Virtual Reality is What the Possessed Individual is Possessed By
The Possessed Individual rubs America against contemporary French thought. What results is a dramatic reinterpretation of French theory as a prophetic analysis of the speed-life of the twenty first century, and a critical rethinking of the politics and culture of the technological dynamo. This book is a hinge between the mirror of seduction that is America today and the philosophical ruptures of French thought, from Sartre and Camus to Baudrillard and Virilio. And why the fascination with French thought? Because its discourse is a theoretical foreground to America's political background fractal thinkers in whose central images one finds the key power configurations of the American hologram. Read the French, therefore, to learn a language for thinking anew the empire of technology.
Contemporary French thought consists of a creative, dynamic and highly original account of technological society. Refusing the pragmatic account of technology as freedom and eschewing a tragic description of technology as degeneration, an arc of twentieth French thinkers, from Jean Baudrillard and Roland Barthes to Paul Virilio, Jean François Lyotard, Deleuze and Guattari and Foucault have presented a description of technology as cynical power. Indeed, what might be called the key impulse of French "bimodernism" has been to explore the mutation of technology within a series of critical discourses: technology as pure speed (Virilio), technology as simulation (Baudrillard), the rhetoric of technology (Barthes), technology as a desiring-machine (Deleuze and Guattari), technology as aesthetics (Lyotard) and technologies of subjectivity (Foucault). Here, technological society is described under the sign of possessed individualism an invasive power where life is enfolded within the dynamic technological language of virtual reality. Virtual reality? That is the recoding of human experience by the algorithmic codes of computer wetware. No longer alienation, reification or simulation as stages in the technological dialectic of social emancipation and human domination, but virtuality now as the dominant sign of contemporary technological society. Indeed, virtual reality - the world of digital dreams come alive - is what the possessed individual is possessed by.
What emerges from the French mind, then, is an account of technological society that can be immediately and massively influential because it is a mirror of technology in the postmodern scene. This means that the reception of French thought in the outmoded form of post structuralism has always been a trompe l'oeil deflecting attention from the key contribution of French thinkers as theorists of technology par excellence; that is, as brilliant interpreters of the virtual phase of technological society. Thus, for example, while American thought is trapped in a pragmatic description of technology as liberation, the French discourse on technology begins with the violent exteriorization of the self, actually producing an eerie and disturbing account of cynical technology. Of technology, that is, in its fully aestheticized phase where speaking means the rhetoric machine, where living means simulation, where the self is a desiring machine, and where feeling is a rhizomatic network. To enter into the French mind - into Deleuze and Guattari's decoded flows of the doubled sign, into Virilio's world of speed power, into Barthes's melancholy domain of "anachronic subjectivity" - is really to enter into the deepest recesses of postmodern subjectivity. The reversible nature of their articulations means that to read the French is finally to understand the theoretical mechanisms by which power functions in America. And even more. To become entangled in the internal debates which storm across French thought - Baudrillard's break with Foucault, Camus's refusal of Sartre, the implacable opposition between Lyotard and Barthes - is to become entwined in the deepest cultural debates of the fin de millennium. To think technology, that is, against the grain of justice, and to meditate again with Camus the question of the coeval nature of reason and murder as the ruling ethos of technological society. Just as Camus once murmured that "to begin to think is to be undermined," to reflect upon the doubled sign of French thought is finally to undermine not only the technological society outside but, more disturbingly, one's own subjectivity. French thought, therefore, as a violent decoding and recoding of the American way, which is to say, of all the world, since America is today the global hologram.