You, Me, and the Violence by Catherine Taylor

Dear Catherine Taylor,

Your book, You, Me, And The Violence, resists classification. It’s a mosaic of desperate pieces that beautifully unpacks the ethics of military drone violence. The works begins in-scene from Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. We see the puppets as they come to life and yet stay unreal, “we see them only as they become puppets, become objects, and thus, paradoxically, become themselves.” What follows is the first braid about the importance of puppetry and your “longing for something other than bureaucracies of death, something other than the crisis under my fingernails of the every day.” You show us puppetry scenes with your children. Toys on stage. When you depart from puppets, it’s to show us a different child’s toy: drones. Followed immediately by the transcribed conversation between two military personnel using drones to kill targets and the history of how your brother became a drone pilot. Thus the “bureaucracies of death” begin to take shape. The stage and ethical questions are immediately raised and continually refined and complicated. The central question becomes personal: How can I make sense of my brother’s work as a drone pilot, whom I love, when I’m against the violence it causes? The work culminates in a transcribed interview with your brother where you talk candidly about his previous occupation. The result, like this book, is complicated and nuanced. Both highly intellectual and intensely personal. By the end, when all the braids are viewed in their totality, an earnest, piercingly clear narrative unfolds, creating a completely different reading experience than a traditional essay collection or memoir would be able to achieve. The resulting truth or answers fragile and fleeting and beautiful. A treasure, like this book.

What I love about this work is that nothing is hidden from the reader. You tell us exactly what you mean, and why you mean it which contributes to the genuine voice of the piece. No place is this clearer than when you write, “In the object of the puppet, we glimpse the subject of the human. In the object of  the drone, we glimpse the subject of society.” You never shy away from the complicated goals of the work, “I want to write with the simplicity and directness of the emblem and the icon, and yes, perhaps the didacticism, too. But more than that, I want to write a quiet essay like a black and white photo.” The simplicity of a brother you love doing something you are afraid to understand. A children’s toy. A transcribed conversation available to the public. Photographs.

 But you use these elements to build up more complex structures. Later on you write, “On the other hand, I don’t want to oversimplify things. And there are so many things. Their accommodation seems to require not just the static constellation, but a poetics of multiplicity or of digression.” Thus, when the transcribed conversations are set alongside the other two, deeper questions emerge. The archetypical question, Am I real? Is my brother a puppet? Are we all simply puppets? Like the Pinocchio play, is the audience telling us that we’re real, when it’s clear no magic had actually taken place? 

These pieces, among others, don’t simply play with each other. They don’t simply fall along the theme of drones and puppets and war and freewill. The hybridity isn’t cleverly done genre deconstruction that subconsciously reinforces to the audience that this is a current tension. All the pieces genuinely need each other. The puppetry is used as metaphor in which puppets are fake and trying to “seem” real, while the drone cameras had purposely made the targets look less real as a failed attempt at reducing the phycological damage of their pilots. The puppetry also works on a personal level in which a mother is grasping onto her children’s final stage of childhood, wondering what kind of world they will inherit, necessarily juxtaposed against the brother’s story, also personal, attaching what she sees as, at best, a problematic occupation with a person she loves and wants to keep a good relationship with. A person she thinks of as “good.” The transcribed drone pilot conversations adds an objectivity that creates an earnestness to the moment that colors the rest of your writing. Even the disorienting nature of the hybridity reflects the disorientation of the very problems being set forth about war and death and technology and our own free-will amongst it all. The pieces are different angles to consider. Different modes of perception to sift through in an attempt to really see the problem at its most complete. 

To me, this book is what art should be at its most pure. Full of ideas and heart and bravery and care and reflection. This is not a book for those who want to be led into an answer about the role of drones in contemporary politics to be paraphrased at dinner parties. This is a book that attempts to really see. To really feel. To charge into the darkening horizon and see if anyone else is there. It’s so fitting that towards the end of the book you have the conversation with your brother that you were so scared to have. A conversation about his former job. About the morality of it. To ask the questions that you needed ask. The end result isn’t binary. Isn’t good or bad. You aren’t proven right or wrong. And yet, it avoids being relativistic as well. When asked about the morality of his job your brother responded, “I am confused by the question, because it sounds like you’ve got two things going on in whatever you’re writing: drones, this new technology and its impact, and ‘Should the U.S. be sending military troops to these countries.’” Thus the question are further complicated. The questions continued, but understood a little bit better before the curtain to the puppet show falls. The children grow older. The puppet strings are cut. The puppets turned into effigies.  

Thank you for writing this book. It’s a treasure.

Nicholas Dickson Brown