Very Large Finitude and Ecological Irony

Figure/Ground is featuring an interview with Timothy Morton, professor of ecology, theory, and literature. Morton was first brought to my attention last fall by a grad student in my Contemporary Rhetorics class. This snippet from the interview grabbed my attention, especially given my interest in Levinas' concept of (metaphysical) infinity and posthumanism (something fairly anti-thetical to Levinas' own thought).

No, what is ironic enough is ecological awareness. Why? Because we have a situation in which we have enormously increased knowledge of the nonhuman—global warming, evolution, extinction, on and on. Yet we are also overwhelmed by these nonhumans, and, to top it off, for precisely the same reasons. The ecological age is what I call the age of asymmetry. We have a huge amount of knowledge and there is a huge amount of objects, and those things are like giant asymmetrically related spheres. The more we know, the more we realize how embedded we are in radiation, pollution, the biosphere, risks of all kinds on huge inhuman time scales. Like the half-life of Plutonium is 24.1 thousand years. One hundred thousand years from now seven percent of global warming effects will still be happening as the carbon is slowly absorbed by igneous rocks. Infinity, inner space, Kantian stuff is so much easier on the ego than this, which I call very large finitude.

Ecological irony is realizing how caught in your reality you are. It’s like finding out that you’re frozen inside some gigantic Perspex paperweight. You can see everything—I can Google Earth the fish in my mum’s pond in London for heaven’s sake. Yet for this very reason, you just can’t peel yourself out of the Perspex.


Ecological irony doesn’t mean doing nothing. It means doing something and feeling something very intense, yet open and weird. “They were going to make me a major for this, and I wasn’t even in their army anymore” (Apocalypse Now).


pure_sophist_monster said...

Love the Apocalypse Now reference!

Insignificant Wrangler said...

Its the "open and weird" part that I think rhetoric can work on.