CONFERENCE TALK: The Fantastical Unmanned: Techne, Genre, and the (Super)Naturalized Drone
At the 36th International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (“The Scientific Imagination”), I presented on the narrative contours of the drone (per Adam Rothstein’s assertion that the drone is “a cultural node” and “a literary character”) and the ideological ramifications of understanding the drone through different genre frameworks. Here’s the abstract:
Though it may seem properly the domain of the technoscientific and science-fictional imaginations, there is something supernaturally monstrous about the figure of the drone. The confluence of technologies of surveillance, remote proxy control, and aerial bombing embodies science-fictional fears and dreams, but the naturalization of the drone as a structural characteristic of the skies aligns it with traditionally fantastical figures. The drone is “unmanned,” quasi-autonomous, properly a tool of human control but also exceeding the realm of techne and entering the domain of the monstrous, supernatural otherâ€”the drone operator didn’t drop that bomb, the drone did. What happens to the drone when we parse it not according to the syntax of the speculative, technological future (as in the United States Air Force’s “it’s not science fiction, it’s what we do every day” ad campaign) but rather through the idioms of horror, fantasy, and the supernatural? What ideological assumptions are smuggled in by situating the drone so squarely within science-fictional tropes, and how might other genre heuristics allow us to rethink the drone and its effects on the landscape of the collective imaginary? Does imagining the drone as the airborne, all-seeing cousin of the zombie or of other monstrous figures open up new ways of understanding the regimes of distance, proximity, surveillance, and warfare of which the drone is the confluence? Does reorienting our thought away from the individual drone apparatus and toward the regime of drones (a collective force of omnipotence and omnipresence, both within and above our natural surroundings) open up new avenues of thinking about life under the aegis of the drone? In other words, is one drone a science-fictional technology, but a fleet of drones a fantastical monsterâ€”and if so, is this the monster most emblematic of the present? Above and beyond our understanding of drones as such, at stake are the ideological implications of using science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other non-mimetic genres as heuristics for making sense of emergent technologies and their social, political, and cultural implications.