John Durham PetersNov 17, 2015
The Marvelous Clouds
Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media
University of Chicago Press 2015
John Durham Peters' wonderful new book is a brilliant and beautifully-written consideration of natural environments as subjects for media studies. Accessible and informative for a broad readership. The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media (University of Chicago Press, 2015) is structured as a series of meditations on and explorations of water, fire, air, earth, and ether media. After a chapter that sets out some of the foundational ideas shaping the book and charts an intellectual landscape for rethinking media, each of the following chapters offers a carefully curated series of studies of particulars - dolphin jaws, candles, towers, watches, clouds, feet, bells, weathermen, Google, and more - as a means of examining the significance of infrastructure, forgetting, technicity, and other modes of understanding media. Peters asks us to come with a fresh perspective to notions that we otherwise take for granted, and the result is a thoughtful and inspiring account that brings together media studies, theology, philosophy, and the natural sciences in thoroughly compelling ways. Among other things, the book is a call for a "greener media studies" that "appreciates our long natural history of shaping and being shaped by our habitats as a process of mediation." What if, Peters asks, we took nature instead of the mind as the "epitome of meaning"? What are the stakes of doing so? The result is among the most exciting and enjoyable books that I've read in some time.