Blog Post

All You Need Is Love

Hello everybody. Since this is my first post I thought I'd just tell you my big news. 

“Say, dad, what did you do for the summer vacation?”
“Well, son, I became an object oriented ontologist.”
“Gee whizz, dad! Is that like a character out of D&D?”

So this has been the big event of the summer—of the decade really—and in a broader sense my intellectual life. I mean it. I was teaching Plato last quarter (wow, seriously—so fresh) and I got a strong sense of what philo-sophy could be: like there's a reason why it's got “philos” in it. I've loved some philosophies before, but I can honestly say that I've never been IN LOVE with a philosophy before; didn't really realize you could be. Until now. (Pause while half the readers gag or hit the back button.)

I'm an English Prof. who was trained at the height of New Historicism, which meant that you had to run to the library every couple of hours to read a few hundred more books and pamphlets. It felt like being a dwarf in the mines of Moria. The object of the exercise if you're a historian is to get a big grant, go to some mine (library) that no one looks at very much, and find some unknown stuff, then bring it back and show everyone your jewels. It's kind of lonely–ironically, because history is supposed to be about society and all.

So when I figured out somewhere in the mid-90s (it took a while longer to really sink in) that I was more inclined towards the philosophy side of things (literature occupying a kind of middle place, as Sir Philip Sidney says, between philosophy and history), I felt a lot more at home. Because suddenly there were all these people who CARED about ideas and wanted to THINK about them, and quite often talk about them with me. Research turned gradually into, “Well, what kinds of book should I be mining for? Let's figure that out before I rush off to the book mine” to “Hmm, maybe I should just sit in my room and not go to the library. That way I can really chew this over.”

So THEN when I found out that people were blogging all over the shop about speculative realism and Object Oriented Ontology (OOO), I became quite excited. I know it has its limitations and all but talking almost live around the world about philosophical issues—I dunno, it makes me feel alive. I'm quite clumsy with reasoning things out—my head seems to make lateral leaps all the time, so I get a lot of essays rejected (because to publish an essay you have to write slightly BEHIND the curve, he bitched. It's really about journals as systems—think about it, you're an editor with 90 essays in the pipe...but I digress.) Books, no problem. Essays? If I had a dollar for every report that said “This isn't an essay”...So OOO hit me like that. Very intuitively, it made sense. Before I started figuring it out.

At first I had all these objections to OOO. But I gradually realized, thanks to the infinite patience and kindness of Levi Bryant, that I was already thinking OOO things. It was like looking at one of those magic eye pictures. (I'm very bad at that.) At first you see nothing, then suddenly your perspective shifts. Joseph C. Goodson put it very well in a comment on Levi's blog, something about going through the looking glass. One suddenly finds oneself, well, in a Universe of objects. Doesn't sound like much when you put it that way.

I think you really can be in love with a philosophy. I know, because I am...I believe this is something very like being in love with a person—you see all kinds of infinite possibilities and you see that things are not totally revealed to you, and that the world is not “for you” but instead you're drawn out of yourself. There is magic in the world. It's not all totally explicit. Of course this feeling is deeply bound up with a central tenet of OOO: objects withdraw. Yet you also feel strangely at home, like you were always there, and everything else just melts away or fits in somehow, but in a larger space.

Here is a small example: I have been struggling with materialism for a very long time. Thinking about it, thinking I'm a materialist, talking about it...OOO gave me a very simple reason why I was struggling: this idea of matter as a substrate of everything is a FICTION, like Santa Claus. You sort of have to believe in it, vocally, so as not to disappoint the kids.

Of course, there are proundly ecological reasons why OOO is the way to go. More on all that soon.

There: I said it. I'm out as an object oriented ontologist. Couldn't be happier. Graham Harman you are a genius. You too Levi and Ian. More to follow.

Timothy Morton's picture

Timothy Morton is Professor of English (Literature and Environment) at the University of California, Davis. Professor Morton's interests include literature and the environment, ecotheory, philosophy, biology, physical sciences, literary theory, food studies, sound and music, materialism, poetics, Romanticism, Buddhism, and the eighteenth century. He teaches literature and ecology, Romantic-period literature, and literary theory. He has published nine books and sixty essays, including The Ecological Thought (Harvard UP, 2010) and Ecology without Nature (Harvard UP, 2007).