Technics is about that which is “serious.” This is the first characterization, the first distribution, that has allowed us to distinguish between that which is performed as technical and that which is performed as merely aesthetic. But my argument has been that the struggling distributions of technics need all the help they can get, especially in the context of a state-of-the-art military technology. Technics are greatly assisted by the mobilization of aesthetic reinforcements and their further distributions of agency and passivity in favor of technology. One might add that the border disputes between the social and the technical (for instance, among sociologists of science and technology) are precisely about the distribution of seriousness.28
So technics is about “seriousness.” But (and here we revisit a form of heterogeneity we have already discussed) technics is also about deferral. Such would be a second possible characterization of technology. Not, of course, deferral ‘‘in general,’’ for this is a chronic condition, but rather deferral away from technical agency. For within technology the sky, as they say, is the limit. Anything is possible. Anything should be possible. Within the pragmatics of technology; limits are acknowledged only if they can be immediately redistributed back to the Other, the Other of nature or the Other of culture. Or, perhaps most of all in the optimism of the Enlightenment, to the Other of the future (see exhibit 6.9) in the form of the projectile that throws itself ahead, ordering the present by turning it into the means of the future. Aesthetics 131
EXHIBIT 6.9 ”Provision is made for carriage of the guided and stand-off nuclear weapons under development. Use of these weapons will improve the accuracy of delivery, decrease the likelihood of the aircraft being damaged by defence fire, and will provide air-burst of the weapon without any increase in aircraft altitude above terrain following height.” (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 13)
This is what we’ve seen for the TSR2, though this movement, one might observe, is the general form of deferral within which the research and development industry has created its profitable niche.
Seriousness, the deferral of limits, and the denial of agency—this brochure distributes active agency away from nature and culture in multiple ways. For instance, there is one moment (I think only one) when the distribution seems redolent of rape (exhibit 6.10).29 Much
EXHIBIT 6.10 ”It is capable of penetrating to target at high subsonic speed.” (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 8) more common is the use of the anodyne, a smooth and matter-of – fact language of practicality or impersonality. For instance, the term ‘‘delivery’’ (exhibit 6.11) seems to connect as much with the routines
EXHIBIT 6.11 ”This flexibility is enhanced by the wide range of delivery manoeuvres available to the pilot, each fully automatic if required, and which may be selected to give optimum weapon performance.” (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 13) of the postal service as with the broken bodies of warfare.30 Again, phrases such as ‘‘optimum weapon performance” work to locate bombing within the realm of the balance sheet, the calculation of costs and benefits. And finally, its various drawings and sketches visualize the depicted explosions as destroying toylike buildings or vehicles in which, one might add, people do not appear (see exhibit 6.12).
Well, this is standard albeit lethally important stuff. Most of those who criticize the industry of modern warfare complain of the de – 132 Aesthetics humanizing character of military talk. And, to be sure, the enemy is
EXHIBIT 6.12 H. E. Weapon Accuracy (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 15;
© Brooklands Museum)
indeed being technicized here, that is, constituted as set of practical sources of possible resistance that can be overcome or contained— like the birds hitting the windscreen. (Human) agency is therefore being distributed away from the enemy, which is turned into a set of objects; indeed the role of human agency throughout is being minimized. So the enemy has no capacity for successful or important action in general, and the effects of the “punishment” it receives are impersonal rather than personal.
Posed in this particular way this argument is theoretically humanist, but the argument that I want to make doesn’t draw on the well – springs of humanist orderings. I am keen to avoid assuming that certain distributions—for instance between humans and nonhumans —are given in the order of things.31 The distributions that we’re witnessing are more complicated and ambivalent, with contrasts that shift, human and nonhuman, object and subject, with complex relations and occasional reversals of polarities. Thus if human beings are complex and heterogeneous, it turns out that technologies are similarly complex distributive effects, complex and heterogeneous. They are made technical, made technical in a variety of different ways, but they also overlap, leak across the boundaries, and end up being performed, albeit in less obvious ways, as partaking of nature or culture, as heroic or childlike.
Heroism we have seen. This was performed by the front cover of the brochure. But exhibits 6.13 and 6.14 are pictures of the aircraft on the ground and they accompany text that describes how the TSR2 may be
flown from dispersed airstrips. So the narrative distribution is again about vulnerability and invulnerability. Though it is not explored in the brochure, the narrative implies that in the event of nuclear war, large air bases will be destroyed in the first few minutes of conflict.
Thus one of the virtues of the TSR2 is that it can operate independently of such bases for considerable periods of time, taking off from short runways or rough airstrips. And, with some specially designed additional equipment (including the vehicle that is also featured in exhibits 6.13 and 6.14), it can refuel and maintain itself.
This, then, is the point of these two drawings. They illustrate an argument about independence, a version of the colonization described in chapter 2, and therefore, like the front cover and much of the text, they help to perform the machine as invulnerable. But the drawings perform that invulnerability in an interesting way, by juxtaposing the aircraft with nature in a manner quite unlike that of the front cover. Aesthetics 135
EXHIBIT 6.13 Rapid Reaction Standby (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 21;
© Brooklands Museum)
The drawings do this partly because the static/dynamic distinction has disappeared. The aircraft is at rest; indeed, it is inactive. And (this is the point) it has made itself invulnerable precisely by virtue of this inactivity. So it hides in the bushes that therefore act to conceal it. Nature is no longer reduced to frozen immobility but has been turned into an active agent in its own right. It is acting as a shield in a manner not unlike the TSR2 in the iconography of the front cover. A reversal has occurred.
This, then, is a ‘‘technical’’ way of narrating the redistribution. But other things are also happening. In particular, iconographically and distributively, the contrast with earlier narrative and other pictorial representations in the brochure could hardly be more striking. (Compare exhibit 6.15.) For, yes, the movement, the power, these have disappeared. But what should we make of those bushes? Of the contrast between the bucolic scenes surrounding the aircraft and the aircraft itself? And of the pipes and people that populate the scene?
One answer is that in their conventional naturalism they offer a realist guarantee to an argument, the pragmatic argument, being made in the text. For these depictions are quite unlike the front cover in style. Though certainly conventional, they represent a range of everyday objects: trees, bushes, meadows, a lowering—perhaps menacing-sky. These are recognizable representations, representations that juxtapose themselves (perhaps rather startlingly, but no doubt that is the point) with the aircraft and its apparatus. But the juxtaposition, and in particular the pictorial realism of the depiction of nature, suggests that it is entirely realistic to imagine what might otherwise
be unimaginable: the aircraft under such bucolic circumstances. The drawings may therefore be imagined as a kind of guarantee, a further warranty for the possibility of dispersal. The promise of refueling in the backwoods—this is a promise that can be fulfilled.32
But there is something else. The front cover performed contrasts between the active and the passive, the transcendental and the mundane, and between the invulnerable and the vulnerable. In each case the ground, nature, and culture, were distributed into the latter half of these pairs. But now there seems to have been a radical change. In the new drawings the technological, the aircraft, starts to partake of the features of nature and culture, to partake of passivity, mundanity, and vulnerability as opposed to excitement, heroism, and action in the air.
So it is that we see a surround of soft meadows, trees, and bushes. For by drawing a gentle landscape it becomes a place of rest and nurture, with all the tropes that this carries. For instance, there is husbandry. What is it, one might ask, that grows in this particular garden? What fruits does it bear? Is it dragons’ teeth? For what grows is a weapon, a weapon of war or, more abstractly, a potential, a potential for action. Thus the aircraft is something that grows, grows quietly in potential and (it is understood) its quiescence is merely a stage, a mo- ment—as will be revealed when it leaves the garden and that potential is unleashed.
So husbandry is one possibility but domesticity is another, perhaps related, gender trope. For on the front cover the aircraft was removed from the domestic. Indeed, we never saw it pictorially represented at all. But here, now, it returns for a time when there is need (as the technicians might put it) for resupply. But this distribution, which may indeed be proposed in technical terms, butts up against and interferes with the tropes of domesticity that both complement and escape it— tropes that have, for instance, to do with nurturing. We thus appreciate, without it having been said in as many words, that any man (or is it boy? or is it technology?) needs to return home at the end of a hard day’s work and war to be sheltered, enveloped, protected. To be cared for, at any rate, by a putatively female figure.
Except that there are further complexities. Look at the human figures in exhibit 6.13. Those that we see appear to be men, men with pipes and equipment. Yes, we can tell that they are technicians. That is the story that the practical narratives of the technical will recount. But other contrasts and divisions are also being made, divisions that have to do with the distribution of gender. For, or so it appears, (parts of?) nature are being rendered male.33 Or, perhaps better, nature is being displaced yet again, as if, for instance, instead of going home at the end of the day’s work, the aircraft were rather being sent to the garage. Or, more pointedly, to the intensive care unit with its array of monitors, cables, bags of fluids, and drips as it enacts an intense and interventionary agency—that treats the body precisely as a (failing) system.34
But there is yet another possibility that has to do with gendering. This says that in certain instances patriarchal culture endows that 138 Aesthetics which is female with potency. One of these—and one of the most
visible—is in the performance of bodies. It may be found, for instance, in those distributions which constitute woman as a dangerous form of sexuality, dangerous that is, to man, for instance as the femme fatale, the source of forbidden knowledge, of forbidden power, a danger. In the iconography, this is a source of power constituted alongside and uncertainly held at bay by that other great patriarchal myth, woman as innocent, gentle, innocuous. All in all, as a source of virtue, either bland and passive, or active but in the form of nurturing.35 In exhibit 6.13 we are not dealing with gendered or sexualized human bodies. But even so, it seems that something similar is going on; that is, we see an analogous alternation between innocence and blandness on the one hand, and dangerous physical potency on the other. An alternation in which blandness and one-dimensionality seek, with only partial success, to efface the dangers of materiality.
Blandness we have seen. It is everywhere in the bowdlerized and anodyne language of the technical. But it is also in the language of systems that permeates the brochure as well as other aspects of the project. We have seen that this is a colonizing language that says everything is normal, everything is under control, and everything is being monitored, calculated, and corrected. So there is the ubiquitous performance of the anodyne. But not very far away, albeit partially effaced, there is also the performance of danger. For the aircraft is a dangerous tool. It is, to be sure, a danger to the enemy. It is dangerous to those who fly it, testing as it does the limits of their heroism and skill. And finally it is dangerous to us all since its nuclear use would no doubt lead to consequences that would extinguish everyone. So these pictures show it sitting on the ground hiding from the threat, but they also show it embodying a risk to those who surround it, to those homelands it is precisely intended to shield. For this is a machine with potential, the potential for destruction, not only of the enemy but also of the power that wields it.
In which case the distributive dynamics become explicable. For now it appears that the superficial blandness is no longer simply a technical matter. Rather it is a device that, to a most limited degree, hides the knowledge of the dangerous and self-destructive potency of a weapon that would, if ever used, wreak havoc not only on its intended targets but also on those who deployed it. This hidden knowledge is what makes it possible to argue that this aircraft is also per-
formed as if it were a woman, a dangerous mistress, in a distribution that connects through complexity with some of the performances of patriarchal sexual difference.36
Perhaps, then, the aircraft is ambivalent in terms of gendering, or even in terms of sexuality. Perhaps it is gendered or sexed, sometimes performed as one thing, sometimes as another. If this is right then the distribution of potency, of agency, is sustained in part by such abrupt redistributions of gendering. By their interferences with one another. And so it is that the ‘‘aesthetic,’’ out of place in the ‘‘technical,’’ reappears. It reappears in the form of the ‘‘illustrations’’ that, by demoting themselves to the status of‘‘illustrations,’’ are precisely able to propose distributions that strengthen the shifting performance of the aircraft as agent. But they are able to do so in a way that excites no comment, by other and technically outrageous means.