Realist Magic

Timothy Morton’s Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality presents a profound exploration of objects and their inherent mysteries. Morton extends the literary concept of Magic Realism, famously employed by Gabriel García Márquez, to philosophical inquiry, arguing that reality itself possesses a magical quality. He posits that objects interact within a mesh of relationships that are fundamentally illusions, giving rise to the aesthetic and magical dimensions of causality, also developing beautiful object-oriented concepts along the way, thus expanding OOO aka. infra-physics to broader theoretical frameworks and revealing magic realism can as a viable methodology for accessing and studying objects, as it establishes how the appear, disappear, persist and create an wonderful illusion allthogether.

Morton’s ideas resonate with the broader framework of Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO), pioneered by Graham Harman. OOO posits that objects are all equally objects and exist independently of human perception and have their own intrinsic reality. Morton’s contribution to OOO lies in his emphasis on the aesthetic and magical aspects of objects’ interactions, enriching the discourse with a nuanced understanding of causality and essence. “As part of the project of object-oriented ontology (OOO), the philosophy whose first architect is Graham Harman, this book liberates the aesthetic from its ideological role as matchmaker between subject and object” (Morton, 2013, p. 18).

Magic Realism as Philosophical Inquiry #

Magic Realism, traditionally a literary genre, weaves elements of magic into a realistic setting, challenging the boundaries between the mundane and the extraordinary. Morton employs this literary device as a philosophical tool to explore the nature of objects. He argues that objects are inherently withdrawn, their true essence hidden behind layers of sensual appearances and interactions, requiring a method of inquiry that acknowledges the mystical and elusive nature of reality. “If things are intrinsically withdrawn, irreducible to their perception or relations or uses, they can only affect each other in a strange region of traces and footprints: the aesthetic dimension” (Morton, 2013, p. 15).

The Aesthetic Dimension as Causality #

As Harman does too, Morton posits that causality is not a straightforward mechanical process but an aesthetic phenomenon. The interactions between objects occur in an aesthetic space, filled with traces and imprints that objects leave on one another. This perspective challenges traditional notions of causality, which often seek to demystify and explain away the ‘magic’ of interactions. “Causality is a secretive affair, yet out in the open—an open secret. Causality is mysterious, in the original sense of the Greek mysteria, which means things that are unspeakable or secret” (Morton, 2013, p. 17).

Objects and Their Withdrawn Essence #

Central to Morton’s argument is the concept of withdrawal, derived from Heideggerian philosophy and also vital in Harman’s philosophy in his idea of the various causation of objects, which states that objects are never fully accessible or comprehensible; their true nature is always partially hidden. Such withdrawal creates an inherent mystery that can be accessed only through indirect means, such as through their sensual manifestations and the aesthetic dimension. “Withdrawal means that at this very moment, this very object, as an intrinsic aspect of its being, is incapable of being anything else: my poem about it, its atomic structure, its function, its relations with other things” (Morton, 2013, p. 16).

Morton explores the idea that objects we perceive are not merely illusions but hold deeper realities that are closer and more complex than they appear. This metaphor, taken from the common warning on car mirrors, underscores the proximity and the intricate nature of objects that often escape direct perception. “Objects in Mirror are Closer than They Appear. Nature loves to hide” (Morton, 2013, p. 19).

Persistence and the Lifecycle of Objects #

In Morton’s terms, persistence refers to the enduring existence of objects over time despite their inherent withdrawal and continual transformation. Objects are born and die through a process that involves their interaction with other objects and the environment. The birth of an object is marked by its emergence into the aesthetic dimension, where it begins to interact with and affect other objects through its sensual qualities. Death, conversely, is not a mere cessation but a transition where an object’s components and traces are reabsorbed and reconfigured within the broader web of relations.

This cyclical nature of birth and death underscores the dynamic and interconnected reality of objects, as they persist through continuous processes of withdrawal and re-emergence. Morton describes this as a magical interplay where “every object sparkles with absence” and its presence is marked by the traces and footprints it leaves in the aesthetic realm, emphasizing the enigmatic and transient nature of existence (Morton, 2013, p. 15). In his discussion on persistence and the lifecycle of objects, Morton writes, “The very fact of an object’s existence implies that it will at some point transition, disperse, or transform, contributing to the endless cycle of creation and dissolution that defines the universe” (Morton, 2013, p. 202). This quote reinforces the idea that objects are always in a state of flux, continually being born anew and dying, yet persisting in different forms and through different interactions.

Dark Ecology and Interdependence #

Morton’s ecological insights are interwoven with his philosophical stance. He suggests that understanding objects through their aesthetic and magical interactions can lead to a deeper ecological awareness. Objects, in their withdrawn nature, participate in a broader ecological system that transcends mere mechanical interactions. “In an age of ecological awareness we will come again to think of art as a demonic force, carrying information from the beyond, that is, from nonhuman entities such as global warming, wind, water, sunlight and radiation” (Morton, 2013, p. 21). A dark ecology.

Morton also draws on Buddhist concepts to elaborate his ideas. The notion of interdependence, a key tenet in Buddhism, aligns with his views on the interconnectedness of all objects. “Just as in Buddhism, where everything is interdependent and nothing exists in isolation, objects in Realist Magic are always part of a larger mesh of relations” (Morton, 2013, p. 140). This reflects the Buddhist understanding that phenomena arise co-dependently, reinforcing the idea that objects are not isolated entities but are defined by their relations and interactions.

References #

Morton, T. (2013). Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality. Open Humanities Press.