Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The American Chicken

Here's a little bit of Hyperobjects. I'm working with a very gifted artist on something and we are talking about how “weird” we need to get on this project. I'm the spokesperson for weird. Here's why.

We need to get out of the persuasion business and start getting into the magic business, or the catalysis business, or the magnetizing business, or whatever you want to call it. Using reason isn't wrong. But with an object this huge, this massively distributed, this counterintuitive, this transdimensional, it's not enough simply to use art as some kind of candy coating on top of facts. We can't just be in the PR business. Percy Shelley put it beautifully when he wrote “We [lack] the creative faculty to imagine that which we know.” That was back in 1820 and it's only gotten worse.

The other trouble with the candy approach, or the reason-only approach (its twin in many ways, really), is that human beings are currently in the denial phase of grief regarding their role in the Anthropocene. It's too much to take in at once. Not only are we waking up inside of a gigantic object, like finding ourselves in the womb again, but a toxic womb—but we are responsible for it. And we know that really we are responsible simply because we can understand what global warming is. We don't really need reasons—in fact reasons inhibit our responsible action, or seriously delay it. No neonatal or prenatal infant is responsible for her mother's toxic body. Yet that is the situation we find ourselves in—on the one hand terrifyingly regressing, on the other hand, enragingly implicating.

It's like the joke about the man who ended up in an asylum as he was paranoid that he was being stalked by a gigantic chicken. Upon being released, he returns a few weeks later, sweating and terrified. The chief psychiatrist tries to reassure him: “But you know that there is no chicken.” “I know that,” says the man—“But try telling that to the chicken.” This is the urgent question of our age. How do we convince the chicken—in particular, the American chicken—that she doesn't exist? In other words, how do we talk to the unconscious? Reasoning on and on is a symptom of how people are still not ready to go through an affective experience that would existentially and politically bind them to hyperobjects, to care for them. We need art that does not make people think (we have quite enough environmental art that does that), but rather that walks them through an inner space that is hard to traverse.

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