- Meditations in Midair
There is a moment in nearly all Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons wherein the coyote, having been tricked into succumbing to his own more or less elaborate trap, runs off the edge of a cliff. Though he eventually plummets down with gusto, he first runs out horizontally beyond the precipice and is briefly suspended there, unaware of the sudden loss of ground. Only when he looks down, realizing that he has bid farewell to the support of terra firma, is he seized by the vertiginous verticality. But until he catches up to the abrupt change in his gravitational predicament, he is virtually suspended, held up by an imagined, transcendent ground mapped onto the gaping abyss. In a short-lived moment of the mind’s triumph over the weight of matter, Coyote continues to run midair, mechanically enacting what Graham Harman calls “a procedure no longer flexibly adjusted to its surroundings.”1 Harman, whose object-oriented ontology (ooo) informs Timothy Morton’s work, argues that the kind of comedy that is cultivated in scenes like these rests precisely in “the way in which . . . transcendence and free decision- making power are undercut by . . . being delivered [End Page 257] to the force of things, unable to master them” (gm, 131). In other words, we are amused by Coyote’s futile attempt to maintain ground in spite of groundlessness because it unwittingly exposes a “mechanism that ought not to be a mechanism” (gm, 136). Timothy Morton’s newest book is tasked with impressing upon us the fact that, much like Wile E. Coyote, we are already in midair, falling in the “fiery interior of a hyperobject” (ho, 160), but tragically oblivious to our predicament and desperately clinging to obsolete mechanisms beholden to a world that has ended. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World is like the cartoon arrow lit up by semantic frenzy that points downward to the lack of transcendent bedrock below our feet.
Thus written in mid-fall, this book is as hyper as its object. The relentless rush with which Morton proceeds is a symptom of his attempts to avoid effacing the very groundlessness of the contemporary age he is trying to articulate. The end of the world by hyperobject (e.g., global warming) does not bring about the rise of a new world, and in this it radically differs from various eschatological narratives, doomsday stories, and apocalyptic fantasies. There is no rapture, no redemption, no world rebooted or world 2.0 after version 1.0 has been devastated and put out of commission. In order to quell even the slightest impulse to make a world of the hyperobject, Morton must perform compositional and disciplinary acrobatics. He must wrestle with the question: how does one structure a text so profoundly invested with the project of ungrounding? After all, while defamiliarization is undoubtedly on order, the communication of a compelling message and the quest for consensus on the matter is as well: the reader must accept that she is falling. There are, of course, the explicit content signposts that divide the book into two parts—the first dealing with the question of what hyperobjects are, and the second dealing with the question of what it means to live in the ungrounded age of the hyperobject. However, there is also an implicit, subterranean composition that orients this text—an ungrounding predecessor, Heidegger’s 1938 essay “The Age of the World Picture.” Morton’s end of the world reads like a reworking and overcoming of Heidegger’s end of the world picture. This structural undercurrent buried in a ruthlessly [End Page 258] cross-disciplinary surge elucidates some of the most crucial points of Morton’s work: the end of the world by hyperobject, the making of the hyperobject by modernity, and the nature of the hyperobject. Whether this configuration is deliberate or not, Hyperobjects cycles through Heidegger’s essay and works with the stages identified therein.
Morton’s proclamation of the end of the...