Timothy Morton wants humanity to give up some of its core beliefs, from the fantasy that we can control the planet to the notion that we are ‘above’ other beings. His ideas might sound weird, but they’re catching on. By Alex Blasdel
A few years ago, Björk began corresponding with a philosopher whose books she admired. “hi timothy,” her first message to him began. “i wanted to write this letter for a long time.” She was trying to give a name to her own singular genre, to label her work for posterity before the critics did. She asked him to help define the nature of her art – “not only to define it for me, but also for all my friends, and a generation actually.”
It turned out the philosopher, Timothy Morton, was a fan of Björk. Her music, he told her, had been “a very deep influence on my way of thinking and life in general”. The sense of eerie intimacy with other species, the fusion of moods in her songs and videos – tenderness and horror, weirdness and joy – “is the feeling of ecological awareness”, he said. Morton’s own work is about the implications of this strange awareness – the knowledge of our interdependence with other beings – which he believes undermines long-held assumptions about the separation between humanity and nature. For him, this is the defining characteristic of our times, and it is compelling us to change our “core ideas of what it means to exist, what Earth is, what society is”.
Over the past decade, Morton’s ideas have been spilling into the mainstream. Hans Ulrich Obrist, the artistic director of London’s Serpentine gallery, and perhaps the most powerful figure in the contemporary art world, is one of his loudest cheerleaders. Obrist told readers of Vogue that Morton’s books are among the pre-eminent cultural works of our time, and recommends them to many of his own collaborators. The acclaimed artist Olafur Eliasson has been flying Morton around the world to speak at his major exhibition openings. Excerpts from Morton’s correspondence with Björk were published as part of her 2015 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.