Jonah and the Whale: Apertures into alternative urban futures.
Author: Hayden Alexander White
Title: Logical Monocle: Apertures into alternative urban futures.
“We’re late, we’re late, for a very important date!”
A white rabbit escapes from us, from one understanding it ensnares us down a rabbit hole to a space beyond space and time, and in another it leads us to a new version of the real, allowing us to break from our own reality. In both cases there is an overwhelming sense of urgency, yet the nature and place of the event remain illusory. Lewis Carroll presents the first use of the rabbit to us, and the second is by the Whichowski Siblings in the film The Matrix. In the Whichowski siblings film it is not surprising that we witness a white rabbit shake Neo from his techno-romantic state only moments after retrieving drugs from a hollowed out Simulacra and Simulation.
In the era of global warming we are confronted by a new human phenomenon – extinction. Our conventions of sustainability are confronted. Bentham’s goal of “the greatest good for the greatest number” is obliterated, as it was never mathematically possible to maximise for two or more variables at the same time (Hardin, Pg 1). The very emergence of the phenomenon stems from our Anthropocentric view of the planet. Biblical history (and thus historic western societal hegemony) tells us that the world exists for the potential of man. Our deployment of techne to exploit a landscape of resources on our behalf has placed us on an artificial and expedited evolutionary plane. Our parabolic development of such a resource propelled by the deployment of techne has detached society from its ‘environment’. Our needs have evolved – homo-sapiens became homo-misarables. (Illich, Pg 91) as the greater goods offered by technological evolution became assumed foundations of modern society (Curtis).
“The striking thing about the metaphysics of development is that it needs no finality. Development is not attached to an idea.” (Lyoterd, Pg 7)
Development is self-perpetuating. It exists for its own sake and its reach and scope is unknowable. Our technological elevation has destabilised our reality. The nature and scale of the challenges outlined by global warming operate in a space beyond our critical faculties of perception. We perceive global warming in parts, in glances, as it enters into our field of perception through local manifestations (Morton Pg 4). Our common recourse as architects and designers is to view nature as an abstract flat container separate from our designed objects within it. (Pollock, Pg 127). The Enlightenment encouraged a linear and Cartesian view of the universe, and although advances in science destroyed our anthrocentrism, its new insights reinforced our perception of ourselves as privileged beings. Technological and industrial advancement collapsed time as speed increased; the needs of the now are mortgaged against the future. The aesthetic pragmatism and the short-term goals of current planning trends have remained in great detail oblivious to the sensitive physical and visual realms of the landscape.
Although the tool of techne has put human society on a pedestal, it has also allowed us to perceive the ‘form’ of these global events. Understanding the world as relational forces instead of linear events. Like John Muir’s early rendition of Manhattan’s pre-colonial ecosystem, we can chart and track global systems of interobjective forces that would otherwise be invisible. Nature was not immune to the contagions of technology. Technology embedded and restructured our everyday interactions with nature. (Haraway, 1990, Pg 12) It is of no surprise then that the ultimatum issued to us by our mother earth is delivered to us through the very apparatus that brought about its existence. Technology – root verb being logos, a vehicle – is both the great liberator and harbinger of society’s parasitic inclination.
Our tools of perception reveal an increasing level of information regarding the things around us. This new level of information re-conceives our reality and we re-construct it in its wake. Perhaps it is fitting then that former architecture students Pink Floyd sing “All you touch and all you see / is all you will ever be” – a point that David Hume could not convey quite so eloquently. The relentless onslaught of information acts continually upon its best-working perceptions and theories, transforming and terraforming the ground as it goes. An idea that Baurdriard eludes to when he states that “the real is not only what can be reproduced, but that which is already reproduced, the hyper-real” (Baudriard, Pg 146).
Baudriard provides us with the understanding that we invariably reproduce ‘the real’ in the figure of our current methods of perception. We see the world one way and we act on it accordingly, and thus it assumes that form – for us. The key vocabulary here is representation and terraformation. The paradox of the present day is that, as our viewing apparatus offers us more information we are compelled to, with increasing haste, act upon it, wherein we must realise we are simply interacting with a more and more articulate simulacrum.
To understand the significance of the Anthropocene is to understand the world as made up of interobjective forces, something James Corner is explicit about in his essay Terra Fluxus. Yet we act and design on an object-by-object basis. Constantly compartmentalising the “real” into bitesize chunks we conventionally call “sites”. We are, at least in part, aware of our agency, yet we cannot respond accordingly – the Anthropocene thesis is overwhelming. Its explanations of the parasitical human agency and endemic de-naturing of our reality are paralysing. This lingering, linear, figure-ground dichotomy inside our consciousness is underwritten by our intrinsic tendency to distinguish ourselves as separate from Nature – an heirloom of modernism.
In their video “Powers of Ten” Charles and Ray Eames illustrate the uncanny similarity of nature at differing vertical scales while Bruno Latour flattens the Eames scales into a thickened ground that implies no hierarchy. Latour’s actor network theory destroys our ego and drags us into the firmament of a thickened object oriented ontology (OOO) while delicately reinforcing our agency for re-structuring. The distinction between self and context is taken away, the context is infinite. Scales are no longer hierarchal but spatial. One operates at all scales by the very act of operating at all.
“The lessons of ecology have aimed to show how all the life of the planet is deeply bound into dynamic relationships. Moreover, the complexity of interaction between elements within ecological systems is such that linear mechanistic models prove to be remarkably inadequate to describe them” (Corner, Pg 29)
What Latour offers over Corner is the idea that our agency is omnipriscent, that we are as much embedded in the thickened ontological ground as any other – perhaps more so. The ontological density of this new understanding overwhelms our epistolomological escape velocity (Morton, Pg 2).
“These geographies need to be understood ontogenetically, as something continually brought into being through specific practices that alter the conditions under which space itself is (re)produced.” (Sheppard, Pg 136)
We are grounded in the Anthropocene, unable to escape the reality of our own destructive agency. This constant reproduction of space and time is something that Etienne Turpin implies in Architecture in the Anthropocene: Encounters among Design, Deep Time, Science and Philosophy when he states that climate change is deeply rooted in the jarring of the timescales of epistemo-political transformation and terrestrial mutations. (Turpin, Pg 1) Destructive interference emerges between the timescales of celestial and entropic forces, and societal transformations of them. The simulacrum is not sustainable, Its edges crack, the ground tremors; its projective complexity is insufficient to contain the overwhelming ontological and interobjective density of the real. Although the Anthropocene awakens us to the reality of our systemic destabilisation of interobjective space, we struggle to truly perceive this since our perception of the real has already been transformed by our re-conception of it. Our real is the real offered to us through the lens of technology – the very engine of destabilisation itself. We hear the deep rumblings from the belly of the beast without being able to articulate them.
Problems get the solutions they deserve, based on the terms in which they are articulated as problems – let us then articulate our narrative and begin our autopsy.
“The Anthropocene affords contemporary scholars, activists and designers a unique opportunity to re-evaluate the terms of theory and practice which have been inherited from modernity. Not least among these inheritances is the assumption of an ontological distinction between culture and nature” (Turpin, Pg 3).
Newtonian-cartesian ideas of time and space as neutral containers have ended. Neutral ground is gone. Universality has become an altogether more complex concept. One must interrogate ones own critical faculties of perception as we confront the new urgency and complexity of climatological issues – the Anthropocene demands that we do.
Gottfried Leibniz posited that for each truth, there must be an ‘a priori proof’ – the principle of sufficient reason. Therefor we must understand a thing in order for it to exist. The existence of a thing is granted by our de-construction of it. Hume, Kant, Frege and Russel paved a way to an understanding that a things existence is embedded (or even secondary) to its ontological relationship with other objects. Hume concluded that existence is not a separate quality of an object but is married to its context, while Frege and Russel tied an object’s existence to general existentials. This “ontic” existence – the relationship of things to other things – is something that Kant then develops into reasoning. The ontic universe can be called correlationism. It is no longer possible to ground reason in the human subject, since our scientistic and technological apparatus now know things that are radically beyond cognition – such as events in the Universe before consciousness (Morton, Pg 38). Thus we begin to escape our philosophical Anthropocentrism – the notion that things exist in relationship to the human subject. While Leibeniz poorly predicated a things existence on the human subjects understanding of it we can also concede that it is naïve to assume that the reality beyond the human subject can be all known – naïve realism. What emerges is the idea that there is a reality outside of our knowledge and that we lack the faculties to perceive it – a deeply sobering thought.
“Hegel declares that there is a nonhuman world that human thinking cannot reach. It is empirically real, but we are deaf to it – an ironically material version of the proverbial Berkleyan tree, falling without ears to hear it.” (Morton, Pg 45)
Things, and their relationships exist as much for other things as they do for us. Graham Harmans Object Oriented Ontology (OOO), a subset of speculative realism, claims that naïve realism is something that thinks there is a reality outside the mind and that it can be known – itself a presupposition of the technological and scientistic engine. Harman denies that there is such a reality because he outlines that objects translate each other just as much as we translate them. Ancient Islamic philosophy states that when fire burns cotton, the fire is not making contact with all the properties of the cotton but is translating or distorting parts of the cotton – ie, there is a cotton outside of the fires interaction with it. As if in pre-planned cutback scene to Baudriard we conclude that the real is so real and beyond our tools of perception that it cannot be known – yet it can be reached indirectly. It is inaccessible to us through ‘lures’, things that summon us without themselves being accessible – visive our perpetual problematic relationship with Aesthetics – consider maps. If Alfred North Whitehead understood objects as their relation to other things then OOO is concerned with the irreducibility of objects to their relationships – nobody tell John Muir that.
“OOO has appeared on the scene at an urgent moment, at which scientific instruments and models such as systems theory were first able to map some new entities that fail to correspond to what we commonly suppose entities to be. These entities are a direct result of modernity since many are produced by industry and technology, and all are made discoverable by contemporary science” (Morton Pg 39).
Timothy Morton calls the ecological crisis the time of hyperobjects, stating that this is a moment in which “massive nonhuman, nonsentient entities make decisive contact with humans, ending various human concepts such as “world”, “horizon”, Nature and even “environment”.” (Morton, Pg 39) The biosphere, global warming and even climate change are entities that are massively distributed in time and space. Our perception of them, in an ontic sense, is through their markings against our bubble – local manifestations. Yet these accumulated litmus events fail to signify the magnitude in time and complexity of the entities.
Hyperobjects are ontologically dense, non-local entities that have radically unknowable space and time. Morton bundles atomic decay and celestial forces into his rubric of hyperobjects. “Hyperobjects end the idea of absolute, infinite time and space as neutral containers” (Morton Pg 40).They exist in what Morton calls ‘high dimensional phase space’, in a place of shared interobjective space. This space is entitled the mesh, stemming from its origin as the word mask – it obscures. Within the mesh we find all our known objects, endlessly interwoven to each other, and others that we do not yet know. This revelation obliterates our conventional linguistic apparatus. The Earth of course exists, but the idea that it is a floating ship that contains all the ecological objects – Nature – is a terminological in-exactitude – Nobody tell Buckminster Fuller.
“The more maps we make, the more real things tear through them. Nonhuman entities emerge through our mapping, then they destroy them.” (Morton, Pg 44)
Although we are taken aback in this continual epistemological inquisition we are not left immobile. The notion that we do not yet comprehend the forces in which we interact is not new to us, it is just that we were previously oblivious to it – perhaps willingly. When Cypher tells Neo “ignorance is bliss” he simply acknowledges his inertia from his realisation that his real is not real. (Matrix, 1999) Though we cannot fathom Morton’s mesh we can at least situate ourselves within it, interwoven with our constituent known entities and their behaviours. If we cannot yet fathom the mesh and its hyperobjects, we can at least be aware of and try to track our anthropocentric distortion and transformation of the constituent properties of the objects within the mesh. It is these destabilising forces, our anthropocene agency, that emanated into the hyperobject and returned a global warming ultimatum.
“…monsters, a word that shares more than its root with the verb to demonstrate. Monsters signify.” (Haraway, 1991, pg 22)
The very nature of a hyperobject defies human consciousness by our innate inability to consciously fathom their lifespan. Donna Haroway uses a concept of Monsters to demonstrate events and conditions that emerge from the hyper object that overwhelms and threatens us. Thus, the conception of monsters or monstorology allows us the conceit that we are not equipped to unfold Morton’s mesh and instead grants us methods to respond to it. The construction of Harroway’s monsters allows for the projection of events in which we are responsible – our Anthropocene and global warming reality. It allows us to sound out the darkness by hearing our own echo rebounded back at us – albeit our echo here is global warming – something that threatens our existence. And thus, instead of unfolding or discovering a “real” outside us, we can construct our real, one which is our own making.
“You have suggested that the paradox is quite clear – at the moment when we can recognize the maximum human impact in the world, we also discover a minimum human agency that would be able to do anything about it” (Palmesino, Pg 17)
As we shift from metaphysics to pataphysics we transition from deconstructing our reality and picking apart our existential (and terrestrial) threat to re-constructing it and projecting it in such a way as to re-direct our present trajectory. Designers ‘sites’ are not upon the tabula rasa or even a terra-fluxus but are situated in space-time such that they plug into a future trajectory (conversation between our reality and the mesh) that leads toward monsters. Such monsters and events emerging from the event horizon are so overwhelmingly dense that their problematization and articulation must be projected, and our reality built around their potentiality.
“…the thermodynamic shift, from the point of view of aesthetics, means that there is nothing to point at, there is no object. Instead, it is about how you look at things.” (Turpin, Pg 22)
If the edge between our reality and the hyperobject is our Anthopocene edge condition then we can articulate that edge. Haraway’s monsters are large complex events such as global warming that emerge from beyond this edge – from the belly of the beast. As we shift from metaphysics to pataphysics we can deploy pataphysics as a bending of reality, a projection of an alternate future that forms a more useful simulacrum. Our projected reality forms around Haraways monsters and allows us to articulate cataclysmic future events that allow us to design reflexively.
“Following Le Corbusier and modernism, you have the construction of the window that will build us a new view. For architecture this act of framing is the maximum engagement with the background” (Palmesino, pg 22)
Critical climate-oriented conservation is not about being ‘green’ but about conservatively managing and modifying the comportment between our reality and the hyperobjects that surround us. Designs agency in engaging this new phenomena is not in designed objects in a figure-ground dichotomy but in managing the interchange between our reality and hyperobjective reality.
“Nature responds to change by changing its sexuality, its morphology, its physiology, its behaviours. So, architecture is not about selling green products as a new merchandise that can save Willy or save the world. It is about modifying our own comportment between us and others” (Roche, Pg 200)
Architecture and designs agency is in creating windows (monsters/lexicons) for articulating and framing disturbances and threatening potentials at the edge of our reality. If we have constructed and transmogrified our reality already in our Anthropocene thesis, can we not project and conceive of it in such a way as to articulate better the edge of hyperobjectivity and conservatively manage our interactions with(in) it? Architecture in this scenario is akin to Jonah and the whale. While we understand that we are inside the whale(s) we do not need to know the intricacies of the whales existence in order to live. We need only be diligent of our interaction with(in) it as we soberingly understand that our existence is predicated on its – if Jonah’s whale dies, so too does Jonah.
“The pataphysical field is snaking; it is not a group of objects but objects that are subjects at the same time, subjects that lead our mind somewhere that secures one zone by dislocating another” (Roche, pg 204)
1] Simulacrum is an articulate copy or mirage of something of which there is no longer a real version. The projection has replaced the real and constitutes the new reality. In this case of the Anthropocene we realize there is no natural reality to which we can return.
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