What the hell is a Hyperobject?

Thats what I thought when I skimmed through Timothy Morton’s Imbedded Powerpoint presentation. To the untrained critical thinker who doesn’t know Morton’s work, a hyperobject sounds like a hybrid, Sokal-lamenting, postmodern, socio-scientific-more-real-than-reality-itself, slippery, point-de-caption.

Of course it isn’t. Listening to the mp3 of the talk, one finds two very clear and heavily linked arguments; the first is the argument for “hyper-objects”, the second argues for a revision of ecological ethics in light of the unjustified philosophical tendency to privilege ‘world-building’, or ‘world-dwelling’. Worlds need horizons, backgrounds and foregrounds. One can see why Morton hankers after OOO. For object oriented ontology, there is no insular world, but an intimate openness, an ontologically unavoidable encounter with real things that will outlive us and supersede us. What Morton argues for, above all, is an ethics that accounts for the strange things of infinite regress.

Morton might disagree with this, but one gets the sense that when he attacks ecological ethics within a ‘world’, he is attacking correlationism. Despite its relatively understood meaning since Meillassoux coined it, I think patience is found wanting before we realise the ubiquitousness of the term’s appliance. One should remember that correlationism does not simply denote the co-relation between human and world, subject and object, Being and beings; it is often used (in an unsaid fashion) as a marker that judges world building. Consider AI technology; why is it that for reasons only known to the correlate, AI technology fails to achieve its aim until it reaches the dominance of human reference or self-awareness? Technological objects should, and are, regarded as strange anyway; in AI, researchers want to change their procedural structure until they ‘magically’ reach the capabilities of mimicking and hiding in our world. In reality, all objects are familiarly strange. Morton recounts the worldly-ness of predicting the weather in the folk-lore rhyme;

Red sky at night, shepherds delight, red sky in the morning, shepherds warning.

‘A charming folk lore’, he mentions, a sensibility that ‘evokes days where shepherds lived in worlds, where the sun goes up and goes down.’ Common sense ruins any form of sincerity by falsely hedging a bet on horizons. The withdrawn execution of objects, such as climate, radiation and global warming should rattle and cajole us into a different type of ethics. Screw shepherds warning it should be..

Red sky at night, shepherds delight, sheep drowned in morning, global warming.

(That is my own creation if you were wondering)

Hyperobjects then, are needed to force this new ethics upon us. A Hyperobject is an object, any object, that forces us to realise that it is not only strange but forcibly assigned to the age of execution. It will execute itself without us, it will outlive us and possibly outsmart us in the contingent way objects do almost all the time. Quote Morton, they are,

“Massively distributed, in SpaceTime, an object that radically transforms our ideas of what an object is.”….”They are messages in bottles of the future, they don’t quite exist in a present.”

Hyperobjects force us to anticipate, not a world without us, but the reality of execution itself. This is important and it directly links to the artwork that, I think, exemplify Hyperobjects. I’ve mentioned it before, amongst others. but it was the focus for the paper Heidegger, Harman and Algorithmic allure; John F Simon Jr’s famous digital artwork Every Icon, (1996).

If left alone, the piece will execute every single 32 X 32 pixel ‘Icon’ for a determined 10 trillion years. This is the reality of the execution. You strip everything back, all the qualities, and all the notes, and all you are left with, is withdrawn execution. It executes regardless of you being there to witness it.

A representable icon, is not the issue here. The issue is what kind of objects will be present to witness this particular object? An arrow may appear to be sure, but humans won’t be there to witness it. All we can do is speculate and be absorbed by this hyperobject.

It is absorption, the event of being absorbed by something, that will play a pivotal role in object oriented aesthetics.

6 thoughts on “What the hell is a Hyperobject?”

  1. thanks Tim,

    Oddly, this point is connected to another project going on at Plymouth uni, separate to where I’m doing my “theoretical” research. My next post will be about that, and the researchers behind it. Its freaky… well beyond strange anyway.

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