English: Dark ecology
Deutsch: Dunkle Ökologie
French: Écologique sombre
Español: Ecología oscura
Italiano: Ecologia oscura
Русский: Темная экология
Origin of the term
The term “dark ecology” was introduced by the contemporary philosopher Timothy Morton (b. 1968) in his major work Ecology without Nature (2007) and was later used as the title of another book of his, Dark Ecology (2016). The concept is used to criticize ecological theories such as “Deep Ecology” and the Gaia hypothesis, according to which we are immersed in a vast ontological whole called “the world”, “nature” or “Gaia” like a child in a hospitable womb. Morton insists instead that “natural” objects stand in complex interrelations but do not form a connected whole, that they are bizarre and inexplicable and that it is inevitable for us to feel uncomfortable among them.
Timothy Morton finds the main flaw of most ecological movements in the key meaning they give to the concept of nature. Using the tools of critical philosophers such as Theodor Adorno, Morton subjects principal Romantic works to a critical reading in order to show that it was Romanticism that constructed the idea of the common whole in which people were immersed together with all the objects that were not created by them in its contemporary form (Morton : 79-139). This idea has penetrated the collective imagination of contemporary culture and has found expression both in the explicit talk of “nature” and in phenomena such as “ambient” music, creating a feeling of comforting ambience that embraces us (Morton : 32ff). In the spirit of empirical philosophy that has discredited concepts such as “matter” and “substance” Morton insists that such a “nature” is a pure abstraction that does not match anything in our experience. We are surrounded by concrete objects – rabbits, trees, skyscrapers – and if we take them out of our picture of reality there is nothing left that can be called “environment” (Morton : 11-12). What has real existence are the various objects that are related to us and among themselves in a number of complex ways, including the impact that human activity has on the conditions of life and the climate on the planet Earth, but there is no all-encompassing womb which contains all these things, and which always steers their changes in some “natural” direction.
From this point of view, ecology becomes “dark”, depressing, not only because we have set in motion devastating changes in the Earth’s climate and thus we have ended up in the position of Oedipus who had committed a crime without knowing that he had (Morton : 61–64). Ecology is “dark” also because we find ourselves thrown amidst the inhospitable presence of various mysterious objects, which, though conforming to similar physical principles, are not part of a meaningful, comprehensible, and predictable “natural” order of things. Both man-made objects and all the rest of phenomena are “uncanny”, “strange strangers” (Morton : 14–15, 17–19, 38–50), with which we are interdependent in numerous ways, but with which we do not always know how to interact so that we do not produce disastrous results.
Morton’s project aims to deconstruct the comforting illusion that “nature” will take care of us and itself. Dark ecology neither hides, nor mitigates the emotionally depressing conclusions of contemporary ecological studies, bet goes into the depth of the dark experiences those lead us to (Morton : 181–197), in order to extract from their core a new form of awareness that human coexistence with various other objects is inevitable. It is this awareness, according to Morton, that can be “sweet”, can bring pleasure that motivates ecological commitment – the pleasure of thrownness we share with other things, thrownness that makes them our companions and potential partners in our activities (Morton , especially 128–129).
The concept of “dark ecology” has inspired some recent studies of particular ecological processes (Roe & Lyons ) but seems to have had a greater impact on the art sphere, which tries to present the results of various research disciplines in an engaging manner, freed both from the anthropocentric point of view and of the claims of ecology to being “pretty” in the traditional sense (https://www.darkecology.net, accessed: 4. Dec. 2021).
- Morton, T., 2007, Ecology without Nature, Harvard, Massachusetts, and London: Harvard University Press.
- Morton, T., 2010, The Ecological Thought, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
- Morton, T., 2016, New York: Columbia University Press.
- Roe, M. & Lyons, A., 2021, “Dark ecologies: creative research in multi-species water environments,” in Green Letters, 25: 33-52.
How to Cite:
Gerjikov, Georgi (2021) Dark Ecology, in Thesaurus. Sofia University Dictionary of Philosophy. Online edition. Sofia: St. Kliment Ohridski University Press, 2021, ISSN 2815-2832.