Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Working Paper: Reading Morton’s Hyperobjects

I've collected my Hyperobjects posts into a working paper: Reading Morton's Hyperobjects.

Abstract: Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World, takes global warming as the starting point for a philosophical investigation our current moment. The world as we’d conceived it is over; the world we’re now living in is a strange one. Time and space aren’t empty containers and objects aren’t simple. We aren’t separate from the universe, nor it from us. Quantum mechanics, relativity, climate modeling, phase spaces, environmental art, nuclear waste, Morton covers them all.

Introduction: Hyperobjects as Concrete Universals

We live in apocalyptic times. But then, in a sense, all times are apocalyptic, for all times have births and deaths, and at many scales.

As I read it, Hyperobjects uses global warming as the paradigm case of a hyperobject. It is massively distributed in time and space and, when we finally found it, we found that we’d been living inside it for decades and centuries. It is at once here and now and a long way into the future.

How big is here and how big is now?

Those questions ask for one sort of answer if you conceive of time and space as empty containers, the classical view that Morton rejects. They’re whole different kettle of fish if you think of time and space as emanating from objects. And if the objects turn out to be hyperobjects – which is where Morton ends up – then they emanate time and space on all the scales at which the objects exist.

Many times and spaces enmeshed with one another.

Global warming is concrete, it is real. In that it is a hyperobject, and all objects are hyperobjects, it would seem to follow that global warming is a universal condition of time and space emanating from the many here-and-nows.

Take Leibniz’s world of monads and, for each monad, swap in a hyperobject, one existing on multiple scales. That’s Morton’s hyperuniverse.

Does THAT make any sense? No more sense that sacralizing nuclear waste, as Morton advocates – how else will we properly attend to it?

Of course not, but there isa logic to it.

For it is a mistake to read Hyperobjects as a discursive argument whose multiple propositions can be neatly separated from their verbal form. They can’t and it isn’t.

Hyperobjects is a performance and asks to be read as such. How you get there is as important as where you end up. And where you end up is where you started. You see, it’s a hyperobject and your path is a viscous circle, sticking to you as you doggedly stick to the reading.

As you read Hyperobjects you must be mindful, mindful of all that passes in array, accumulating connections as you move on through. That’s what this is about, moving through the world as it slips over the side and into the sea.

* * * * *

When I wrote “Hyperobjects and the Thinking of Timothy Morton” I had no intention of reading my way through the book; I didn’t even have a copy of it. I just wanted to comment on Ursula Heise’s gently devastating review and explain how, given that he was deep in a world I’d walked away from in my intellectual youth, I’d come to take Morton seriously. Nor had I any intention of reading the book when I posted a follow-up: “‘Hyperobject’ as Concept and as Rhetorical Device.” That’s where I explained that Morton’s thinking is a process one steps into, not an enumeration of propositions one takes away from.

And I was stuck. Morton asked me if I’d read the book and, if not, he’d send me a copy. It arrived, and I started reading. As I read, so I posted. In order. For awhile.

And I managed to ride some of my own hobby horses in the process: Disney’s ponk elephants in “What does real mean?”, the Marx Brothers in “Pardon Me”, and chaos/complexity in “High Dimensional Spaces” (complete with illustrations).

Then I saw an opportunity to write a formal reivew for my upcoming column in 3 Quarks Daily. To do that, though, I sorta’ had to finish the whole book, and write about it, whole. That became the 5th post in the series, though I cribbed some prose from the first.

At that point I started wondering just how much longer I wanted to keep this up. I had material for at least three or four most posts, but by then I’d decided I wanted to move on to Matt Jockers’ Macroanalysis. I made some decisions and decided to end it with the post on objectification and objects. One the one hand, the issue was central to my thinking – it was my concern about objectification that motivated my interest in object oriented ontology – but it connects with Jockers work as well. He doesn’t talk of hyperobjects, but his data manipulations visualize the outlines and skeletons of hypobjects, very abstract and tenebrous ones at that: the collective mind, anyone?

Time to move on.

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