“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Benjamin and Latour: Questions on Hyperobjects 1

Christy Reynolds, who gave a great paper a De Paul a few weeks ago, writes:

First, the hyper-object reminds me of concepts/entities discussed by other thinkers: Latour's "hybrid," and then the Paris Arcades, as they appear in Benjamin's Passagenwerk. For Latour, a hybrid (such as climate change) emerges from the partition of our thought into discrete disciplines; it is the monstrous problem that emerges out of our theoretical and empirical "blindspots," and we need interdisciplinary thinking to bring it in better view and to more fully address it. Much like hyper-objects, they are not fully seen or understood by us, and we cannot be disentangled from them. And turning to Benjamin, his dialectical image of the Arcades leads to a much larger history of Europe, specifically one in which the present situation is revealed in all its urgency (and thus the reader is implicated in this constellation). How would you compare the hyper-object with these two things?

It isn't hard to compare the hyperobjects to these things—in the negative as regards Latour, and somewhat positively as regards Benjamin.

The hyperobject is not a function of our knowledge, it's hyper relative to worms, lemons and ultraviolet rays as well as humans. It's an object that exists in a higher than 3D phase space.

Now cities could easily be described as hyperobjects, and I suppose that the Paris Arcades would be a good example of a complex fold in a city, complex enough perhaps to count as a hyperobject in their own right. Benjamin seems determined to mimic this form in his convolutes.