Timothy Morton

Last updated

Timothy Morton
Timothy Bloxam Morton

(1968-06-19) 19 June 1968 (age 55)
London, England
Alma mater Magdalen College, Oxford
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Speculative realism
Main interests
Metaphysics, realism, ecocriticism, object-oriented ontology, Buddhism
Notable ideas
Hyperobjects, realist magic, mesh, strange strangers, symbiotic real [1]

Timothy Bloxam Morton (born 19 June 1968) [2] is a professor and Rita Shea Guffey Chair in English at Rice University. [3] A member of the object-oriented philosophy movement, Morton's work explores the intersection of object-oriented thought and ecological studies. Morton's use of the term 'hyperobjects' was inspired by Björk's 1996 single 'Hyperballad', although the term 'Hyper-objects' (denoting n-dimensional non-local entities) has also been used in computer science since 1967. [4] Morton uses the term to explain objects so massively distributed in time and space as to transcend localization, such as climate change and styrofoam. [5] Their recent book Humankind: Solidarity with Non-Human People explores the separation between humans and non-humans and from an object-oriented ontological perspective, arguing that humans need to radically rethink the way in which they conceive of, and relate to, non-human animals and nature as a whole, going on to explore the political implications of such a change. [6] Morton has also written extensively about the literature of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley, Romanticism, diet studies, and ecotheory. [7] Morton is faculty in the Synthetic Landscapes postgraduate program at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc). [8]



Morton received a B.A. and D.Phil. in English from Magdalen College, Oxford. [9] Their doctoral dissertation, "Re-Imagining the Body: Shelley and the Languages of Diet," studied the representation of diet, temperance, and consumption in the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley. According to Morton, the decision to study English literature, as opposed to more academically fashionable classics, stemmed from a desire to engage with modes of thought evolving internationally "including all kinds of continental philosophy that just wasn't happening much in England at the time, what with the war against 'theory' and all." [9]

Before obtaining a professorship at Rice University, in 2012, Morton previously taught at the University of California, Davis, New York University and the University of Colorado, Boulder. [9]

Theoretical works

Morton's theoretical writings espouse an eclectic approach to scholarship. Their subjects include the poetry and literature of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley, the cultural significance and context of food, ecology and environmentalism, and object-oriented ontology (OOO).

Shelley scholarship

In 1995, Morton published Shelley and the Revolution in Taste: The Body and the Natural World, an extension of the ideas presented in their doctoral dissertation. Investigating how food came to signify ideological outlook in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Morton's book is an attempt at 'green' cultural criticism, whereby bodies and the social or environmental conditions in which they appear are shown to be interrelated. [10] Employing a 'prescriptive' analysis of various Romantic texts, especially Percy Bysshe Shelley's A Vindication of Natural Diet (1813), Morton argues that the figurative rhetorical elements of these texts should be read not simply as clever language play, but as commands to establish consumptive practices that challenge ideological configurations of how the body relates to normativity. [11] For Morton, authoritarian power dynamics, commodity flows, industrial logic, and the distinction between the domains of nature and culture are inhered in the 'discourses of diet' articulated by the Shelleys. In turn, Shelleyan prose regarding forms of consumption, particularly vegetarianism, is read as a call for social reform and figurative discussions of intemperance and intoxication as warnings against tyranny. [12]

Additionally, Morton has edited two critical volumes on the Shelleyan corpus. In 2002, they published a compilation of critical and historical reflections on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein entitled Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: A Routledge Study Guide and Sourcebook. Then, in 2006, Morton edited The Cambridge Companion to Shelley, an interdisciplinary overview of Percy Bysshe Shelley's themes, language, narrative structure, literary philosophy, and political views.

Diet studies

From 2000 to 2004, Morton published three works dealing with the intersection of food and cultural studies. In the first of these to be published, The Poetics of Spice: Romantic Consumerism and the Exotic (2000), Morton unpacked the evolution of European consumer culture through an analysis of the figurative use of spice in Romantic literature. [13] Viewing spice as a cultural artifact that functioned "as discourse, not object, naively transparent to itself" [14] during the Romantic period, they elucidate two general characteristics of the poetics of spice: materiality and transumption. [15] The 'materiality' of spice connects its symbolic and social roles with its capacity for desire production. Morton cites the "trade winds topos" (perfumed breeze believed to waft from exotic lands in which spices are domestic) in Milton's Paradise Lost as an example, concluding that Milton prefigures the symbolic use of spice in later works by presenting Satan's journey from Hell to Chaos as a parallel to the travels of spice traders. [16] In contrast, 'transumption', following Harold Bloom's deployment of the rhetorical concept, entails the use of a metasignifier that "serves as a figure for poetic language itself." [15] According to Morton, the works of John Dryden exemplify transumption, revealing "a novel kind of capitalist poetics, relying on the representation of the spice trade...Spice is not a balm, but an object of trade, a trope to be carried across boundaries, standing in for money: a metaphor about metaphor." [17] Carrying this idea forward to the Romantic era, Morton critiques the manner in which spice became a metaphor for exotic desire that, subsequently, encapsulated the self-reflexivity of modern processes of commodification.[ citation needed ]

Later, Morton edited Radical Food: The Culture and Politics of Eating and Drinking, 1790-1820 (2000), a three-volume compendium of eighteenth century texts examining the literary, sociocultural, and political history of food, including works on intoxication, cannibalism, and slavery. They also edited Cultures of Taste/Theories of Appetite: Eating Romanticism (2004), a collection of essays that problematizes the use of taste and appetite as Romantic metaphors for bounded territories and subjectivities, while empirically interrogating the organization of Romantic cultural and economic structures around competing logics of consumption. [18]

Ecological theory

Since 2009, Morton has engaged in a sustained project of ecological critique, primarily enunciated in two works, Ecology Without Nature (2009) and The Ecological Thought (2010), through which they problematize environmental theory from the standpoint of ecological entanglement. In Ecology Without Nature, Morton proposes that an ecological criticism must be divested of the bifurcation of nature and civilization, or the idea that nature exists as something that sustains civilization, but exists outside of society's walls. [19] As Morton states:

Ecological writing keeps insisting that we are "embedded" in nature. Nature is a surrounding medium that sustains our being. Due to the properties of the rhetoric that evokes the idea of a surrounding medium, ecological writing can never properly establish that this is nature and thus provide a compelling and consistent aesthetic basis for the new worldview that is meant to change society. It is a small operation, like tipping over a domino... Putting something called Nature on a pedestal and admiring it from afar does for the environment what patriarchy does for the figure of Woman. It is a paradoxical act of sadistic admiration. [20]

Viewing "nature," in the putative sense, as an arbitrary textual signifier, Morton theorizes artistic representations of the environment as sites for opening ideas of nature to new possibilities. Seeking an aesthetic mode that can account for the differential, paradoxical, and nonidentificational character of the environment, they propose a materialist method of textual analysis called 'ambient poetics', in which artistic texts of all kinds are considered in terms of how they manage the space in which they appear, thereby attuning the sensibilities of their audience to forms of natural representation that contravene the ideological coding of nature as a transcendent principle. [21] Historicizing this form of poetics permits the politicization of environmental art and its 'ecomimesis', or authenticating evocation of the author's environment, such that the experience of its phenomena becomes present for and shared with the audience. [22]

Art is also an important theme in The Ecological Thought, a "prequel" to Ecology Without Nature, in which Morton proposes the concept of 'dark ecology' as a means of expressing the "irony, ugliness, and horror" of ecology. [23] From the vantage point of dark ecology, there exists no neutral theoretical ground on which to articulate ecological claims. Instead, all beings always are already implicated within the ecological, necessitating an acknowledgement of coexistential difference for coping with ecological catastrophe that, according to Morton, "has already occurred." [24]

Closely related to dark ecology is Morton's concept of the 'mesh'. Defining the ecological thought as "the thinking of interconnectedness," Morton thus uses 'mesh' to refer to the interconnectedness of all living and non-living things, consisting of "infinite connections and infinitesimal differences." [25] They explain:

The ecological thought does, indeed, consist in the ramifications of the "truly wonderful fact" of the mesh. All life forms are the mesh, and so are all the dead ones, as are their habitats, which are also made up of living and nonliving beings. We know even more now about how life forms have shaped Earth (think of oil, of oxygenthe first climate change cataclysm). We drive around using crushed dinosaur parts. Iron is mostly a by-product of bacterial metabolism. So is oxygen. Mountains can be made of shells and fossilized bacteria. Death and the mesh go together in another sense, too, because natural selection implies extinction. [26]

The mesh has no central position that privileges any one form of being over others, and thereby erases definitive interior and exterior boundaries of beings. [27] Emphasizing the interdependence of beings, the ecological thought "permits no distance," such that all beings are said to relate to each other in a totalizing open system, negatively and differentially, rendering ambiguous those entities with which we presume familiarity. [28] Morton calls these ambiguously inscribed beings 'strange strangers', or beings unable to be completely comprehended and labeled. [29] Within the mesh, even the strangeness of strange strangers relating coexistentially is strange, meaning that the more we know about an entity, the stranger it becomes. Intimacy, then, becomes threatening because it veils the mesh beneath the illusion of familiarity. [29]

Object-oriented ontology

Morton became involved with object-oriented ontology after their ecological writings were favorably compared with the movement's ideas. One way that their work can be distinguished from other variants of object-oriented thought is by its focus on the causal dimension of object relations. Against traditional causal philosophies, Morton argues that causality is an aesthetic dimension of relations between objects, wherein sensory experience does not indicate direct access to reality, but rather an uncanny interruption of the false ontic equilibrium of an interobjective system. [30] Causation, in this view, is held to be illusion-like or "magical," forming the core of what Morton terms "realist magic."


In The Ecological Thought, Morton employed the term hyperobjects to describe objects that are so massively distributed in time and space as to transcend spatiotemporal specificity, such as global warming, styrofoam, and radioactive plutonium. [5] They have subsequently enumerated five characteristics of hyperobjects:

  1. Viscous: Hyperobjects adhere to any other object they touch, no matter how hard an object tries to resist. In this way, hyperobjects overrule ironic distance, meaning that the more an object tries to resist a hyperobject, the more glued to the hyperobject it becomes. [31]
  2. Molten: Hyperobjects are so massive that they refute the idea that spacetime is fixed, concrete, and consistent. [32]
  3. Nonlocal: Hyperobjects are massively distributed in time and space to the extent that their totality cannot be realized in any particular local manifestation. For example, global warming is a hyperobject which impacts meteorological conditions, such as tornado formation. According to Morton, though, entities don't feel global warming, but instead experience tornadoes as they cause damage in specific places. Thus, nonlocality describes the manner in which a hyperobject becomes more substantial than the local manifestations it produces. [33]
  4. Phased: Hyperobjects occupy a higher-dimensional space than other entities can normally perceive. Thus, hyperobjects appear to come and go in three-dimensional space, but would appear differently if an observer could have a higher multidimensional view.[ citation needed ]
  5. Interobjective: Hyperobjects are formed by relations between more than one object. Consequently, entities are only able to perceive the imprint, or "footprint," of a hyperobject upon other objects, revealed as information. For example, global warming is formed by interactions between the sun, fossil fuels, and carbon dioxide, among other objects. Yet global warming is made apparent through emissions levels, temperature changes, and ocean levels, making it seem as if global warming is a product of scientific models, rather than an object that predates its own measurement. [32]

According to Morton, hyperobjects not only become visible during an age of ecological crisis, but alert humans to the ecological dilemmas defining the age in which they live. [34] Additionally, the existential capacity of hyperobjects to outlast a turn toward less materialistic cultural values, coupled with the threat many such objects pose toward organic matter (what Morton calls a "demonic inversion of the sacred substances of religion"), gives them a potential spiritual quality, in which their treatment by future societies may become indistinguishable from reverential care. [35]

Although the concept of hyperobjects has been widely adopted by artists, literary critics, and some philosophers, it is not without its critics. Ecocritic Ursula Heise, for example, notes that in Morton's definition, everything can be considered a hyperobject, which seems to make the concept somewhat meaningless, not to mention seemingly impossible to define clearly. As a result, Heise argues that Morton makes "so many self-cancelling claims about hyperobjects that coherent argument vanishes like the octopi that disappear in several chapters in their clouds of ink, Morton's favorite metaphor for the withdrawal of objects from the grasp of human knowledge." [36]


Authored works


Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Monism</span> View that attributes oneness or singleness to a concept

Monism attributes oneness or singleness to a concept, e.g. existence. Various kinds of monism can be distinguished:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Love's Philosophy</span>

"Love's Philosophy" is a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley published in 1819.

<i>Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude</i>

Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude is a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, written from 10 September to 14 December in 1815 in Bishopsgate, near Windsor Great Park and first published in 1816. The poem was without a title when Shelley passed it along to his contemporary and friend Thomas Love Peacock. The poem is 720 lines long. It is considered to be one of the first of Shelley's major poems.

<i>The Masque of Anarchy</i> 1832 poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley

The Masque of Anarchy is a British political poem written in 1819 by Percy Bysshe Shelley following the Peterloo Massacre of that year. In his call for freedom, it is perhaps the first modern statement of the principle of nonviolent resistance.

Ecocriticism is the study of literature and ecology from an interdisciplinary point of view, where literature scholars analyze texts that illustrate environmental concerns and examine the various ways literature treats the subject of nature. It was first originated by Joseph Meeker as an idea called "literary ecology" in his The Comedy of Survival: Studies in Literary Ecology (1972).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Environmental philosophy</span> Branch of philosophy

Environmental philosophy is the branch of philosophy that is concerned with the natural environment and humans' place within it. It asks crucial questions about human environmental relations such as "What do we mean when we talk about nature?" "What is the value of the natural, that is non-human environment to us, or in itself?" "How should we respond to environmental challenges such as environmental degradation, pollution and climate change?" "How can we best understand the relationship between the natural world and human technology and development?" and "What is our place in the natural world?" Environmental philosophy includes environmental ethics, environmental aesthetics, ecofeminism, environmental hermeneutics, and environmental theology. Some of the main areas of interest for environmental philosophers are:

<i>Queen Mab</i> (poem)

Queen Mab; A Philosophical Poem; With Notes, published in 1813 in nine cantos with seventeen notes, is the first large poetic work written by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822), the English Romantic poet.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">A Defence of Poetry</span>

"A Defence of Poetry" is an unfinished essay by Percy Bysshe Shelley written in February and March of 1821 that the poet put aside and never completed. The text was published posthumously in 1840 in Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translations and Fragments. Its final sentence expresses Shelley's famous proposition that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Percy Bysshe Shelley</span> English Romantic poet (1792–1822)

Percy Bysshe Shelley was a British writer who is considered one of the major English Romantic poets. A radical in his poetry as well as in his political and social views, Shelley did not achieve fame during his lifetime, but recognition of his achievements in poetry grew steadily following his death, and he became an important influence on subsequent generations of poets, including Robert Browning, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Thomas Hardy, and W. B. Yeats. American literary critic Harold Bloom describes him as "a superb craftsman, a lyric poet without rival, and surely one of the most advanced sceptical intellects ever to write a poem."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Deep ecology</span> Ecological and environmental philosophy

Deep ecology is an environmental philosophy that promotes the inherent worth of all living beings regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs, and the restructuring of modern human societies in accordance with such ideas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Vegetarianism in the Romantic Era</span> Aspect of the history of vegetarianism

Vegetarianism in the Romantic Era refers to the rise of vegetarianism associated with the Romanticism movement in Western Europe from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century. Many of the late Romantics argued in favor of a more natural diet which excluded animal flesh for a plethora of reasons including the state of human and animal health, religious beliefs, economy and class division, animal rights, literary influence, as well as from new ideas about anthropology, consumerism, and evolution. The modern vegetarian and vegan movements borrow some of the same principles from the late Romantics to promote the adoption of diets free from animal products.

<i>Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire</i>

Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire was a poetry collection written by Percy Bysshe Shelley and his sister Elizabeth which was printed by Charles and William Phillips in Worthing and published by John Joseph Stockdale in September 1810. The work was Shelley's first published volume of poetry. Shelley wrote the poems in collaboration with his sister Elizabeth. The poems were written before Shelley entered the University of Oxford.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Devil's Walk</span> Poem

"The Devil's Walk: A Ballad" was a major poetical work published as a broadside by Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1812. The poem consisted of seven irregular ballad stanzas of 49 lines. The poem was a satirical attack and criticism of the British government. Satan is depicted meeting with key members of the British government. The poem was modelled on and meant as a continuation of "The Devil's Thoughts" of 1799 by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey. The work is important in Shelley's development and evolution of writings that castigate and criticise the British government to achieve political and economic reform.

In metaphysics, object-oriented ontology (OOO) is a 21st-century Heidegger-influenced school of thought that rejects the privileging of human existence over the existence of nonhuman objects. This is in contrast to what it calls the "anthropocentrism" of Kant's philosophy by proposing a metaphorical Copernican Revolution, which would displace the human from the center of the universe like Copernicus displaced the Earth from being the center of the universe. Object-oriented ontology maintains that objects exist independently of human perception and are not ontologically exhausted by their relations with humans or other objects. For object-oriented ontologists, all relations, including those between nonhumans, distort their related objects in the same basic manner as human consciousness and exist on an equal footing with one another.


Epipsychidion is a major poetical work published in 1821 by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The work was subtitled: Verses addressed to the noble and unfortunate Lady Emilia V—, now imprisoned in the convent of . The title is Greek for "concerning or about a little soul", from epi, "around", "about"; and psychidion, "little soul".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Cloud (poem)</span>

"The Cloud" is a major 1820 poem written by Percy Bysshe Shelley. "The Cloud" was written during late 1819 or early 1820, and submitted for publication on 12 July 1820. The work was published in the 1820 collection Prometheus Unbound, A Lyrical Drama, in Four Acts, With Other Poems by Charles and James Ollier in London in August 1820. The work was proof-read by John Gisborne. There were multiple drafts of the poem. The poem consists of six stanzas in anapestic or antidactylus meter, a foot with two unaccented syllables followed by an accented syllable.

<i>A Vindication of Natural Diet</i> Book by Percy Bysshe Shelley

A Vindication of Natural Diet is an 1813 book by Percy Bysshe Shelley on vegetarianism and animal rights. It was first written as part of the notes to Queen Mab, which was privately printed in 1813. Later in the same year the essay was separately published as a pamphlet.

Jane Bennett is an American political theorist and philosopher. She is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities at the Department of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University School of Arts and Sciences. She was also the editor of the academic journal Political Theory between 2012 and 2017.

Queer ecology is the endeavor to understand nature, biology, and sexuality in the light of queer theory, thus rejecting the presumption that heterosexuality and cisgenderedness constitute any objective standard. It draws from science studies, ecofeminism, environmental justice, and queer geography. These perspectives break apart various "dualisms" that exist within human understandings of nature and culture.

<i>Shelleys Vegetarianism</i> 1891 pamphlet on the diet of Percy Shelley

Shelley's Vegetarianism is a 1891 pamphlet on the vegetarianism of Percy Bysshe Shelley by William Axon, published by the Vegetarian Society. It is a printing of a lecture delivered by Axon before the Shelley Society, at University College in 1890.


  1. Roc Jiménez de Cisneros (13 December 2016). "Timothy Morton: Ecology Without Nature". CCCB LAB.
  2. "Morton, Timothy, 1968-". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2014-07-22. Timothy Bloxam Morton; b. 6/19/68
  3. "Rice Faculty Page" . Retrieved 2012-06-20.
  4. Noll, A. Michael (August 1967). "A Computer Technique for Displaying n-Dimensional Hyperobjects". Communications of the ACM. 10 (8): 469–473. doi: 10.1145/363534.363544 . S2CID   6677741.
  5. 1 2 Morton (2010) , p. 130.
  6. Smith, P. D. (20 January 2018). "Being Ecological by Timothy Morton review – a playfully serious look at the environment". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-10-10.
  7. "UC-Davis Faculty Page". Archived from the original on 2011-11-23. Retrieved 2011-11-23.
  8. "SCI-Arc launches new program on emerging topics in landscape architecture". The Architect’s Newspaper. 5 December 2019. Retrieved 2021-01-14.
  9. 1 2 3 "UC-Davis Faculty Page". Archived from the original on 2011-11-23. Retrieved 2011-11-28.
  10. Morton (1994) , p. 2
  11. Morton (1994) , p. 4
  12. Morton (1994) , p. 11
  13. Morton (2000) , p. 2
  14. Morton (2000) , p. 3
  15. 1 2 Morton (2000) , p. 19
  16. Morton (2000) , p. 68
  17. Morton (2000) , p. 75
  18. Morton (2004) , p. 9
  19. Morton (2007) , p. 1
  20. Morton (2007), pp. 4–5
  21. Morton (2007) , p. 3
  22. Morton (2007) , p. 32
  23. Morton (2010) , p. 16
  24. Morton (2010) , p. 17
  25. Morton (2010) , p. 30
  26. Morton (2010), p. 29
  27. Morton (2010) , p. 38
  28. Morton (2010) , p. 39
  29. 1 2 Morton (2010) , p. 41
  30. Morton, Timothy (25 April 2011). "Shoplifting Advice". Ecology Without Nature. Retrieved 2011-12-01.
  31. Morton, Timothy (25 October 2010). "Hyperobjects are Viscous". Ecology Without Nature. Retrieved 2011-09-15.
  32. 1 2 Coffield, Kris. "Interview: Timothy Morton". Fractured Politics. Archived from the original on 2011-08-16. Retrieved 2011-09-15.
  33. Morton, Timothy (9 November 2010). "Hyperobjects are Nonlocal". Ecology Without Nature.
  34. Morton, Timothy (2011). "Sublime Objects". Speculations. II: 207–227. Retrieved 2011-09-15.
  35. Morton (2010) , pp. 131–132.
  36. Ursula K. Heise (4 June 2014). "Ursula K. Heise reviews Timothy Morton's Hyperobjects". Critical Inquiry. Chicago Journals. Retrieved 2018-12-24.