To read Timothy Morton's "Ecology Without Nature" is to be slapped in the face, not with the content of his argument but with the style of his writing. Although for some reason he begins denying that his is a postmodern book written in postmodern prose, the opposite is evident to anyone who flips through and tries to work through the dense undergrowth of his prose. It comes as no surprise that he rejects association with the po-mo crowd but embraces deconstruction and Derrida, as if these had nothing to do with each other. Such contradiction runs rampant through the text, not hidden at all but celebrated as if establishing the deconstruction-ness of it all. And, as if to justify the writing style, Morton also cannot resist dropping the name of every philosopher he tripped (sic) over in grad school, those familiar and those unknown.
Perhaps we deserve this, but do we need it? Morton says yes, that Ecological writing, which he refers to with the neologism "ecomimesis," is too grounded in the romantic assumption that we humans can somehow, perhaps through literature, identify with the otherness we call "nature," thus Morton's critique of the "ecomimetic illusion of immediacy" what he also refers to as the "beautiful soul syndrome." His text is more a negative attack on the assumptions of romantic nature writers than the construction of an alternative. What is deconstruction if not a universal acid that deconstructs even its own efforts? So how could he create anything of any use, other than as a critique of the romantic assumptions running rampant?
In this, I am sympathetic to his argument even as I am repelled by his condescending voice. I see it, to some extent, in the tradition of William Cronon's critique of the idea of wilderness as far too romantic.
Yet why write in a voice that creates a wall between the text and the reader, since the point of writing is to communicate? Like any po-mo deconstructionist, Morton loves to throw around the word "commodity." Perhaps this is what such language is, the commodity of the graduate school and the tenure-track professor trying to establish his (or her) credentials in the hierarchical aristocracy of academia, entrance into which requires the possession of such a tongue?
I can imagine grad students trying to prove themselves worthy poring over the complexities inherent in every other sentence like medieval supplicants trying to approach the mysteries of the mass chanted in a Latin they did not know. It is a symbol of a world which seems full of knowing and mystery and wonder inside of which the holy of holies hides, revealed only to the inner sanctum of the priesthood.
Thus, we get a paragraph that begins "Ecomimetic ekphrasis sits in an oblique relation to the text," as indeed does the intelligent reader. What to make of: "This jetztzeit or nowness is an intense signifying atmosphere that erupts out of the `homogeneous empty time' of official reality, even when the ideological machinery is running smoothly."
Despite the modern and post-modern feel of his ramblings, what Morton cannot completely hide is his rediscovery of the pre-modern religious idea of "sin." No, not sex, but the reality that we are all trapped in this illusion of a text from which we cannot escape. That every attempt to get from "I" to "Thou" fails because we cannot escape ourselves. Hence Emily Dickinson:
How adequate unto itself
Its properties shall be
Itself unto itself and none
Shall make discovery
Adventure most unto itself
The Soul condemned to be -
Attended by a single hound
Its own identity.
That we cannot escape from ourselves into some blessed other we call Nature, the heart of the book, is thus an ancient tale retold many times, and in much clearer style. Back in the 60s, Norman O Brown said quite clearly, "The Fall is into language." Outside of the text is not, as Derrida said, nothing, but a void which to us is holy terror, not grace. Morton has brought us stumbling full circle back to the Old Testament: "In the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom."