Ithaca College Professor's New Book Ponders Puppets and Drones

By Dan Verderosa, December 13, 2017
Unlikely pairing explores topics of power and violence.

In her new book, “You, Me and the Violence,” Catherine Taylor uses the unexpected pairing of puppets and military drones to investigate deep questions about power, violence and what it means to be an engaged member of society.

“The book doesn’t have a single message or a single answer about what violence is or what we should do about it,” said Taylor, an associate professor in Ithaca College’s Department of Writing. “As with other questions, there’s just rarely a single answer. The book is interested in asking its readers to be aware of their own relationship to the various types of violence in their world, whether those are interpersonal or political.”

Why puppets and drones? Taylor was initially focused on political puppetry, but quickly became interested in drones as a kind of puppet. “A drone is a moving object with a distant mind,” she said.

Among the topics explored in the book is the distance that military attack drones put between pilots and their targets. She said that the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder is high among drone pilots, and the military is constantly negotiating the resolution of drone cameras so that they are accurate, but not sharp enough that pilots become emotionally damaged.

“That’s a thorny ethical issue,” said Taylor. “The question of closeness, and how technology can deliver both distance and immediacy at the same time, is certainly a heartbreaking situation, but also one we can’t step away from.”

“We need to rethink who we are in relation to this technology,” she added.

In the course of researching and writing the book, Taylor interviewed puppeteers, political activists and military officials. She also interviewed her own brother, a U.S. Air Force pilot who was transferred to a drone unit shortly after she began writing.

“The book contains quite a bit about my brother and my trying to see the question of how, where and why we use military drones through his eyes as well as through my own,” said Taylor.

You, Me and the Violence” is written as a long-form, non-fiction essay, but it incorporates non-traditional techniques like photography and poetry. “I think that poetry allows a different entry point for people who might otherwise feel they don’t have the time, the disposition or the background to encounter a difficult set of philosophical or historical questions,” she said.

Taylor credits her students at Ithaca College with helping her grow as a writer during the five years she worked on the book.

“I’ve had really interesting conversations with students, who have helped me to understand what they want as readers,” she said. “In many cases, my students have offered me new ideas about how to work as a writer.”