Professor Timothy Morton. Photo: Max Burkhalter / The Guardian

15 June 2017 (The Guardian) – A few years ago, Björk began corresponding with a philosopher whose books she admired. “hi timothy,” her first message to him began. “i wanted to write this letter for a long time.” She was trying to give a name to her own singular genre, to label her work for posterity before the critics did. She asked him to help define the nature of her art – “not only to define it for me, but also for all my friends, and a generation actually.”

It turned out the philosopher, Timothy Morton, was a fan of Björk. Her music, he told her, had been “a very deep influence on my way of thinking and life in general”. The sense of eerie intimacy with other species, the fusion of moods in her songs and videos – tenderness and horror, weirdness and joy – “is the feeling of ecological awareness”, he said. Morton’s own work is about the implications of this strange awareness – the knowledge of our interdependence with other beings – which he believes undermines long-held assumptions about the separation between humanity and nature. For him, this is the defining characteristic of our times, and it is compelling us to change our “core ideas of what it means to exist, what Earth is, what society is”.

Over the past decade, Morton’s ideas have been spilling into the mainstream. Hans Ulrich Obrist, the artistic director of London’s Serpentine gallery, and perhaps the most powerful figure in the contemporary art world, is one of his loudest cheerleaders. Obrist told readers of Vogue that Morton’s books are among the pre-eminent cultural works of our time, and recommends them to many of his own collaborators. The acclaimed artist Olafur Eliasson has been flying Morton around the world to speak at his major exhibition openings. Excerpts from Morton’s correspondence with Björk were published as part of her 2015 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Morton’s terminology is “slowly infecting all the humanities”, says his friend and fellow thinker Graham Harman. Though many academics have a reputation for writing exclusively for their colleagues down the hall, Morton’s peculiar conceptual vocabulary – “dark ecology”, “the strange stranger”, “the mesh” – has been picked up by writers in a cornucopia of fields, from literature and epistemology to legal theory and religion. Last year, he was included in a much-discussed list of the 50 most influential living philosophers. His ideas have also percolated into traditional media outlets such as Newsweek, the New Yorker and the New York Times.

Part of what makes Morton popular are his attacks on settled ways of thinking. His most frequently cited book, Ecology Without Nature, says we need to scrap the whole concept of “nature”. He argues that a distinctive feature of our world is the presence of ginormous things he calls “hyperobjects” – such as global warming or the internet – that we tend to think of as abstract ideas because we can’t get our heads around them, but that are nevertheless as real as hammers. He believes all beings are interdependent, and speculates that everything in the universe has a kind of consciousness, from algae and boulders to knives and forks. He asserts that human beings are cyborgs of a kind, since we are made up of all sorts of non-human components; he likes to point out that the very stuff that supposedly makes us us – our DNA – contains a significant amount of genetic material from viruses. He says that we’re already ruled by a primitive artificial intelligence: industrial capitalism. At the same time, he believes that there are some “weird experiential chemicals” in consumerism that will help humanity prevent a full-blown ecological crisis. [more]

'A reckoning for our species': the philosopher prophet of the Anthropocene


  1. Anonymous said...

    Reckoning? Say's who? Some alleged philosopher that hardly anybody knows? The term means awareness, to calculate or to comprehend. Does that sound like something that the species is doing? Of course not.

    If you want to actually KNOW what the species is doing, just look around. There's your answer regarding our alleged "reckoning".

    The article author has made the same mistakes as others - by focusing primarily on what the species CAN do and SHOULD do, the author attempts to agree with the headlie. This is their indictment in every article that depicts what is happening - gross dishonesty.

    Downplaying the reality of what we have already done and what we still intend to do to destroy this place - and ourselves and every other living entity within this sphere.

    I can't stand phony heroes. I can't stand the lies, deceptions, distortion and deceit being propagated by those who claim they are doing good. They're dishonesty is a cover, hiding their own self-deceptions.

    The species is doing NOTHING but DESTRUCTION. Our every effort, every move, every activity is designed to perpetuate the species at the expense of everything else. We have not even considered this as our primary principle. The key to our existence.

    It's not a reckoning. It's an ongoing disaster.  


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