“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

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hyperobjects: Zones

"Objects emit zones. Wherever I find myself a zone is already happening, an autonomous zone, like a pair of carefully tuned sine waves that fills a house with a crisscrossing field of interference patterns (a brief description of La Monte Young's and Marian Zazeela's Dream House in New York). Eliane Radigue's astonishingly layered ARP syntheziser tones fill a church with resonances whose lowest frequencies are felt physically as much as in the ear. A dissonance at that sonic depth results in the body being physically shaken, literalizing what Adorno says about how art shudders and shatters the subject.[1] The music is not “about” the environment: it is an environment. Biogenesis is simply a recording of Radigue's heartbeat, alongside which the sound of the heartbeat of the baby in her uterus begins to be heard.[2] Played through speakers capable of transmitting the bass frequencies, such as the ones used at the 33⅓ exhibition at SFMOMA in 2003, Biogenesis reaches into the listener's body. Coexistence is forced on us, whether we like it or not. With their vibrant lines, the paintings of Bridget Riley and the aboriginal artist Yukultji Napangati emit zones that grip me in their wake, unleashing powers on my optic nerve. A human ethical or political decision is made already in the force fields of intermeshed zones. There is no way to find oneself already heaving achieved a transcendental purchase on the zone. Kantian synthetic judgment, in which I have decided what an object is, what object-ness is, is possible (if at all) only because I have already found myself strafed by the zones that objects emit. The simplest cigarette butt or child running into the street reduces every ethical or political stance to the status of hypocrisy. It is the hyperobejct that forces us to sense this hypocrisy most exquisitely. Hyperobjects are simply so large and so long lasting that the zones that cascade from them are rich and intense enough to become aware of them; and to become aware of the irreducible gap between zone and object, which Kant calls the gap between phenomenon and thing.
Because of this gap, I am far from saying that we immediately encounter situations in which we know exactly what to do, as if everything were mechanically automated. Rather my sense of distance and irony, my hesitation, becomes more pronounced when I find myself latched onto a zone. It is the ontological priority of the zone that accounts fully for the feeling of strangeness and belatedness in my decisions about the object that emits it. It just is impossible to come up with the right reason for why I put the cigarette out in the sequoia forest. Indeed, if I try to generate a reason, I find myself watching the cigarette burn the undergrowth--I have already made a decision not to put out the cigarette. The zone has already grasped me in its beams. This does not mean that I know exactly how to dispose myself relative to the zone. Far from it: it means that I have no idea, or that I can feel the irreducible dissonance between my idea and the zone.
On what scale am I engaging the zone? Why do I put out the cigarette? Is it because I am concerned about the environment in general? Or this tree in particular? This forest? Is it because I understand global warming, and I see the cigarette as an indexical sign of human ignorance, a small piece of a gigantic puzzle? Again, the zone is not a region of direct experience, but a shifting, illusory field of irony and weirdness. This is not Nature. This is Heidegger's thrownness, inverted.[3] I do not find myself any old where, a projection of my Da-sein's unique uncanniness. Everything is doing that. The uncertainty and hesitation are not just in my Da-sein, but in the tree, the rock, the cigarette butt glowing in the ferns. My sincerity, my sensitivity to my phenomenological enmeshment in zones, is the very thing that prevents me from grasping it as solid and predictable."
--from Hyperobjects: Ecology and Philosophy after the End of the World (U of Minnesota Press, 2013)

[1] Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, tr. Robert Hullot-Kentor (London: Continuum, 2004), 349.
[2] Eliane Radigue, Biogenesis (Metamkine, 1996).
[3] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, tr. Joan Stambaugh (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), 127. 

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