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Ecology is playfully serious

All Art is Ecological
Forfatter: Timothy Morton
Forlag: Penguin Classics (UK)
ECOLOGY / Penguins' newly launched green series presents old and new books that change the way we think and talk about the living earth. You are in the age of mass extinction, but the philosopher Martin Heidegger brings us here on the trail of what we need.


Statements such as: What we need first and foremost are sustainable solutions. Or: What do you want to do to save the planet? And how many seminars do not like to end with an almost summarizing warning: What can we then use all that knowledge for, because now is the time to act. People look down into the lap or into the air, often marked by a sense of shame. Now we want to see some will, some initiative.

But Morton goes a different way: for him, we have to learn to think slowly, let ourselves be surprised, marvel at how strange things are and ourselves. Reading him is like hearing Pink Floyd (his own favorite band), listening and hovering – while letting all the weird and bizarre things flow together into weird sizes, into something we do not quite understand, like hyper objects, plastic cows, strange suction cups in an octopus that suddenly reach out for one to make contact, as in Craig Foster's film What I learned from the squid (2021). And maybe it dawns on you, as he writes, that you are in the age of mass extinction.

Because if you are a little sad, a little hesitant, but open and playful, think that reality is strange, that we live in a time that feels like jet lag, then you are very well geared to an ecological way of life. Because what is "required of us is a tender care (playful care), not companies' cynically-forced play ('fun')" and its instrumental solutions, but a decidedly "legendary seriousness (playful seriousness). "


The Nazi propaganda minister Goebbels reached for his gun when someone mentioned the word "culture". Morton puts on his sunglasses as soon as he hears the word "sustainability". For him, our blind trust in technological solutions, companies' financial calculations, and the formation of public opinion about sustainability is a display window in the self-satisfaction of being able to impose our human reason and devices on the earth and the world – and convince each other that we have now reached our goal.

Morton puts on his sunglasses as soon as he hears the word "sustainability".

But technological devices will only create control society 9.0, according to Morton. With increased technological availability, everything is constantly getting too close. And when something gets too close, reality slips away from us. We escape the distance at the same time as we escape the proximity and thus the loss of the awareness that is crucial for ecological forms of life. Because no matter how much we put our trust in technological devices, it is as if we only get more of the same, a normalized distorted reality, a false full size reality, easily accessible, manageable – so we can say to each other "we know what we're talking about" – all the while Ecology og climate remains somewhat abstract. The result is that we do not come to an ecological awareness in our very way of being – our way of living, our way of feeling and thinking.

Heidegger's philosophy

For Morton it is the German philosopher Martin Heidegger there brings us on the track of what we need: to be in the open with the things. Things, objects and animals have far greater power over us than we want to know. The world teems and something happens to us while we go for a walk: a feather falls on the pavement and suddenly my surroundings change. Or I go for a walk in Frederiksberg garden and suddenly I see the woodpeckers gathering in a mating dance and sit down to write a poem.

We escape distance at the same time as we escape proximity.

Ecological consciousness is a "non-violent co-existence with non-human beings." We ourselves consist of non-human elements, which help to make us more human, such as bacteria, skin, water, grip function. The more we practice being amazed by the strange and ambiguous nature of things, the better we may become at living and being ecological. For ecological action, it is "not about creating more efficiency, but about doing less damage." In our actions, we should not intervene too much, but search, explore and facilitate, as Heidegger expresses it:

"The problem with ecological action is not that it is incomprehensibly difficult, but that it is, in a way, far too easy. You are already breathing, your bacterial microbes are buzzing with activity, all the while evolution is quietly unfolding all around you. Somewhere a bird sings and the clouds pass over your head. You stop reading this book and look out at the tree. You supports not be organic. You er it already.”

Timothy Morton

And Heidegger's whole philosophy is about putting words and thoughts into the fact that we are already out there among things, that they challenge us, affect us, do something to us. We are already voted, or, out of tune. This is where ecology begins, because are you voted [attuned, existing] you are in an active passivity, you are particularly aware of something outside yourself. You begin to collect and decipher the moving and frayed. You are already living in the truth-like. The true is not first true by virtue of the concepts (which are always prefabricated) – the true precedes the linguistic expression.

Closer to empirical reality

Art in particular, but also craftsmanship and design, provide fertile ground for a playful seriousness. What art does is create increased awareness of our relationship with non-human things and creatures.

Many of us have the experience that the culture industry, politics and educational institutions are stuck in a notion that the world out there is only our own construction. Everywhere we are chained to a notion that it is os where through our observations things give meaning and significance. That it is os that sheds our light on things. We lack the ability to see that the world also thinks, if not independently of the individual, then above and through the individual human mind, that there is actually a thinking between all things and on a more intimate level, an enchantment of the senses that helps to connect us with things, objects and nature that help give us an experience of what it really means to be alive. This is where art can do something. It is the place where we tap into a reality that feels truer with the whole body without us being able to fully explain why. But we also have, says Morton, a feeling that it is something we should cherish [care for]. "Wow how beautiful it is" is actually a shudder that suddenly gives me access to something strange and breathtaking. "When I stare at Rothko's painting with my eyes closed, the red line begins to vibrate", shows that I am attuned, receptive, that art is not only one on the experiencer, but makes us feel and think and co-exist.

Morton sees art as a carrier bag full of eyes looking at us. With windows there are strange, repulsive, frightening. It is all that we put together as artists, as craftsmen, as legend. Not to cultivate good taste. But to get closer to the empirical reality, where things rub against each other, where the influences are already underway.

Generation X

Morton belongs to Generation X, like myself, who were told they didn't care enough about the world. Strange, as he says, "because I saw many people up through the 1990s who were depressed about modern working life, people who were despairing about the environment." Well, we obviously didn't understand that the serious person is the one who always acts, sets projects in motion, shouts loudly, always moves forward, always positive. But maybe sadness is also a form of care? Because of what Morton calls, "doing less" [care less], spend less money, practice living, find joy in the pain, maybe there shines a ray of care – which invites a playful, hesitant, humorous approach that keeps me open.

Alexander Carnera
Alexander Carnera
Carnera is a freelance writer living in Copenhagen.

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