Modernist Avant-Garde Aesthetics and Contemporary Military Technology: Technicities of Perception

Modernist Avant-Garde Aesthetics and Contemporary Military Technology: Technicities of Perception

Modernist Avant-Garde Aesthetics and Contemporary Military Technology: Technicities of Perception

Modernist Avant-Garde Aesthetics and Contemporary Military Technology: Technicities of Perception

Synopsis

In this book, mechanical and electronic technologies forge connections between two apparently unrelated and chronologically disparate fields of production: today's state-of-the-art military technologies and the experimental art, music, and writing of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The vast surveillance and killing machines of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries found both resources and resistance in the work of early avant-garde poetics. Modernist aesthetics addressed the conditions of possibility that are most dramatically actualized by contemporary military technology, which both appropriates and combats a technology of the senses. This book shows how certain artworks foreshadow modern technologies in unforeseen and incalculable ways, from Mina Loy and James Joyce to Marcel Duchamp and H.G. Wells, and performs extended readings of weapons systems, attack helicopters, and targeting technologies.

Excerpt

Man has extended his means of perception and action much more than his means
of representation and summation. (Paul Valery)

If I had to sum up current thinking on precision missiles and saturation weaponry,
I’d put it like this: once you can see the target, you can destroy it. (Former Under
Secretary of Defense, W. J. Perry)

Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes? (Chico Marx in Duck Soup)

The cockpit of the Apache helicopter, the US army’s premier aerial fighting machine, reveals itself as a distillation of visual culture and visual prosthesis, for the pilot is encased in a virtual world and is allowed very limited use of his raw sensory organs. But while the electronically extended field of vision heightens and extends the illusion of agency, the pilot also becomes more instrumental and less responsible for decisions and actions. The emergence of the military machine, as Paul Virilio claims, was complemented by and synchronous with a watching (or seeing) machine. The two machines conflate in the Apache cockpit, which resembles a flying camera obscura in several important ways. The resemblance between the cockpit and the darkroom of the camera obscura is not by chance nor is it only an analogy because the cockpit is only the most recent manifestation of the traditions of visual technology that link closely and inextricably the military, empirical science and the arts. What was of interest to early modern philosophers and scientists, in the camera obscura, for instance, remains in play in the most current versions of visual technology.

The Apache cockpit is a box that almost completely seals off all the senses but the visual, allowing a delimited but kinetic window on the world that appears simultaneous to the moment of perception. The interest and desire to understand how the eye perceives movement, which so enthralled early modern experimenters, leads to the development of instruments designed to close the gap between the perceiving subject and the visible world. While the medium of sensate vision is revealed as increasingly complex, technological visual media become more sophisticated, and the development of each . . .

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