The end of endings - with Timothy Morton’s philosophy - Lake Harding Association

The end of endings – with Timothy Morton’s philosophy

The end of endings – with Timothy Morton’s philosophy

By Micah Moen 5 Comments March 22, 2020


What do nuclear materials, our solar system or the spread of coronavirus have in common? They are viscous, nonlocal entities that are massively distributed in time and space. They involve “different temporalities than the human-scale ones” and “they exhibit their effects interobjectively”. They are hyperobjects. Things like evolution, the biosphere, or global warming are such massive objects – real entities, right here, but they make pointing towards them tricky. Hyperobjects helps us think ecologically. Take global warming for instance, it is a viscous entity in the sense that it “sticks” and “acts” through other entities. It is nonlocal since a strong breeze turning chairs, umbrellas, and all kinds of objects upside down on the street isn’t global warming itself, but something like a “local manifestation” as Levi Bryant puts it. Global warming is made visible with the help of statistics, models, and data that speaks about it and analyze it, but these attempts to grasp it are our access points to the hyperobject. There isn’t any truly “meta” or “objective” way to go around, below or above it without some kind of alteration or without getting caught in the process. This means that there’s no way to pin down all that it is, not that it isn’t real, it is very real, and more than I can point to. That’s why skeptics can ignore it, because it is not this stronger storm, it is not this sea-level rise or this fire, and yet it speaks through them. In this sense, it is uncanny because it is untranslatable and ungraspable fully, but it is here. That’s why Timothy Morton refers to hyperobjects as strange strangers, because they withdraw – the more we know about them, the stranger they become. Take this realization, that we’re living with and inside hyperobjects, and not on top of a world that sits “over there”. Okay? Face the death of the smooth, stable and constantly present kind of background that can be changed without any consequences – this is the death of our habitual pattern. “We have no world because the objects that functioned as invisible scenery have dissolved.” “We coexist with human lifeforms, nonhuman lifeforms, and non-lifeforms, on the insides of a series of gigantic entities with whom we also coexist: the ecosystem, biosphere, climate, planet, Solar System.” There isn’t any “away” anymore as Timothy Morton puts it. The idea of a world has cheapened because other beings have worlds too and because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all world dimension to rule. The end of the world is not the end of everything, it is an end of dead matter, of dead stuff that sits in a “space” for humans to colonize. It’s a death of distance. The blank “space” that can be manipulated smoothly, is exactly what is disappearing. It is an end of endings. The subject that is “over here” and the objectified lump of stuff from “over there” collide. The gap between the thinking (human) subject and everything else is extended between all beings. The human-world correlation is no longer the grand decider that sits on top of everything else. There’s a relation between me and the chair I’m sitting on right now, and another relation between me looking at it or thinking it. Some relations are not part of me: like, what the chair is to the black cat sleeping on it, or to the worker who painted it, or to the floor on which it is sitting. Smaller and bigger objects on various scales interact with the chair, including the chair itself. Each of these encounters alters and translates the chair in a distinctively unique way without exhausting it. What does this all mean? It means that if somehow we could listen to all of them one by one, there wouldn’t be any right or complete correlation that could describe the chair fully. Things would be left out because any contact between any entity and the chair would alter the chair resulting in another form. Singing or writing about the chair is not the chair. There’s a surplus. The chair isn’t fully graspable in the “appearance-for some entity” – a past state of the chair. One of the reasons why we can’t restrict thinking to the human-world correlation is the finitude of it. Although other philosophers will argue that we can burst through our finitude, that’s not Timothy Morton’s position. We humans and more-than-human people are for better or worse caught up in algorithmic loops, stuck in massive hyperobjects forced upon us, “We are poems about the hyperobject Earth.” These entities are going to be here long after you and me are gone. We’ve seen how hyperobjects are stuck to us in this weird kind of way, how warmer days and stronger storms deliver the doom of global warming. And yet! The hyperobject is here but it is not this rain falling over my head. You have been hearing how one thing delivers another and how these massive things speak to us and host us. But, we host other things in return too. Timothy Morton talks about an explosion of worlds, perforated, sharable worlds full of holes. A potential infinity of entities on infinite scales opens up, which is exactly what ecological awareness is. The host-parasite duality becomes a bit blurry, it becomes unclear who’s who, it becomes “unclear which is the top symbiont”. Instead of retweeting on and on “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, Timothy Morton aims to rewrite this explosive holism into an implosive one by saying that the whole is always less than the sum of its parts. A logic that he calls subscendece. There are 1 + n entities inside a being, there’s no end to it, entities are wrapped in entities. No top and no bottom entity. A quite strange situation with more parts than wholes. It is still holism, but a less violent one. ”Objects are Tardis-like, larger on the inside than they are on the outside.” Perhaps even capitalism is less than its parts in this weird kind of way. By disassociating democracy and the social from its full grip over them, it becomes weaker and penetrable by all kinds of entities – not that tough and unchangeable as it appears. Perhaps there are more things that can dissolve it than there are things that keep it going – imagine that. “We need holism, but a special, weak holism that isn’t theistic.” This is not to claim that “there’s no such thing as society”, it is not neoliberal individualism – “wholes and parts are just as real as one another. “ This is also not to say that there aren’t entities that are more powerful than us, there are, and we are caught in many of them, but we aren’t completely reduced to them, nor are they to us. And yet “Each political and ethical decision is made on the inside of a hyperobject, caught in the resonance of the zones that spell doom.” There’s a loop going on and on for quite some time, an algorithm that reproduces a certain kind of logic. Let’s go back to agricultural age, and more exactly to what Timothy Morton calls agrilogistics, an automated program that reduces things to “bland substances” in order to manipulate and colonize them easily. The world seen as something smooth and solid comes from this kind of logic that seeks to eliminate contradiction, fear, and anxiety. It’s a way to draw a clear and rigid distinction between the human and the nonhuman, the sole purpose being to maximize existence or better said human existence over and above any quality of existing. This logic implies a metaphysics of presence which states that, to be a thing you have to be constantly present. It relies on a default substance ontology, meaning that whatever one does to the field, plowing, sowing this and that, it won’t change it, because its essence is merely decorated by accidents. We can now point to Nature as a cycle, as something that is always harmonious and periodic. This is a view that emerged from an agricultural age, and it’s “a product of the Romantic phase”. For Timothy Morton, the concept of Nature is exactly what is responsible for global warming, that’s why he tries to deconstruct it. The agrilogistic program is erasing ambiguity within the system in exchange for an “industrial” view of the world, blinding itself to unintended consequences. In other words, it is a recipe for disaster, the kind of disaster that exploded into the hyperobject we now call global warming. That’s why we need to find other ways to talk about entities. Perhaps, more unusual ways that capture their animacy. Ways that don’t reduce things to dull substances for a human subject. Ways that imply that there are more scales and that the human-world correlation doesn’t sit on top. “Humankind is ontologically smaller than the humans who make it up!” Timothy Morton’s idea of humankind is opposing the conventional representation of Humanity and of Nature that works in a binary opposition. Humankind is treated as an ecological entity and as a collective that doesn’t exclude nonhumans. In a paradoxical way, it is treated as a whole that is less than the sum of its parts. Traditional logic doesn’t like this very much, but the kind of logic needed to talk about ecological beings and to talk about humankind can’t be a product of the agricultural age. Thinking humankind requires a logic that inhabits the excluded middle zone, without relying on the logistics that resulted in neoliberal capitalism. A more ambiguous and less rigid form, that doesn’t fall on some kind of idealized living substance. Humankind implies differences between humans, it implies other lifeforms that aren’t strictly human which means that we can’t point to it in an ontic space-time. There’s a difference between how a thing appears and what it is. But whatever a thing is, it is not just how it appears for another entity, its being is not fully graspable. For Timothy Morton, pointing in an ontic fashion, which basically means what is there, in a physical sense, is exactly what leads to racism which is exactly what leads to speciesism as well. Racism affirms that we can point to some kind of human essence in a physical way, where “whiteness” becomes one of the default superior qualities of the human substance. And, yet this whole called humankind exists even if we can’t measure it, even if we can’t count all its entities, even if we can’t point to it directly. We can identify materials in Earth’s crust that weren’t put there by frogs or squirrels. So, there must be a way to talk about this entity without compromising our politics, without replacing humankind with mankind as the white western face of it, without saying that we’re equally responsible, or that we’re all in this together. Saying that one by one we make a whole that is automatically greater, saying that we are always present with all that we are, like we are some very well defined pieces in a construction, is a bit violent and a bit alienating. So perhaps we should aim for something a litte bit weirder, like saying that humankind is bigger on the inside. Because we are much more than the blended economic transactions, patterns and consumption habits that are shaping things on a geological scale. We are much more than what we can point to in a physical sense. And yet we still are humankind not frogkind. But this whole includes differences, it includes other beings in a symbiotic kind of network and it includes other things that aren’t always present. I like that we can have this chameleon ability to be in different ways, as Timothy Morton says “figuring out what the human thing is… is the human thing,” I like that. And I like even more that it can be the frog’s thing too! Humans aren’t on one side and animals on the other, we aren’t radically different in the sense that ontologically we are five stairs above everything else. Attuning to who we are, includes other lifeforms and other beings, which says something about who we are in return. Humankind is solidarity with nonhuman people for Timothy Morton because solidarity just is the noise made by discrete beings when they rely on one another. Thanks for watching this video. Perhaps, this video as well is less than the sum of its parts, but it’s part of a bigger series on thinkers and concepts. We will be making more for a little while, ha ha ha, while we last 🙂 So, if you find this series interesting, consider supporting us on Patreon or Ko-fi, it will really help us keep it going, and whatever you think about it, leave a comment so we can talk more. Subtitles by the Amara.org community

5 Comments found

User

just wondering...

If you are wondering why we picked the term “global warming”, well, it’s because that’s the preferred term within the books. It is pointed how climate change makes things look as if they were always changing, when actually “we are the asteroid” causing global warming (and thus the Sixth Mass Extinction) which can’t be directly seen, only thought and computed with graphs. Within the video, we have explored how to think about such a collective, the dangerous “we”, without falling into an explosive holism or reducing things to some white western flavor. Instead of giving up the discussion about humankind to Silicon Valley people seeking tech singularity and who knows what kind of transhumanism or to other people in this regard that are seeking some kind of essentialized flavor of Humanity, the video explores a way of referring to a “we” as an ecological being and as a hyperobject that has an impact on a geological scale, but which can’t be directly pointed to.

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Andra Cloștorfeanu

How does post-capitalism look like, from your or Timothy Morton's perspective?

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Gabby K

Ugh this was excellent, I hope more people start watching.

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TakaConDaga

Esto es muy bueno tremendo video! Ojalá hagan pronto el de Bruno Latour!

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Jack

i think about climate change ai (my fav subject )_ like a Schrödinger's cat . Its okay now when cat is in the box . Visual at some point are better than the content itself .

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