Hyposubjects

We live in a time of hyperobjects, of objects too massive and multiphasic in their distribution in time and space for humans to fully comprehend or experience them in a unitary way. A black hole is a kind of hyperobject, a biosphere is another. But in the Anthropocene many of the hyperobjects that concern us have human origins. For example, global warming. Or antibiotics. Or plastic bags. Or capitalism. These hyperobjects exceed and envelop us like a viscous fog; they make awkward and unexpected appearances; they inspire hypocrisy and lameness and dread.

A certain kind of human has helped usher the world into the hyperobjective era. Let’s call them hypersubjects. You will recognize them as the type of subjects you are invited to vote for in elections, the experts who tell you how things are, the people shooting up your schools, the mansplainers from your Twitter feed. Hypersubjects are typically, but not exclusively white, male, northern, well-nourished, and modern in all senses of the term. They wield reason and technology, whether cynically or sincerely, as instruments for getting things done. They command and control; they seek transcendence; they get very high on their own supply of dominion. Do you want to know what is irritating hypersubjects today? The fact that hyperobjects are whispering in their ears, whispering that this being and time that they have fashioned in their image and for their own convenience is dying. The voices in their heads say that there is no time for hypersubjects any more. It is hyposubjectivity, rather than hypersubjectivity, that is becoming the companion of the hyperobjective era.

Micronaut
Prototype for a hyposubject. Photo by Stephen Pierzchala.

So, as hypersubjects seeking to reform, we have begun in a fumbling, Roomba-like way to explore the political potentiality of hyposubjects. Although hyposubjectivity sounds a bit like an abject condition of being forced to endure and suffer the effects of viscous forces like climate change and capital, we wonder whether that sense of weakness and insignificance, that lack of knowledge and agency is actually what needs embracing. Looking backwards, the road to our present condition is paved with mastery of things, people, and creatures, with a weird faith in our species’ alleged ability to always know more and better. This project of investigating the hyposubject may end up resembling a book, but we hope it will grow on to become a game: maybe a role-playing game, because we all like costumes and because this is a game that needs more players. Soon, the project will be made open-source and open-access for collective reflection and elaboration. For the moment, though, here are some things we have been saying.

  • Hyposubjects are the native species of the Anthropocene and are only just now beginning to discover what they might be and become.
  • Like their hyperobjective environment, hyposubjects are also multiphasic and plural: not-yet, neither here nor there, less than the sum of their parts. They are, in other words, subscendent rather than transcendent. They do not pursue or pretend to absolute knowledge or language, let alone power. Instead they play; they care; they adapt; they hurt; they laugh.
  • Hyposubjects are necessarily feminist, colorful, queer, ecological, transhuman, and intrahuman. They do not recognize the rule of androleukoheteropetromodernity and the apex species behavior it epitomizes and reinforces. But they also hold the bliss-horror of extinction fantasies at bay, because hyposubjects’ befores, nows, and afters are many.
  • Hyposubjects are squatters and bricoleuses. They inhabit the cracks and hollows. They turn things inside out and work miracles with scraps and remains. They unplug from carbon gridlife; they hack and redistribute its stored energies for their own purposes.
  • Hyposubjects make revolutions where technomodern radar can’t glimpse them. They patiently ignore expert advice that they do not or cannot exist. They are skeptical of efforts to summarize them, including everything we have just said.

In sum, for the moment, the transcendent hypersubject continues to stalk the earth. But he is doing so in an increasingly flickering, even spectral way; his monophasic being is perpetually out of sync. Half-aware that his time is past, he lashes out violently, pouts, negates any alternative, bargains for salvational machines and afterlife redemptions. You might pity him were he not the cause of so much trouble over so much time. As we write, huge numbers of these distressed creatures are climbing inside of a balloon called Donald Trump, inflating it, hoping to fly away. But as in the film Gravity, what awaits us instead is the task of fabricating a future out of ruins and preparing for a long, perilous voyage back to earth. That future will belong to hyposubjects. If we wish to thrive, it is as hyposubjects that we will become human (again).