Unmanned twice over

UnmannedI’m going to the CASAR Conference on Transnational American Studies at the American University in Beirut in January.  I’ve been to these meetings before, and I’m looking forward to returning to the city and meeting many old friends.  I’ll be presenting another version of “Drones, spaces of exception and the everywhere war”; the programme includes a keynote address from Judith Butler and  a performance of Robert Myers‘ play Unmanned.

Myers is a Professor of English and Creative Writing at UAB and a former Director of CASAR, and he developed the play while he was a visiting artist at the International Institute for U.S. Studies at the University of Illinois last spring.  It’s a two-hander, involving a drone pilot and a sensor operator, and Myers sets the scene like this:

The play takes place principally in a single-wide trailer painted with desert camouflage in the desert in the American West. Other scenes take place in an automobile and in other locations, which should be created with music and light. The play is written so that it may be staged with two office chairs. The set should be minimal. There is no reason to create a realistic “cockpit” since the flyers are not really in a cockpit and they are not flying. Their workspace resembles the cubicles of millions of other office workers. Outside the trailer, Stage Left, is a sign with a series of crudely painted arrows, which say: Kandahar 6792, Las Vegas 473, Mogadishu 5712, Phoenix 173, etc. Several actual props are introduced in the course of the play—a couple of unmarked white milk shake cups with straws, a fox stole etc.—and the two characters could wear minimalist headsets with microphones so as not to create confusion about when they are talking to Central Command. However, since the play is – among other things – about the relationship between the real world and the virtual world, all other machines, including phones, computers, navigational equipment, monitors should be mimed and/or created with light. 

I do like that last sentence.  You can download an excerpt from the play here.

unmanned1SMThere have been several other drama-works that deal with drones (in different ways), including Jordan Crandall‘s performance work also called Unmanned:

Unmanned is about the changing nature of masculinity in the face of automated technologies of war. It focuses on the unmanned aerial system, or drone, as a site of investigation. Rather than taking a conventional analytical approach, however, the work is performed live as “philosophical theater”: a blend of performance art, political allegory, philosophical speculation, and intimate reverie. Jordan Crandall conducts a series of monologues in the guise of seven different characters, supplemented with stage action, video, and sound. Each character is an archetype of masculine identity struggling with its own agency and role in the field of deployment — historically the most complex issue in the field of military endeavor.

The drone becomes a figure for a reorganization of masculinity — one that dissipates the structuring forces of modern military identity, its standards of adequacy and scales of worth. Yet at the same time, in a much larger sense, the drone becomes a figure for a much larger condition: a reorganization of agency and skill, within a data-intensive environment of distributed and embedded intelligence, where network computing has become integrated into all manner of objects, spaces, and infrastructures. This reorganization not only challenges conventional identifications, however gendered, but the very status of the human.s about the changing nature of masculinity in the face of automated technologies of war. It focuses on the unmanned aerial system, or drone, as a site of investigation. Rather than taking a conventional analytical approach, however, the work is performed live as “philosophical theater”: a blend of performance art, political allegory, philosophical speculation, and intimate reverie. Jordan Crandall conducts a series of monologues in the guise of seven different characters, supplemented with stage action, video, and sound. Each character is an archetype of masculine identity struggling with its own agency and role in the field of deployment — historically the most complex issue in the field of military endeavor.

The drone becomes a figure for a reorganization of masculinity — one that dissipates the structuring forces of modern military identity, its standards of adequacy and scales of worth. Yet at the same time, in a much larger sense, the drone becomes a figure for a much larger condition: a reorganization of agency and skill, within a data-intensive environment of distributed and embedded intelligence, where network computing has become integrated into all manner of objects, spaces, and infrastructures. This reorganization not only challenges conventional identifications, however gendered, but the very status of the human.

I’m continuing to work on my own performance-work, The social life of bombs, though – as I’ve noted before – it ends with a drone strike but begins a hundred years earlier…

2 thoughts on “Unmanned twice over

  1. Pingback: Drones and drama | geographical imaginations

  2. Pingback: Unseen war | geographical imaginations

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