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📙 Hyperobjects

Author: Timothy Morton

Full Title: Hyperobjects

Highlights from September 7th, 2020.

The hyperobject is not a function of our knowledge: it’s hyper relative to worms, lemons, and ultraviolet rays, as well as humans.
We are now in what I call the Age of Asymmetry.
Hyperobjects force us to acknowledge the immanence of thinking to the physical. But this does not mean that we are “embedded” in a “
There is also a necessarily iterative, circling style of thought in this book. This is because one only sees pieces of a hyperobject at any one moment. Thinking them is intrinsically tricky.
That is, situatedness is now a very uncanny place to be, like being the protagonist of a Wordsworth poem or a character in Blade Runner.
The idea of the end of the world is very active in environmentalism. Yet I argue that this idea is not effective, since, to all intents and purposes, the being that we are to supposed to feel anxiety about and care for is gone.
the strongly held belief that the world is about to end “unless we act now” is paradoxically one of the most powerful factors that inhibit a full engagement with our ecological coexistence here on Earth.
Global warming denial is also in denial about what causality is after Hume and Kant—namely a feature of phenomena, rather than things in themselves.
The worry is not whether the world will end, as in the old model of the dis-astron, but whether the end of the world is already happening, or whether perhaps it might already have taken place.
In short, for all its noir claims that the human doesn’t exist, it elevates the structure of human thought to the ontological pinnacle.
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.
This book is part of the apparatus of the Titanic, but one that has decided to dash itself against the hyperobject. This rogue machinery—call it speculative realism, or OOO—has decided to crash the machine, in the name of a social and cognitive configuration to come, whose outlines are only faintly visible in the Arctic mist of hyperobjects.
Ontology, then, is a vital and contested political terrain.
In the menacing shadow of hyperobjects, contemporary decisions to ground ethics and politics in somewhat hastily cobbled together forms of process thinking and relationism might not simply be rash—they might be part of the problem.
Hyperobjects are a good candidate for what Heidegger calls “the last god,” or what the poet Hölderlin calls “the saving power” that grows alongside the dangerous power.
Hyperobjects have dispensed with two hundred years of careful correlationist calibration.
Hyperobjects pose numerous threats to individualism, nationalism, anti-intellectualism, racism, speciesism, anthropocentrism, you name it. Possibly even capitalism itself.
I do not feel “at home” in the biosphere. Yet it surrounds me and penetrates me, like the Force in Star Wars.
Hyperobjects, not some hobbit hole, not some national myth of the homeland, have finally forced me to see the truth in Heidegger.
Hyperobjects are agents. They are indeed more than a little demonic, in the sense that they appear to straddle worlds and times, like fiber optic cables or electromagnetic fields. And they are demonic in that through them causalities flow like electricity.
Since the beginning of the Anthropocene, but particularly since the start of the Great Acceleration (the 1940s), these demonic channels have become more and more powerful. Human artists have become rhapsodes: Jackson Pollock, John Cage, William Burroughs. Under these circumstances, it becomes possible to understand why many have thought art to be a domain of evil.
Yet always with those beautiful chords, the ones that lash you to the mast. The walls of feedback that the Velvet Underground inaugurated in “Heroin” are sound as hyperobject, a sound from which I can’t escape, a viscous sonic latex. It hurts me. A strange masochistic dimension of aesthetic experience opens up underneath the one in which the “art object” and I appear to be held in a perfect Kantian Mind meld.
For some time we may have thought that the U-bend in the toilet was a convenient curvature of ontological space that took whatever we flush down it into a totally different dimension called Away, leaving things clean over here. Now
The threat of unreality is the very sign of reality itself. Like a nightmare that brings news of some real psychic intensity, the shadow of the hyperobject announces the existence of the hyperobject.
Post-Humean causality is by no means a matter of “objective” versus “subjective” impressions, let alone a matter of human reality versus nonhuman reality. Rather it’s a matter of different levels of causality. It’s a matter of how entities manifest for other entities, whether they are human, or sentient, or not.
Actually it would be better to say it the other way around: quantum theory works because it’s object-oriented.
If Biology discovers how entangled lifeforms are, quantum entanglement opens a more profound interconnectedness.
Photosynthesizing molecules in chloroplasts, the symbiotic bacteria that make plants green, put photons into coherence. When a photon enters the molecule the photon occupies many positions at once.
Yet I do not wish to suggest that true nonlocality applies to all hyperobjects. The action at a distance that hyperobjects manifest is nonlocal, but not in the quantum sense.
A holographic universe explains nonlocality.
Heidegger was unable to ascertain how this last god would manifest in the very core of technological enframing. Like God taking a photograph, the nonhuman sees us, in the white light of its fireball, hotter than the sun.
The ego is a poem about strangers: the blow of a hand, an abandonment, the hardness of a bed, the warmth of a teddy bear.
We are all burnt by ultraviolet rays. We all contain water in about the same ratio as Earth does, and salt water in the same ratio that the oceans do. We are poems about the hyperobject Earth.
By understanding hyperobjects, human thinking has summoned Cthulhu-like entities into social, psychic, and philosophical space.
A process is simply an object seen from a standpoint that is 1 + n dimensions lower than that object’s dimensionality.
Phasing is an indexical sign of an object that is massively distributed in a phase space that is higher dimensional than the equipment (our ears, the top of my head, a weather vane) used to detect it.
Intelligence need not be thought of as having a picture of reality in the Mind, but as an interaction between all kinds of entities that is somewhat “in the eye of the beholder”—including, of course, myself, who feels quite clever stumbling over the glacier, until my reflection causes me to topple sideways into the freezing water.
My thinking is thus a mental translation of the hyperobject—of climate, biosphere, evolution—not just figuratively, but literally. Some speculative realist philosophy has indeed pushed thinking to recognize its physical roots in this rather disturbing manner, most notably the work of Iain Hamilton Grant.
Causality does not churn underneath objects like a Machine in the basement, but rather floats in front of them.
Think of a city. A city contains all kinds of paths and streets that one might have no idea of on a day-to-day basis. Yet even more so, you could live in a city such as London for fifty years and never fully grasp it in its scintillating, oppressive, joyful London-ness.
Appearance is the past. Essence is the future.
An attractor does not pull things toward it through time. In this sense, attractor is a misleading term. Rather, the attractor radiates temporality from the future into the present.
Indeed, one could successfully argue that it’s the presentism of contemporary environmentalisms that put them on the wrong side of history. This presentism manifests in a wide variety of ways.
Presentism also manifests in the injunction to stop thinking and do something, the paradoxical form taken by the contemporary beautiful soul, a defining, overarching subject position of Modernity that has been with us since the late eighteenth century. All too often the siren song of the beautiful soul these days comes in the form of a call to act, now!
The overbearing metaphysics of presence inscribed into every timekeeping device (especially the digital ones) is, I suppose (without much evidence), responsible in some measure for the psychic distress of modern humans.
I shall not advocate presentism to fight presentism. Rather I am suggesting aikido—an exaggeration of the lack of a true now.
What is called the present is simply a reification, an arbitrary boundary drawn around things by a particular entity—a state, philosophical view, government, Family, electron, black hole.
The end of Teleology is the end of the world. This end is precisely not an instant vaporization, but rather a lingering coexistence with strange strangers. For the end of the world is the end of endings, the end of Telos, and the beginning of an uncertain, hesitating futurality.
A hyperobject has ruined the weather conversation, which functions as part of a neutral screen that enables us to have a human drama in the foreground.
World is a fragile aesthetic effect around whose corners we are beginning to see. True planetary awareness is the creeping realization not that “We Are the World,” but that we aren’t.
Belief is a token, a mental object that you grip as hard as possible, like your wallet or car keys.
In any weather conversation, one of you is going to mention global warming at some point. Or you both decide not to mention it but it looms over the conversation like a dark cloud, brooding off the edge of an ellipsis. This failure of the normal rhetorical routine, these remnants of shattered conversation lying around like broken hammers (they must take place everywhere), is a symptom of a much larger and deeper ontological shift in human awareness.
We have a general feeling of ennui and malaise and create nostalgic visions of hobbit-like worlds to inhabit. These syndromes have been going on now since the Industrial Revolution began to take effect.
Global warming is a big problem, because along with melting glaciers it has melted our ideas of world and worlding.
Wind farms have a slightly frightening size and magnificence. One could easily read them as embodying the aesthetics of the sublime (rather than the beautiful). But it’s an ethical sublime, one that says, “We humans choose not to use carbon”—a choice visible in gigantic turbines.
World is an aesthetic construct that depends on things like underground oil and gas pipes.
It’s no wonder that industrial capitalism has turned the Earth into a dangerous desert. It doesn’t really care what comes through the factory door, just as long as it generates more capital. Do we want to sustain a world based on a philosophy of grey goo?
Indeed, the vague sludge is precisely the problem of pollution. Process relationism is simply the last philosophical reflex of the Modernity that creates the sludge. We need a philosophy of sparkling unicities; quantized units that are irreducible to their parts or to some larger whole; sharp, specific units that are not dependent on an observer to make them real.
A hyperobject is like a city—indeed a city such as London could provide a good example of a hyperobject. Cities and hyperobjects are full of strange streets, abandoned entrances, cul-de-sacs, and hidden interstitial regions.
Haunting a charnel ground is a much better analogy for ecological coexistence than inhabiting a world.
Global warming is what some philosophers have called a wicked problem: this is a problem that one can understand perfectly, but for which there is no rational solution. Global warming has now been labeled a super wicked problem: a wicked problem for which time is running out, for which there is no central authority, where those seeking the solution to it are also creating it, and where policies discount the future irrationally.
I’m starting to think that this thing called “matter” is like the thing called Nature or the thing called Santa Claus—you have to say you believe in it so as not to upset the kids.
Malcolm Bull has written a very powerful escape manual for lame creatures who want to exit Nietzschean modernity, entitled Anti-Nietzsche.
Modernity is like the dinosaur, rendered extinct by some planet-scale cataclysm. Small, weak mammals crawled out from the wreckage.
The “Inner space” that Kant and others opened up in the Romantic period is only a distant and inverted caricature of the Rift, like a photographic negative.
Art in these conditions is grief-work.
A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity
Meditation or contemplation is the quintessence of rest in this sense. It does not have to be obsessive or stunned, however.
Thinking is already, in itself, a relation to the nonhuman, insofar as the logical content of one’s thought is independent of the Mind thinking it.
Nonhuman beings are responsible for the next moment of human history and thinking.