- Poisoned Ground:Art and Philosophy in the Time of Hyperobjects
Global warming is a manifestation of the Anthropocene, the moment at which human history has intersected decisively with geological time. Since the later eighteenth century, humans began to deposit a thin layer of carbon in Earth’s crust. The fossil fuel burning that caused this has given rise to logarithmic increases in Earth’s average temperature. In this essay, I argue that philosophy is now tasked with bringing human thinking up to speed with this new reality. I shall argue that what now emerges are what I call hyperobjects, massively distributed entities that can be thought and computed, but not directly touched or seen. The simultaneous unavailability yet reality of the hyperobject require a radical new form of thinking to cope with it. This essay will argue that object-oriented ontology is that form of thinking.
The aesthetic implications, and the implications for artistic practice, of the global warming age, which I here call the time of hyperobjects, are manifold. Pushing Hegel’s history of art beyond its expected limits, I argue that the time of hyperobjects obviates the kind of Romanticism (and related practices) that have been prevalent since the dawn of the Anthropocene. The new phase of art is best thought as a strange asymmetry between equally matched forces: the human capacity for knowledge and computation on the one hand, and the gigantic and withdrawn hyperobjects on the other. I provide some examples of contemporary art that exemplifies this asymmetry.
Previous critical modes do not disappear altogether when it comes to examining this proposed aesthetic phase. Rather, they reappear as if distorted by the new conditions, as my essay will show.
Thinking outside the Human
Symplokē means agreement. For Leibniz, this is the agreement between a subject and a predicate, such as “this weather we’ve been having is very strange.” Underlying this agreement is a deeper symplokē, which is that [End Page 37] between the principle of reason and some kind of entity that “grounds” this principle. Leibniz supposes that everything must have a sufficient reason for its existence—the principle of sufficient reason (2006, 29-31). Yet for this principle to be operative, something must always already be given. This givenness is the seeming, “ontic” existence of a thing, determined by a (human) subject, a determination that Kant develops as the a priori synthetic judgment that grounds reason. Philosophy thus finds itself in a bubble, talking about the impressions on the bubble’s inside surface. It is this bubble that has recently popped, the name given to the pop being speculative realism.
Speculative realism’s name for the bubble is correlationism. It is now no longer possible, claims speculative realism, to ground reason in the human subject, since science now knows things that are radically outside of cognition, such as events in the Universe before consciousness as such could have arisen—this is what Quentin Meillassoux, who coined the term correlationism, calls the arche-fossil (2009, 10-26). One way to save reason is to jettison sufficient reason. Since I can no longer meaningfully correlate reality to my self-positing act of synthetic judgment (or what have you), I must entertain the more than disconcerting possibility that anything could happen. This is the line of argument that Meillassoux himself follows.
Another way to solve the problem posed by the popping of the correlationist bubble is to follow the other lead hinted at in Leibniz and later in Kant. For the ontic givenness of things prior to their being posited must mean that there are beings that somehow underlie this given state of affairs. And since the human subject is no longer the guarantee of why things exist, it must be the case that what is special to human subjectivity—that it correlates things to itself—is not so special after all. Perhaps everything is at it. There are the bubbles of geraniums, the bubbles of champagne bottles, the bubbles of chimpanzees and decaying pellets of plutonium 239. Things are given for orangutans and droplets of mercury as much as they are for humans. This approach calls itself object-oriented ontology, and it was...