“Dark Ecology” (2017) by Timothy Morton and “The Spell of the Sensuous” (1996) by David Abraham
During the past couple of months, I have been reading these two books together, one in the morning and one in the evening – now that I think about it, one has the word dark in its title. Although written 20 years apparat, these two books overlapped and connected so that is seemed they were meant to be read together.
They both talk about human awareness and the need for reconnection with the nonhuman in the advent of the Anthropocene. Both books propose new ways of thinking to correct human habits Morton calls “agricologistics” and Abram identifies as our poor perception of our surroundings caused by our disconnection from the natural world. These are ideas that resonate with the messy questions my dissertation was asking.
Borrowing this quote from the Guardian, “part of what makes Morton popular are his attacks on settled ways of thinking.” Same thing goes for David Abraham, making it fitting to hear their voices together. They break from established frame works of thinking by creating new words and new definitions to define our reality. (I realize this is the kind of academic writing I am attracted to… creative with storytelling flavour)
Morton’s slef-made vocabulary doesn’t end with agricologistics but he builds full set of dark and loopy words as new vessels to fit his thoughts in:
– Agricologistics: an agricultural programme so successful that it now dominates agricultural techniques planet-wide. The programme creates a hyperobject, global agriculture: the granddaddy hyperobject, the first one made by humans, and one that has sired many more. Toxic from the beginning to humans and other lifeforms, it operates blindly like a computer program.It is run by three axioms:
1. The law of non-contradiction
-The law of the excluded middle.
-Easy think substance
2. Existing means being constantly present.
3. Existing is always better than any quality of existing.
– Dark Ecology: It is ecological awareness, dark- depressing. Yet ecological awareness is also dark-uncanny. And strangely it is dark-sweet. Nihilism is always number one in the charts these days.
– Econognesis: Thinking Dark Ecology. Ecognosis is like knowing, but more like letting-be-known. It is something like coexisting. It is like becoming accustomed to something strange, yet it is also becoming accustomed to strangeness that doesn’t become less strange through acclimation. Ecognosis is like a knowing that knows itself. Knowing in a loop; a weird knowing.
– Arche-lithic: Dark ecology that somehow still finds its way through the cracks of Agricologistics, adapting like a plant growing on concrete.
And some of Morton-words from previous books also come back to the party:
– Strange Stranger (definitely a favourite of mine and what fueled my 2nd term 2020 installation work). The uncanny realization that the other is weirdly familiar. So close yet still strange – The more you know about something, the stranger it grows. The more we know about life forms, the more we recognize our connection with them and the stranger they be- come. The more you know, the more entangled you realize you are, and the more open and ambiguous everything becomes. ❤
– The Mesh: thinking about interconnectedness in a non hierarchical way…Interdependence amongst life forms is at the heart of the concept of the Mesh, a “to big to think” concept that represents how all thinks are connected. Nothing exists separate from something else and there is nothing outside of the system of life forms… in Morton’s thinking the Mesh goes hand in hand with hyperobjects.
– Hyperobjects: escribe objects that are so massively distributed in time and space as to transcend spatiotemporal specificity, such as global warming, styrofoam, and radioactive plutonium. (non local etc)
(it was time consuming to get these short definitions down, but they will be useful as a point of reference to keep reading Timothy Morton)
When it comes to David Abrham, he doesn’t quite create new words but proposes new understanding of already existing concepts. In “the spell of the sensuous” he explores perception from a phenomenological approach and goes deep into the idea of writing and oral indigenous traditions, but what impacted me the most from his book is the way he proposes to understand time and place together. Like many authors I enjoy, he proposes understanding time and space together and encourages dissolving the separation between the two. In a beautifully poetical way, he “locates” time in spaces, offering a new framework to think about time as something part of our physical worlds. This is how Abraham maps it out:
– Future: The future is found it the line of the horizon. It’s what’s to come, something that is not quite “here” yet. But it’s already “there”, but time is just “withholding it” until it crosses over the horizon. Walking toward the horizon is walking towards the future. And when you walk, you always walk towards the horizon!
– Past: The past is Inside things. Best example is the rings of a tree. The past gets buried under layers of present, that join the surface as they appear from the horizon. Layers of soil, where we find the fossils of the past, remembering like digging like archeologists.
– Present: The air! It’s what the outside layer of the objects is in contact with, it’s the invisible and constantly moving NOW. He titles the chapter about the present as “the remembering and forgetting of the air. I loved the way he presents these ideas gradually uncovering them until these definitions appear at the end of the chapter, like a lens that gradually adjusts itself to focus… unfolding and emerging.
Reading these books opened up my awareness to new ways of seeing, new ways of thinking using the tools of the new words and concepts the authors offered me. Morton’s awareness is strange and radical, like his suggestion of placing nuclear waste in the middle of a city, in a big and striking monument to fight the kind of blindness and amnesia I was exploring at the end of my degree. Morton’s solution is not a escape from the problem, but a way to start with the trouble, to coexists, opening up to its darkness, yet oddly positive like the last sentence of the book captures “Let’s disco”.
Abraham’s solution has more light to it, it’s about remembering the air an allowing ourselves to be flooded by the present we are beating with. A present that allows the past and the future to leak into it, blending the here and the now into one.
They were both quite heavy books, full of little gems I kept forgetting. I wanted to remember to keep what I read present in my mind so that it can directly influence my art practice. So, I created the Reading Wall in my studio, in a way a massive posit note reminding me of the book in my studio. I want to make it a habit to make the reading wall grow a little bit every day and check it gradually to ground myself and remember, and also to share what I’m reading with my studio mates! It’s hard to keep an art practice moving forward, the reading wall might be the fuel that helps me keep it going!