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  • The Ontology of Motion
  • Thomas Nail (bio)

We live in an age of movement. More than at any other time in history, people and things move longer distances, more frequently, and faster than ever before. All that was solid melted into air long ago and is now in full circulation around the world like dandelion seeds adrift on turbulent winds. We find ourselves, in the early twenty-first century, in a world where every major domain of human activity has become increasingly defined by motion.1

We have entered a new historical era defined in large part by movement and mobility and are now in need of a new historical ontology appropriate to our time. The observation that the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first was marked by an increasingly "liquid" and "mobile modernity" is now something widely recognized in the scholarly literature at the turn of the century.2 Today, however, our orientation to this event is quite different. Almost twenty years into the twenty-first century we now find ourselves situated on the other side of this heralded transition. The question that confronts us today is thus a new one: how to fold all that has melted back up into new solids.3 [End Page 47]

This calls for, among other things, a new philosophical ontology. In other words, what does the kinetic nature of contemporary events reveal about the nature of being such that it is capable of producing this sort of present? At no point in history have beings ever been anywhere near as mobile as they are today, so what does this say about the nature of reality such that it is and has been capable of this degree of mobility? If being is defined by the historical primacy of motion today yet existing ontologies are not, then we need a new historical ontology for our time.4

The present, however, is not a homogeneous, closed set of things and dates. The present is not a presence but an open process, a site of material and performative struggle. Yet this idea itself of the present as an "open site of struggle" is also a recent historical invention that assumes the mobility of the present to become different than it is.

In the spirit of this larger inquiry, I propose here an introduction to the distinct theoretical tradition of the "ontology of motion." This is not a term of common usage in philosophy and thus does not yet have a clear definition or a common historical lineage. This essay attempts to provide precisely these things.

The ultimate aim of locating such a tradition is to help provide conceptual tools for developing an inspired but original ontology of motion. In other words, this essay is the first step toward creating a new conceptual and ontological framework based on the historical primacy of motion. The goal of such an ontology is to provide a new description and interpretation of traditional ontological categories and the big historical events of our time.

The Context and Crux of This Intervention

This essay is part of a larger book project, Being and Motion, which is itself part of a larger project on the philosophy of motion. I began this project with The Figure of the Migrant (2015) and Theory of the Border (2016) but soon realized that the original theoretical framework developed there was entangled with similar issues in ontology, art, and science. Just as my research revealed the constitutive role played by social mobility in the form of migrants and borders in the foundation of pre-Western and Western societies, it also revealed [End Page 48] that a similarly constitutive role was played by movement and mobility in the history of ontology, art, and science. In particular, I have been surprised to find such incredible synchrony in the dominant patterns of motion (centripetal, centrifugal, tensional, and elastic), first identified in The Figure of the Migrant and now in these other areas as well.

Each of these other areas (ontology, art, and science) has now been treated in its own full-length work. The aim of Being and Motion, to which this essay is a historical...


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pp. 47-76
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