A Wonderfully Inconsistent Being: a Review of Timothy Morton’s Spacecraft
Spacecraft. Timothy Morton. Bloomsbury Academic, September 2021.
Published as part of the Object Lessons series from Bloomsbury, philosopher and ecologist Timothy Morton’s Spacecraft (2021) is a slim, lively study of the fantastic vessels of science fiction, and in particular those of the Star Wars universe, with the Millennium Falcon serving as the crux of the book. This craft signals “the irreducible uniqueness of how things are,” an idea that is central to Morton’s thought. Drawing on the resources of the school of object-oriented ontology, Morton unfolds their argument across an introduction and four compact chapters—“Garbage,” “Winnings,” “Hyperspace,” and “Anyone”—working to demonstrate the “radically democratic” nature of spacecraft, and indeed of Star Wars as a franchise—a much needed intervention given the recent and ongoing toxic episodes in the fandom. Morton’s language is sharp, their ideas persuasive, informed by years of work on such projects as Hyperobjects (2013), Dark Ecology (2016), and Humankind (2017). But Spacecraft requires no familiarity with Morton’s bibliography, nor with object-oriented ontology, and this is by design. Fatigued with the cynical and paranoid reason endemic to theory, Morton takes a different approach, a “deliberately naïve” one, recognizing that their purpose in writing this book is not to show that they “must be very intelligent,” but rather for “both of us,” reader and writer, to try “to change the world for the better.” This is the ultimate goal of Spacecraft, and indeed, it is the essential function of the book’s primary object, the Millennium Falcon.
I refer to the Millennium Falcon above as a “craft,” rather than a “ship,” following Morton in their distinction between these two generic sets of vessels. A craft is a “multiple entity” that does not have “an inside distinct from an outside”; a ship, on the other hand, implies “a kind of holism where the whole swallows all the parts.” The Millennium Falcon is a craft; a Star Destroyer is a ship. Where ships are used for blockades and bombardment, conquest and control, craft are for charting lines of flight, for escape and evasion, smuggling and stunting—indeed, as Morton writes, the Millennium Falcon seems “to open up the space for things to happen.”
Craft are never docked; always parked. Indeed, craft are often parked and forgotten, or even lost, making it possible for them to be found just when they are needed. For Morton, the “found-ness” of the Millennium Falcon signifies the “found-ness of all objects whatsoever, the fact that they resist total appropriation”. To follow this thought further, not only can a craft like the Millennium Falcon be found, but a craft can be won. The Falcon has no master, just people who fly it. The relationship is fundamentally different between the pilot and passengers on the Falcon and the crew of a Star Destroyer. Star Destroyers are hierarchical and authoritative; the Falcon is ecological and contingent.
For Morton, craft are a means for us to enter into a reality free from the dominating tractor beams of power. This reality is not a different reality from our own, because reality has “no ‘other’ side”—rather, it is the beach beneath the street, what has always been there, only paved over. This reality Morton refers to as hyperspace, “hyper no longer in the sense of beyond, but in the sense of concentrated or condensed,” spacetime as a feel, “space-feel,” not an empty, orderly Cartesian grid, but saturated and thick, or in Morton’s words, “creamy,” “damp,” “luminous,” and “glistening.” Hyperspace does not take us outside of space, outside of reality, but rather is the experience of space as envelopment, of time as temporality, of reality as “the very possibility of moving at all, anywhere.” Hyperspace is not some “sublime infinity” but a “gigantically beautiful entity” (a hyperobject) with which we enter into relation by way of spacecraft, a “middle” that can be accessed “from anywhere in the story.”
The possibility that anywhere, anyone can enter hyperspace is the radical political potential of spacecraft, a potential that Morton finds especially potent in the Star Wars iteration of faster-than-light travel. You do not need a crew of military personnel or special powers to enter hyperspace: you “just need to know how to flip some controls.” There are no guarantees that it will work—spacecraft are fundamentally contingent entities—but the possibility is always open and available to anyone who reaches for the instrument panel. The Millennium Falcon is a “wonderfully inconsistent being,” a “rickety but comfy freighter,” a vessel you can “tinker with” or “craft.” The pilots of the Falcon are crafty “artisans,” playing it like an instrument, like a game, and insofar as passengers of the Falcon “can hop on and off” at will, we the “audience-chorus” are invited to tinker, to craft, to play, becoming collaborators or conspirators with those who were already there and those who are yet to come, learning that the Falcon is not only a means for getting from one planet to another, but a means for “improvising a revolution.”
“The Falcon,” Morton writes, “really is a millennium falcon, a nonhuman being that announces the possibility of a new age.” This is the possibility that Morton first felt as a child, imagining spacecraft and playing with models. It is the possibility I first felt building LEGO Star Wars sets and poring over the Star Wars Incredible Cross-Sections books, reading every Star Wars: X-Wing book I could get my hands on and playing any video game available in which I could pilot a vessel from the Star Wars universe. It is the possibility I felt when Rey was still just Rey, and a young stable boy used the Force to pull a broom to his hand: the possibility that the Force is for anyone. As Morton astutely shows, hyperspace reveals that it is “a truly classless galaxy at its core, despite how people have messed it up,” that the Force is a continuum, a habitat, that one need only find a hyperdrive in a junkyard to make a break for the stars. This is the promise that spacecraft hold.
Eric Stein (he/him) is a game development instructor at Trinity Western University. His research bridges literature and gaming, applying phenomenological, hermeneutic, and deconstructive methods to the interpretation of interactive texts. He is also a practicing game designer, primarily working in the independent tabletop roleplaying space. His design work implements philosophical, political, and theological concepts in gamic form, bringing together theory and play for social, story-driven tabletop role-playing experiences. He tweets at @steinea.
This review was commissioned through an emailed pitch from ARB’s calls for reviews in June 2021; the review author and editors were acquainted through previous ARB pieces. The review was edited by Jake Casella Brookins and copyedited by Misha Grifka Wander. A review copy was arranged by ARB from Bloomsbury Academic.