Increasingly I find myself thinking of– no doubt because of the influence of Morton –OOO in ecological terms. As I think is very evident in all of my work, I have always been a very process-oriented, relational, and ecological thinker. Spinoza and Whitehead, for example, were among the first philosophers I discovered in high school, quickly followed by Heidegger’s Being and Time, whose account of world as a relational structure of references fascinated me from the start. In this respect, coming around to Graham’s object-oriented ontology was a titanic shift in my own thought. Indeed, the debate between relation and substance was the theme of our epic email discussion a couple of years ago. Needless to say, Graham kicked my ass in that debate, an admission that those who have argued with me on the blog or at conferences, I think, people can appreciate.
What, then, is ecology within an object-oriented framework? As I think through Morton’s project of dark ecology and how I’d like to take it up as my own project, I’m struck first of all by how he challenges sacred cows of ecology such as the thesis that nature exists. Morton’s thesis, as I understand it, is not that everything is culture (the thesis of Modernity that divides between nature and culture), but rather that there is “no out-of-field”). This comes out with great clarity in The Ecological Thought, where he argues that we are perpetually embroiled in ecological relations that prevent us from saying or arguing that nature is something “out there”, “over there”, that we can go to on weekends when we wish to go rock climbing. Instead, what we have as a field of immanence.
However, when Morton’s thought is pushed to its extreme– especially his claims about strange strangers –I believe that he is making a profound claim about the non-relationality of relations. Objects or substances enter into relations, but they are not constituted by their relations. This way of viewing the strange strangers that become ever the more stranger the more we know them, that withdraw all the more the more they’re related to, is already suggested in Morton’s early Derrideanism. For there, in Morton’s thesis that ecological relations are deconstructable, we implicitly encounter attention to the fact that every strange stranger exceeds every horizon of relations within which it finds itself, functioning as a sort of ontological turbulence that has the potential to disrupt any mesh of relations.
As I think through all of this, I wonder whether the darkest darkness of Morton’s dark ecology doesn’t lie in the implicit assertion of the autonomy of substances. In certain respects, this already comes out in Morton’s critique of what he calls “beautiful soul syndrome” in his early work. Far from a relationist perspective, dark ecology would be a position that attends as rigorously as possible to meshes of exo-relations or what I call regimes of attraction, while simultaneously emphasizing that every substance harbors the volcanic power of exceeding all its relations, of disrupting all ecologies, of overturning all harmonies. This, I believe, is already suggested by Morton’s Darwinism– and I’d love to write a book with him some day on Darwin as a revolutionary philosophical thinker –where free floating, nomadic, and mobile differences embodied in an organism can overturn all established ecological relations (ecology has yet to catch up with Darwin, that profound thinker of substance, as paradoxical as that might sound). And here the darkest reaches of dark ecology would lie in the thesis that the relationism and process oriented that current haunts ecological thought is a symptom or a response to the horror at the thought that all substances harbor within themselves the possibility of disrupting all ecological relations, all harmonies, all temporarily stabilized systems, setting them in motion and forcing them to become. In Lacanian terms, the dominant trends in ecological thoughts would be attempts to fill in the void or the empty place embodied by every substance, denying the volcanic powers hidden in substances. A mature ecology (i.e., a dark ecology) would give up on this comforting myth of the related and processual, recognizing the unwisdom of nature (as Nietzsche noted at the beginning of Beyond Good and Evil), the waste of nature, or that which contains within it the possibility of disrupting all networks. As such, it would denounce all ludditry, all primitivism, and become capable of tracking those strange strangers that disrupt all networks and of imagining the composition of networks without reference to the artificial and the natural.