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The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  120 ratings  ·  19 reviews
When we speak of clouds these days, it is as likely that we mean data clouds or network clouds as cumulus or stratus. In their sharing of the term, both kinds of clouds reveal an essential truth: that the natural world and the technological world are not so distinct. In The Marvelous Clouds, John Durham Peters argues that though we often think of media as environments, the ...more
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published June 19th 2015 by University of Chicago Press (first published May 6th 2015)
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Samuel Brown
Dec 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is my favorite recent book of philosophy. While it's framed as media studies, it marvelously sloshes out of that disciplinary container, like waves crashing in the wake of a breaching whale.[1] While Peters is clearly polite to his predecessors in the field, it's clear that he's using the traditions of media studies to think much bigger thoughts than that historically niche field could contain. The book is heady stuff, and it will take me a few readings to believe that I have a solid unders ...more
Wrote Peirce to James: “Living in this beautiful country, I cannot but be overwhelmed by the lovableness of the universe, as everybody is. Every mortal who stops to consider it is penetrated with love. It is irresistible."

This was one of the key books of the year for me. It’s a rather unwieldy tome, at times exasperatingly discursive, and it took me a while to work my way through it. But it was worth the effort as it opened for me a superwide vista of an astonishingly attractive philosophica
Douglas Wilson
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
Peters is fantastically well-read, and the book is filled with provocative insights. The one caterpillar in this salad -- and it is a caterpillar that moves around quite a bit -- is his dependence on Darwinism.
Michael Grasso
Sep 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Started strong, the last few chapters felt a little weak. I feel Peters was way stronger, ironically, when he wasn't talking about his area of expertise, modern media. But it's a great book and one I'm glad I spent the time with.
Sep 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Some interesting and different perspectives on media tracing it back to the elements.
This book is aimed at both media theorists/critics and the general audience who is interested in the modern condition. I doubt it satisfies either, but it's very much worth reading to see if it might satisfy you. If you're interested in science, technology, history, philosophy and theology and especially writing about all of the above that is more about making connections and be allusive and spinning metaphor and raising questions, then, yes, you very well might like it quite a bit. I did.

Feb 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
JDP provides a range of fantastic ideas which would, for sure, shake our thoughts about media (media studies). However, it is a brilliant book of randomness, scattered philosophical views, and somehow big and unexplained claims.
Steven Peck
Dec 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Easily one of the most important and compelling philosophy books I read this year.
Oct 29, 2019 rated it liked it
"The Marvelous Clouds" is one of those books that challenges a review. Occasionally transcendent, it nonetheless expended my patience as I approached the 300 page mark and decided to skip to the conclusion. However, once doing so, I found it stuck the landing.

What it's about? Well, it's about how nature provides the infrastructure for human experience in a way that underlies all of our techniques and technologies. For example, how dolphins may have storytelling, music, performance, politics, de
Feb 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bought this book thinking it was an essay on media theory - was pleasantly surprised to see it was an almanac of main elements / media of fire, water, time, air. A diverse ontological study of the history, philosophy and current state of main elements that shape lives. Hard to maintain all the book reveals to us, selected anecdotes and pieces of epistemological information from 4000 BCE all the way to this decade. One can only hope to maintain some of the knowledge, and better yet, internalize a ...more
Aug 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As staggering as it is beautiful.
Hooper Bring
Oct 27, 2020 marked it as to-read
Shelves: tech-body
Sounds like it has McLuhan’s influence.
Greg Kelly
John Durham Peters's work will blow your mind. He dissects every piece of the elements (fire, air, water, earth) and how they shape the aspects of technology, design and human creativity. This book is not for the amateur reader. It requires deep, transcendent thought concerning what is media and what is a medium. The connections between the natural world and the technological world are all around us. It is why Burning Man is the main team-building exercise for Google and Apple employees.

Look at
Mar 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Really good stuff. As a hard sciences person and newcomer to media theory, it was actually the small bits of text on infrastructural media and ablative relationships that were most interesting to me.

I was on board the whole way with Peters's premise but I do feel that a lot of his search for meaning, connections and epiphanies relies more heavily on linguistic bricolage than I am fond of. Probably need to re-read sections to critically evaluate that impression. That said there's more than enoug
Jul 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Loved it. Difficult and stimulating. Review forthcoming.
Scott Abbott
Jan 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
some exciting thoughts that widened my sense for media. a good editor would have shortened it by 100 pages and lost nothing
Braden Scott
Jan 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Yummy fun
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John Durham Peters is professor of English and film and media studies at Yale University. He is the author and editor of many books, including The Marvelous Clouds, Courting the Abyss, and Speaking into the Air, all published by the University of Chicago Press.

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“Books you have read share a deep ontological similarity with books you haven't: both can be profoundly fuzzy. At times books you haven't read shine more brightly than those you have, and often reading part of a book will shape your mind more decisively than reading all of it; there is no inherent epistemic superiority to having read a book or not having read it.” 3 likes
“Schopenhauer remarked that buying books would be better if you could also buy the time to read them. Books are different from natural objects in that they can overwhelm us in a way that nature’s abundance rarely does. There has always been too much to know; the universe is thoroughly baffling. When we walk into a bookstore, it is easy to feel oppressed by the amount of knowledge on tap. Why don’t we have the same feeling in a forest, at the beach, in a big city, or simply in breathing? There is more going on in our body every second than we will ever understand, and yet we rarely feel bothered by our inability to know it all. Books, however, are designed to make demands on our attention and time: they hail us in ways that nature rarely does. A thing is what Heidegger calls zunichtsgedrängt, relaxed and bothered about nothing. A plant or stone is as self-sufficient as the Aristotelian god or Heidegger’s slacker things, but books are needy. They cry out for readers as devils hunger for souls.” 3 likes
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