Hobart and William Smith Colleges

"the atmosphere is a chaotic system" from War and the Weather

by Catherine Taylor

Catherine Taylor

I was writing an essay about puppets and ideas about autonomy and the puppet I'd become obsessed with was the military drone. I was working with a transcript of a drone mission that had killed a large number of civilians in Afghanistan; the transcript was riveting, but I was struggling to find a way to include it. One day, a friend suggested that I read Mary A. Favret's book, War At a Distance; Romanticism and the Making of Modern War. Favret explores the ways in which Romantic writers were the "architects of modern wartime" and charts how they captured the rise of global warfare in their time in a way that still persists in ours, focusing on the "felt distance from crucial events, the limits of knowledge in a mediated culture, the temporal gaps in the transmission of information, and, finally, the difficulty of finding sounds or forms to which feeling can attach itself" (Favret 11).

It seemed to me that while I had been using the figure of puppets as a way to find those "forms to which feeling can attach itself," the puppets weren't always the right fit for thinking about drone warfare. Favret's exploration of Romanticism's linking of war and the weather offered a compelling alternative. She writes that "Scientists and poets together produced a recognizable georgics of the sky, fusing the work of war and weather to highlight questions of mediation, especially between bodies and events located at great removes from each other (122)."

I knew as soon as I read this that I wanted to make some short pieces called "War and the Weather" and that I wanted to see what would happen if I invoked the Romantic trope of looking out over a body of water beyond which the viewer's own people were waging a foreign, invisible war. But I wanted to do it in a way that, unlike the Romantic works, made the distant war more present, if not visible. I also knew that I wanted to film the weather, to watch it myself, not to re-create it in words. And I knew that I wanted the sounds, as well as the forms, to which feeling, and thinking, could attach itself. Hence, this film, which is one of several in an ongoing series.

Catherine Taylor is the author of Apart (Ugly Duckling Presse), a mixed-genre memoir and political history that combines prose, poetry, cultural theory, and found texts from South African archives. Her first book, Giving Birth: A Journey Into the World of Mothers and Midwives (Penguin Putnam), won the Lamaze International Birth Advocate Award. Taylor is a founding editor of Essay Press, an independent press dedicated to publishing innovative essays in book form. She received her PhD from Duke University and teaches at Ithaca College.