Jordan Crandall on 14 Mar 2001 20:14:48 -0000

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<nettime> Armor, Amour

Warning: This text will not clear the metal detector.

"We need missile defense!" a nearby passenger breathlessly exclaimed, with
both pleasure and fear, as we placed our tray tables, bodies, and seats in
an upright and locked position in preparation for landing at National
Airport in Washington DC.  One wonders what had ignited this remark.  
Hurling toward the ground at 500 miles per hour inside a shiny projectile,
had she suddenly identified with a ballistic missile?  Had she, in fear,
invoked a shield, or had she, in elatement, fused with a warhead?  I
envisioned her as both a bomb-riding cowgirl of the Dr. Strangelove
variety and as a brake-loving driver of an SUV consumer tank.  Saddled
with the legacy of the Gulf War and its aerial cameras, which seemed to
place us in the pilot's seat, and now subject to a new sense of American
vulnerability registered in the emerging obsession for missile defense,
it's no wonder that she forgot which side of the projectile she was on.

The rising figure of a defense shield - a prophylactic for the entire
country - marks a shift in the architecture of combat. As the national
discourse changes its orientation from that of targeting to that of being
targeted, new visual formats arise alongside the antiseptic videogame
images of the recent past:  formats in which our status as viewers is
reversed and our positions imperiled.  Another effect of the
perspectivization that is warfare.  With America's obsession for safety
reaching epidemic levels - fueled by the market's need to provoke interest
in new technologies and the military's need to justify increased defense
spending - a near-religious fervor for "protection" could well arise, as
missiles appear to be potentially falling down on us from the skies.

Would we then look ~up~, rather than primarily down or across?  To look up
in counterpoint to a potentially intrusive gaze that, when coming from
satellites or surveillance cameras, has largely been perceived as benign.  
To look up no longer in a position of wonderment or contemplation (as in
star-gazing) but with a kind of uneasy self-awareness as aerial-driven
military apparatuses - of which we have for quite some time seen ourselves
at the origin - gradually begin to locate us as objects.  It is as if the
chair at the computer screen or television were suddenly kicked back
(WHAM!), causing us to face upwards while becoming acutely aware of our
own physical vulnerability.  Combined with a growing awareness of tracking
systems that "see back" - reversing the direction of sight from the
unique, personal point of view so reinforced in Renaissance perspectives -
we may begin to internalize our capacities as targets.  In many ways the
site of the personal has become a kind of vanishing point in and of
itself, with "sights" locked onto it, engaged in a process of primarily
being identified before identifying.  A formation of the self as
subject-in-synchronization (the moving parts aligned in the viewfinder of
an other), rather than based in subject-object relation.  What are the
ontological implications for such a shift?

A blip on the radar, a database sweep, a streamed numerical sequence:  
the control tower clears an entryway for the pilot.  The aircraft rapidly
descends toward the runway.  Images of clouds parting fill the cabin's
projection screens, compliments of a camera mounted on the nose-cone,
placing us in the eye of the plane-bomb.  I glance over again at my
airline companion.  Her hands gripping the armrest and her head thrown
back, eyes closed and mouth agape, she seems to be suspended within a fire
of pleasurable danger, of the rollercoaster variety.  Is it the erotic
charge of death that surges through the body?  A virtual obliteration,
where one slips into a delirious exchanging of roles and positions - as
when aggressor becomes victim?  The gripping of the armrest, the position
of the head, the trajectory of the plane:  a triangulation that seems to
encircle the surge.  A machine of some kind, sailing through the sky,
plummeting to earth, or shooting up like a rocket.  An orientation device,
in which one sits, immobile and transfixed.  A sensation of movement,
which streams by.  A representation of movement, causing one to learn how
to move.  Backed by an armament, a little war machine.  Backed by a tool,
a little work machine.

And then:  the salvation of the shield. 


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