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Leave Things Open

Emilija Škarnulytė, still from Echolocation (working title), 2015. Copyright Emilija Škarnulytė.

Stop the propaganda that pushes people into defiance. Propaganda betrays an underlying fear of art, just art, just patterns for no reason. This fear will saturate everything. People will experience this fear leakage, an anxiety about relating to something that isn’t you, that may not even be sentient—like a painting—for no reason. Since that kind of relating is just what relating to another life form is like—uncertain, ambiguous, compelling, uncanny—propaganda blocks ecological awareness.

Stop pleading at me with information dumps. The information will be out of date by the time anyone sees it. And it’s overwhelming. We’re shocked already. PTSD-survivors have recurring nightmares of their trauma because their psyche is attempting to secrete an anxiety buffer against the shock, the kind of forewarning that they didn’t have in real life, where they experienced fright, suddenly realizing they were in trauma. You’re trying to change the past, which is, of course, impossible. You’re encouraging people to put themselves back before ecological awareness, as if they had a choice.

Stop listing extinct species. These lists belong to the mode of elegy, a form designed to automate mourning so you don’t have to go through it. Elegy is secretly on the side of sadistic destruction of the loved being who let you down by dying. It’s a bit disingenuous to mourn for beings you never really knew. The gesture of bringing them to light disappears them.

Stop insisting on enchantment; be enchanting instead. We’ve been trying to extract richness for a long time; look what happened. We’re all poor in this world: humans, bacteria, pencils. That’s the enchantment, the faded corners, the cobwebs, the gaps, the dusty interior filled with sentient toys.

Stop insisting on Life. Life is hostile to life forms. In the name of Life, we created a global concentration camp. The idea of Life is the idea that existing is always better than any quality of existing. Trillions of beings constantly close to death, wandering around in a zombified stupor, is always better than billions of beings in a state of total bliss. What?

Stop the confession narratives. When someone spectates your spectating of other life forms, they are precisely spectating you. You have turned coexistence into a mirror to authenticate yourself. You’re suggesting that there’s a pre-eco-awareness you, who could have acted differently. And you pulled down the fader on the most interesting aspect of this kind of art: the uncertainty, the ambiguity, the film-noir-like gaps between the narrator and what is narrated. These sorts of twists are exactly what life forms are and what ecological awareness is. Don’t delete the hermeneutic spiral, the enmeshment in dreamtime paranoia.

Stop deleting ambiguity. For 12,500 years we’ve been trying to get really clear: humans and cattle (such as women, cows, and sheep) “over here” in Culture space, everything else “over there” in Nature space, intruders from “over there” specified as pests and weeds to be eliminated. Body “over there,” soul or mind “over here.” Blankness “over there,” human positing/history/economic relations/destiny “over here.” Nothing between. No contradictions. No smile. Nothing open.


Timothy Morton

TIMOTHY MORTON is Rita Shea Guffey Chair in English at Rice University. He gave the Wellek Lectures in Theory in 2014 and has collaborated with Björk. He is the author of Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence (Columbia, forthcoming), Nothing: Three Inquiries in Buddhism (Chicago, forthcoming), Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minnesota, 2013), Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality (Open Humanities, 2013), The Ecological Thought (Harvard, 2010), Ecology Without Nature (Harvard, 2007), eight other books and 140 essays on philosophy, ecology, literature, music, art, design, and food. He blogs regularly at


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2015

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