The “sensory” dimension of drone strikes is explored in Nasser Hussein’s article, “Phenomenology of a Drone Strike” in the Boston Review. Here, Hussein compares two competing visual and aural registers: the silent seeing of the drone’s camera from the skies, and the unyielding “buzz” of a Reaper’s engine on the ground.
What is important about this article, and others like it, is that they identify the crucial “policing” of reality itself: the seen, the heard, the felt – all of these are operated on by the machine. Judith Butler elsewhere refers to this as “framing”. The point is that the “aesthetic” is not a given; it is a product. As Hussein states, “while discussions of drone strikes in the United States focus on the precision of impact, the experience of drone strikes from the ground cannot be understood as a singular moment but as a structuring reality”.
Drones, then, like any machine, process worldly information. There is an “input” and there is an “output”. In many ways, “power” – whether state power or military power – is invested precisely in the moment between input and output: the passage in which reality is operated on, engineered, made.
It is precisely in this sense that reality is always-already “technical”, in that an assemblage of machines constantly operate on it – producing a constellation of (political-) sense.
The exhilaration of the bird’s-eye view, or the god’s-eye view, so palpable in early accounts of flying, stems from the possibility of outstripping human limitations. But in another respect, aviation is very much tied to the modern mode of seeing, because from the very beginning it has been linked to photographic and cinematographic representation. Shooting a film, or focusing on a target, are not cheap puns, but reminders of a shared genealogical origin.