Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Spokesvultures for Ecological Awareness: An Interview with Timothy Morton

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Spokesvultures for Ecological Awareness: An Interview with Timothy Morton

Article excerpt

PROFESSOR TIMOTHY MORTON, Rita Shea Guffey Chair in English at Rice University, delivered two lectures at the University of Manitoba in the winter of 2016: the first as the Sydney Warhaft Distinguished Visiting Speaker for the Faculty of Arts and the second as the keynote for the Faculty of Architecture's Atmosphere Conference. The lectures were titled, respectively, "On Ecological Touching: Knowing (as) Intimacy" and "Escape from Mesopotamia, 12,000 Years Too Late," the recordings of which are available on his blog, www.ecologywithoutnature.blogspot.com.

Professor Morton is author of Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence (Columbia, 2015), Nothing: Three Inquiries into Buddhism and Critical Theory (co-authored with Marcus Boon and Eric Cazdyn, Chicago, 2015), Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minnesota, 2013), Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality (Open Humanities, 2013), The Ecological Thought (Harvard, 2010), Ecology without Nature (Harvard, 2007), seven other books, and over one hundred and twenty essays on subjects ranging from philosophy to food politics. He is also an active scholar in the field of Object-Oriented Ontology, the ooo school inaugurated by Graham Harman, Professor of Philosophy at SCI-ARC, Los Angeles.

During his visit to Canada, Professor Morton graciously agreed to be interviewed by Caitlin McIntyre and Dana Medoro. McIntyre and Medoro are also animal-rights activists, working to ban the use of intensive confinement systems in Canadian animal agriculture. They started reading Professor Morton's work a few years ago, initially having been thoroughly intrigued by his concept of agrilogistics: the "dark uncanniness" of the Anthropocene, as Morton defines it, through which the entire surface of Earth has been placed at the mercy of human agricultural existence, no matter how many other species die for it, no matter how crushing it becomes for fellow humans.

In the interview that follows, Professor Morton discusses and expands upon many of the ideas that make their way into two of his recent books, Hyperobjects and Dark Ecology, from agrilogistics and Dasein, to gluten phobia and Marxism. The interview was conducted in person, over beer, and showcases not only Morton's philosophical reflections but also his warm, wry sense of humour.

TIMOTHY MORTON: Agrilogistics is a violent understanding of capital-N Nature, against which the notion of human progress defines itself; domestication, agriculture, civilization--the claiming that these systems exist outside of or opposed to something called Nature. I'm not proposing we un-domesticate animals and return to a pre-Neolithic state; you can't escape civilization. It's violent to endorse that, a kind of Pol Pot ideology, in which everyone wearing glasses is now suspect, as if we can bomb ourselves back to the Stone Age. What we need to notice is that we never left the agricultural system that started twelve thousand years ago--when "human civilization" began--and we never left being animals ourselves.

This is where something like gluten becomes a kind of evil! Two-thirds of Americans are gluten free and they don't understand why. It's the next magic bullet, announcing: "The evil is in the gluten. Get rid of the gluten and everything will be fine." This new phase is worse than the Atkins diet: the get-back-to-the-Paleolithic diet (and pay no attention to your heart attack). This gluten thing is more intense, though. We've all decided that everything in our life will be okay if we have no gluten--or if we can upgrade the Roundup. That is, we think we can get agrilogistics right and return to a functioning-smoothly of the world, which never existed in the first place. At its base, this is all a desire to get rid of ambiguity--to get rid of the paradox that the world is always a functioning-malfunctioning thing. Everything is broken. The lure of the idea that when things smoothly function, then the dark parts disappear: this is a metaphysical trap. …

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