evolving ecological media culture(s)

EMI Week 1


The following notes are reading notes provided to students in an upper-level undergraduate course entitled “Ecopolitics and the Cinema.” The course name is a little outdated, as the course has evolved in the direction of an ecophilosophical exploration of cinema, but a new title has not yet been approved.

As an Environmental Studies course, it is tailored to students majoring in interdisciplinary environmental studies. Concepts from other disciplines — such as philosophy, film or cultural studies, and others — are introduced and explained more carefully than they would be in other disciplinary contexts.


The first set of readings gets us into the heart of the perspective we will be taking on film in this course.


This provides a summary of the framework. While it will seem complicated at first — especially starting with page ix — you’ll hear it reiterated so often it will probably become “second nature.” At least that is my hope. Feel free to come back to this summary at any time later.

The key to this framework, as you will soon see, is to come to understand that everything comes not in twos (male/female, hot/cold, mind/body, matter/spirit, good/evil, true/false, etc.), but in threes. That’s because things are always in motion, always dynamic and changing, and to capture that kind of dynamism, we generally need three terms. Trust me on this (for the moment)! 🙂


The first 4 pages or so are a variation of what I said in my Power Point mini-lecture in Monday’s class. Feel free to re-view the presentation as you read this. From that point, things get interesting!

[Note: With its many images and video clips, the presentation exceeds by far the maximum upload size for this web site, so I haven’t been able to add it. Dividing it into chunks would make it too clunky. Students in the UVM class can find it on BlackBoard. I’m not quite ready to put it on YouTube, especially as there are copyright issues and permissions that I would have to deal with first.]

Next section: A central concept here is that cinema “creates worlds.” The word (or suffix) “-morphism” and “morphology” will reappear a lot: “Cosmomorphism” means the creation of a world or “cosmos.” “Geomorphism” means the creation of a geography, a physical world of things we largely take for granted. “Biomorphism” means the creation of a dynamic and interactive “life-world.” “Anthropomorphism” means the creation of a human world, a world of subjects that we understand as actors, actively shaping and responding to the world.

The section on “Stalker” describes a film that we will watch in 3 weeks. While you likely haven’t seen it, the description provides a pretty good taste of the story, and it’s a good example to see how the previous section’s theoretical material can be applied to a film.

The final section, “The Argument and the Book,” provides another summary of what’s to come.


This is the most dense and philosophical chapter in the book. We’ll spend a fair bit of time going over all these concepts, but it’s important that you try to “get them” before we do that in class.

With a few exceptions (such as Peirce and Whitehead), you will not be expected to remember all the names that pop up in the book. What’s more important is the concepts, which generally fall into a TRIADIC framework, i.e. one made up of three elements. Once you start to see how these triads work, this will all begin to fall into place pretty quickly.

The basic triad is this, and it’s the basic way of conceiving of any relational process:

1. Stuff!  – – – >
2. Stuff happens (setting off chain reactions)  – – – >
3. “So this is what’s happening!”

C. S. Peirce called these:
1. firstness
2. secondness
3. thirdness

So with film, there’s

1. the Film-world itself: This is the world of a film, as it is on its own.
2. the Film Experience: This is someone’s experience of watching and making sense of the film, i.e., of entering into the film and travelling with and through it. It’s what happens when the Film-world meets a viewer.
3. the Film-world – Real-world relation (or the Film – World Relation): This is what happens when that film-experience (the encounter described in #2) works its way into the rest of the world/universe.

Each of these in turn is a triadic process:

1. THE FILM-WORLD (the film in itself) consists of:
i. Geomorphism (stuff)
ii. Biomorphism (stuff happening)
iii. Anthropomorphism (“so this is what we are!”)

2. THE FILM EXPERIENCE (the film as experienced by someone):
i. Spectacle (stuff)
ii. Narrativity/Sequentiality (stuff happening… one thing after another… what’s going to happen next?)
iii. Exo-referentiality (what does it mean? so that’s what it means!)

i. Material ecologies (stuff happening, since this is a dynamic relationship that’s always in progress)
ii. Mental/perceptual ecologies (the ways that stuff happens)
iii. Social ecologies (the “we” for whom stuff happens and who make sense of it)

Once we’ve figured all this out, the rest is smooth sailing! The rest of the book simply applies this framework to films (lots and lots of them), and to life and the universe.


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