Polar Inertia

Recently, as I have been between jobs, I worked three weeks as a painter to help a friend who is a professional contractor. Besides the extra cash in my pocket, the best part about the job was the half-hour commute by bicycle every day to the job site. Wired to the throngs of traffic and my mp3 player, feeling the beads of sweat trickle down my brow as I pistoned through the gears more easily each successive day, enjoying the fatigue in my muscles upon arrival, it was three weeks at a higher level of body awareness.

Now I have been back in front of the computer for the last week and a half, and though my brain crackles, already my body has become more sluggish and out of touch. Somehow I am more tired, though I physically do less.

Is this Paul Virilio's "polar inertia" that we are discussing?

In considering this question, I am reminded of The Phases of Electricity framework postulated by the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology. I think of the slow tectonic shift from an analog and muscular state of existence to one that is digital and cognitive. I think of McLuhan's assertion that we have amputated our central nervous systems by outering them into the global grids of electricity and telecommunications. If this is true, then of course by extension we have also amputated our musculoskeletal systems in the process, an aesthetics of disappearance that lends credence to Virilio's polar inertia hypothesis.

I am also reminded of the electricalamity in Toronto two summers ago. As soon as we unplugged from the grid, all sorts of interesting behaviours emerged, most of which can be described as freeing us from the type of inertia that Virilio describes.

That freedom, as well as the freedom recounted from my biking experience at the beginning of this post, both seem to suggest that one can travel backwards, as it were, to an earlier phase of electricity — at least at this early point on the cusp between the two phases. Though the vector of flow is clearly directed towards an obsolescence of the body, the question is if we will continue to see periodic eddies in the current, in which we "retrieve" the body or parts thereof for one purpose or another.

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  1. sportsBabel » Urine as Noise says:

    [...] a perfect coupling of man and machine, and a precursor of what Virilio describes as "polar inertia": the tendency to stasis as we approach the absolute speed of real [...]