A Theology of Matter

Emanuele Coccia is a philosopher and associate professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, writing on nature, art, theology and fashion. Here, he considers the age of the Anthropocene and the natural tools available to redesign our technological, biological and climatic balance

Artwork Cecilia Bonilla


The era that has just begun is unlike any other that history – human and non-human – has recorded to date. It is not the random result of a deviation of elements in the landscape. It is not the outcome of the emergence of new eyes and new minds observing the world. The break with the past has been much greater. It is not the inhabitants of the planet that have changed: It is the planet itself.

In the last few decades, the Earth has undergone an unprecedented acceleration on a technological, biological, climatic and geological level. An immense army of machines and artefacts has covered the Earth’s soil and consumes huge amounts of energy to maintain itself. Thousands of species have disappeared, triggering unstoppable mechanisms of alteration of ecological balances built during centuries of common evolution. The new climate regime is imposing changes on the life form and geographical distribution of thousands of plants, animals and species, transforming the balance of biomes. All the activities carried out by men have transformed the geological surface to such an extent that it is incomparable to what it once was.

We are all on a different planet from the one our ancestors knew, described and painted. It is as if we have now all landed – humans, plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, archaea – on another planet. We are pioneers: new Eves and Adams, forced to explore the world, to give names to the living and to things, to skin our knees walking through territories uninhabited until this point. But unlike the biblical myth, it is we who must transform this new planet into a habitable garden. 


We owe everything to stones.

We live, mostly, in constructions made of stones. They are no longer caves but enormous mineral constructions that we model in diverse forms. We spend the vast majority of our day surrounded by stones of all kinds. It is within stone spaces that we eat, sleep, make love, cook, wash, and regenerate. It is between walls of stones with different chemical compositions that we think, imagine, dream, write, draw, and build works of art.

Stones are not only the silent witnesses of our lives, they accompany us in other forms as well. We use stone and metal tools to get around. We call them automobiles and they are glass and metal objects that feed on a strange form of liquid stone – oil – and allow us to move on land. Other metallic objects, airplanes, also extracted from stone, allow us to move in the sky. Other artefacts, ships – produced through a combination of metals – allow us to move on water. Due to these modified stones, we are able to profoundly transform our lives, as well as the lives of the entire planet. Thanks to them, our species has radically multiplied its movements, redefined the fauna and flora of every space on Earth, and fundamentally transformed the very geography of the planet and the universe. Virtual corridors of stone have opened, everywhere, to allow all species to change position and migrate.

But other stones determine our lives today. It is in objects composed of stones and minerals – computers – that we record all our memories and thoughts. Polymers, plastics, ceramics, copper, iron, nickel, and silicon. Our brains are now made of the same substance as the planet. Our archives are made of the same material as the planet. And it is thanks to black stones – mobile phones – that we are able to communicate with anyone on the entire surface of the planet. Copper, silver, gold, tantalum, nickel, dysprosium, praseodymium, terbium, neodymium, gadolinium, silicon, oxygen, antimony, arsenic, phosphorus, gallium, and much more. The Earth allows us to connect with anyone. Our feelings are now conveyed not only by our bodies, but by the body of Gaia itself; it is as if we have transferred more and more of our life back into her body. As if we have made the Earth an appendage, a prosthesis of our own bodies.

Artwork Cecilia Bonilla


This humanisation of the body of the Earth has been called the Anthropocene. We wanted to acquire all the powers of the Earth, take possession of all the strength of the stones, occupy the matter of the planet with our thoughts, our emotions, our life. It has been an unconscious form of narcissistic obsession: We have demanded at all costs that our face be reflected on that of the planet. We have tried to mask its appearances. We could have tried the opposite: to let ourselves be invaded by the planet, to let ourselves be crossed by its forces, be shaped by its powers. But it is a path that is both more dangerous and more difficult. Letting ourselves be breached by Gaia means having to accept to change shape often, to transmit our life to other species, to consider the human form a simple mobile configuration of the planet’s life. It would have meant, above all, recognising that we are already of the same flesh as the planet, and that we do not need to impose a form on it to recognise our familiarity.

The design of the future will have to try to break out of this dialectic. To do so, we must try to work in two directions. First, recognise the deep integration between all the stones and the sky. The Earth is not an isolated reality in the cosmos; it is made of the same material of which all the sky is made, and to manipulate the earth is to manipulate the sky – to give form to the material divinity. Design is a form of theology of matter.

Secondly, the task of design will be to affirm once and for all the unity and equivalence of all materials. The Earth is not only the place of the disjunction of the destinies of species and materials, but the place of their recomposition and equality. Each species is the evolution – that is, the metamorphosis and recycling – of other species. This is also true for all matter. The Earth is the equivalence of all stones. Gaia is the only philosopher’s stone.

Artworks Cecilia Bonilla

This article is taken from Port issue 28. To continue reading, buy the issue or subscribe here