Global Warming and Other Hyperobjects |

Via, the Los Angeles Book Review: Global Warming and Other Hyperobjects, we get a pretty lacking review of Tim Morton’s Hypobjects book. There’s this paragraph, for instance:

Theory is not an academic discipline. Philosophers reading Hyperobjects might groan and protest (see Nathan Brown’s review of Morton’s recent Realist Magic), but Morton is not doing philosophy, he is sampling it. Likewise with the most recent advances in theoretical physics, appearing in this book in spades, along with some writing about avant-garde arts and music. It’s a strange mash-up, this theory stuff. You don’t read theory to advance the discipline you might belong to — you read it for stimulation, which is why Hyperobjects will find a broad educated readership across the world. And it is good that it should. The destiny of the planet is his topic, after all.

Well as someone in a philosopher department who does “theory,” let me groan a bit. This is what gives “theory” a bad name–that it’s just “sampling” and not “advancing” ideas–“a strange mash-up.” Also, Nathan Brown is not in a philosophy department–but in English. The review provides a nice summary of many of Morton’s arguments, which seems to suggest it’s not just a “mash-up,” but makes sustained points. (My copy is on a shelf back home so I’ll have something more sustained on it when I get back to it, but my point is more about how theory is [positively] described here.)

5 comments

  1. Yea, the passage above gives you his cynical take on literary professors trying to be philosophers:

    “What he does is “theory,” which is what high-flying professors of English write when they are not training people to read literature. Those who read Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory in college will be familiar with the genre. It comprises difficult material made a little more accessible, and even enjoyable, via rhetorical flourishes, brilliant and breathtaking connections (Marx, God, Wordsworth, and cornflakes might appear in the same sentence), and sometimes it includes combat sports, as rival critical theories are pummelled into the ground.”

    I’m surprise he hasn’t tried that on Slavoj Zizek who incorporates high/low culture routinely into his philosophical divigations. His apparent jest at humor falls flat. Strange that he comes to praise Tim’s work and begins by lowering the boom in such a fashion. Too bad, Tim deserves better than that. He does the same thing in his review of Bruno Latour as well disparaging the notion of the intellectual and his standing as a national issue: “Curious, the way the French worry about their intellectual standing, for which they use the English word, taking their philosophers to be the barometers of the national reputation.” It seems he likes to open with such supposedly offhand cynical appraisals, while then actually exploring the work at hand in otherwise even handed terms. Maybe the reviewer just needs to know his attempts at humor are neither funny nor pertinent to the reviews. Groucho Marx might have pulled it off but Stephen Muecke is no stand up comedian much less a cynic of the caliber of Groucho…

    1. Yeah, agreed. Talk about damning with praise. That’s why I had to link to it since either the author is aware that this is harsh and didn’t have the guts to say it, or doesn’t realize it and yet was harsher than Brown was in his own way. (That’s not to say I think Tim’s style is indeed the same as you’d find in X philosopher, or that it should be–what is taken as rigor is often a sign of rigor mortis–but this review has a depiction of “theory” [whatever that even means at this point] as somehow opposed or wholly different than philosophy], which basically is a point that is just wrong–some of the best philosophers are simply not in philosophy depts.)

      1. Excellent point: “some of the best philosophers are simply not in philosophy depts”. When we think about it academic philosophy began after Kant in that sense, and even in the nineteenth century both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche did their work as independents. How many others in the past century due to war, etc. have done their best work outside of the academy? And, even now due to the political aspects many are forced to work in foreign universities due to the orthodoxies of Continental and Analytical modes controlling these very departments in either Europe or America. But that brings up other issues … for me at least, even the use of or reduction to any category, philosopher included, seems erroneous and universalizing. Why should one put a label on the activities of thinking? That’s like the debates over What is Philosophy? Is it as Deleuze and Guattari suggest “the creation of concepts”? Or is this to restrictive? One could debate such issues to doomsday, the point of philosophy is a search for Wisdom. And that is something we sorely lack and need in our moment.

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