Category Archives: Tim Morton

Humankind: Solidarity with Nonhuman People

 Humankind

In his characteristically eccentric and predictably enthralling new book, Humankind, Timothy Morton argues that Marxism has erred in excluding nonhumans from “social space,” but is capable of correcting its course because of its commitment to solidarity.  The exclusion of nonhumans is a bug, rather than a feature of Marxist thought.  Capitalism, based on property ownership and various forms of slavery, conversely, is necessarily exclusive and hierarchical.[i]  Resources, including humans and nonhumans, are subordinated to the transcendent value of capital, and human beings, in effect, develop kinship bonds with capital rather than human and nonhuman beings.  Folding anarchy back into Marxism, Morton argues that solidarity with nonhuman beings simply effaces our ties to consumer capitalism (“Kindness,” 2300 – 2313).  Though Morton criticizes the New Left’s focus on identity politics for reproducing essential difference and thus undermining solidarity, his vision is certainly a boon for the Left (“Things in Common,” 207-261).  I’m not quite sure if Morton’s radical reconfiguration of social space is Marxism as we know it, or as it was conceived, but Humankind might encourage intellectuals to trade their chains for an optimistic New New Left.  Humans and nonhumans in solidarity, willing Trump’s last tweet.

One of Morton’s most radical concepts is the symbiotic real.  I say it’s radical not because symbiosis is new, but because Morton presents non-hierarchical symbiosis as an integral feature of political life. When we become aware of the symbiotic real, solidarity is no longer a value, choice, or decision.  It simply is, and any social, economic, or political theory that externalizes nonhuman beings is recognized as inoperable—an insolvent fantasy (“Things in Common,” 66 – 87).  Another important element of Morton’s project here, and I think it’s his most significant one to date, is interrogating life, categorically. “Life” based on substance ontology, and specious distinctions between its various forms, is antithetical to life (“Life,” 807).  Rather than subordinating life to the “agrologistic” principles of non-contradiction and the excluded middle, that create mutually exclusive categories of life and non-life, and identify life with autonomous being, Morton rediscovers and celebrates life as quivering, shimmering, spectral (“Life,” 770, 776, 846, 850, 860).  He sings of life forms that overflow their boundaries, downward and upward.  Human beings, composed of myriad nonhuman beings, and haunted by what have heretofore been considered inanimate objects; nonhuman beings composed of what have heretofore been considered inanimate objects, and haunted by human beings. “[T]he intrinsic shimmering of being” (“Life,” 860).

The “correlationism revelation mode” is like a magic trick (“Specters,” 893 – 916).  First we see a subject and an object, and then suddenly the two are collapsed into the transcendental subject. The symbiotic real is supernatural, occult.  Everything has agency, and everything also withdraws (“Specters,” 942, 987).  While we are engaging with a nonhuman, even an inanimate object, it is also engaging with us, and hiding.  And this includes nonhuman aspects of ourselves (“Specters,” 942).  Humankind comprises the nonhuman aspects of the human, including the unconscious.  Both human and nonhuman beings are haunted by spectral others and spectral selves.  This is spectral phenomenology (“Specters,” 942).  Ecological awareness is being with a “ghostly host of nonhumans” (“Specters,” 1089).  “To encounter an ecological entity is to be haunted” (“Specters,” 1113).  Every life form has a spectral double, and “[b]eing alive means being supernatural” (“Specters,” 1323).

Subscendence is the most theoretically important concept of the book, and possibly the most important piece of Humankind’s political argument.  Under the sign of subscendence, Morton illustrates that wholes are smaller and more fragile than the sum of their parts (“Subscendence,” 1767 – 1794).  And this applies to menacing hyperobjects such as neoliberalism.  Though we imagine it as Cthulu, Morton suggests neoliberalism may be ontologically small and easy to subvert.  It pervades social space, but it cannot contain or rule its parts.  Our fear and cynicism is based on an assumption that neoliberalism is a transcendent whole, but solidarity with human and nonhumnan beings can help us dismantle it.  Locally unplugging from fossil fuel energy grids seems trivial, until we rediscover solidarity and begin to replicate such local forms of resistance (“Subscendence,” 1726 – 1828).

Subscendence replaces mastery.  Because parts exceed wholes, and because all objects withdraw, increasing knowledge does not result in mastery.  The more objects and levels of objects we discover, the more objects withdraw. And this includes our knowledge of ourselves.  The more we know about ourselves the more we perceive our withdrawl. “You are a haunted house” (“Subscendence,” 1965).  The dream of access to the thing itself is replaced by a real feeling of being followed or watched.  Intimacy is paranoia, and truth is being haunted (“Subscendence,” 1912; “Kindness,” 2649)

Humankind, like human beings, is “a fuzzy, subscendent whole that includes and implies other lifeforms, as a part of the also subscendent symbiotic real” (“Subscendence,” 2013).  This quote reminds us not to reify the symbiotic real—it’s not a new transcendent whole, God or Gaia. Just as humankind is haunted by the inhuman, so the symbiotic real is haunted by spectral beings in a spectral dimension (“Specters,” 1198; “Kindness,” 2274).

As an explosive whole, speciesism is a violent form of exclusion, predicated on racism and substance ontology (“Species,” 2016, 2243).  Morton argues that agrologistics not only severed humans from nonhuman beings, but created technologies like caste systems, and property ownership, that severed humankind from itself (“Species,” 2206, 2243).  Institutionalized, systemic, racism (subsequently) naturalized difference, and telegraphed social hierarchies into the domain of the nonhuman (“Species,” 2206).  The symbiotic real, conversely, undermines hierarchies.  In a symbiotic relationship both members are dependent on one another.  Neither is on top (“Things in Common,” 70).  If human beings are dependent on each other and on nonhuman beings in non-hierarchical ways, what maintains social hierarchies?  The severing of kinship with human and nonhuman beings.

“The Severing” is a “traumatic fissure” between the “human-correlated world” and the “ecological symbiosis of human and nonhuman parts of the biosphere” (“Things in Common,” 272). Solidarity is the “default affective environment,” but anthropocentrism suppresses solidarity between humans and nonhumans, and erects boundaries between humans (“Things in Common,” 296 – 299). The effects of this intergenerational trauma are widespread, resulting in a desert landscape “from which meaning and connection have evaporated” (“Things in Common,” 312, 355).  This results in alienation, not from some transcendent presence but from “an inconsistent spectral essence we are calling humankind,” as well as the spectrality of nonhuman beings (“Species,” 2197-2201).  “What capitalism distorts is not an underlying substantial Nature or Humanity, but rather the ‘paranormal’ energies of production” (“Species” 2204).

Ultimately, Morton argues that solidarity is kindness, and kindness is an unconscious aspect of ourselves, which we share with nonhumans (“Kindness,” 2283- 2306). Acknowledgement, awareness, and fascination are all aesthetic and ethical/political acts of solidarity (“Kindness,” 2296 – 2368).  And since our origins lie in the symbiotic real, these “styles” of being also belong to nonhumans (“Kindness,” 2294, 2453, 2835).  Indeed, recent animal behavior studies suggest that solidarity is inherited from nonhumans (“Kindness,” 2860).  Morton ends by queering the active and passive categories, and “veering” love toward the environment (“Kindness,” 2963, 3119).  Solidarity requires nonhumans because we are inseparable from the symbiotic real (“Kindness,” 3123 – 3127).  We are them.  “Solidarity just is solidarity with nonhumans.”

[i] “Things in Common,” 416, 430. All in-text references are to chapter titles and locations.

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Filed under Affect and Ecology, Animals, Capitalism, Objects, OOO, Tim Morton

Dark Ecology. What’s a Human—to Do?

by Randall Honold
Co-director, Institute for Nature and Culture, DePaul University

 

Thoughts prompted by Timothy Morton’s Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence

Remember the end? I’m recalling all the “end of . . . ” books that started pouring out around twenty years ago. We read about the end of history, nature, faith, poverty, men, globalization, power, Europe, imagination – even absence. Maybe because we love a good ending when we see one we start seeing them everywhere. Or maybe we love resolution no matter what comes next. There’s a kind of end-logic we get trapped by: either we’re pouring accelerant on the flames of decline or we’re cynically indifferent to the suffering in front of us: “Everything has to end sometime – c’est la vie!” Of course, nothing that has been ending has actually ended. We don’t know how to see the end to the end, it appears. The past persists.

Black Square.2

Today we’re grappling with the meaning of the end of the Holocene, from here and now at the onset of the Anthropocene. Coming to realize that we humans changing the earth may be a defining event for both the earth and humans. Who are we humans and what is the earth after the end (better: during the ending) of the Holocene? What might our entwined future(s) look like?

We need help thinking about who and what we all are at beginning of the first geological era to which we’ve given our name. Even if at first that help doesn’t look like a guiding hand but a dead sparrow on our doorstep. Even if in the welcoming of help we let go of what we thought we were and invite across the threshold what we didn’t want to admit was already here for some time.

DarkEcology

Timothy Morton’s Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence is the kind of object we need to help us think what we are and what to do about it. Calling the book an “object” sounds like I’m reducing it to a single instrument but no – it’s a rich, dense, diverse collective of reflections that unfurls like a growing crystal, its fractal structure embodying one of Morton’s main ideas, that reality is a loop of objects resisting organization by a larger ideal. And like all objects, the book gets weirder the more I interact with it. Which brings me to what its title describes, “dark ecology.”

What happens to us if we practice dark ecology? That is, what happens to the meaning of us and what kinds of actions do we end up taking? Since Rimbaud, at least, we’ve known that “I is another.” That knowledge in itself isn’t enough to twist free of what Morton calls agrilogistics, the roughly twelve-thousand year tradition of rearranging the earth in order to stabilize ourselves. Furthermore epistemology itself probably isn’t tweakable any further. The knowledge we have and the ways of knowing we practice are plenty satisfactory for making it through the ecological crisis. Imperator Furiosa and Max Rockatansky made it across the wasteland and back on far less! Our fate is tied to a very large number of equally non-selvish beings that we can’t fully know but we always already coexist with aesthetically. Practicing dark ecology isn’t something esoteric or obscure; it’s kind of a continual reorientation toward the equally mysterious beings we’re already coexisting with.

Dark ecology entails practicing intimacy in as many ways as possible. It amounts to compassion, really, consonant with Tibetan Buddhism practiced by Morton.  Every manifestation of compassion arises from an orientation that has been open to suffering. Robert Thurman says suffering alerts us to the fact that we are not being aware of what we really are. For at least a couple of thousand years we’ve tried applying a variety of Anthropocentric therapies to this lack of awareness, intended to restore us to the larger whole we’ve fallen from and redeem our suffering. But that’s not what we need at the onset of the Anthropocene. We’re in a time that’s pretty clearly defined by our futility at getting on top or to the bottom of wicked problems of our own making (cue global warming, species extinction, fresh water depletion, and even the end of sand!). What if there isn’t a big Nature to get back to, an Environment to clean up, an Earth to become one with? Would it be so bad for these big old Beings to come to an end? What if we follow Morton and experiment with Anthropocenic anti-therapies which yield results consistent with increasing intimate coexistence with ourselves and other objects?

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SPF 2017 (Subscendence Perpetration Formation).  Directions: Apply liberally and often.

Tim Morton
Image Sources:

https://environmentalcritique.wordpress.com/2017/06/02/what-is-the-lay-of-the-land-part-ii/

https://cup.columbia.edu/book/dark-ecology/9780231177528

http://archinect.com/features/article/149934079/timothy-morton-on-haunted-architecture-dark-ecology-and-other-objects

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A Conversation Between Timothy Morton and Jeff VanderMeer

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THE SEEDS OF THIS CONVERSATION were planted when I saw an online announcement for Timothy Morton’s new book, Dark Ecology. Immediately I felt the cover design resonated with the amazing covers of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. When I mentioned this to Tim at an academic conference, he said it was a sort of lovely and weird coincidence because he and Jeff had recently started communicating with each other — appreciating each other’s work, ideas, and aesthetics. 

Soon after, Gerry Canavan and I started collaborating on “Global Weirding,” a special issue of the academic journal Paradoxa, and we agreed that Jeff and Tim would make an engaging and provocative pair to feature in conversation with each other. In many ways, they both have a magical ability to produce extremely edgy and sophisticated work capable of reaching wide audiences well beyond academic and/or genre fiction coteries. Fortunately, they agreed to meet via Skype one morning in the summer of 2016. I opened the conversation by asking them to start with a statement on what they found engaging and illuminating in the other’s work and how they envision their work intersecting, and then I quietly recorded and observed as their friendly, loopy conversation veered around through Beatrix Potter, Surrealism, childhood experiences with tidal pools, fur-shedding cats, and uncanny orange juice.

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TIM MORTON: There’s a very, very strong overall feeling about the work that you do, Jeff. There’s a very dreamlike quality to it, and I like this quality very much. If I was going to use a word to describe it, I’d probably use Freud’s word “displacement.” There’s something around the corner all the time. You can’t quite put your finger on it, and maybe you’ll never be able to put your finger on it. It’s sort of disturbing, tantalizing, dreamlike, and there’s this overall feeling of losing a sense of obvious reference point, whereby the way that you’re dreaming and what you’re dreaming about are sort of weirdly melded together so you can’t tell which is which a little bit.

JEFF VANDERMEER: The interesting thing is I’m very much a writer who is both organic and mechanical. I believe in getting down a draft, which is very influenced by the subconscious, and then peering through it. After I wrote Annihilation, I started seeing reviews that mentioned your work in connection with it; that’s why I picked up Hyperobjects, and the thing that was fascinating to me is that it appealed to both the organic and the mechanical sides. The mechanical side made me understand what I had written better because the very term “hyperobject” kind of encapsulated what was going on organically in Annihilation.

Then, partly because I’m not a philosopher, but also because I’m interested in this subject, the book sent me on another delightful “down the rabbit hole” moment. In part because there were sections where I had to bulwark basic knowledge before I could go forward. And then there are other things that I know are received by my conscious mind, but my subconscious is working on breaking them down and reinventing them for future fiction. I always go through this process in which I have to trust my subconscious first, and I then have to understand what it was that I did, and then my fiction is informed by all of that; your book really helped me with that, which is really important in this context where I’m fairly sure there isn’t going to be a novel I write going forward that doesn’t deal with ecological themes in some way.

Continue reading here.

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Timothy Morton: University of Chicago Lecture

tim-morton_web2
Oct 23, 2016, 2PM

Kent Hall, Room 107
1020 E 58th St
[view map]

In Urth, Ben Rivers partially draws on the work of philosopher Timothy Morton, who offers vivid new perspectives 
on ecological thinking, our uncanny interconnectedness with the nonhuman, and the future to come.

In his latest book, Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence (2016), Morton argues that ecological awareness in the present Anthropocene era takes the form of a strange loop or Möbius strip, twisted to have only one side. Deckard travels this oedipal path in Blade Runner (1982) when he learns that he might be the enemy he has been ordered to pursue. Ecological awareness takes this shape because ecological phenomena have a loop form that is also fundamental to the structure of how things are.

The logistics of agricultural society resulted in global warming and hardwired dangerous ideas about life-forms into the human mind. Dark ecology puts us in an uncanny position of radical self-knowledge, illuminating our place in the biosphere and our belonging to a species in a sense that is far less obvious than we like to think. Morton explores the logical foundations of the ecological crisis, which is suffused with the melancholy and negativity of coexistence yet evolving, as we explore its loop form, into something playful, anarchic, and comedic. His work is a skilled fusion of humanities and scientific scholarship, incorporating the theories and findings of philosophy, anthropology, literature, ecology, biology, and physics. Morton hopes to reestablish our ties to nonhuman beings and to help us rediscover the playfulness and joy that can brighten the dark, strange loop we traverse.

This event is presented in partnership with the Arts, Science & Culture Initiative, the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge, and the Open Practice Committee of the Department of Visual Arts, all at the University of Chicago, and the Seminary Co-op Bookstore.

Timothy Morton is Rita Shea Guffey Chair in English at Rice University. His books include Ecology Without Nature (2007); The Ecological Thought (2010); Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World (2013); and Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality (2013); and he has published more than 150 essays on ecology, philosophy, art, literature, music, architecture, and food. He has collaborated with several artists, including Björk, Olafur Eliasson, and Haim Steinbach, and blogs regularly at ecologywithoutnature.blogspot.com.

urth-13

Related Exhibition

Ben Rivers
Urth

Sep 10–Nov 06, 2016

Source: http://www.renaissancesociety.org/events/1156/timothy-morton/

 

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“one of the great, great documenters of our eco age”

Posted by Tim Morton on Ecology Without Nature.

Judy Natal Screening

“Judy is one of the great, great documenters of our eco age. She’s screening some amazing things, which blew my mind when I saw them last year, soon in Chicago.”

This is a rare opportunity to see Natal’s new work—not to be missed!

See event details below and at chicagoclimate.org 

Judy Natal: Another Storm is Coming

  • Tuesday, October 11, 2016
  • 6:30pm – 8:30pm
  • DePaul University, Lincoln Park Campus, McGowan South, 1110 W. Belden Ave., Chicago, IL  60614
  • Room 108
    • Featuring renowned Chicago artist and educator Judy Natal
    • Keynote address and video screening
    • Videos: Breathed on the Waters and Storm Redux

Please re-post our Facebook event page asap please (Christine Skolnik).

It’s not too late!

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Jeff VanderMeer Interview: “The Strangling Fruit”

A chat with Jeff VanderMeer, author of the wonderfully scary Southern Reach trilogy, about ecology, horror, social responsibility, science-fiction, William Gibson, Margaret Atwood, climate change, and much more.

Jeff VanderMeer knows a lot about “weird” fiction—that sub-genre that lives between the surreal, the fantastic, the absurd, between horror and speculative fiction, between Franz Kafka and China Miéville, Angela Carter and Kelly Link, William Gibson and Jorge Luis Borges, H.P. Lovecraft and Shirley Jackson and Thomas Ligotti. With his wife Ann, Jeff edits the Weird Fiction Review, and the two have also curated two anthologies, The Weird and The New Weird. VanderMeer is also a novelist who, in the past two years, has achieved a tremendous success, which catapulted him to one of the most widely-known and interesting names in the world of fiction, globally.

His Southern Reach trilogy—comprised of the novels Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance—was published by FSG over an eight month period in 2014, to national and international acclaim. It was optioned by Paramount Pictures for a series of movies, the first of which will be directed by Alex Garland (Ex-Machina), and was translated and published in 35 countries. Specifically, the three novels could be considered speculative, fantastical eco-horror. They are set in and around Area X, a wild, mysterious, and dangerous patch of land, which lies in an unspecified part of the Southeastern United States, surrounded by a strange border within which there exists a new, unexplainable ecosystem, one where the laws of physics and biology seem to not apply. The first novel, Annihilation, tells the story of the biologist, one of the four women who are sent into Area X as part of the twelfth expedition. The expedition team is made of the biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor. All previous expeditions before this one ended very badly. One saw the members kill each other. Another group contracted massively aggressive tumors. Others committed suicide. And how about the Southern Reach, the government agency created to study and control Area X? What secrets does it hide?  [ . . . ]

Read more here.

See my March 2016 post on Southern Reach and Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year here.

Image source: http://io9.gizmodo.com/read-the-mesmerizing-first-chapter-of-jeff-vandermeers-1520682658

 

 

 

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Art, Breath, Light Fantastic, and Hyperobjects

LED exhibition opens at the Fridman Gallery in New York

“NEW YORK, NY.- In the Glow of a Breathing Sphere is a site-specific LED installation, at the Fridman Gallery, conceived and built by the interactive design studio B-Reel, accompanied by a program of sound and spoken-word performances by various artists, focusing on relationships among living organisms, technology and the environment.

In his seminal book, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World, Timothy Morton applies Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Ontology to describe human-made phenomena of such immense proportions and such profound, irreversible effect on the environment (e.g., carbon emissions and radioactive deposits), that these phenomena escape our comprehension.

Art is one, if not the only, discipline which might allow us to sneak a peak at the immeasurable nature of these processes. In Timothy Morton’s own words, ‘Hyperobjects are thinkable but not exhausted by (human) calculation. Art that evokes hyperobjects must therefore deal with their necessarily uncanny intimacy and strangeness.'”

Source: LED exhibition opens at the Fridman Gallery in New York

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