Showing posts from April, 2013

OOO and Ecology

Realist Magic has returned to Aristotle, but not out of some atavistic desire to wipe away the achievements of modernity and return to an oppressive theocratic regime. It is simply that modernity has now reached a certain limit.This limit is characterized by, to cite only too brief examples, the decisive appearance of nonhumans in human social, psychic and philosophical space.The current ecological emergency consists in this appearance. Some deep paradoxes concerning the Law of Noncontradiction have also emerged, within the very thinking of mathematics that grounds modern science (Cantor, Hilbert, Russell, Gödel,Turing). The contradictory beings that this lineage of mathematics and logic discovered has necessitated an attentiveness to ways in which logic itself might need to violate LNC, the Law of Noncontradiction, especially when it comes to thinking objects.That this appears to be the case despite the founding of modern thinking upon LNC, provides more evidence that humans are now …

"Fish Are Approaching a Preschooler's Numeracy"

The ability to compute, whose possibility condition is reason, happens in fish, as predicted by OOO. Mind is "lower down" than you think. It is for sure not a bonus prize for being "highly evolved." Thanks Dirk (again!).

Object-Oriented Ontology and Impermanence

The Rift between essence and appearance is why an object has an outside. The Rift is why an object exists. The Rift is also how an object can die: its inner, irreducible fragility. Every object has some feature labeled “I am not part of this object.” A hamartia (Greek, “wound”). An inner silver bullet, like a physical version of a Gödel sentence. The inner fragility of an object allows it to be destroyed by another object. Much more importantly, however, inner fragility means that an object can “die” all by itself.

Every object is wounded. A hamartia constitutes the object as such in its determinacy. Impermanence is an intrinsic feature of why an object is an object. When an object comes into phase with its own fragility, it is destroyed. Consider the Hawking radiation emanating from a black hole. Not everything remains caught within a black hole: even a black hole, the densest object in the physical Universe, is internally inconsistent. At some point, the black hole will expend itsel…

Object-Oriented Ontology and Memory

The formal cause of something is its past, its memory, as in the memory inscribed in a silicon wafer. Memory precisely is a state in which “everything is there, but nothing is ever present.” We have already encountered the question of memory in thinking the continued existence of objects in the previous chapter. It seems appropriate then that the notion of bardo would come around once more, since bardos are the repetition of memories. This time, however, we are dealing with the bardo of dying, the way in which repetition is caught in something deadly. The (superficial, given) appearance of an object just is its warping by another object, which is another way of saying that the “past life” of an object is its form.

What Hegel says about the abstractness of the I cannot be said about how an asteroid piles into Earth, causing a gigantic molten chunk to blurt out the other side and become the Moon.The asteroid never encounters Earth as just a blank screen, onto which it projects its own f…

Object-Oriented Ontology and Ideology

David Wiesner rewrote The Three Little Pigs. In this version, the pigs escape from the book by somehow exiting the page. They find themselves in a curious interstitial space populated with other characters. They bring a dragon back to their world and defeat the wolf. What can we learn from this about our ideological and ecological situation? One is that when we exit from our ideological “world” with its familiar contours, we are still somewhere. Isn’t this the lesson of those interstitial moments in David Lynch movies, in which we see a transition between seemingly coherent worlds? These transitional spaces are not just a void. Maybe philosophy and ideology only thinks these spaces as voids from within a certain kind of philosophical or ideological framework. OOO and Buddhism share something very interesting. They both hold that the interstitial space between things is not a blank void. In fact, it’s charged with meaning, even with causality.
--Realist Magic

Object-Oriented Ontology and Computational Languages

Gödel argues that because of the inherent inconsistency of all theories, you need another theory to explain the semantics of one theory. Each theory requires 1+n others. Doesn’t this sound awfully like the OOO theory of translation, that objects are apprehended in an interobjective space that consists of 1+n objects?You never hear the wind in itself, you hear the wind in the chimney. I part company with most computational linguists, who hold that computational languages are less expressive than English. I think this is not the problem. I think that computational languages are more explicit and therefore more rigid. English has the advantage of being weak, because it evolved to be spoken by flesh and blood objects who were trying to keep on keeping on.
--Realist Magic

Object-Oriented Ontology and the Other

An object is already dreaming about itself, even when it is “sleeping” (to use Harman’s term), unaffected by another object. This is because of the profound Rift between essence and appearance. This Rift provides the impetus for movement and continuity. Just persisting, just remaining the same, is a strange phenomenon in this regard. The real problem with non-OOO theories of objects—default lumps sprinkled with accidents or cooler flows—is that, as we’ve seen, they are unable to think movement or time without recourse to some non-examined concept that is brought in as a kind of patch. One way this works is that the interobjective space is taken as the actual reality of objects, when it functions more like the Lacanian concept of the Big Other: just as I am a person called Tim by others  (in the Big Other in Lacanian terms), so objects are defined by their relations in interobejctivity. This gives rise to the illusion we call relationism. One reason OOO is hard to accept for some peopl…

Thank You Frank Luntz You Just Proved My Point

...just in time for the copy edit of Hyperobjects, which is happening literally this next fortnight.

As you may know I'm using the term global warming not climate change in my book, because I think it's like saying "change in living conditions" rather than "Holocaust." It's not the metonymy ("climate change" means "climate change as a result of global warming") but the idea of a substitution that bothers me, immensely. 

With thanks to Cliff Gerrish!

Behold is conservatives who typically change the names of things, as in refusing to say “Democratic” but only “Democrat” and insisting on “death tax” rather than “estate tax,” even though only big estates are taxed, not death. That latter switch was championed by the GOP’s spinmaster, Frank Luntz, who, as it turns out, also championed switching from ‘global warming’ to ‘climate change’ in 2003. Scientists, environmentalists, progressives, and frankly the whole darn planet have always u…

What Are You Up To Professor Morton?

I'm writing a very long essay on Buddhaphobia. I have written twelve thousand words in a day.

Writing at this length might be optimal for expressing these rather difficult ideas. But there is a side effect, a sort of cognitive state one gets into.


I shall be talking about this on June 29 in Brussels for Tuned City. 

Timothy Morton

A sentence has its own logical DNA, and is mind independent. It is a kind of entity, an “object” in the terminology used by Object-Oriented Ontology. Likewise, a sentence has its own grammatical, syntactical and sonic genome. In this sense, a sentence is like a virus. Viruses are chronologically subsequent to bacteria, in evolutionary time. But they are logically prior, since they encapsulate the strange loop that exists between a physical system and a semiotic one.

In the same way, what is called a riff (sruti, lick, chop) has its own logical, semiotic and physical DNA. A sound, considered in this sense, is like a virus—which is why the term earworm is highly appropriate. We could think of ideas as viral structures for which minds are vectors. In the same way, earworms are spread by humans and other related vectors, such as MP3 players. Riffs are logically prior to the tunes (and so on) in which…

Psychotic Superego Violence

It is called Twitter (cf The Birds) and, this past couple of weeks, Reddit.

If you want to do violence to someone, the correct medium appears to be massively distributed online fora. What are these media bringing out in people?

And more significantly, how can they be prevented from so doing?

The superego is not a nice thing.

More Medieval Speculative Realism

...and there are so many fascinating medievalists out there right now:

Nicola Masciandaro.
Eugene Thacker.
Eileen Joy.
Karl Steel.
Jeffrey Cohen.

To name just a few. There is a reason why this is happening. Modernity is in trouble.

Wings Spread

When spring took its first few cautious steps in March, I found a neat little green caterpillar in the yard. Not knowing what it was, I of course put it in a terrarium and fed it so I could monitor its growth and figure out what species it was.

The mystery.
I gave it grass, since that's what it was eating when I first found it, and thankfully the caterpillar was satisfied with its simple diet. Soon, it progressed through its instars, darkening from a light green to a yellow-green and brown color.

After a few weeks, the caterpillar pupated and mostly just sat around while its insides were reorganizing and making it more furry. And at last, it eclosed into a moth!

At last, I had enough data for an ID. It was a bittersweet moment: the moth is a non-native introduction from Europe. One thing did make up for it though:
At least it's pretty!
This is the Large Yellow Underwing, which goes by the regal name of Noctua pronuba. The orange hindwings, hidden by the drab brown forewings, lend th…

Medieval OOO

It's great to see Bruce Holsinger's essay in print. He was telling me about it at UVa.

There has been steady engagement by medievalists with OOO, for many reasons. But perhaps most of all because OOO reconfigures the consensus about what the "middle ages" might be, philosophically speaking.

When I first got into OOO I spent a lot of time reading medieval and in particular Arabic philosophy. There are intuitive parallels, because of the Aristotle. The dismissal of Pre-Kantian stuff as scholasticism, and indeed the term "medieval," are clearly pejorative symptoms of what has happened in the last two hundred years.

In Past Talks there is a graduate class at Rice from 2010 that I taught on this theme, funnily enough.

Near Princeton?

The Secret Life of Plants, an interdisciplinary conversation about the present state of relations with the vegetable kingdom: with Jane Bennett (Johns Hopkins), Laura Marks (Simon Fraser University), Maureen McLane (New York University), Natania Meeker (University of Southern California), Tim Morton (Rice University), Nils Norman (Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts), and Antonia Szabari (University of Southern California).

Exhibition and reception: Thursday, May 2, 5:00 PM, School of Architecture.

Symposium: Friday, May 3, 1:00 PM to 5:30 PM, Betts Auditorium, School of Architecture. The afternoon will be divided into the panels of two speakers each, under the following headings:

1:00 COHABITATION: with Jane Bennett (Johns Hopkins) and Nils Norman (Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts)

2:30 KNOWING: with Maureen McLane (New York University) and Tim Morton (Rice University)

4:15 ANIMATION: with Laura Marks (Simon Fraser University), Natania Meeker (University of Southern California), and Antoni…

The Spring Wake Up

After a winter of pining for the insects to come back out, I seem to be up to my ears in new photos to process and new insects to pin and add to my collection. I'm working on new blog posts to accommodate them all, but it's no simple task. While I'm kind of complaining about it, it's like complaining that you have too many chocolate Cadbury eggs---it's a good problem to have.

For now, this nice photo of the leaf of a bloodroot plant (Sanguinaria canadensis) will be the placeholder for my coming posts. I had a nice time camping this weekend in eastern Washington County and came upon a lot of great wildflowers that were just marvelous to see: bloodroot being one of them.

Oh, and if you're interested in seeing some photos that might not make it into my blog posts, you can follow me on Twitter here. I sometimes post photos from my nightly collections in my backyard, which are fun. Note that you don't need to have a Twitter account to see my tweets.

Poetry CSI

Which is a more accurate description of an omelette?

“This omelette reminds me of my father. It is yellow, and yellow was a popular color this week. It has cheese in it, and cheese comes from cows.”

“This omelette was evidently made with three eggs. They were cooked for about five minutes on a medium heat. Some salt was added.”

Which one is about “content”? Which one is about “form”?

I can't believe we're still having this discussion. 

The interview with Hillis Miller I posted a while back says something very interesting. When he was at Harvard, there was a huge fashion for doing concordance research: producing them, using them, and so on. As he points out, Google has made all that stuff irrelevant. As he also points out, and this is true, Geoffrey Hartman's fresh readings are still fresh. They blew everyone away at the time as no one else was doing them.

In ten years or less some kind of search engine will be able to do all the “content” based, thematic readings you young whipp…

Dark Ecology (MP3)

Here is my Cultures of Energy talk. Cute Ouroboros by Ian Bogost.

During lunch two people said “You know, that was a really cute ouroboros.”

Dark Ecology

Enervation and Ecological Awareness: Cultures of Energy

Joseph Campana, Rice
“The Age of the Enervation? Energy, the Arts, and the Future of Affect,” paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

enervation instead of energy
Renaissance as discovery and wonder
Showalter, “Our Age of Anxiety” book about depression review
information overload and cellurization of labor (Berardi)
increase in mental pathologies: attention deficit, panic, suicide
hybrid melodrama NBC Revolution: permanent blackout seizes Earth, turns off and never turns back on
falling airplane
>> medieval life: feudal powerbroking, sword fights
question the show raises is not what would you do? 
glut of post apocalyptic sci fi
but rather: if the lights go down what will you feel
terror, shock, uncertainty...but for Revolution panic gives way to anger and longing for revenge
“When the world lost power, I found mine”
>> alternative form of energy, affect heightened by righteousness
emergence of militias; families united; people rise up…

Claire Pentecost @ Rice: Cultures of Energy

Claire Pentecost, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
“Of Waste and Work,” paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

Cage quotation
the public amateur
Edward Said on the amateur
Critical Art Ensemble: doing experiments on genetically modified seeds (which is illegal)
documenta 13 << repression of decadent art
Bateson: the unit of survival is organism plus environment
how to think this re: seeds
clumps of bacteria: create glues that create the structure one wants in a good soil
a teaspoon of soil contains more bacteria than all the humans who have ever lived on earth
William Bryant Logan: “Radical disorder is the key to the functions of humus. At the molecular level, it may indeed be the most disorderd thing on Earth.” Thus dirt is futural
Pentecost, Proposal for a New American Agriculture: composted flag
form: art is different from everyday life
form is either inherited (designated as art), or the artist complicates it (makes an issue of …

Proposal for a New American Agriculture

By Claire Pentecost who is now speaking here. Another broken tool, an American flag, composted!

Chinese Art and Energy: Broken Tools (Cultures of Energy)

Jenny Lin, U Oregon
“Floating Social Sculpture: Contemporary Chinese Art amidst Global Change,”  paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

2010 tweet “crazy bad”
pm2.5 deep tissue penetration
three decades: socialist >> market based economy
great costs, environmental degradation
16000 dead pigs in river near Shanghai
Americans seen as meddlesome and arrogant
movies: Jia Zhangke, Still Life
Liu Jianhua: ceramics. Sculpture. Transformation of Memories 2003. Fallen trees as corpses. [me but it also has to do with torsos and legs] Outsourcing work to factories. Daily Fragile. Large scale installations. Lots of tools removed from use... [OOO!] churning out ever more useless objects
[Lin does not talk about the relation to Hans Belmer]

Xu Bing, Tobacco Project (Duke). “Even Communists are free to smoke”
Shanghai Gallery of Art. Tiger skin rug made of cigarettes! 
Forest Project. Using art of children. Children’s drawings >> trees

Ai Weiwei: …

Energic Autarchy: Cultures of Energy

Stefan Beck, Humboldt U Berlin
 “No Brownouts in Germany: Towards an analysis of energopractices after Fukushima,” paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

political project to move << fossils >> renewables
accidentally sped up after Fukushima
March 14 2011: German government answered to massive concerns with a moratorium on nuclear power
“thorough risk assessment”
>> Parliament decides permanently to take nuclear power plants off the grid >> 2022
Change in energy policy didn’t cause any disruption: no brownouts
sometimes the new fluctuating sources cause temporary overloads
tremendous almost exponential growth of renewables since 2000. 
paradox of rising energy prices
now what emerges is heightened visibility of taken for granted power infrastructure
existential revolution in the ways of live of one of the more advanced industrial societies
but peaceful
Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy; politics << material relati…

Withdrawn Tools: They Can Do Things

In Texas, when you don't inspect them.

The whole conversation here about the transition from fossil to renewable fuels is also a conversation about how tools become visible, when before they just functioned (Entzug). In Germany, Mexico, America, according to the sociologists and historians here this weekend, this is happening. It's an OOO moment...

Cultures of Energy: Turbines in Oaxaca

Cymene Howe, Rice U

“Ecoauthority and Anthropocenic Reason in Transitions,” paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

Cymene’s work in Oaxaca. Barricade to block entrance to a long stretch of sand bar.
hope to build largest single phase wind park on this site. 
Barricade breached taking advantage of the Day of the Dead
lesson on how not to do things
either way it’s not so good: good climatological intentional gone bad; or cynical attempt to exploit corruption
each set of actors lay claim to different kinds of moral authority
transitions: multiple scales of engagement
incomplete thinking of interconnectedness
zones of awkward engagement
ecoauthority is developing in this case study in a certain way: in the age of the Anthropocene
decisions designed through idioms that assert ecological pre-eminence
grounding in series of ecological claims
Mexico suffering from carbon atrophy; reduced a vital source of income
>> climate change remediation

Cultures of Energy: Wind Turbines

Richard Hirsh, Virginia Tech
“The Stormy Reception of Wind Turbines: Values, History, and the Poorly Articulated Reasons for Opposition to Wind-Energy Technology,” paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

wind turbines sociological approach of value for nonacademics as well
Carter era; big improvement in tech
popular support for turbines
often viewed as symbols of modernity
Walmart; industrial sized wind turbines
what’s the problem? the problem of locating somewhere in nature
environmental reasons: avian, bat mortality; need for beefed-up transmission infrastructure, service roads in wilderness
health and safety: low frequency sound, setback needs, shadow flicker
economic: require subsidies, not cost-effective

refutation: cats cause more bird deaths 

counter refutation: pigeons different from rare species

prgoress; exploitation of rural folk by city dwellers (what’s new); big city lawyers and business people taking advantage by swaying poli…

Cultures of Energy: David Haberman

David Haberman, Indiana U

“The Energy of Cultures,” paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

Jeff Kripal is mc for this one. 

What on earth does culture let alone religious culture have to do with these issues?
How we got into this mess can be understood via religion. 
1967: medieval historian UCLA Lynn White. 
>> consideration of deep ecology
>> fossil fuel (Alberta and Tar Sands Pipeline)
we have already caused enormous damage by extracting huge amounts of fossil fuels
mountain top removal, deep water drilling, fracking, mining of tar sands
could >> collapse of life support systems
White, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis” in Science, just 5 pages. But has been extraordinarily cited. 
launches environmental philosophy; greening of religions
cover story of Time 1970
we need to think about fundamentals: religion and crypto religion as a source for understanding
what we think about ourselves
Christianity as the most an…

Cultures of Energy Liveblog 4


Q: Any lessons? 

A: Fuel transition not merely a market operation. 
A: Skeptical of tech solutions re: energy transition. It is often presented as THE solution. 
There is the rebound effect. More energy efficiency >> more energy used >> more ships. Loop. Jevons on the corporation. 
Cheap energy (eg nuclear fusion): fossils have given unlimited powers and look at what we’ve done. So look at what that might do! Biodiversity loss. We need something more than tech. We need to rethink the way we live. 
A: Jevons was about Scotland. Over time costs came down and there was 10 times coal consumption! Sometimes the loop can be smaller. One can disempower by saying “there’s nothing we can do, because of this feedback loop”
A: half per capita energy consumption of USA. Political economy is different! 
A: idea that tech solutions can solve world problems seems overconfident. 
A: Energy transitions and the Jevons paradox. >> increased consumption. Local food movements as a reactio…

Cultures of Energy Liveblog 3

Peter Shulman, Case Western Reserve
“Engineering Economy: Steam Power and the Politics of Coal in the United States Before Thermodynamics,” paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

Benjamin Stevens was thinking about coal. Round the world cruise 1844-1846
wanted to go to Borneo and find coal island and purchase
American debate about empire
vote to annex Hawaii
argument that this would allow US to build a network of coaling stations
expand navy, and thus commerce and security
if steamers take place of sail there must be coaling stations
focus 1840 and 1860: a new look at coal fired steam power
belief that this would annihilate time and space and >> security
but this fantasy of steam’s sublime power shattered << limited fuel resources
hard to obtain
practical limitations to network builders
Daniel Webster: there appears to be no limit; but even then they were visible
C19 Americans: economy (managing time, money, resources)
the guiding pri…

Cultures of Energy Liveblog 2

Thomas Finger, U of Virginia
“Harvesting Power: Food Energy, Human Labor, and the Industrial Revolution,”paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

human revolutions <> fuels
industrial society first needed unprecedented control over flows of wheat, food energy
achieved by Britain in C19
underscored power dynamics of global economy within that era
wheat as energy source necessary for industrialization
literally powering the economies of C19
power in energy system: bodily and brain power fed by grain >> factories and warehouses
Smith, Marx, Jevons: >> vast accumulation of wealth 
And then there’s the political economic power << control over flows of energy
I can’t do this second one full justice in a short paper
But I shall present three case studies
Image of C19 global wheat trade
Food riots a staple of England prior to 1800 but had disappeared by 1870
merchants, politicians, farmers, forged agreement to reduce food trouble b…

Cultures of Energy Liveblog 1

Jean-François Mouhot, Georgetown U, “Thomas Jefferson and I,” “Fossil fuels, slavery and climate change: past & present similarities and interconnections between slavery and fossil fuel use,” paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

Kairn Klieman moderates. She’s doing excellent work on Africa. 

Slavery <> energy

The new title is “Thomas Jefferson and I.”
Purported to hate slavery. 
Tried to incriminate Britain for forcing slavery on the colonies. 
But he was one of the largest slaveholders in Virginia. 
And was obviously a racist! 
Extremely puzzling contradictions? 
Feeling that without slaves the entire world would collapse
Holding a wolf by the ears: can’t hold and can’t let it go either
[The first person mode of this speaker is rather disconcerting at this point!]
Feeling of anxiety about chores (?)
My slaves are not human beings: energy slaves! 
Ah, I see...that’s clever
Slaves and devices
Problem: fossil fuels, co…