Perhaps not surprisingly, the reactions to Morton have been intense and polarized. Hyperobjects has (and hyper-objects have) been called “pessimistic”, “provocative”, “powerless”, “groundbreaking”, “disturbing” and just “weird”. At the same time, Morton’s ideas have found a passionate – and growing – readership outside the traditional academic world that draws everyone from artists and musicians to science fiction writers, architects and students.
For almost ten years since its release, Hyperobjects has been referenced in a Buddhist blog post on ecological crisis, a New York Times op-ed on digital privacy and a BBC report on how concrete will soon outweigh all living matter on the planet. Technology writers invoke the term as a way of talking about the incomprehensibility of algorithms and the Internet; science fiction writer Jeff VanderMeer has said that it nicely describes the bizarre alien phenomenon he wrote about in Destruction, his surrealist novel became a film in 2018. The Icelandic musician Björk has reached out to Morton to talk hyper objects, and their email correspondence became part of a MoMA exhibition. In 2019, Adam McKay, fhv Saturday Night Live lead author and co-creator of a pile of hit Hollywood comedies, was so inspired by Morton’s work that he named his production company Hyperobject Industries. “You can feel that your brain is changing a little bit because you haven’t even considered that option,” McKay says. “It’s Timothy. Every side of their writing has that feeling.”
Then Covid happened, along with an accelerating number of devastating natural disasters attributed to climate change, and Morton’s ideas became about as popular as it is possible for enigmatic philosophical concepts to become. They even appeared in a Canadian parliamentary debate on the pandemic. “We’re seeing something bigger than us, something bigger than we could have ever imagined,” said Charlie Angus, a Member of Parliament. “Timothy Morton calls it a hyper-object, something we can not even fully understand. That’s the power of this pandemic. “Desperate to understand – or accept that they could not understand – these enormous, interconnected forces, more and more people found resonance in what Morton had to say.” Hyperobjectives were already here, ” as Morton wrote in their book, “and slowly but surely we understood what they were saying. They contacted us. “
The message some readers heard on the arrival of these phenomena was frightening: Look at our deeds, you mighty ones, and despair. But there is another message in Morton’s book, one that Morton increasingly praises as hopelessness threatens to paralyze so many: Our sense of “the world” may be coming to an end, but humans are not doomed. In fact, the end of this limited notion of the world may also be the only thing that can save us from ourselves.
“How do you do tell someone in a dream that they are a character in a dream? “Morton asks the first time I meet them. We’re in the same little Houston neighborhood where I spent a year in a pandemic lockdown with my brother. It’s August, and hot, just like Houston is always hot in the summer: so humid that walking out the front door feels like stepping into a blistering, slightly thicker dimension.Morton has picked me up in their kicky Mazda3 and we’re on our way to Menil Collection, a museum and an art collection housed in five buildings, including a chapel, across 30 acres.
Born in London and educated in Oxford, Morton – who moved to Texas in 2012 for the job at Rice – is soft-spoken but intense. The day we meet, they are wearing a shirt covered in green leaves that fade in and out of existence. There’s no way to persuade people in a dream to wake up, Morton says as we head out over vast highways where the stereo blows up a mix of 70s prog rock, deep house and shoegaze. “You can not negotiate with them. You have to blow their minds. “
Talking to Morton, like reading their writing, is a slightly psychedelic experience full of poetic leaps and revolving spirals through a dizzying array of topics: Star Wars, Buddhist meditation, romantic poetry, David Lynch, quantum physics, Muppet Show. One moment they’re talking about the planet’s death and Heidegger’s and Derrida’s subtleties, and the next they’s convincingly explain to me why PM Dawn’s 1991 R & B hit “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” is one of the greatest artistic achievements of all. time, and why Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon is a radical democratic ecological being that “heralds the possibility of a new age.” None of it is non-sequitur, but the ideas can feel out of reach, like a magical eye image that is on the verge of becoming visible. Because Morton so often talks about things that cannot be talked about directly, the only way to locate them is to circle around them and gesture with metaphors that almost touch but not completely.