Culture Magazine

Reading Hyperobjects 7: Objectification and Objects

By Bbenzon @bbenzon
Note: I’m counting my 3QD piece as #5 and my introduction to that as #6.
Let’s begin obliquely, with something I’ve come to think of as Hartman’s Line. Hartman is Geoffry Hartman, one of the (in)famous Yale Mafia, the dons of deconstruction back in the last quarter of the previous century, and the line is the one he draws between reading and semiotics/structuralism in this passage, among others, from The Fate of Reading (p. 271):
I wonder, finally, whether the very concept of reading is not in jeopardy. Pedagogically, of course, we still respond to those who call for improved reading skills; but to describe most semiological or structural analyses of poetry as a ”reading” extends the term almost beyond recognition.
Jonathan Culler had the same line in Structuralist Poetics (1975) when he asserted that linguistics is not hermeneutic.
That line, I submit, was about objectification. Linguistics objectifies language; structuralism and semiotics, at least in their more technical incarnations, objectify poetry. Objectification gets in the way of reading, of interpretation.
But what’s this have to do with hyperbojects? Hold on. I’m getting there. Have a little patience. OK.
By the time Hartman and Culler had made those statements, I’d already passed over to the dark side. I’d pretty much decided that the objectification of literary texts was the way to go, a story I’ve told in this post about my early encounter with Lévi-Strauss and “Kubla Khan.” Culler himself didn’t return to structuralism nor did the profession show any further interest in linguistics and structuralism. The profession had, in effect, rejected objectification.
And that left me stranded, pursuing objective knowledge while my one-time colleagues critiqued everything in sight. When I first encountered object-oriented ontology I was hoping that perhaps I could use it as philosophical support, or at least as ideological camouflage, for my own work. It didn’t take me long to figure out that that wasn’t very likely, but by then I was hooked.
And that brings us back to Morton and hyperobjects. For Hartman’s Line is just a special case of the more general line that phenomenology and its offshoots and critiques has drawn between thought and the world. The object oriented ontologists don’t cross that line either.
Let us turn to Hyperobjects, p. 20:
Yet my turning of the key in the ignition is intimately related to philosophical and ideological decisions stemming from the mathematization of knowing and the view of space and time as flat, universal containers (Descartes, Newton).
The mathematization of knowing involves objectification. A bit later (p. 21):
In part 1, “What Are Hyperobjects?,” I explore the scope and depth of the quake in being from the viewpoint of “objective” description, trying to evoke the objectness of hyperobjects, which consists of primordially in their being prior to thinking.
Notice the scare quotes around “objective.” Why?
Of course it is in this first part of the book that Morton calls on science, and science is conducted on the Other side of Hartman’s Line, on the side of objectification. Science is about a mathematicized world, though, as Morton knows, not all the mathematics is that of space and time as containers. That’s the classical world, which does include the statistical chaos of the climate system, but it’s not the world of relativity and quantum mechanics.
Later in the book, in part 2. “The Time of Hyperobjects” Morton says this (p. 100): “World as the background of events is an objectification of a hyperobject...” And then a bit deeper into it (p. 136):
It isn’t that hyperobjects are special beings, like an angel or a demon or a god, sent to slap my objectification of reality upside the head by hurtling me into contact with a transcendental beyond. Far from it. Hyperobjects are real things, really existing, in this physical realm.
How does “objectification” function there? It is through large-scale objectification that Morton, and everyone else, knows about global warming. So we’ve got objectification going upside its own head. Contradiction in Morton’s thought? Or only yin-yang?
On 149 Morton mixes it up with subjects and objects:
We humans are objects. The thing called a “subject” is an object. Sentient beings are objects. Notice that “object” here doesn’t mean something that is automatically apprehended by a subject. There are all kinds of objects that so-called subjects don’t apprehend...For millions of years oil oozed around deep under the ocean. All kinds of objects apprehended it, of course. When we are conscious of something, we are on a continuum with rock strata and plankton that apprehend oil in their own way.
I leave you with one last passge (p. 176):
Object does not mean objectified. Rather it means totally incapable of objectification. It’s clear that we only ever see footprints of objects. But in some sense we only see footprints of pencils, penguins, and plastic explosive.
I suppose that if we take those various “footprints” – whether of pencils, penguins, or pontiffs – for reality, then we’re objectifying them. But as long as we don’t mistake the map for the territory – a metaphor that Morton invoked at one point – I suppose we’re OK.
I suppose.
As for poetry, meaning cannot be objectified. Nor did I ever intend to do so. It’s only form that I was, and still am, chasing.
* * * * *
  • Reading Hyperobjects 1: The World has Ended
  • Reading Hyperobjects 2: What does real mean?
  • Reading Hyperobjects: Pardon Me While I Have a Strange Interlude
  • Reading Hyperobjects 3: Are We Are Poems about the Earth?
  • Reading Hyperobjects 4: Digital Humanities Edition – High Dimensional Spaces and Descriptions
  • Sing Me a Song of Hyperobjects: Starting over with Humans and Other Creatures in the 21st Century CE
  • Reading Hyperobjects at 3QD: A Quake in Being

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