I’m still putting together the programme for my graduate course this term (I’ll post the full outline under the TEACHING tab as soon as it’s ready), and I plan to spend some time on what I’m calling Militarized vision and imag(in)ing modern war.
Images have become increasingly important to the conduct of war; in Precarious Life Judith Butler argues that ‘there is no way to separate, under present historical conditions, the material reality of war from those representational regimes through which it operates and which rationalize its own operation.’ This requires us to think carefully about two, closely related issues – media representations of military violence and its effects, and the ways in which militaries have incorporated political technologies of vision into their operations.
I’m thinking of beginning with these two readings:
Bernd Hüppauf, ‘Experiences of modern warfare and the crisis of representation’, New German Critique 59 (1993) 41-76.
Lilie Chouliaraki, ‘The humanity of war: iconic photojournalism of the battlefield, 1914-2012’, Visual communication 12 (3) (2013) 315-340
Then I want to turn to the scopic regimes of advanced militaries, via Virilio and transcripts of several US military investigations into air strikes in Afghanistan and Iraq, to open up a discussion of targeting and political technologies of vision. (This is probably also the place to say that, since I started to think through the relation between technoculture, targeted killing and the individuation of warfare I’ve also been thinking about the work of Bernard Stiegler; more later, but in the meantime you’ll find a truly excellent bibliography by cultural geographer Sam Kinsley here).
All of this opens up wide fields for debate, of course, but as I was putting together a list of supplementary materials I stumbled upon a new collection edited by Julian Stallabrass, Memory of fire: Images of war and the war of images (Photoworks, 2013):
This richly illustrated book is a visual, theoretical and historical resource about the photography of war, and how images are used as instruments of war. It comprises essays and interviews by prominent theorists, artists and photographers and covers the urgent issues of the depiction of war, the use of images of war by the media, various forms of censorship, the military as a PR and image-producing machine, the circulation of unofficial images and the impact of the digital mediascape.
There’s no shortage of work on these issues, I know, but there’s a particularly detailed engagement with Memory of Fire by Susie Linfield author of The cruel radiance: photography and political violence (University of Chicago Press, 2010) – here and a sharp response from Stallabrass (scroll down). There’s also a shorter but still informative review by Ashitha Nagesh at the always stimulating bookforum here.
Finally, you can find Stallabrass’s (2006) reaction to Retort’s Afflicted Powers and its engagement with ‘image wars’, ‘Spectacle and Terror’, on open access at the New Left Review here.