Paul Virilio

By: Jerrold Freitag
January 4, 2014


Autodidactic cultural theorist PAUL VIRILIO’s (born 1932) vocabulary and analyses aren’t trapped in the codes of his French contemporaries. His apprenticeship in stained-glass artwork with Matisse and phenomenology with Merleau-Ponty is evident in the close attention he pays to his own work — which, unlike many intellectuals, he takes the time to correct. Best known for his writings about the history of technology as it has developed in relation to speed and power, Virilio builds churches of disaster, museums of accidents, and poetics of claustrophobia — yet laughs optimistically during interviews. His work is obtuse and challenging, yet there’s a self-contained pragmatism to it. When he critiques the supposedly free market, for example, he doesn’t mention it by name — but via analyses of the tenets of war (I win) and the principles of speed (I got there first) he dispels the tortured ideas with which other critics, whether Marxist or Freudian or post-structuralist, prevent themselves from seeing clearly.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: C. L. R. James, Marsden Hartley.

READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).