All aesthetic forms presuppose and in turn ratify a regime of perception by which subjects apprehend their world. This essay surveys key areas of the contemporary cultural field—prestige television, gallery art, mass-market best sellers, and the literary novel—to describe the material and formal processes that mediate our moment of fading geopolitical hegemony: the way of seeing proper to our drone era. The essay reads artworks about surveillance by multimedia artist Trevor Paglen; bestselling thrillers about drone war by Mike Maden and others; and technofetishistic novels about mediation by Tom McCarthy including Satin Island, C, and Remainder. After establishing the role of mediation in wartime activities across periods of imperial rule, the essay underscores these texts’ varied obsessions with physical channels, technological apparatuses, and built infrastructures—and suggests that these processes of mediation themselves become apprehensible at the level of style as drone content becomes drone form. The essay then identifies in these instances of drone form an abiding problem of nonreciprocal action. Often allegorized as dysfunctional masculinity or failed copulation, drone war's constitutive dissymmetry between subject and object—its problem with action—becomes an aesthetic and thematic preoccupation of aesthetic form in the drone era. It is the hyberbolic obsession of Maden's aspirationally masculinist novels and the special focus of McCarthy's sexless and technofetishistic ones. Using these novels as test cases, the essay unpacks the relation between the means of distributing death in our late imperial moment and the regime of perception proper to our dying empire.

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