden multiplication of ‘points of view’ merely heralds the latest globalization: the globalization of the gaze, of the single eye of the cyclops who governs the cave, that ‘black box’ which increasingly poorly conceals the great culminating moment of history, a history fallen victim to the syndrome of total accomplishment.
 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (London: Harnish Hamilton, 1992).
 ‘Grands luminaires’: a reference to Genesis 1:16: ‘And God
made two great lights.’