Insects, drones and swarming in Ernst Jünger’s The Glass Bees
Andreas Immanuel Graae
Since ancient times, insect swarms have triggered uncanny emotions such as anxiety, paranoia and panic within human communities. During the twentieth century, this imagination revived as it merged with fantasies of autonomation and emergent behaviour among intelligent machines. As an eager entomologist with a keen eye for technology’s impact on the human, the German author Ernst Jünger put these ambivalent emotions into literary form in his futuristic novel The Glass Bees (1957), which features advanced robotic bees hardly distinguishable from today’s micro-drones. This chapter investigates Jünger’s novel as an early literary work on drone technology and situates it in the proper historical context as it arrives in a dawning era of computers, networks and automation. The drone swarms in the novel can be seen as something inherently uncanny, which evokes feelings such as paranoia and anxiety – emotions that are easily associated with the authoritarian community where this drone technology is used. Focusing on the figure of the swarm, the chapter thus discusses how Jünger’s artificial bees foreshadow today’s drone technologies and the prospects of swarming robots in warfare as well as everyday life.
This book investigates drone technology from a humanities point of view by exploring how civilian and military drones are represented in visual arts and literature. It opens up a new aesthetic ‘drone imaginary’, a prism of cultural and critical knowledge, through which the complex interplay between drone technology and human communities is explored, and from which its historical, cultural and political dimensions can be assessed. The contributors to this volume offer diverse approaches to this interdisciplinary field of aesthetic drone imaginaries. Sprouting from art history, literature, photography, feminism, postcolonialism and cultural studies, the chapters provide new insights to the rapidly evolving field of drone studies. They include historical perspectives on early unmanned aviation and aerial modes of vision; they explore aesthetic configurations of drone swarming, robotics and automation; and they engage in current debates on how drone technology alters the human body, upsets available categories, and creates new political imaginaries.
In this interview, Rasmus Degnbol describes his experience of documenting the migrant’s trail through Europe’s new borders from above. The interviewer, Andreas Immanuel Graae, inquires what kind of emotional distance as well as visual proximity the bird’s eye views of the drone creates between the photographer and the migrants. And he asks which practical and social challenges this vertical perspective implies – and how, according to Degnbol, it might help the viewer grasp the massive scale of the humanitarian crisis as well as the radical transformation of territories and communities in the age of drones and mass migration.