- Violent Subjects and Rhetorical Cartography in the Age of the Terror Wars by Heather Ashley Hayes
In a New York Times piece from February 12, 2017, entitled “Turmoil at the National Security Council, from the Top Down,” reporters profiled the kinds of changes to the intelligence briefing process that members of the new Trump administration were implementing. The Times noted, “And while Mr. Obama liked policy option papers that were three to six single-spaced pages, council staff members are now being told to keep papers to a single page, with lots of graphics and maps. ‘The president likes maps,’ one official said.” And why not? Maps serve as political shorthand for powerful public policies and have visually represented presidential prerogatives for generations. While historical geographers like J. B. Harley have rightly implicated maps in a long-standing colonizing project that cloaks nation-state power in scientific rhetoric, a project that Trump is tacitly participating in, newer scholars are wondering aloud whether cartography can provide an emancipatory option for challenging such power.
It is in this spirit that Heather Hayes’s insightful, provocative, and map-centric Violent Subjects and Rhetorical Cartography in the Age of the Terror Wars ends on a hopeful note, after touring the reader through the horrifying landscape of a new “rhetoricoviolence” waged especially by U.S. policymakers post-9/11. For example, Hayes recounts how an NYU graduate student, Josh Begley, faced an uphill battle with Apple in trying to get his “Drone+” app accepted for download by everyday iPhone users. “Drone+” sought to compile existing data on all U.S. drone strikes into one interactive map. Apple’s initial rejection of Begley’s app was made on the grounds that the project contained “excessively objectionable and crude content.” That the mere compilation and representation of drone strikes could be seen as disruptive and distasteful to social media consumers, and thus subject to [End Page 543] censorship by digital gatekeepers like Apple, is central to Hayes’s point about drone culture and violence. But the hopeful part is just as central to Hayes’s thesis: while Begley negotiated to have his app accepted, he opened a Twitter account called @Dronestream, which tracks every single U.S. drone strike in real time. He was able to, in a sense, sidestep the gatekeepers. To publicly identify these attacks, mostly against Muslim bodies, is one small but hopeful rupture against both the violence and the silence of the waging of the terror wars.
Begley is just one example, among other artists, programmers, and raconteurs, of someone who has attempted to resist the subjectivity placed on him or her by “technologies of power and control,” as Hayes puts it (185), in the age of terror. And Begley’s chosen medium of the map is particularly salient here, given Hayes’s operative metaphor of choice in Violent Subjects is cartography, specifically “rhetorical cartography.” In her words, “Not only does rhetorical cartography assist in drawing basic maps of power and violence—here, compiling drone history, deployment, development, and the possibility of oversight for the program—but that mapping is central in offering the conditions of possibility for re-drawing and/or revealing and concealing other maps that are possible” (96). In this way, Violent Subjects and Rhetorical Cartography is perhaps most significant from a methodological perspective. The book impressively lays out the parameters for new maps that connect various technologies of power in the post-9/11 landscape and invites rhetorical critics and a wide swathe of interdisciplinary scholars to plot the coordinates of this new landscape.
This elaborate cartographic metaphor, though, might fall apart if it were not for the rich textual examples Hayes brings in to materialize these maps. From her coverage of the Predator drone strike death of Abdulrahman Anwar al-’Awlaqi (the 16-year-old son of a major al-Qaeda operative) to the examination of Shura City, a virtual project that theorizes how a city can be built to resist U.S...