Several weeks back, I attended the 4th Humanities on the Edge lecture at the Sheldon Art Museum on city campus. The event was advertised in our communication studies 250 class. I truly had no idea what i could expect from this lecture. I entered Sheldon Art Museum and left my bag outside the auditorium. Before long, Damien approached the podium and gave introduction to the night's speaker, Dr. John Durham Peters. Damien gave Dr. Peters a warm welcome to the stage and informed the audience as to his credibility and accomplishments saying, Dr. Peter's has authored two novels including Speaking Into the Air and last year he published his second work titled, The Marvelous Clouds. After Damien had established Dr. Peters' ethos, the keynote speaker himself approached the stage.
Dr. Peters explained that he would be speaking about his most recent novel The Marvelous Clouds. He said that clouds might seem like an odd subject matter for a communication scholar but explained this by explaining the job of a comm scholar as he sees it, "the job of a communication scholar is to find the things we take for granted." I thought that this job description was very intriguing because i never really thought about a comm scholars role outside of studying communication in the most literal sense. In Dr. Peters' work it seemed that communication was blending with physical sciences in order to create a multifaceted understanding of something that we see all the time, but never really think about. Since the beginning of time humans have looked to the sky for answers, even thinking it was a symbol for the divine "heaven."
Now that Peters had established his intentions he proceeded to look at clouds throughout history and the way that meaning was formerly found in said clouds. Interestingly, there was a time when people truly believed that cloud formations would indicate certain fortunes, or would be a sign from god. Today there is a sort of moratorium on reading clouds, but Peters argues this saying, "it may be silly to say that clouds mean things, but it would also be silly to say that they mean nothing." i had to think hard about this to understand what he was trying to say, but i think now that he is saying that while clouds may not be god talking to us, there is still a lot to learn about our planet and ourselves through the movements and temperament of the clouds.
Dr. Peter structured his speech in order to cover three main points which are, difficulty in taking meaning from clouds, representing clouds, and that clouds are no longer cultural. He spoke about all the metaphors and imagery that is concerned with the clouds, like calling remote online file storage "the cloud." Or, how clouds meanings have adapted over time and more specifically how the wars of the 20th century changed our understanding of clouds forever. This military-based change was changed after the advent of things like mustard gas (toxic chemical clouds) and the A-bomb (Radioactive mushroom clouds). Before this point clouds could not directly kill people, now clouds which were once fleeting and wispy forms in the sky could now destroy cities and kill hundreds of thousands of people.
I think that Dr, Peters point is that while clouds may not have higher meaning in and of themselves, humans lend clouds meaning and in this way they do in fact need to be understood. Clouds have been understood as cute bubbly and wispy, and now they have been seen as a medium for weapons of destruction and war. So while the clouds are probably not signs from god, they certainly hold meaningful and important meaning to each and everyone of us.