Daniel Petersen's Reviews > Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence

Dark Ecology by Timothy Morton
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's review
Apr 15, 2017

really liked it

Recently finished a brief academic review of this for The Kelvingrove Review. Will link to it when it comes out. This is a very difficult work because Morton is trying to break out of dominant modes of logic (especially the 'Law of Noncontradiction', so you can imagine!). Yet it's also a scintillating read, full of vertiginous ideas and images, swallowing up the human in hyperobject upon hyperobject. 'Hyperobject' is Morton's term for something so gigantic in time and space that you can't see it all at once. The main hyperobjects he evokes and explores in this book are the human species, the age of agriculture, the Anthropocene, and global warming.

You might be tempted to give up half way through but you'd be missing out on the payoff of following his discussion through to its climax and fullness. Not that it ties things up neatly. But the full impact only comes from the cumulative conceptualisation achieved by the end. And, of course, it's a book that needs to be re-read a number of times.

It's worth noting that references to monsters, ancient and modern, Sphinx to Godzilla, abound in this book. It could almost be titled Monstrous Ecology. Those involved in Monster Studies will find much of interest. My favourite line in this regard is: ‘There’s a monster in the dark mirror, and you are a cone in one of its eyes’ (p. 42). In context, it packs quite a punch.

His breakdown of three kinds of dark ecology was helpful and fascinating. It's a descending order where the lower/deeper you go, the more real things get: 1) dark-depressing, 2) dark-uncanny, and 3) dark-sweet. (I'm reminded of the owl licking the tootsie pop.) I think I've been mostly focusing on Morton's engagement with the dark-uncanny in my interaction with his previous works. I'm excited to engage more with his dark-sweet ecology - which involves laughter in the sadness, comedy, and 'The Joy' at the bottom of everything, beneath the horror. (He does a controversial but very interesting take down of ecophilosophers' love affair with Lovecraft.) Though he's stoutly against monotheism throughout the book, his deepest layer of dark ecology, in which Joy pervades, has a lot in common with Trinitarian theology. He does note that his view is not one of atheism, but of an undecidable tension between a pointless universe and a meaningful one (or something along those lines).

Indeed, the whole book is about the open-endedness of being, the 'gap' in all things, as Morton calls it (a term Graham Harman favours as well) and learning to live with and within that gap. The gap is a breakage and spillage between what a thing *is* and its many appearances (drawing on Heideggerian thought), which, if honoured, and even magnified in a way, preserves mystery and 'magic' in all things. So Morton argues.

It's the most tenaciously philosophical work I've read by Morton, largely leaving to one side his usual field of ecocriticism (the study of environment in literature). He engages literature a little bit, and he features his usual peppering of films, contemporary art, pop music, etc., but he focuses mostly on ironing out and mapping out a new conceptual space for ecological thinking. It builds on, and to some degree recapitulates, what he's written before. Yet it blazes genuinely new territory. I really look forward to seeing it discussed in a variety of communities and disciplines. He's strongest when unpacking positive ideas and weakest when dismissing (often quite sweepingly and not a little snarkily) the ideologies he opposes, from agriculture to Aristotelianism. The snarkiness makes for a punchy read, but also obviously begs for rebuttals. He describes the metaphysics he opposes as 'Easy Think' ontology and pits against it his 'Difficult Think' ontology. I'm hugely sympathetic, but I also am somewhat familiar with some of what he opposes and 'easy' is not at all how I'd describe it (that hylemorphism, for example, is some cop out theory of being is laughable).

It's an exciting book that I hope is widely read and discussed. I know it will inform my own ongoing doctoral research and will make a strong contribution to my theory of 'ecomonstrous' poetics in literature.
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April, 2017 – Finished Reading
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