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  • Here Comes Everything:The Promise of Object-Oriented Ontology
  • Timothy Morton (bio)

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soilIs bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, "God's Grandeur"

The experience of nothingness comes neither from concepts nor from grammatical negation in sentences.

Graham Harman, Heidegger Explained

The current ecological crisis has stimulated two flavors of reaction: regular (normative ecophilosophy) and cool (the effervescent philosophical movement known as "speculative realism"). The regular flavor conjures up the good old days when things meant what they said and said what they meant. Initial forays into literary ecocriticism were Trojan horses for a replay of 1970s and 1980s theory wars. For theory, read Derrida. The cool flavor fizzes with the future—the bliss of new thinking, more at home with the shock of ecological reality. The regular flavor is somewhat theistic, while [End Page 163] the cool flavor is somewhat nihilistic. The regular flavor establishes Nature as an object of reverent admiration; the cool flavor asserts the deep mystery of a Non-Nature. I've argued elsewhere that "Nature" is a self-defeating concept in ecological philosophy, art, and politics.1 This applies to any reified substrate whatsoever, any "Non-Nature." In this essay I argue that to say "There is no Nature" is different from saying "There is a Non-Nature." What we should think asserts neither Nature nor Non-Nature, single, solid, and "over yonder." What we should think is far from the cool nihilism of Non-Nature, and far from some "realism of the remainder," à la Derrida or Žižek. Its name is object-oriented ontology (OOO, its preferred acronym), pioneered by Graham Harman in four remarkable books: Tool-Being, Guerilla Metaphysics, Prince of Networks, and The Quadruple Object. To these we may now add Levi Bryant's forthcoming The Democracy of Objects and Ian Bogost's Alien Phenomenology.2 OOO belongs to recent attempts to rethink realism in the wake of the distinctly anti-realist philosophies that have held sway for some decades. In so doing it shares obvious affinities with ecocriticism and ecophilosophy as propounded by Lawrence Buell, Scott Slovic, Greg Garrard, and Jonathan Bate. For example, Quentin Meillassoux devised the term "correlationism" in his groundbreaking speculative realist work After Finitude. Correlationism refers to the belief that things can only exist in relation to (human) minds or language.3 Correlationism is anthropocentrism in philosophical form, so ecological criticism should be very interested in it.

I shall argue, however, that OOO decisively departs from standard ecological criticism, by enabling a ruthless rejection of the concept of Nature, in part because Nature is correlationist. In rejecting Nature, OOO connects with my recent work in ecological thinking. OOO goes further than this, rejecting essentialist Matter (I capitalize both Nature and Matter to de-nature them). OOO differs both from ecocriticism and from other forms of speculative realism, because it subscribes neither to Nature nor to Non-Nature. OOO thus offers a middle path—not a compromise, but a genuine way out of the recent philosophical impasse of essentialism versus nihilism. [End Page 164]

Revenge of the Hyperobjects

How are OOO's arguments relevant to thinking ecology? OOO is a form of realism that asserts that real things exist—these things are objects, not just amorphous "Matter," objects of all shapes and sizes, from football teams to Fermi-Dirac condensates or, if you prefer something more ecological, from nuclear waste to birds' nests. To this quite Aristotelian view OOO extends Husserl's and Heidegger's arguments that things have an irreducible dark side: no matter how many times we turn over a coin, we never see the other side as the other side—it will have to flip onto "this" side for us to see it, immediately producing another underside. Harman simply extends this irreducible darkness from subject-object relationships to object-object relationships. Objects encounter each other as operationally closed systems that can only (mis)translate one another...