… speed – falling upwards into spatial & temporal bewilderment …

Always keen to bridge and connect seemingly unrelated intellectual territories, I tend to dip into essays of poet-philosophers and cultural theorists stacked near my bed.

Paul Virilio’s ‘Open Sky’ is a recent addition, translated by Julie Rose in 1997. Not an easy read, but the analysis of the social destruction wrought by modern technologies of communication and surveillance drew me in. The last chapter, Escape Velocity, relates a striking experience by Buzz Aldrin during the Apollo 11 mission. I share it here, within a short excerpt from the chapter, curious to discover what my readers make of it:

… Inflated to fill the dimensions of the world’s space, the time of the present world flashes us a glimpse on our screens of another regime of temporality … Outrageously puffed up by all the commotion of our communication technology, the perpetual present suddenly serves to illuminate duration. Reproducing the alternation between night and the solar day that once organised our ephemerides, the endless day of the reception of events produces an instantaneous lighting of reality that leaves the customary importance of the successive nature of facts in the shade; factual sequences little by little lose their mnemonic value …

… In his memoirs of the first moon landing, Buzz Aldrin in his own way confirms this disqualification of sunlight. Listen to what he has to say from the surface of the night star:

‘The light is also weird. Since there’s no atmosphere, the phenomenon of refraction disappears, so much so that you go directly from total shadow into sunlight, without any transition. When I hold my hand out to stick it in the light, you’d think I was crossing the barrier to another dimension.’

It is as though, for the astronaut, shadow and light were two new dimensions, inasmuch as any kind of transition no longer exists for him. The loss of the phenomena of atmospheric refraction produces a different perception of reality …

Virilio draws a comparison to a similar loss for earthlings … the different degree of illumination which, before the invention of electricity, still marked the hours of the day or the days of the year has become of diminished importance. Under the indirect light from screens and other control centres of the transmission of events, the time of chronological succession evaporates, paving the way for the instantaneous exposure time as harsh as that floodlighting of which Aldrin tells us:

‘On the moon, the sun shines on us like a gigantic spotlight.

All three astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission had problems after their return to earth. Spatial and temporal disorientation are not easily reconciled with one’s reality identification. Virilio writes … as for Aldrin, after two nervous breakdowns, several detoxification treatments for alcohol abuse and a divorce, he was to wind up in a psychiatric ward.

Struck by Aldrin’s experience, I thought about the increased screen time, especially now so many of us engage in since the corona virus changed our rhythm of interaction with nature, local environments, family, friends, and the wider world.

I first pondered the cultural implications of the digital advent during  a mid-1990s film degree as a mature student. For those interested – my post from 2018 gives a flavour of my dissertation – click here for ‘Body Electric- – it’s worth a visit.

John Wheeler came up with the idea of the universe as self-observing system (being.) Light travels at 186 000 miles per second. When we look into deep space we are seeing galaxies over ten billion years old. In that sense everything we see is in a past, which our observing consciousness creates. So I ask myself what realities do we envision during this surreal corona time, individually and collectively?

Is Paul Virilio’s bleak vision justified? Is the hyper centre of present time becoming the sole reference axis of worldwide activity? Is the individual of the scientific age, with diminished positional reference, losing the capacity to experience him/herself at the centre of energy?

Click here for an article from the Frieze magazine.

And if you’re brave, read this fascinating & sobering interview of Paul Virilio by Caroline Dumoucel.

Or – can we create enough pockets of stillness to counter the acceleration of the fall upwards, of progress propaganda, and instead re-connect to body, earth and roots?

P. S. All links in the post open a new window.


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13 responses to “… speed – falling upwards into spatial & temporal bewilderment …

  1. After hearing about Robert Oppenheimer’s suppression of David Bohm’s seminal paper ( simply because it challenged the approved Copenhagen model) what becomes increasingly apparent is that ANY orthodoxy given consensus is dangerous ( even if it proves to be right) It empowers without responsibility.
    Verilio’s interview is bleak but we need a lot of bleak because we are sleepwalking into the destruction of the organic and the liberal. I cannot help wondering (hoping even) that Covid has reminded many of us that we can live without speed, or instant gratifications. And if Huawei cuts the power will we recover our capacity for invention and patience? The thought of postal delivery and fewer planes, of libraries, and encounters is unrealistically romantic but for me it exerts a strong pull. We are all exhausted, and many of us are now realizing why.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, it seems that in spite of all our advancements, our discoveries and inventions and progress, we are no better than our ancestors. Human nature has not improved. We are the same inside as our ancestors. This is particularly true, at this moment, in the US, where, for some time now, Happiness Studies have shown woeful results in spite of so called better standard of living. Interesting discussion here. Note the Nobel Prize winning economist confesses he doesn’t know why Americans are not “happier.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • If one equates happiness with money, than the stakes have risen exponentially over recent decades.
      The cornucopia of what the market loudly promotes is hardly affordable for someone with average income, let alone for someone with minimum income. I reckon that situation would fall under Paul Virilio’s term of progressive propaganda.
      I sense all the promises that incite expectations of happiness, a Schlaraffenland that is unreachable for most, feeds a kind of collective depression. Also, too many people are out of touch with their body, with nature, are stuck in dysfunctional relationships, or oppressive environments.
      Those who can practice a trade they love & are proud of, artists, or anyone with an abiding interest that gives meaning beyond status – may have the capacity for an inner state of sufficiency that brings moments of happiness.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You always set us such interesting challenges, Ashen. I love this journey to the moon and back.
    Your final question resonates with discussions Ray and I have been having about how this isolation has impacted on our household. We do feel we’ve explored a different kind of stillness, and we’ve certainly been thinking about our connections the earth in these strange times. A timely post.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Rob

    Thank you Ashen for another provocative piece.
    Human consciousness has become progressively (or maybe that should be regressively) disconnected from the rhythms and pulses of the natural world, which in reality procreate and support all life and being, since the beginning of agriculture about 10,000 years ago. This process feels like it is reaching it’s climax, but who knows, maybe we are capable of ever more narcissistic inanity until we simply disappear and become a tiny footnote in the history of the Galaxy or whatever.
    We have been progressively filling our heads with more and more distractions (shit), worshiping the works of “man”. The dazzling artificial lights and the amplified, intrusive, bellicose sounds drown out reality. We become deafer and blinder.
    Apparently our brains are now significantly smaller than those of our hunter-gatherer ancestors of 20,000 years ago (and I am not referring to Neanderthals who, as such, were no longer around by then, having been subsumed into a few percent of our genome) so although brain size isn’t everything, I find it perfectly plausible that the average modern human is in many ways an inferior specimen compared to those who painted caves and rocks with plant and mineral dyes with such brilliance. No shopping mall idiocy for them.
    What we have in our favour is sheer numbers, but too many for the planet to sustain very likely.
    Notwithstanding all that, I dearly love life and I would really love for humanity to return to it. Just stop this shit and be still, look and listen…not least to the peace deep within our own hearts.
    For all the suffering and tragedy caused by Covid, it is at least offering us a chance for silence.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks Rob. To get back into natural rhythms is not easy for some people, especially those who are normally engaged in the meaningless rat race, simply to survive.
    I guess you’re right … we become deafer and blinder … that’s if we’re too tied into the system. But even if we keep our wits about, we can’t escape the collective mood of confusion and existential despair. After all, the Brexit phenomenon and the Trump phenomenon have been thriving on the frustration of those who feel they have no voice.
    Let’s hope this chance for silence is taken advantage of.


  6. I found your comments about Paul Virilio and Buzz Adrin’s experience on the moon fascinating. I have read a lot about vibrations and consciousness over a period of time and Buzz Aldrin’s experience of putting his hand up to the sun and it feeling like passing into another dimension, kind of verifies what I have come to feel, that there are many dimensions. There is a belief amongst many that the earth is evolving spiritually to higher vibrations that some call the 4th and 5th dimensions. Also that some human beings are already experiencing this in their awareness. The earth has been and is of a lower density than other dimensions spiritually. As for our current situation, the lockdown has definitely slowed a lot of us down and has forced many to be more aware of themselves and what is going on. Which is a kind of evolution in itself. I am aware that many might fid this ludicrous but it makes sense to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • For you Gillian – an invocation by Sufi Hazrat Inayat Khan:
      …Towards the One, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, united with all the illuminated souls who form the Spirit of Guidance …

      There are many souls, known and unknown to the world, alive or not, who uphold an atmosphere of truth through the darkness of human ignorance. We can tune into their healing vibrations.


  7. There is most certainly more than we perceive. I have always believed this because it just makes sense to me. I have also learned the importance of not taking things at face value and not believing everything that is thrown at us in this world. I found in the last few years of counselling that my clients were very few but the ones I had were all looking for something more in life and I felt more and more that it was important to introduce the finding of oneself and of awareness. This felt like a quest and it is still my hope for many, although I am aware that many are also still wanting what social media and society tell them they want. Awareness is key in this world. It liberates us, sets us free if we are brave enough.

    Liked by 1 person

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