Eco-relational Aesthetics: Wandering Around Dualistic Ruins

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Eco-relational Aesthetics: Wandering Around Dualistic Ruins

Elena Mancioppi


Summary of Aesthetics Without Sub-/Ob-jects: Towards a New Ecology of Perception by Nicola Perullo

Nicola Perullo, Estetica senza (s)oggetti: Per una nuova ecologia del percepire (Rome: DeriveApprodi, 2022), 240 pp., in Italian. ISBN: 9788865484494


Aesthetics Without Sub-/Ob-jects is the latest book by Nicola Perullo, who has been investigating the possibilities for an ecological aesthetics for several years.[1] It aims at challenging the very cornerstone of Western thought, namely the subject-object model and some of its ramifications. The title pays homage to Arnold Berleant’s “Art Without Object,”[2] as well as to Tim Ingold, who encourages us to think of a World Without Objects.[3]

The work is composed of five chapters: the first is a panoramic manifesto; the second develops a relational understanding of reality taking inspiration from quantum physics; the third outlines some features of such an aesthetics while critically scrutinizing the philosophical current of the object-oriented ontology; the fourth puts forward an inquiry on haptic perceiving; and the fifth deals with perceptual (dis)continuity and with thinking as an artisanal skill.

The book starts by raising a strong ethic-political issue, the global crisis occurring today, which is, according to the author, concurrently a crisis of perception. Such a problem can be read as the very fil rouge of the essay, gradually addressed by conjugating it on different levels. Indeed, the dualistic and oculocentric paradigm, together with the alleged inescapability from such an ontological landscape, is questioned by sketching a radically relational, antifoundational and process-oriented philosophy.[4] In so doing, Perullo weaves together some aesthetic implications, claiming the urgency to “free ourselves from the subjugation to the visible” and to the solid.[5]

A new mode of perceiving is needed to displace us from the absolutist dominion of sight and to unveil the reality as processual and non-linear. We might say that the different perspectives the book intersects form a kaleidoscopic effect that ends up crumbling the visual system. Such a move, Perullo posits, is compelling since the world-becoming is in contrast with any anthropocentric ambition. This advocates the urgency for a truly eco-logical awareness, in that sustainability encompasses the proceeding of living as such qua a manifestation of consciousness. Conversely, most of the current activist rhetoric is solidly grounded on an ego-logical standpoint that follows from the distinction between mind and world. Note that Perullo’s critique is all but denialist; rather, it insists on the need to perceive that nothing is independent from its relations. In this frame, subjects and objects have to be understood accordingly. He suggests switching from the OOO (Object-Oriented Ontology) to PROO!, the PRocess-Oriented Ontogenesis.[6] Elsewhere, Perullo coined the acronym AWO for Aesthetics Without Objects, which is also AWS, an Aesthetics Without Subjects.[7] Indeed, conforming to the logic of theoretical consistency, the object is the specular reflection of the subject; the two go hand in hand; if one collapses, the other responds in kind.

However, this perceiving is still largely unexplored. In this respect, Perullo proposes the theory of haptic perceiving as opposed to optic perception.[8] Although related to touch, the haptic is cross-modal and longitudinal to the senses. In a nutshell, perceiving haptically is the name for the passive disposition where the action occurs. The haptic “rides the crest of the surfaces it crosses,”[9] adhering to the processes and corresponding to the evaporation of the ego, hence fostering the anonymity of an all-encompassing “feeling.” Quoting Perullo, “The haptic is participatory, but a participation without belonging [here he recalls a thought of Jacques Derrida] without exclusive rootedness to the earth: wind and air constantly shift it. The haptic is a transitory and impermanent event but, as we shall see, it does not fall into nothingness.”[10] The dismissal of the “I” here is not just conceptual but also stylistic. The content proves to be consistent with and performed by its form, as the author opts in favor of the use of verbs and of the middle voice.

Endorsing the idea that perceiving is ecological in its most far-reaching reverberations, Perullo insists on its being a posture: not a unidirectional grasp but an incessant tuning. “This rhythm corresponds with the plane of communication, understood not as the exchange of information but as that which is placed in common: cum-scientia. Before action, and interaction, there is a shared terrain, the composite ground of with also indicated by current theories of co-existence and co-operation.[11] In other words, every event is a perceiving, and every perceiving is an event. Perceiving is not a phase as something in between feeling and thinking; rather, it is a phase in a field, both in its aesthetic connotation as developed by Berleant,[12] and in the quantum meaning of the term. In the latter sense, Perullo delineates thought-provoking remarks considering Rovelli’s relational interpretation of quantum physics. Although usually taken as the emblem of ontological solidity and stability, even a stone is all but the outcome of a complex relational knot in the game of mirrors the reality is composed of. If the very identities are transitory, it follows that rigidity has to be superseded by fluidity. To put it another way, the reality rarefies. Perullo’s aesthetics is then more compatible with medium than substances, therefore with water but especially with air and wind, invisible but percolating fabrics of forces. Using a Gibsonian terminology, the medium is what affords the flow of information; analogously, this rarefied aesthetics opens to the airy dimension to stress the immersivity in the flux of relationships that are endlessly entangled. This immersivity, however, has nothing to do with the lately booming popularity of immersive designed experiences. Actually, we are always immersed; the programmatically immersive model often presupposes the possibility of existence of nonimmersive reality.

This very dense book does not pursue any theoretical substitution; rather, it follows an analogical, connective, even syncretistic logic. As such, the essay does not assume the typical academic attitude, despite its thematic richness and rigorous reasoning. The proceeding, more than a pursuing, resembles floating. Not coincidentally, “in this aesthetic, one does not mark out a territory but navigates the high seas. So it is not a question of multi- or inter-disciplinarity, but of indiscipline: a wandering between borderline and not perfectly mastered territories, almost like a dabbler.”[13] Perullo neither embarks on a direct dismantling of the dualistic frame nor erects an alternative architecture to replace the former one. Using an adjective borrowed from François Jullien, an oblique dislocation from the dualistic mind is put in place to perceive that reality is not fragmented. We might say that Perullo flies over dualistic ruins, driving our attention to the crevices of such a dense edifice. It is precisely in the interstices that fresh air flows, renovated philosophical possibilities wiggle, and diverse species of living/thinking flood. In this sense, a recurrent image is that of compost as proposed by Donna Haraway. This idea implies that “we” are symbionts, always and inherently with, cum-. Humans are not isolable entities but the temporary result of intra- and interspecific relationships, as proven by the most updated biological findings. A human essence does not exist; rather, taking up a recent proposal by Ingold, “to human” is a task. Like perception, humanity is a verb, a process to be done and undergone in correspondencenot interaction, presupposing an autonomy prior to individuals – with the world. In other terms, humanity is a story, or a potential, and this book aims at airing it out.


Elena Mancioppi

Elena Mancioppi is Research Fellow at the University of Gastronomic Sciences (Pollenzo, Italy). Her interests include smell perception, olfactory aesthetics, atmospheres and air design.

Published on March 12, 2023.

Cite this article: Elena Mancioppi, “Eco-relational Aesthetics: Wandering Around Dualistic Ruins,” Contemporary Aesthetics, Volume 21 (2023), accessed date.



[1] See Nicola Perullo, “Feet, Lines, Weather, Labyrinth: The Haptic Engagement as a Suggestion for an Ecological Aesthetics,” Contemporary Aesthetics 17 (2019).

[2] Arnold Berleant, “Art Without Object,” in Creation and Interpretation, eds. R. Stern, P. Rodman and J. Cobitz (New York: Haven, 1985), 63-72.

[3] Tim Ingold, The Life of Lines (London & New York: Routledge, 2015).

[4] Whitehead, Bergson, Deleuze and Massumi are other key references of the book.

[5] Nicola Perullo, Estetica senza (s)oggetti: Per una nuova ecologia del percepire (Rome: DeriveApprodi, 2022), 7. Unless otherwise indicated all translations from Italian are by the author.

[6] In Italian there is a further pun that has no meaning once rendered in English. The initials of the words of the original title, Estetica senza (s)oggetti, form an acronym, esso, that corresponds to the third singular neutral pronoun (verbatim, “one” or “it”). Perullo utilizes it to highlight the distancing from both the subjectivist and objectivist paradigm. The latter is expressed in Italian by ego (that, in opposition to aesthetics without sub-/ob-jects, is the estetica governata da oggetti, “object-oriented aesthetics”).

[7] Nicola Perullo, “Aesthetics Without Objects: Towards a Process-Oriented Aesthetic Perception,” Philosophies 7(1), 21 (2022), 1-19.

[8] See Nicola Perullo, Epistenology: Wine as Experience (New York: Columbia University Press, 2020).

[9] Nicola Perullo, “Haptic Taste as a Task,” The Monist 101, 3 (2018), 261-276, 266.

[10] Perullo, Estetica senza (s)oggetti: Per una nuova ecologia del percepire, 26.

[11] Ibid., 11.

[12] Arnold Berleant, The Aesthetic Field: A Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience (Springfield: Thomas, 1970).

[13] Perullo, Estetica senza (s)oggetti: Per una nuova ecologia del percepire, 28.