Paul Virilio's A Landscape of Events is just that. A landscape is a passage, and by considering events that give relief to this landscape, Virilio suggests the directions and trends that are, increasingly, the principles by which, one might say, history unfolds. For Virilio, however, history is not the term of interest, but very exactly events. The book is organized as a series of essays about particular and not obviously related events, the fall of the Berlin wall, the attempted bombing of the World Trade Center, the arrival of city streetlights, an anniversary of D-Day. In all of these events, Virilio extracts the inflections of time and meaning that have been achieved by changing media channels and practices. The chief theme is Virilio's usual theme that time is accelerating: for matters of importance, the short term is a matter of minutes, and the long term (only perhaps a week away) is unpredictably far from the present. There are too many things happening to ignore the ones coming right up, and as a second result, that which happens in a week is a hundred occasions later. Rather than following the rhythms of the sun, the great neverending night, that would be the apocalypse of an age based on solar time, has become our waking time. At the same time, the future is not so scary as the past, which is to be escaped, but constantly blocks the achievement of the future. There is now an imbalance of terror (terrorists are very active, proliferation and other geopolitical developments have abrogated deterrence), and there is the simultaneous assimilation of history and war onto TV (Virilio mentions discussion of creating ‘The Military Channel', a channel dedicated to military technology, history, organization, and so forth). This puts history and war into a medium that embraces the western temptation towards miniaturization: the gulf war has been compressed into images of violence, the war itself happened inside cruise missiles, western machines mixed with humans and conquered them. While civilization has previously democratized its technologies of speed (eg horses, cars, modems), with the absolute speed of new technologies (e.g. the speed of light in fiber optics), Virilio fears this will no longer be possible. Our vision is always premised on blindness, as in anorthoscopic vision, where the eye looks through a hole or a slit. Virilio's landscape of events is ultimately of a scale limited by such an effect, and this is the condition of our understandings of the world.
Because Virilio's interests here regard the pacing of life caused by media, it seems appropriate to compare him to McLuhan, for whom the medium is, famously, itself the important message. For both writers, media technologies are not neutral and not simply communicative, rather their formats and positioning in society are of the utmost importance. Virilio mentions 10 hours of newsreels he once watched all in one day at a movie theater, this impossibly large scope of history fascinates him because it is so far from the norm. McLuhan's work is, in some straightforward ways, outdated because many of the changes in media Virilio discusses had not yet occurred. McLuhan's vision of the destiny of media and the society they had a part in, we are constantly reminded of. Virilio shows a traveling shot, but takes it as outside of his purview to say where it will end. Media are not exactly extensions of man, but are certainly not alien to human society, but indeed, intrinsic and formative.
While I am not excited about Virilio's terms of history and time, what should come up in this work are the sets of contradictions in an accelerated and miniaturized world. Everything must be in triplicate, as usual, but also must be backed up, checked against focus groups, and run past the censor. Virilio's inclination towards acceleration skips questions of streamlining, efficiency, and countereffects that can sabotage speed. I'm imagining the ballot recounts in Florida. Not everything is immediate, and for lots of very small and fast reasons.