“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

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Talking Emoji: OOO and Whimsy

While finishing Ecology without Nature I was playing around with an aesthetic I thought was utopian. It was a combination of irony and sentimentality (for want of a better word): empathetic irony maybe.

See the trouble with Nature is awfully largely an aesthetic problem, and that doesn't mean it's meaningless or insignificant. Nature means distance means standing reserve means domination means yonder means metaphysics of presence. Fields of wheat as far as the eye can see without a wind farm in sight. Without irony. Irony reduced to sheer cynical distance. You know: modernity.

I became interested in objects that are considered kitsch, i.e. the shit art of the other. Kitsch is always the kitsch of the other. Greasy, tactile, googly eyed.

Ian Bogost showed me how to use emoji on my iPhone last night and I think I'm in love. In Taiwan you see Buddhist shrines replete with Snoopy and Hello Kitty. Whimsy.

There's an interesting thing going on with language with emoji. You can use emoji to say something like a word. Or you can make a rebus like bee-leaf. Or you can just send a piece of cake to someone's phone. 

In Gulliver's Travels there's an island where philosophers, fed up with language, communicate with things. The trouble is, they need limitless sacks on their backs to have a basic conversation.

Those philosophers forgot irony, and indeed as an OOO-er I see irony as hard wired into the fabric of things, since there is a gap between appearance and essence. How a thing appears (for me, for a salt shaker) is never what it is. Irony is the aesthetic exploitation of a gap, and since causality is aesthetic, causality is ironic.

There is a certain kawaii aesthetic of empathetic cuteness with a lemon twist of irony in what I think is OOO. I think I found the utopian aesthetic I was after in Ecology without Nature, but it's a lot more than just human and a lot more than just political. It's ontological.

All this becoming-wolf, becoming-intense stuff, all the migraine inducing nihilism—doesn't it lack the rich irony of a rubber finger monster? Especially when that finger monster is on the kitchen shrine of the most serious Buddhist I know, my hosts here in Boulder, Alan and Aly?

And isn't that lack of irony and empathy combined a symptom that these sorts of thinking are still within modernity? Which created the Anthropocene?

Isn't that one reason why Expressionism (à la Ensor) still has some ecological political mileage in it: because it's horrifying and funny?


Henry Warwick said...


Atomic Geography said...

My comments are in the spirit of exploring the ideas you bring up here. So I wonder if...

Combining irony and empathy is combining two opposite states ie it is an experience of bardo. So they are there all the time whehter we like ot or not. It seems to me more a question of if and how we work with them.

Sugesting it is more than human or political, that it's *ontological* suggests it is also a kind of rushing about, of asuras-ness, of modernity.

So I wonder about the impusle to exploit the gap, rather than to recognie it and let it be whatever it is.