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Modernist Avant-Garde Aesthetics and Contemporary Military Technology

Technicities of Perception

Ryan Bishop, John Phillips


This book analyses the operation of current state-of-the-art military technology and the experimental art, music and writing of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Modernist aesthetics renders clearer the operations of the vast surveillance and killing machines of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

A basic aim of visual technologies is to collapse the sphere of perception with that of the perceived object. Modernist aesthetics, working the same terrain, shows that there always remains an irreducible element of time and space. Military technology tends towards the impossible goal of eliminating this dimension, while modernist aesthetics exploits it. Placing military operations alongside modernist aesthetics reveals the civic sphere suspended between two incompatible desires.

Through close readings of the art and writing of Djuna Barnes, Joseph Conrad, Marcel Duchamp, James Joyce, Mina Loy, Stephane Mallarme, the Italian Futurists and H. G. Wells alongside the Apache attack helicopters, Network-Centric Warfare, satellites, decoys, sirens and radios, the chapters address issues such as: targetting, surveillance, visibility and the invisible, broadcast and media, the military body, diasporas, geopolitics and beauty.

Key Features

  • An important contribution to the increasingly important interdisciplinary field of war studies
  • Provides original and 'groundbreaking' readings of modernist art, literature, music, poetics and aesthetics
  • Gives a valuable and provocative reading of the avant-garde
  • ,li>Contributes to a new understanding of both military technics and modernist aesthetics


Section 1: Aesthetics, Poetics, Prosthetics
1. The Slow and the Blind: Unhinging the Senses to Harness Them
2. Sighted Weapons and Modernist Opacity: Aesthetics, Poetics, Prosthetics
3. We Make it Beautiful
4. We Don't Make it Beautiful
Section 2: Broadcast, Hinge, Emergency
5. Ventriloquism, Broadcast and Technologies of Narrative
6. The Curious Logic of the Hinge
7. Manufacturing Emergencies
8. Among the Blind and the Delay
Section 3: Surveillance, Targeting, Containment
9. Strategies and Technologies of Containment: Unmanning the Homeland and Containing the Political
10. Scoping Out
11. Satellites of Love and War.

About the Author

Ryan Bishop is Professor of Global Art and Politics at Winchester School of Art and Co-Director of the Winchester Centre for Global Futures in Art Design & Media at the University of Southampton. He co-edits Cultural Politics (Duke UP) with John Armitage and Doug Kellner, and he edits the book series Theory Now for Polity Press. His research areas include critical theory, art, media, literary studies, technology, urbanism and militarisation of daily life.

John Phillips is Associate Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at the National University of Singapore. He is the author of Contested Knowledge: A Guide to Critical Theory (Zed, 2000), co-editor, with Ryan Bishop and Wei-Wei Yeo, of Beyond Description: Space Historicity Singapore (Routledge, 2004), co-editor, with Ryan Bishop and Wei-Wei Yeo, of Postcolonial Urbanism: Southeast Asian Cities and Global Processes (Routledge 2003), and co-editor, with Lyndsey Stonebridge, of Reading Melanie Klein (Routledge, 1998).


A richly fascinating, very wise book which launches a brave, telling, and at times, devastating cultural critique of the military-industrial complex. The arguments which praise the modernist avant-garde for its prescience and also its techniques of resistance to war technology are startling, refreshing and brilliant.
- Professor Adam Piette, School of English, University of Sheffield
An intelligent, imaginative, wide-ranging and lucid work. It marks a genuine move forward for the application of deconstruction to cultural studies. And what is especially remarkable about the book is its stunning range of examples and cases, which include Finnegans Wake, Transformer toys, Malaysian gothic thrillers, poems by Keats and Blake, the war in Bosnia, ventriloquism, diaspora and the Cold War, postcolonial formations in South East Asia.
- Professor Simon During, Department of English, Johns Hopkins University