Image wars

STALLABRASS Memory of FireI’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.

Full details here , a four-pager in which Stallabrass discusses ‘Rearranging corpses, curatorially’ here, and a video in which he explains the project here:

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.

5 thoughts on “Image wars

  1. I am pleased that the bibliography of Stiegler’s work I put together is of interest. I look forward to any comments or observations you may have about his work. I enjoyed your post on the individuation of warfare and can definitely see some resonance between the scopic regimes discussed above via Virilio with Stiegler’s work on aesthetics.

    In relation to your course (which sounds great!), you may find the work of my colleague Patrick Crogan of interest in relation to the imagery and simulation of war and how that has influenced and propagated into the imag(in)ary of video games – and of course in turn folded back into the apparatuses of war. In particular, his book Gameplay Mode is relevant here: http://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/gameplay-mode and more recently Patrick has been thinking about drones and military robotics, so another resonance there – http://technophilia.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/what-i-did-on-my-holidays-6/

    Patrick’s web page: http://www.dcrc.org.uk/people/patrick-crogan

  2. Pingback: Nomadikon | geographical imaginations

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