Re, Timothy Morton: The Ecological Thought (2010)

Things are accessible and knowable to the extent that we are intimate with them. Intimacy implies difference, alteriy and strangeness. In essence, intimacy is based on the irrevocable unavailability and unknowability of things/beings. Due to this inexhaustible and ultimate strangeness: knowledge of things is finite, forever incomplete. Timothy Morton claims that ’’however much we try, we can’t explain the strange stranger away.’’ (79)  My interpretation of this statement partly hinges on the particular inferences flowing from the phrase (or conceptual metaphor) ’explain away.’ As Morton so ardently argues the background foreground distinctions we habitually assume are fraught with an inherent anxiety or a certain form of blindness to the fact of radical interconnectedness and coexistence. The world is not ’over there’ and I am not ’over here.’ Also, the natural is not what subtends the artificial. The implicatedness is total. We can’t just simply position ourselves against the things of the world as if we could be outside of them; detached and potentially controlling. There is no outside. There is no background that grounds the figures. There is only the figures: the things/beings (including us). Even the space (environment) is not there independent of the beings’ raw entanglement. Space is something that opens up as a result of the trans-actions between beings. In effect, this is what the inability of explaining away means. We can’t get outside the things we are entangled with. We cannot explain them away: sealing them into a kind of conceptual box that we can then objectively observe and hummingly and beard-strokingly circle and, at the end of the day, just kick away, obliviously. They are a part of us as and never apart from us. What exists, coexists. (Existing here refers to being (causally) given and available for some kind of a trans-action)… This is the ecological thought. Reality is much more claustral, dense and thick and close-knit than it feels. As I am writing this, I seemingly inhabit a spacious room but only in terms of being part of a swarming assemblage of objects. Long story short, I recommend the book for anyone interested. Though, the argument might feel a bit (eclectically) paratactic, conveying more the attitude rather than the analysis, that is a merit, definitely. The more angles the eco-thought is addressed from the more it engages and sways the reader. It’s a good read.

Throughout, Morton gestures towards the ethical consequences of this thought, emphasizing amongst other things the crucial importance of responsibility, vulnerability, compassion, meditation, openness, tenderness, art and the inevitable awkwardness in/of being that is entailed by the logic of this thinking. Regarding the power of art in instilling this sense of inevitable awkwardness (by disturbing the background-foreground mindset) I am reminded of the concept of idling language that James Guetti (borrowing it from Wittgenstein) brought to bear on the study of the style of literary texts. In short, language is idling when instead of melting into their sense words retain a lingering materiality, displaying grammar rather than deploying it. This is achieved mainly through exploiting the aural aspects inherent in (sometimes cryptically rendered) language. Rhtyhm, sound, repetition or even the dominance of nouns against verbs in the depiction— can indeed all contribute to a kind of textual ambience that does not settle into a specific ground of reference but hovers in a state of disequilibrium, keeping us within, implicated, enmeshed. The later Don DeLillo, for instance, is someone who writes like that.

My favourite passages from Morton’s book are from page 127: ’’Meditation means exposing our conceptual fixations and exploring the openness of the mesh’’ and from page 71: ’’Instead of figuring out whether it’s true to say, ’Programs are as competent as us,’ we might be better off asserting, ’We are as incompetent as programs.’ We could categorize life forms according to weakness and vulnerability, rather than strength and mastery, and thus build platforms for finding solidarity in our shared incompetence.’’ Nice.


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