Objective Hyperreality vs. Hyperobjective Reality

The following is an overrun footnote that had to get expelled from my dissertation-in-progress. Here in exile, may it rest in peace.

Jodi Dean argues that the Internet, on the one hand, “imagines, stages and enacts the “global” of global capital. But on the other this global is nothing like the world — as if such an entity were possible, as if one could designate an objective reality undisturbed by the external perspective observing it or a fully consistent essential totality unruptured by antagonism” (Dean 2005: 67-68). Latent in Dean’s argument is that the reach of capital is beyond “our specific worlds,” beyond the image of the global that the internet puts forth. Then, it can be surmised that capital has captured “an objective reality” beyond the specific worlds of situated experiences. Although the totalizing ruse of the imagined global makes it seem as if “everything is already there” inside the network (69), the foreclosed outside cannot exceed a planetary scale regardless. Put differently, capital has already captured the objective reality of the planetary scale as its launchpad. The planetary scale is where the informatic infrastructure of capital is installed, it is the operative horizon of all the satellites orbiting the earth and all the fiber optic cables spread across the bottom of the oceans.

In this sense, what was surmised from Dean’s argument — namely the planetary scale that capital has already expropriated as its own objective reality — can be better explained if dubbed, following Timothy Morton, in terms of a hyperobjective reality. But we might need to first briefly examine Jean Baudrillard’s conception of hyperreality.

When the real itself, or that which bears the function of the real, is generated by models and doubles that bear no reference to an original reality, all that is left is the “Precession of Simulacra.” Hyperreality is inaugurated by “a liquidation of all referentials — worse: with their artificial resurrection in the system of signs” (Baudrillard 1994: 2). The theory of simulacra is among the first attempts to account for the cultural logics of a new era of capitalist development, for which postmodernism has come to stand as the most ubiquitous designation. This era is marked by “an operation of deterring every real process via its operational double, a programmatic, metastable, perfectly descriptive machine that offers all the signs of the real and short-circuits all its vicissitudes” (2). Here capitalism is exclusively carried on by the symbolic exchange of signs which are ungrounded from any real referentiality that would have hitherto determined their value. Exchange or abstraction itself generates the real of capital. Hyperreality, therefore, is based on the dissolution of the “sovereign difference,” hence the signs of the real being substituted for the real. This makes it a challenge to think about an objective hyperreality.

An aesthetics of the hyperreal is made apparent by visual technologies that attempt “a frisson of vertiginous and phony exactitude, a frisson of simultaneous distancing and magnification, of distortion of scale, of an excessive transparency” (28). Baudrillard charts microscopic vision, pornography, and the generics of An American Family, a 1971 reality TV series, as harbingers of hyperrealistic aesthetics. Such aesthetics presents that which comes across as effectively and operationally more real than what previously operated as reality, or for that matter as sex or as nature. If effective signs and symptoms of the real can be generated and operationalized without the real preceding them, then is an objective diagnosis of (hyper)reality possible any longer? I might not sat objectivity is technically precluded, but has perhaps lost its significance, because hyperreality does not leave anything out. It does not rest on any preexisting territory that could be previously mapped by a logic of “imaginary coextensivity.” It first produces the map, and its territory will be generated thereof. There will be no imaginary, no sign or symptom which is not as real as reality used to be, if not more. And there will neither be a reality as such because “no imaginary envelops it anymore” (2). Objectivity, in the sense of the faculty of distinction between that which can be accounted for as true fact and that which is false, is threatened when confronted by the hyperreal, which is “produced from a radiating synthesis of combinatory models in a hyperspace without atmosphere” (2). Hyperreality resolves the question of objectivity by invariably enabling it in regard to all the operative elements that take part in an order that functions as same as the real used to.

The loss of an objective reality is therefore occupied by a kind of materialist indeterminacy or, as Morton would say, “a boiling whirlwind of impermanence” that is today’s capitalism (Morton 2010: 130). This loss, however, has always been fundamental to capitalist operations, or to an understanding of the world and its reality after capitalism. “There was no world before capitalism,” writes Morton. Nature only shows up and becomes intelligible as Nature once attempts at terraforming Earth have already been made, when Nature has de facto vanished: “Things are first known when lost” (132). Global warming and the planetary extents of nuclear contamination, among others, shape what we refer to as the world and also bring about the end of the world, rendering the operational capacities of such a concept redundant. In other words, following its fundamental mechanism of dissolution and abstraction, capitalism “creates things that are more solid than things ever were… things that appear almost more real than reality itself” (130). These things are hyperobjects, “things that are massively distributed in time and space relative to humans… [T]he sum of all the whirring machinery of capitalism” (Morton 2013: 1). Speaking of a universe entirely assimilated into the matrices of late capitalism, Morton refers to the most widely cited sentence that Karl Marx quoted from Macbeth, “all that is solid melts into the air,” and continues, “at the very point at which the melting into the air occurs, we catch the first glimpses of the all-too-solid iceberg within the mist” (20). Therefore, that which was previously intended as an objective reality of the world as such can now be only traced in a search for hyperobjective realities.

Important in this transition is also a revision of postmodernism. “The ultimate goal of this project,” writes Morton of postmodernism, “was to set up a weird transit lounge outside of history in which the characters and technologies and ideas of the ages mill around in a state of mild, semiblissful confusion” (4). The confusing indeterminacy of hyperreality, so to speak, gives way to the shocking reality of hyperobjects. Finally, while the simulacra and the genesis of hyperreality were frequently ascribed to televisual effects, their hyperspace seems to be now populated by the all-too-real hyperobjects that, by extension, locate the pursuit of objectivity on the internet and computational networks of various kinds. Nonlocality, after all, is one of the key common properties of hyperobjects. Just like the distributed networks of planetary informatics, “one only sees pieces of a hyperobject at any one moment;” local manifestations that are not the direct equivalents of the larger totality (4). Morton proposes the practice of an “Ecological Thought” that can attend to the future of these hyperobjects, a mode of thinking that can attend to an “Ecology without Nature.” Since hyperobjects or, we could say, the hyperobjective reality of the internet and its distributed networks outscale us so massively that although we know that they are there, we cannot point to them directly (12), the ecological thought needs to stand in as a mode of “irreductionist thinking” that can encounter the “scalar dilemmas” that hyperobjects present (19).