At the end of the world, it’s the hyperobjects all the way to the bottom
Not surprisingly, reactions to Morton have been intense and polarized. Hyperobjects a (and the hyperobjects have) been described as “pessimistic”, “provocative”, “disempowering”, “revolutionaries”, “disturbing” and quite simply “strange”. At the same time, Morton’s ideas have found a passionate and growing readership outside of traditional universities, attracting everyone from artists and musicians to science fiction writers, architects and students.
In the decade since its publication, Hyperobjects was referenced in a Buddhist blog post on the ecological crisis, a New York Times editorial on digital privacy and a BBC report on how concrete will soon trump all living matter on the planet. Tech writers use the term as a means of talking about the incomprehensibility of algorithms and the Internet; Science fiction author Jeff VanderMeer said he aptly describes the bizarre alien phenomenon he wrote about in Annihilation, his surreal novel became a 2018 film. Icelandic musician BjÃ¶rk reached out to Morton to discuss hyperobjects, and their email correspondence was incorporated into a MoMA exhibit. In 2019, Adam McKay, the former Saturday Night Live Head writer and co-creator of a bunch of blockbuster Hollywood comedies, was so inspired by Morton’s work that he named his production company Hyperobject Industries. âYou can feel your brain change very slightly because you never even considered that possibility,â McKay tells me. âIt’s Timothy. Every page of their writing has this feeling.
Then Covid happened, along with a growing number of devastating natural disasters attributed to climate change, and Morton’s ideas became as popular as possible for cryptic philosophical concepts. They even appeared in a Canadian parliamentary debate on the pandemic. “We are seeing something bigger than us, something bigger than we might imagine,” said Charlie Angus, Member of Parliament. âTimothy Morton calls this a hyperobject, something we can’t even fully understand. That’s the power of this pandemic. Desperate to understand – or accept that they couldn’t understand – these huge, interconnected forces, more and more people found resonance in what Morton had to say. âThe hyperobjects were already there,â as Morton writes in their book, âand slowly but surely we understood what they were saying. They contacted us.
The message some readers heard in the arrival of these phenomena was frightening: Consider our works, mighty, and despair. But there is another message in Morton’s book, one that Morton increasingly exalts as desperation threatens to cripple so many: Our sense of the “world” might end, but humans are not doomed. . In fact, the end of this limited notion of the world may also be the only thing that can save us from ourselves.
“How do you to tell someone in a dream that they are a character in a dream? Morton asks the first time I meet them. We are in the same small neighborhood of Houston where I spent a year in pandemic containment with my brother. It’s August, and it’s hot like Houston is always hot in the summer: so humid that stepping out the front door feels like stepping into a slightly thicker, bloated dimension. Morton has picked me up in their vibrant Mazda3, and we make our way to the Menil Collection, a museum and art collection housed in five buildings, including a chapel, on 30 acres.
Born in London and educated in Oxford, Morton – who moved to Texas in 2012 for work at Rice – is soft-spoken but intense. The day we meet, they wear a shirt covered with green leaves that disappear and disappear. There’s no way to persuade people in a dream to wake up, Morton tells me as we drive through sprawling freeways, the stereo playing a mix of ’70s progressive rock, deep house, and shoegaze. âYou cannot negotiate with them. You have to wow them.
Talking with Morton, much like reading their writings, is a slightly psychedelic experience full of poetic leaps and circumlocutionary spirals through a dizzying array of subjects: Star Wars, Buddhist meditation, romantic poetry, David Lynch, quantum physics, The puppet show. One moment they talk about the death of the planet and the intricacies of Heidegger and Derrida, and the next moment they convincingly explain to me why PM Dawn’s 1991 R&B hit “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” is one of the greatest artistic achievements of all. time, and why Han Solo Millennium Falcon is a radically democratic ecological being who âheralds the possibility of a new eraâ. None of this is non sequitur, but the ideas can seem out of reach, like a magical picture about to appear. Because Morton talks so often about things that can’t be talked about directly, the only way to locate them is to walk around them, gesturing with metaphors that almost but not quite touching.