Blog Post

Viscosity

I've been doing some thinking about my “hyperobjects” for my upcoming talk at Loyola, and I realized that hyperobjects are viscous. What do I mean?

Hyperobjects are objects that are massively distributed in time and space: Plutonium (half-life of 24 100 years), global warming (7% of effects still occurring 100 000 years later), the BP oil slick. This massive distribution does various things to our perception of them, and to our ideas about what constitutes an “environment” and the significance of being human—among others. 

It's helpful that I'm thinking about oil (my main topic in New Orleans) because oil made me develop the metaphor that hyperobjects are viscous. Viscosity here means that the more you know about a hyperobject, the more entangled with it you realize you already are.

Hyperobjects thus push the reset button on what phenomenology (Levinas, Graham Harman) calls sincerity. Sincerity means that in the words of Buckaroo Banzai, “Wherever you go, there you are.” When I'm typing this, I'm totally absorbed in the typing. When I'm experiencing irony, there I am, feeling ironic. Sincerity eats irony! In Lacanian, “there is no metalanguage.”

This is a very curious phenomenon, one that confirms my suspicion that we have entered an ecological era. A few moments ago we were delighting in our ironic free play. Now it seems we're stuck to the mirror, like Neo in that scene in The Matrix.

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).