Monday, July 28, 2014

Reading Hyperobjects at 3QD: A Quake in Being


My latest post is up at 3 Quarks Daily, and it’s a review-essay on Hyperobjects: Sing Me a Song of Hyperobjects: Starting over with Humans and Other Creatures in the 21st Century CE.

In the process of writing that piece I had, of course, to run back through the book. Near the end of the process, too late to take account of it in the article, I was struck by the title of Morton’s introductory chapter, “A Quake in Being.” He introduces the phrase on page 19:
The discovery of hyperobjects and OOO are symptoms of a fundamental shaking of being, a being-quake. The ground of being is shaken. There we were, trolling along in the age of industry, capitalism, and technology, and all of a sudden we received information from aliens, information that even the most hardheaded could not ignore, because the form in which the information was delivered was precisely the instrumental and mathematical formulas of modernity itself. The Titanic of modernity hits the iceberg of hyperobjects.
Catchy, yes, very.

But what does it mean, this quake in being? The phrase evokes an earthquake, when the ground shakes beneath your feet and the earth opens up and starts swallowing without apparent end. Very dramatic. But what’s that have to do with Being? BTW, what’s this Being anyhow?


Let’s start with Being. Here’s a passage from Paul Feyerabend’s last and unfinished book, The Conquest of Abundance: A Tale of Abstraction versus the Richness of Being (U. of Chicago Press, 1999, pp. 60-61):
According to Parmenides the most basic entity underlying everything there is, including Gods, fleas, dogs, and any hypothetical substance one might propose, is Being. This was in a sense a very trivial but also a rather shrewd suggestion, for Being is the place where logic and existence meet: every statement involving the word “is” is also a statement about the essence of things.
According to Parmenides, then, Being sits at the top of classificatory tree: fleas are insects, insects are animals, animals are living things, and living things are Beings; rocks are inanimate objects, and inanimate objects are Beings; creeks are bodies of water, bodies of water are fluids, fluids are matter, and matter is Being; and so forth.

If that’s what Being is – for we have our philosophical use of the term from those ancient Greeks – then a quake in Being is, well just what exactly? A quake in every-damn-thing? Certainly Morton means it to be a crisis in human life on earth and in our conception of that life.

But how can that be a quake in everything rather than just in our on local corner of the world? Still, for us, a quake in our corner of the universe is a Big Enough Thing.

But that’s all just a minor quarrel.



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