McKenzie Wark on Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects


Noticed McKenzie Wark’s review (or should we say, series of notes) under Letters in Public Seminar section of Arts and Design: From OOO to P(OO). Wark’s work is usually succinct and pungent, informed by a Marxian vision that one can take or leave. From his early Hacker Manifesto with its formalist nod; to Gamer Theory that reads more like an instruction manual for the nerd in us all; to his inner history of the Situationist movement spanning the secret nerve center of our late modernity Wark leads us through the ruins of our belated era like a pilot without a rudder seeking the epistemological nuggets of some forgotten vein of truth rather than gold. Learned and observant, Wark appraises without a calculated estimation; targets but leaves us with the circumspect and peripheral rather than the bulls eye. For all that his mind is sprightly and gracious to a point, giving us the survey if not the details of the land and map; at once loquacious and insightful he opens a thought without finally closing it down.

In his review (letter?) of Timothy Morton’s Hyperorbjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minnesota, 2013) he tells us he has some problems with it as theory and will try his best to outline where his own thinking and Morton’s “overlap and diverge”. I’m not going to reiterate the long rambling notations of his critique in this post, but rather highlight certain points.

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Timothy Morton: The Aesthetic Dimension

Phenomenology, then, is an essential cognitive task of confronting the threat that things pose in their very being. … After phenomenology, we can only conclude that a great deal of philosophizing is not an abstract description or dispassionate accounting, but only an intellectual defense against the threatening intimacy of things.

– Timothy Morton, Realist Magic

Peter Schwenger in his book The Tears of Things comes very close to the same central insight upon which Graham Harman has built his entire metaphysical edifice. We discover that for the most part the everyday tools that we use: hammers, rakes, pens, computers, etc., remain inconspicuous; overlooked by those of us who use such tools; noticing them, if at all, as necessities that help us get on with our own work. Yet, the paradox of this situation is that there are moments when the tool threatens us, becomes an obstacle to our enterprising projects, and it is at such moments that we suddenly awaken from our metaphysical sleep and notice these objects in a strange new light: when the hammer iron head flies free of the wooden handle, or the computer suddenly freezes, the screen goes black, then sparking and sending out small frissions of stench and smoke from the flat box that encases it; at such moments we become defensive, threatened by the power of these material objects that we no longer control, that in fact are broken and exposed, beyond our ability to know just what they are.

We also become aware that the tool is part of a larger sphere: it does not exist in and of itself, but is applied to materials in concert with other tools to make something that may then be seen in its turn as “equipment for residency” in parallel to Le Corbusier’s famous pronouncement that “a house is a machine for living in.” The full network of equipment’s interrelated assignments and intentions makes up what the subject perceives as “world.” The dynamic of this world, at whatever level, is one of care – care of the subject’s being. The business of equipment, then, is not just to build an actual house but as much as possible, and in the broadest sense, to make the subject feel at home in the state of existing.1

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Timothy Morton – Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality

The title of this book is a play on the literary genre of magic realism. Later in the twentieth century, writers such as Gabriel García Márquez developed a writing that incorporated elements of magic and paradox.

– Timothy Morton, from Realist Magic

Timothy Morton’s new work is out, Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality, which is available from Open Humanities Press,  and is online at the University of Michigan site. I haven’t had a chance to read through his work, but have enjoyed his previous books on literature and ecology. He is a standup guy and excellent writer. A member of the Speculative Realist movement in its off-shoot branch of Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) along with Graham Harman, Ian Bogost, and Levi R. Bryant. It should be an interesting read whether your accept or reject its basic premises, and you should enjoy the rigor, energy and eloquence of its argument.

Realist Magic is an exploration of causality from the point of view of object-oriented ontology. I argue that causality is wholly an aesthetic phenomenon. Aesthetic events are not limited to interactions between humans or between humans and painted canvases or between humans and sentences in dramas. They happen when a saw bites into a fresh piece of plywood. They happen when a worm oozes out of some wet soil. They happen when a massive object emits gravity waves. When you make or study art you are not exploring some kind of candy on the surface of a machine. You are making or studying causality. The aesthetic dimension is the causal dimension.

– Timothy Morton, from the Introduction Realist Magic