Guided Reading: Timothy Morton’s ‘Hyperobjects’

Semester: WS 19/20
Lecturer: Univ.-Lekt. Mag. Dr. Kristina Pia Hofer, M.A.

In this course, we read in full length and discuss in depth Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects, which is a key work for making critical sense of and engaging with large-scale, entangles phenomena like the current climate crisis. Students were asked to prepare assigned chapters at home, so that we could work with them in the plenary sessions. Together, we developed reading strategies for effectively processing a complex primary text, while at the same time learning about its content and meaning.

The book Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World by Timothy Morton offers 201 pages of text. Speaking of understanding, I would not say that I was able to comprehend all pages as some parts were challenging for me to reflect on. Some terms were new, and some words I had to look up. Some connections I have not yet made, and some concepts were far away.

Although I was not able to grasp every detail and thought of the book, I realized that I got more familiar with ideas if I connected them with other topics/themes I read or heard about outside Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects. The concept which, therefore, stuck to me is the effect called the uncanny valley. The term is used in robotics and refers to the rising similarity of a robot to a human until the ratio between humanness and machine-likeness is uncomfortable to humans at that point. Having read about the concept in a paper discussing the human-robot collaboration, I was able to understand the term uncanny valley a bit more when it was mentioned relating to Hyperobjects. Here the definition is used philosophically, as I recall, by not only specifying it in a human-robot environment, but also by referring to it as an assumption about lifeforms and, therefore, a tool for racism. In other words, victims of racism get more uncanny to the racist as a robot.

Another concept that stayed with me was the reflection on nature, or what we perceive as such. A term that we, humans, eagerly use to describe or name subjects, objects, or a feeling. A term that should not be used as it does not include and can never include nature. The realization of humans being unable to define nature but still referring to it in a more than naturally way, is a paradox in itself and, therefore, for me one of the key propositions for Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects.

Literature

  • Morton, Timothy. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.