What A Mesh


Timothy Morton’s ecological theory is meshy. Literally, actually. For Morton, mesh explains the interconnectedness of all living and non-living beings. infinite both in number of connections and scale of differentiation. He states:

The ecological thought does, indeed, consist in the ramifications of the truly wonderful fact of the mesh. All life forms are the mesh, and so are all the dead ones, as are their habitats, which are also made up of living and nonliving beings. We know even more now about how life forms have shaped the Earth (think of oil, of oxygen–the first climate change cataclysm). We drive around using crushed dinosaur parts. Iron is mostly a by-product of bacterial metabolism. So is oxygen. Mountains can be made of shells and fossilized bacteria. Death and the mesh go together in another sense, too, because natural selection implies extinction (Morton, The Ecological Thought, 2010).

At first glance, this idea doesn’t seem to jive with object-oriented studies, which holds that all objects exist independent of other objects and possess agency, or the capacity to move in and out of relations (and assemblages of relations). If all objects are interconnected, however,  they lack agency and, instead, remain ensnared within a totalizing relational determination. Independence of preordained–so noted because absolute relationality implicates relations, themselves, in a clown walk of codependence–relational assemblages is impossibilized, precipitating the stacking of relations on top of one another to forge illusive teleological regimes. So, does that mean the concept must be discarded, since that Tim is an OOO’er?

Not necessarily. He just needs to clean up his mesh. Rather than defining it in hyperrelational terms that undermine objects themselves, Morton should, in my view, define the mesh topologically, as the sum total of all relations extant in a given spatiotemporal frame. In this way, the mesh complements Morton’s hyperobjects thesis, completing the object-oriented turn of the ecological thought. Hyperobjects are characterized by an ambiguous mereology, in that they cannot be locally manifested because of their massive distribution. In other words, manifestations of a hyperobject–for example, Earth–have achieved escape velocity for the objects they pertain. Hyperobjects remain fully objectal, however, despite their size, a point that is sometimes missed. Even though hyperobjects occupy a higher dimensional space than “smaller” objects to which they adhere, they are fully agential beings, capable of entering into and departing relations. Operationalizing the mesh as the summation of all objects, on the other hand, would undermine objects, turning the mesh into an ultimate hyperobject from which all other entities could never, even in theory, be severed. In effect, the mesh would become a single substance, an objectal form, with other objects being defined in terms of alienation from this ideal. Put simply, the mesh would be God, auscultating itself through the becoming-other of its constituent parts.

Instead, the mesh can be understood relationally, as the aggregate of all encounters between objects in a given assemblage. Just as a hyperobject can be parsed in terms of parts and wholes, so can the mesh. Thus, the mesh can be adapted to describe objects relating in various scales. If capitalism is a fictive hyperobject for Western economic entities, then the mesh encapsulates all commodified relations occurring within a capitalist framework in a given temporal frame. Like hyperobjects, the mesh can be scaled up or down, depending on the entities in question. Importantly, the mesh is not, itself, a relation, but a fictive entity bounded by prehension (if all relations are translations, then relations comprising the mesh are always already ‘sensual’, in the phenomenological sense of being ‘intentional’ deployed by Graham Harman). The key, here, is in the uncanniness of the mesh that parrots hyperobjectal incertitude, the inherent unfamiliarity of even the most familiar objects, or what Morton calls ‘strange strangers’. Meshed entities exist coexistentially, yet contingently, meaning that no matter how close they appear to one another, objects cannot achieve a speed great enough to outrun their finitude. Accordingly, when objects seemingly should be on a march toward intimacy through repetition of relations, the absence of each other’s being is made more and more present, the gulf of becoming–indeed, awareness of the lack of total interdependence–widened. Repetition of the withdrawn essential chasm births both reverence and horror, rendering the mesh a field of relational anxiety, within which objects are neither reducible to signification nor instrumentality, but expose processes of projection as an objectal withdrawal masquerading as a structurally individuated subjectivity.

Put a bit poetically, existence in the mesh implicates the contingent affirmation of an unseen Other refracted through the looking glass, instead of an enduringly entangled binary of self and not-self on either side of a prismatic plane. That said, relations within the mesh seek not the colorful space opened on the other side of the rabbit hole, but, in contrast, a fuller experience of descent, simply out of love for the act of falling.

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