Hyperobjects are objects that are massively distributed in time and space: Plutonium (half-life of 24 100 years), global warming (7% of effects still occurring 100 000 years later), the BP oil slick. This massive distribution does various things to our perception of them, and to our ideas about what constitutes an “environment” and the significance of being human—among others.
Oil made me develop the metaphor that hyperobjects are viscous. Viscosity here means that the more you know about a hyperobject, the more entangled with it you realize you already are.
Hyperobjects thus push the reset button on what phenomenology (Levinas, Graham Harman) calls sincerity. Sincerity means that in the words of Buckaroo Banzai, “Wherever you go, there you are.” When I’m typing this, I’m totally absorbed in the typing. When I’m experiencing irony, there I am, feeling ironic. Sincerity eats irony! In Lacanian, “there is no metalanguage.”
This is a very curious phenomenon, one that confirms my suspicion that we have entered an ecological era. A few moments ago we were delighting in our ironic free play. Now it seems we’re stuck to the mirror, like Neo in that scene in The Matrix.
We are caught in object-ive existence whether we like it or not.
–– Timothy Morton, from his fascinating blog, ECOLOGY WITHOUT NATURE
A baby vomits curdled milk. She learns to distinguish between the vomit and the not-vomit, and comes to know the not-vomit as self. Every subject is formed at the expense of some viscous, slightly poisoned substance, possibly teeming with bacteria, rank with stomach acid. The parent scoops up the mucky milk in a tissue and flushes the wadded package down the toilet.
Now we know where it goes.
For some time we may have thought that the U-bend in the toilet was a convenient curvature of ontological space that took whatever we flush down it into a totally different dimension called Away, leaving things clean over here. Now we know better: instead of the mythical land Away, we know the waste goes to the Pacific Ocean or the wastewater treatment facility.
Knowledge of the hyperobject Earth, and of the hyperobject biosphere, presents us with viscous surfaces from which nothing can be forcibly peeled. There is no Away on this surface, no here and no there. In effect, the entire Earth is a wadded tissue of vomited milk.
— Timothy Morton, from “Hyperobjects” (University of Minnesota Press, 2013)