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Dark Ecological Chocolate

Timothy Morton

Dark ecology starts off dark as in depressing. Then it becomes dark as in mysterious. Then it ends dark as in sweet dark chocolate. In this lecture I'm going to provide an experiential map of dark ecology—a phenomenology to be more precise.


What are the chemicals that make up ecological awareness? I'm going to argue that they form a very distinctive pattern and that we are traversing through this pattern right now, as if we were eating into a chocolate. But we are only on our first or second bite. There are two more big bites to go. On the third bite, all kinds of deliciously flavored liquids start to pour out, in a way that I like to think of in a very basic set theoretical way, a way that subverts the basic theistic hence patriarchal-agrilogistical belief we have that wholes are bigger that the sums of their parts, an idea that has no basis in logic at all.

Once we have a feel for the phenomenology, we can figure out what kinds of art process and practice we want to involve ourselves in with a much greater sense of power and accuracy.

Where we’re going to land is, pleasure. Sexuality. Or to be more precise, sexualities. I wouldn’t dare to spell out everything in this region—but I think I found the airport, which is more than you can say for some pilots of some planes to Kirkenes, he hinted. That is, I think I found the airport where the ecological art lives. It’s a pleasure airport. It’s not an efficiency airport. I never ever want to visit the efficiency airport. Why? Because the efficiency airport is a petro-culture airport. If you think that ecological art is keyed to the denial and policing of pleasure then you are still messing around in petro-space and this is precisely the problem, no?

The basic chemical of pleasure space is intimacy and the basic chemical of intimacy is solidarity so let’s explore that one for a moment. That feeling and more than a feeling of being-one-with.

Solidarity describes a state of physical and political organization, and it describes a feeling. This itself it interesting, because it cuts against a dominant, default ontological trend, default since the basic social, psychic and philosophical foreclosure of the human–nonhuman symbiotic real that we call the Neolithic. Let's think up a dramatic Game of Thrones sounding name for it. Let's call it The Severing.

Why this dramatic name? Well, I really do think that it's some kind of trauma, a trauma that we keep reenacting on and among ourselves (and obviously on and among other lifeforms). It creates a basic, in itself traumatic fissure between, to put it in those starkly cut and dried Lacanian terms, reality (the human–correlated world) and the real (ecological symbiosis of human and nonhuman parts of the biosphere). The cut and driedness of the Lacanian model is itself an artifact of The Severing, derived in large part from Hegel's defensive reaction against the shockwave sent by Kant's correlationist ontology. For Hegel, the difference between what a thing is and how it appears is internal to the subject, which in the largest sense for him is Geist, that magical slinky that can go upstairs all the way to the top, where the Prussian state hangs out. The thing in itself is totally foreclosed, thought only as an artifact of the strong correlationist thought space; strong correlationist as opposed to weak correlationist, which is Kant and OOO, where there is a gap but it's not inside the subject, it's in the thing (or things, however many there are—I'm not the object police so I can't tell you!).

I'm fonder of Lyotard's way of thinking about all this. For Lyotard, the real-reality boundary must be perforated, like a sponge. Stuff leaks through. (It makes better Freudian sense too.) There is a loose, thick, wavy line between things and their phenomena, expressed in the dialectical tension between what Lyotard calls discourse and what he calls figure. Figure can bleed into discourse, by which Lyotard means something physical, nonrepresentational, “silent” perhaps in the sense that Freud describes the drives as silent. Figure can melt out of discourse like cherry flavored liquid melting out of a chocolate.

So solidarity in this light means human psychic, social and philosophical being resisting The Severing. This is not as hard as it seems, because the basic symbiotic real requires no maintaining by human thought or psychic activity—we have been telling ourselves that humans, in particular human thought, makes things real for so long that this sounds absurd or impossible. Solidarity, a thought and a feeling and a physical and political state, seems in its pleasant confusion of feeling-with and being-with, appearing and being, phenomena and thing, to be not just gesturing to this non-severed real, but to emerge from it, since in a way it is just the noise that symbiosis is already making. In this way, solidarity is not only the nicest feeling and political state (and so on) it's also the cheapest and most readily available! Precisely because it relies on the basic, default symbiotic real.

Solidarity is a word used for the “fact” (as the OED puts it) of “being perfectly united or at one.” And solidarity is also used for the constitution of a group as such, the example given being the notorious notion of “the human race,” aka species, aka the dreaded Anthropos of the dreaded Anthropocene, which we all need to be thinking in all kinds of ways rather than wishing this embarrassing seeming generalization seeming race, class and gender specificity-stripping Enlightenment horror, and lurking behind this, another transparent monster, the concept of species as such. And solidarity can mean community. In other words, solidarity presses all the wrong buttons for us post-68 New Left educated people. No wonder Hardt and Negri spend so much time finessing it into a diffuse deterritorial feeling of rhizomatic something or other, at the end of their magnum opus Empire.

We want something like solidarity to be as un-solid and as un-together as possible. We want something perhaps like the community of those who have nothing in common (Lingis), a community of unworking or inoperation (Nancy). On the other hand, we are obsessed with systems and how they emerge magically from simple differences that, in the Batesonian lingo, make a difference. In other words, we are either resisting an agricultural-age religion or we are promoting it by other means. In either case we are operating with reference to agricultural religion, which is the experiential, social and thought mode 1.0 (if you like) of The Severing. Houston, we have a problem.

What is the default characteristic of this thought mode? It is what I am now calling explosive holism. Explosive holism is a belief, never formally proved but retweeted everywhere all the time, that the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. Either you are down with that—because you are a traditional theist or you are into cybernetics (or any number of deployments of this concept)—or you are the kind who shows their behind to the political father, as Roland Barthes put it. You are in church or you are thumbing your nose at church. In either case, there is a church. And this is the problem.

Truly getting over Neolithic theism and its various upgrades would be equivalent to achieving ecological awareness in social, psychic and philosophical space. Because these modes of coexisting and thinking and feeling are artifacts of The Severing. It would be tantamount to allowing at least some of the symbiotic real to bleed through into human thought space, let alone human social and psychic space. So it sounds quite important. And I claim that what is blocking our ability to do so is in part a deep and therefore structural set theory that thinks wholes as greater than the sum of their parts. Such a theory turns wholes—community, biosphere (aka Nature in this case), the universe, the God in whose angry hands we are sinners—into a being radically different from us, radically bigger (transcendentally bigger, aka you can't get there from here), some kind of gigantic invisible being that is inherently hostile to little us. We are about to be subsumed, the drop is going to be absorbed into the ocean—Western prejudices about Buddhism perhaps are negative thoughts about explosive holism leaking into the thought space conditioned by that very holism, projected onto a so-called Eastern religion. It isn't very difficult to discern within this fear of absorption into the whole (along with its ecstatic shadow) the traditional patriarchal horror of the simple fact that (full respect to Levi Strauss) we came from others. The way contemporary Hegelian psychoanalytic prose seems to juice itself on the uncanny over and over again is an in some ways quite embarrassing Stockholm-Syndrome-like constant reassertion (needing to be reasserted to maintain the strong real-reality boundary) that we came out of vaginas. I mean, it shouldn't be that big of a deal. The moment at which it isn't a big deal, and so no longer uncanny in the sense of horrifying—though perhaps uncanny in the softer sense of being irreducibly strange, because it involves undecideable host-parasite symbiotic logics—is the moment at which imperial neoliberal “Western” patriarchal thought space will have collapsed.

The fossil fuel economy is a “culture of energy” that conditions us to hold incompatible, symmetrically flawed versions of alienation and not only do you lose something when you opt for one or the other, you are just messing about in petro-space. On the one hand, alienation means you are separated from some identifiable essence of the human, from Nature. Appearances are fake. Or alienation means you are conditioned to think that there is some essence, precisely—the essence is fake.

Either way, you are deprived of the symbiotic real, the one in which appearing and being are deeply, irreducibly intertwined in a way that the Trickster-like beings of first peoples’ cultures exemplify. You are stuck with fake appearance or fake reality. You can’t get here—to the symbiotic real—from there—anthropocentric correlationist essentialist theories of alienation. You are stuck with some kind of severing of intimacy with physical being, with lifeforms, with pleasures, and I’m the kind of communist who thinks that it’s about more pleasure than consumerism, not less, so that consumerism shows a not exactly clearly lighted but nevertheless lighted path to the exit. Sorry, eco puritans.

That’s one of the big problems, actually. We think the ecological future in the key of oil, in other words, in the key of a restricted economy. We think about restraint. We think about guilt and redemption. We think about getting the A from the latest upgrade of the invisible patriarch, even if her new name is Gaia. So we’re not going to go to explosive holism. We’re going to go with implosive holism, which I call subscendence, aka the whole is always less than the sum of its parts. It’s incredibly easy to understand if you accept that if things exist then they exist in the same way. A whole is one—the parts that comprise it are by definition more than one. They exist equally with the whole—so the whole is always less than them! I find this seemingly bizarre idea incredibly easy to think, like letting yourself slide down a water slide. It sounds daft but only because the patriarchal agrilogistical programming is telling you that it’s daft, and that water slides are dangerous.

Sometimes it's useful in life to subtract the content of the thought and look at the attitude with which it is being held. It's not exactly what you think but how you think it that poses the problem. So we shall examine not the content of ecological thoughts but the attitude with which those thoughts are held, attitudes that are mutually constitutive of the reality they describe. These attitudes are all about how we relate to pleasure…

Each deeper layer of the chocolate is a phenomenological reduction of the layer around it. The outer sugar coating is guilt, a very low-resolution version of what we discover as we descend into the chocolate. Guilt is intimately connected with reification. It’s pleasure upside down: Thou shalt not enjoy thyself—which is a fantastic way of enjoying yourself. We will find different kinds of laughter in layer of the chocolate. Laughter here is guilty laughter: the uneasy laughter of someone who begins to feel complicit in what they are finding out; the laughter of secret enjoyment.

As we bite into the chocolate we'll see that each region has an upper and a lower bound. The upper bound of guilt proclaims that you can somehow get rid of the guilt. The lower bound tells you that guilt is irreducible: you will never be able to shake it off. Which brings us to shame.

The chocolate layer is shame, just as shame is chronologically prior to guilt in childhood and in human history. Shame does have some ecological functionality, because it’s deeply connected to being-with: I feel it when I feel others looking at me. Yet I feel like killing myself or killing the other when I feel shame.[1] The upper bound of The Shame is a violent thrashing whereby I try to rid myself the stain. Here we find a shameful laughter that hides and reveals our deep physical complicity with other beings above and beyond the complicity of our enjoyment (guilt).

But the lower bound is just the trace of violence: abjection. Subjects are created when they force themselves to think that they are not made up of abject stuff, aka the symbiotic real starts to make itself felt.[2] As in the phrase “Shame on you.” I can't actually wipe it off. At this boundary there is a recognition of trauma, an acknowledgement that we never wiped away the vomit and never could, and by extension our body, our ancestors in our bones, the fish swim bladders in our lungs, the bacteria in our guts, the phantasms. We think about toxic plastics dripping down our throat when we drink a innocent glass of water. We experience symbiosis as trauma.

Without explicit content what would the aesthetics of shame feel like? James Turrell is a minimalist sculptor of photons, and his works employ subtle gorgeous electronic light. Turrell is exquisitely attuned to the elemental, “a givenness without explicit content, vivid and intense, not blank.”[3] One is immersed in vibrant color that seems to come all the way to the tip of one's nose, like rain or cold or tropical humidity. Abjection is elemental. It's not surprising then that modernity, capitalism and individualism have had trouble with the elemental, seeking to banish it from their easy wipe surfaces. The other word for this elemental givenness is magic. Let's jump further into the fog. It is hard to laugh here, overwhelmed and fascinated by the given. Perhaps just a nervous snicker, like the quiet chuckles as the laughter dies away at the haunting close of Pink Floyd's “Welcome to the Machine.”[4] The room goes quiet. Everyone is looking.

The laughter dies down and we find ourselves in the space I call The Melancholy, the cherry-flavored center of the chocolate. We have been hurt by the things that happened to us. But in a way to be a thing at all is to have been hurt. We are scarred with the traces of object cathexes. Trauma is not only human. The beautiful ridges in the glass are traces of the glass's own lost object cathexes. Things are printed with other things. Something about trauma is nonhuman.[5]

The upper bound of The Melancholy is an encounter with horror. Tragedy is the highest form of horror art: we become Oedipus putting his eyes out because he sees clearly, Oedipus from the lineage of weaponized agriculture. Here lives the maniacal laughter of horror. But for all our vivid awareness we are still very much in anthropocentric space: we try to straighten out loops and find the perfect meta position.

In The Horror we encounter the Uncanny Valley. In robotics design, it's common to note how the closer an android resembles a human the more disturbing it appears.[6] Zombies live in the uncanny valley because they ironically embody Cartesian dualism: they are animated corpses. The Uncanny Valley concept explains racism and is itself racist. Its decisive separation of the “healthy human being” and the cute R2D2 type robot (not to mention Hitler's dog Blondi, of whom he was very fond) opens up a forbidden zone of uncanny beings that reside scandalously in the Excluded Middle region. R2D2 and Blondi are cute because they are decisively different and less powerful.

As we descend through the abject realm of The Melancholy the Uncanny Valley smoothens itself out into a gigantic flat plain: the Spectral Plain. Ecological awareness takes place on the Spectral Plain whose distortion, the Uncanny Valley, severs the human and nonhuman worlds in a rigid way that spawns the disavowed region of objects that are also subjects. A rigid and thin concept of Life is what dark ecology rejects. A future society in which being ecological became a mode of violence still more horrifying than the neoliberalism that now dominates Earth would consist of a vigorous insistence on Life and related categories such as health. If that is what future coexistence means, beam me up Scotty.

In ecological awareness differences between R2D2-like beings and humans become far less pronounced; everything gains a haunting, spectral quality. The Nazi tactic of peeling off abjection while supporting animal rights isn't inconsistent at all. Scientistic speculative realism also lives in The Horror, the top level of the realm of abjection, the level where we have not yet discovered the Spectral Plain. A masochistic machismo reigns according to which I prove that my upside-down Satanic version of an Axial Age monotheistic god (perhaps it's called Cthulhu) who wants to kill me is much more horrific than yours.

Depression can lead to an autoimmune syndrome just like an allergic reaction, cleansing the world of ghosts and spirits, the “pathetic” sensations and feelings.[7] That is what accelerationism is hoping for. The name of this hope is despair. The deadly seriousness of Justine in Lars von Trier's Melancholia is evocative of speculative realist horror. “We are alone [in the universe]—I know things.”[8] This isn't scientifically accurate, though it claims to be. We have become allergic to chocolate, to pleasure. But we are too far in. We can't make our way back up to good old guilt. We need to find an alternative to horror as a host for intellect. Not aside from intellect, but inside.

We need to find within horror some form of laughter. The face of horror-knowledge is nothing but the face of the boy (underline boy) McCauley Culkin in Home Alone. The stereotyped behavior of someone locked into their style without knowing is inherently funny.[9] Laughter becomes ridicule.

Without quite realizing it at first we have entered a region called The Realm of Toys. And the first toy is the style of horror! We'll shortly discover that the Realm of Toys provides the blueprint for an ecological polity, a polity that includes nonhumans as well as humans. An ecological politics based on guilt underlies “return to Nature” tactics. Basing politics on horror necessitates some kind of resignation tinged with Schadenfreude. The Realm of Toys is much more playful and pleasurable. A lifeform, an engineering solution, a social policy, another lifeform—they join together and become another type of toy, in a sort of ecological Lego. Because of interdependence, there's always a missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle. There can never be The Toy, one toy to rule them all. Toys connect humans with nonhumans: a child's hand with a robot's arm, a piece of lettuce with a rabbit. And toys are nonhumans in themselves. An ecological future is toys at every scale without a top level that makes everything sensible, once and for all. Perhaps that was the problem all along. Suddenly, horror appears ridiculous and another kind of laughter breaks out.

In the middle of John Carpenter's movie The Thing, when it couldn't get much worse, the viral, morphing, oozing alien who imitates others, tricking and then devouring-imitating those who interact with it, has absorbed one of the characters in the Antarctic research station. The remaining crew are busy blowtorching most of the dripping Thing. But some of The Thing's mass escapes their attention in the form of the head of its latest victim. Under the table the upside-down head sprouts spider-like legs and begins to crawl out of the door, emitting weird breath-like distorted moans. It is at this point that one of the crew utters the immortal words, “You gotta be fucking kidding,” upon which they torch the spider-head.[10] We are in the subregion of the ridiculous where we encounter the art of the absurd. In this subregion toys appear to be demonic puppets. There is a toying around at this level, a mistreatment. The Ridiculous is a realm of satire and sarcasm, comedy with something missing. A meta-ness lingers here.

At some point you stop wanting to apply flames to contradictory toys. You start to collect them. A less violent abjection broods here, like a pale mist. It is almost beautiful. We are in the subregion called The Ethereal. We discover the whimsical toys of kitsch. The Ethereal is suffused with a strange goth feeling, like the room of replicant designer J.F. Sebastian in Blade Runner.[11] “Goth” here means the abject (and highly popular) underside of Romanticism, slightly too melodramatic and dark, and inclusive of pleasure—but a weird pleasure. Baudelaire intrigued by his abjection, sitting alone and feeling weird without recoiling in horror and without contextualizing his experience, as if beauty were still possible, but only on condition that we drop the anthropocentrism and relate to a truly unconditional beauty, including the unconditionality of no (human) standard of taste—the fringing of beauty with fascination, disgust and fear without trying to airbrush them out of the picture.

Kitsch is others' (inevitably weird or disgusting) enjoyment objects, evoking the intrinsically nonhuman aspect of enjoyment as such. But this gives rise to a very valuable insight. Even when I am having it, enjoyment isn't “mine.” It subscends my conceptual grasp. I'm sorry to break it to the avant garde but in an ecological age art will burst open into all kinds of funky pleasure, because there will be no single, authoritative scale from which to judge. The un-shocking idea that art should shock the bourgeoisie out of its complacency is what needs to be gently folded and put away.

As we melt into The Melancholy the difference some want to maintain between interest and fascination evaporates as the not-me object exerts its gravitational pull. The guardian of this region is Wall•E the garbage-collecting robot, who maintains a collection of gadgets and trinkets the humans have left behind on a trashed uninhabitable Earth.[12] There are no longer piles of trash because there is no longer anthropocentrism. Fascinated, I begin to laugh with nonhumans, rather than at them (horror and ridicule), or at and with my fellow humans about them (shame and guilt). The Melancholy doesn't know what the toys want. But it does know they want something. That there might be unknown pleasures (thanks Joy Division).

Something strangely beautiful lies in the region below, the boundary region between depression and the strange beauty. Trying to escape depression is depressing. We begin to recognize this loop as a hollowing out. The hollowing of depression in turn is recognized as a thing, which is to say a thing in all its withdrawn mystery. We are in a region called The Hollow. We are collapsing down, subscendending into a throng of more and more real objects. By real I mean not reified, not depending on a subject, not undermined or overmined: not reduced to atoms or fluxes or processes, or reduced upwards to correlates of some Decider. A weird joke is in process. Perhaps its style is best caught by Syd Barrett, inventor of glam and goth and whimsical toys, out of his mind and depressed and sad and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn:[13]


And the sea isn't green
And I love the Queen
And what exactly is a dream
And what exactly is a joke?


Now you see me, now you don't. Fleeting laughter resounds. We begin to enjoy contradiction (“And the sea isn't green”). We begin to relax our defense against ontological paranoia (“And what exactly is a dream”). We relish in ambiguity (“what exactly is a joke?”).

Inside the congealed Hollow is a liquid Sadness. This sadness is a liquid inside the wounds. It does not have an object, it is an object, and the best image for a this OOO kind of object is a liquid. This being-an-object is intimately related with the Kantian beauty experience, wherein I find experiential evidence without metaphysical positing that at least one other being exists. The Sadness is the attunement of coexistence stripped of its conceptual content. Since the rigid anthropocentric standard of taste with its refined distances has collapsed, it becomes at this level impossible to rebuild the distinction we lost in The Ethereal between being interested or concerned with (this painting, this polar bear) and being fascinated by… Being interested means I am in charge. Being fascinated means that something else is. Beauty starts to show the subscenent wiring under the board.

Take Björk. Her song “Hyperballad” is a classic example of what I’m trying to talk about here. She shows you the wiring under board of an emotion, the way a straightforward feeling like I love you is obviously not straightforward at all, so don’t write a love song like that, write one that says you’re sitting on top of this cliff, and you’re dropping bits and pieces of the edge like car parts, bottles and cutlery, all kinds of not-you nonhuman prosthetic bits that we take to be extensions of our totally integrated up to date shiny religious holistic selves, and then you picture throwing yourself off, and what would you look like—to the you who’s watching you still on the edge of the cliff—as you fell, and when you hit the bottom would you be alive or dead, would you look awake or asleep, would your eyes be closed, or open?

When you experience beauty you experience evidence in your inner space that at least one thing that isn't you exists. An evanescent footprint in your inner space—you don't need to prove that things are real by hitting them or eating them. A nonviolent coexisting without coercion. There is an undecidability between two entities—me and not-me, the thing. Beauty is sad because it is ungraspable; there is an elegiac quality to it. When we grasp it withdraws, like putting my hand into water. Yet it appears.

Beauty is virtual: I am unable to tell whether the beauty resides in me or in the thing—it is as if it were in the thing, but impossible to pin down there. The subjunctive, floating “as if” virtual reality of beauty is a little queasy—the thing emits a tractor beam in whose vortex I find myself; I veer towards it. The aesthetic dimension says something true about causality in a modern age: I can't tell for sure what the causes and effects are without resorting to illegal metaphysical moves.[14] Something slightly sinister is afoot—there is a basic entanglement such that I can’t tell who or what started it.

Beauty is the givenness of data. A thing impinges on me before I can contain it or use it or think it. It is as if I hear the thing breathing right next to me. From the standpoint of agricultural white patriarchy, something slightly “evil” is happening: something already has a grip on us, and this is demonic insofar as it is “from elsewhere.” This “saturated” demonic proximity is the essential ingredient of ecological being and ecological awareness, not some Nature over yonder.[15]

Interdependence, which is ecology, is sad and contingent. Because of interdependence, when I'm nice to a bunny rabbit I'm not being nice to bunny rabbit parasites. Amazing violence would be required to try to fit a form over everything all at once. If you try then you basically undermine the bunnies and everything else into components of a machine, replaceable components whose only important aspect is their existence. I assume you are sensitively aware of the ecological emergency we call the present—which has been happening in various forms for twelve thousand years. It is that there are logical limits on caring, a function of interdependence. Even the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara couldn't save all sentient beings at once. This is why his head exploded into a thousand heads. He subscends himself. His two eyes burst into a thousand. That's what compassion (which is the beauty feeling) feels like. It is here that we encounter a deeper laughter than the laughter of absurdity. The laughter is about feeling a thing but being unable to grasp it or of knowing something but of being unable to describe it. The style of a thing is always the slapstick impersonation of a thing. Toys in this region are silly. Here we arrive at a truly comic level, the breadth of coexistence. Giddy laughter begins to break out.

Inside that sadness liquid we reach a region called The Longing. In The Sadness we encounter at a certain point love for no reason, unconditional love. This is not different from longing, not a fullness denied by the supposed shallowness of longing. Why long for a polar bear or a forest or indeed a human? There is no good reason. The movement down here towards the center of the chocolate is from compassion to passion, the possibility condition for compassion. Longing is like depression that melted. The laughter of longing is a laughter of released energy no longer tied to a concept or an (objectified) object of any kind, free floating, amazed at its abundance.

And why longing? Because of joy. The basic toylike nature of things means that reality fundamentally is playful, dancing, raving, elemental. The laughter of joy is full on utter hilarity, accurately tracking ontological hilarity. Art begins to sound like dance music.

To locate the pathway towards The Joy we will need to examine how things can become too serious. When you are funny it means that you allow the irreducible gap between what you are and who you think you are to manifest, without tampering with it. You are radically accepting your finitude.[16] The “tears of a clown” form of comedic depression is when the the intellect can't bear mortality and finitude. It wants you to live forever. The “logical” conclusion to this path is the suicidal elimination of the host, like going into anaphylactic shock.

The agricultural logistics that now dominates Earth is depression manifesting in global space in an explosive holist form. The whole point is to fight one's way back from the brink (species-cidal and suicidal) towards the comedy. The neurologist Adam Kaplin asserts, “The worst part of depression is that it narrows the field of vision into a very small tube so they can't see the options.”[17] Maximum tube compression as far as my experiences of depression have been concerned has consisted of five minutes into the future and five minutes into the past. Humans find it hard to survive if their temporality is restricted to a diameter of ten minutes. Again, there is an ecological resonance here: agrilogistics compresses temporality to diameters that are dangerous to lifeforms, including humans, and how we inhabit Earth and coexist with other beings affects us too. Thinking that you or they can snap out of it is addiction speak akin to what Gregory Bateson calls the “heroic” style of alcoholism: I can master myself.[18] The trouble is that this thought is itself depression.

Agrilogistics is a one-size-fits-all depression temporality, a sad rigid thin grey tube. We are living inside depression objectified in built space. With its tiny temporality window agrilogistical depression space has turned the surface of Earth into a fatal place. As we have seen there is a simple Freudian idea for a fatal compulsion that keeps on retweeting: death drive.

Now to think the Joy, we simply invert these parameters. Instead of the fatal game of mastering oneself, we realize the irony of being caught in a loop, and how that irony does not bestow escape velocity from the loop. Irony and sincerity intertwine. This irony is joy, and the joy is erotic. As Jeffrey Kripal says about gnosis, this is thought having sex with itself.[19]

“Something” is “there”: the elemental givenness of the arche-lithic. Relation “between a being”—relation between a being and itself—is the possibility condition for any other relating. The warm safety of The Sadness depends on the safety and care of The Longing, which in turn depends on the basic effervescence of The Joy, an uncontainable, subscendent welling-up. This attunement is itself ecological because Joy functions without me. This Joy is not despite the tree, the seagull, the lichen; it is the elixir of their finitude.

In a sense all toys are sex toys to the extent that they enable links between beings and between a being. In The Joy there is an excess of links between a being over links between different beings. Is it too ungrammatical to say between the same being? Between the being that is oneself, even between thinking and itself. Although cloning is chronologically prior to sex, perhaps sex is logically prior to cloning. We consider here certainly not a heteronormative sex but sex for its own sake, whose prototype is denigrated as narcissistic.

The Joy is logically prior to life, deep inside life, the quivering between two deaths. Deep in the interior of life there are dancing puppets. Something radically nonutilitarian, outside “Life,” bankrolls evolution's utilitarian appearance with its play, empathy and mutual aid. Something radically nonutliarian is a possibility condition for the “work” of evolution, culture and agriculture, steam engines and the adult world.

In fully realized ecological awareness the chocolate has been turned inside out. A tiny crystal of guilt sugar is contained within a little ball of shame enveloped in a congealed sphere of melancholia swimming in a galaxy of sadness contained within a plasma field of joy. This plasma field is a Ganzfeld effect of affect, as in a blizzard or a light installation by James Turrell, where one's sense of distance evaporates. I find myself thrown out of my habitual sense of where I stop and start just as much as the curving walls and soft yet luminous colors melt the difference between over here and over there.

Abjection has been transfigured into what Irigaray calls nearness, a pure givenness in which something is so near that one cannot have it—a fact that obviously also applies to one's “self.”[20]

The Joy is not abstract or uniform but so intimate you can’t see it, and you can’t tell whether it’s inside or outside: the “cellular” experience of bonds tightening between beings.[21] The Joy is haptic, elemental: so close that you lose track of something to be seen. Here thought itself is a way of getting high: human attunement to thinking has been intoxicated into recognizing its nonhuman status. Not simply thinking ecologically (the ecological thought), but rather thought as susceptibility, thinking as such as ecology. The structure of thought as nonhuman.

Because of subscendence, there must be pleasure modes that can’t be co-opted, but we have to get to them by embracing the world we are in now, rather than trying to fix agricultural society 9.0 via agricultural society 3.0 or whatever. Unfortunately, all that stuff about need versus desire, which also affects things like Marxist theory, is about that kind of fix. We have to drop the illusion of some unsullied straight-up need that got twisted into desire. We have to go all the way through desire. I think these excessive pleasure modes will definitely be found in the regions and edges where humans and nonhumans touch in all sorts of ways, social, psychic, philosophical, physical. This is because consumerism is anthropocentrically scaled and so when you get really up close to a thing, it stops being anthropocentrically functional and thus ceases to be functional for consumerism, which is agricultural religion 9.0 or what have you.


Percy Shelley writes:

Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number

Ye are many! They are few! (**)


He forgot to add: not just in an empirical sense having to do with bodies you can count; but in an ontological sense having to do with the structure of how things actually are. We are many all the way down, because we are wholes that are always less than the sum of their parts. We don’t just combine into multitudes, we contain multitudes, as any self-respecting stomach bacterium will tell you.

We are many in the ontological sense too, and this implies that we can, should and will achieve solidarity with at least some nonhuman beings. The pathway towards this solidarity is at least partly about increasing and enhancing and differentiating more and more pleasures. Far from creating a restricted economy—that would be a disastrous repetition of the oil economy, where concepts such as efficiency and sustainability (both perfectly anthropocentrically, not to mention neoliberally, scaled) have wreaked havoc on happiness, whether one is human or not. Talk of efficiency and sustainability are simply artefacts of the relentless use of fossil fuyels. In a solar economy, you could have a disco in every single room of your house and no lifeform would suffer—or at least vanishingly few, compared to simply turning on the lights in an oil economy. You could have strobes and decks and lasers all day and night to your heart’s content.


The author gave this lecture at NIBIO Svanhovd in Norway during Dark Ecology Journey 2016.

TIMOTHY MORTON (US) is a professor and the Rita Shea Guffey Chair in English at Rice University, Houston. He is the author of Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence (2016), Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (2013), Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality (2013), The Ecological Thought (2010), Ecology without Nature (2007), seven other books and 120 essays on philosophy, ecology, literature, food and music.

Further reading:

Photo: Michael Miller


[1] For an extensive exploration see Ruth Leys, From Guilt to Shame: Auschwitz and After (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009).
[2] Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, tr. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 5–6.
[3] See page 000.
[4] Pink Floyd, “Welcome to the Machine,” Wish You Were Here (EMI, 1975).
[5] One of the best meditations on this is Dylan Trigg, The Thing: A Phenomenology of Horror (Alresford: Zero Books, 2014).
[6] Masahiro Mori, “The Uncanny Valley” (Bukimi no tani) tr. K. F. MacDorman and T. Minato. Energy, 7.4 (1970): 33–35.
[7] Brassier, Nihil Unbound, xi.
[8] Lars von Trier, dir. Melancholia (2011; Dallas, TX: Magnolia Pictures, 2011) DVD.
[9] Henri Bergson, Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, trans. Cloudesley Brereton (New York: Macmillan, 1911), 10.
[10] John Carpenter, dir., The Thing (Universal Studios, 1982).
[11] Ridley Scott, dir., Blade Runner (Warner Bros., 1982).
[12] Andrew Stanton, dir. Wall•E (Pixar Animation Studios, 2008).
[13] Syd Barrett, “Jugband Blues,” A Saucerful of Secrets, Pink Floyd, EMI Studios (1968).
[14] Judea Pearl, Causality: Models, Reasoning, and Inference (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 78–85.
[15] Again, see Jean-Luc Marion, In Excess.
[16] See Trebbe Johnson's Radical Joy for Hard Times,, accessed May 16, 2015.
[17] Cited in Lindsay Holmes, “Six Things Not to Say to Someone with Depression,” Huffington Post, January 29, 2014,, accessed April 30, 2015.
[18] (Bateson, “The Cybernetics of ‘Self’: A Theory of Alcoholism,” 309–337 (320–322).
[19] Jeffrey Kripal, The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion (Chicago: Univeristy of Chicago Press, 2006), 125.
[20] Irigaray, Sex, 31.
[21] Deleuze's concept of smoothness could come into play here: something so granular that we lose track of detail. See, for example, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, tr. Tom Conley (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993). I have also benefited from Kali Rubaii, “In the Path of the Witness-Perpetrator: Concrete and Chemicals in Anbar, Iraq,” paper given at Ethics, Agency and Aesthetics in the Anthropocene: A Symposium, UC Berkeley, April 17, 2015.

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