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A Language Older Than Words
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137 of 140 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
Derrick Jensen's latest, A LANGUAGE OLDER THAN WORDS, is one of the most uncomfortable books I've ever read. As such, I suspect it was also highly uncomfortable for him to write. Its poetic use of words and skilled syntax only serve to emphasize, not obscure, the brutal honesty that he puts forth here.
The thesis is a simple one: We are killing the world. It's Jensen's rugged, insightful, and raw analysis of how and why we're doing it that makes me shudder when I read it. Having studied many of these themes before (well-written in books like Daniel Quinn's ISHMAEL), I've not encountered this subject in a way that touches the nerves that Jensen has managed to tap into. Killing the world, after all, is a horrifying thing, and Jensen exposes the horror by shining a bright light on it and analyzing where it comes from.
It's a brave book and a bold statement. And one that will be hated by many, particularly those who have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are. The bottom line is this: if you read this book and find yourself affected by it, there's a chance for all of us. If you read this book and wonder what all the hoo-hah is about, you're too far gone and wrapped up in our cultural ways and vision to ever find your way out. If you read this book and find it threatening to your way of life, then you're the enemy, and you need to reconsider which side of the line you stand on.
I can't think of a higher compliment to give a book than to wish that I'd had it within me to write it myself. I wish I had this kind of insight and courage, and I'm grateful that Jensen does.
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130 of 143 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 2002
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Jensen opens with a series of body blows: "Do we think about nuclear devastation, or the wisdom of producing tons of plutonium, which is lethal even in microscopic does well over 250,000 years?" Unlikely. "Does global warming invade our dreams?" Do wet plutonium dreams count? "In our most serious moments do we consider that industrial civilization has initiated the greatest mass extinction in the history of the planet?" I'm still considering whether to do my kitchen floors in linoleum or hardwood. "How often do we consider that our culture commits genocide against every indigenous culture it encounters?" That's the way the Darwinism cookie crumbles, right? "As one consumes the products manufactured by our culture, is s/he concerned about the atrocities that make them possible?" Not if one wants to look cool.

Do we ever stop to think about how messed up the world is? The answer, of course, is an overwhelming no. And if we do, it's not for very long. We don't think about these problems, we don't talk about them, and more importantly we don't try and stop them. In Jensen words, "We don't think about them, because they are too horrific to comprehend." They are too foreboding and ominous to stomach. They are, in effect, unspeakable.

After taking an honest look at the evolution of Western Civilization, Jensen draws the only logical conclusion that can be found: Our culture is insane. We are off our collective rocker. Reason, science, technological advancement and the work-a-day world have only driven us deeper into the carnival of horror and madness. Things are not getting better. They are getting worse with each passing day. Oops, I went and said it.

But you still believe in progress. Casually examine the context of your own life. In the last fifty years, "sane" men have killed 100,000,000 of their "sane" fellows (perhaps now a few women have gotten in on the action too). Maybe you knew some of them. Perhaps they were family members. Or perhaps it was you that dropped bombs, laid land mines, pulled the fatal trigger. Or perhaps, like me, your father went off to war and came back crazy. War... an aspect of our culture that is now more familiar and ordinary than ever before. (Need I even mention what "Dubya" is planning right now?)

Yet we are all live in work in this web of destruction together. Perhaps your paycheck comes with each fresh clear-cut, or perhaps you simply buy those clear-cut trees in the form of a new house, deck, or furniture. Perhaps you draw energy from a dammed river, helping kill off the last of the salmon. Or perhaps you are more intimately linked to the web of murder, genocide, mass rape, abuse, wage slavery, systemic impoverishment and ecocide that characterize life in the twentieth, and now twenty-first, centuries. Perhaps you are a victim. Perhaps you are an abuser. More than likely, you dabble in both.

That said, wherever you fall within the totem of abuse, don't ever admit there is a problem. Don't say with me, "My name is j.w.k., and I live and take part in a system that is utterly abusive, coercive and wrong." Rather, keep telling yourself that everything is fine. That is all right. Yes, we'll pull through. Humans are too bright to destroy themselves and the planet.

But that is exactly what we are doing... A fourth of all animals slated for extinction - 1000 times the natural rate of extinction. ("The government will do something. Anyway, extinction is part of life.") A quarter of all American women are raped, and another 19 percent are sexually abused. ("They should take self-defense courses and stop wearing such sluttish clothes.") Skin, prostate, colon and breast cancers are on the rise from industrial pollution, UV radiation exposure, and poor food quality. ("Our scientists will fix it. They'll invent something new and make it all better.") 150,000,000 children are enslaved, carrying bricks, chained to looms, or otherwise filling the Wal-Mart's of the Western world. ("Work builds character.") 32,000 people die of hunger everyday, in a world where one billion are too busy stuffing their faces with steak and marshmallows to care. ("I can hardly pay my own bills.")

Rationalizations... Sometimes witty, sometimes humorous, but always easy, efficient and painless ways to avoid the facing cognitive dissonance. They are the bedrock of our philosophy in a world awash with deprivation, hunger, war, famine, abuse, and ignorance amid waste, plenty and absurdity. Nazi Germany was good at rationalizing, too. Smoke billows up from Auschwitz: "It sure is a cloudy, Heinrich, isn't it?"

"When we do allow self-evident truths to percolate past our defenses and into our consciousness, they are treated like so many hand grenades rolling across the dance floor of an improbably macabre party."

Today we all live under concentration camp conditions, without even realizing. We also live in a world of hopeless and impending death. The only difference is, we can watch TV and pretend `it's all good.' As Kunster says in Home From Nowhere, "We demand fantasy in order to distract ourselves from the reality of life's tragic nature, and since reality tends to be insistent, we must keep the TVs turned on at all waking hours and at very high volume." Bring on the CNN. Hail Friends, Survivor, and the Comedy Channel.

Comedy amid horrors - next to oil it's our best selling commodity. After waking up to apocalypse every morning, one gets used to it. It becomes completely natural. Yet in our more lucid moments, should reality suddenly appear the phantasmagoria of pain, suffering, and hell it truly is, we can deny everything. We can take mental holidays or look the other way; but one thing is becoming increasing clear: We cannot play the denial game much longer. Something will give. If we do not awake from this nightmare of plutonium, rape, genocide and ecocide, we will most certainly perish along with the rest of the species we have consigned to eternal oblivion. Even our scientists now say so - when they can be heard over 500 billion screaming TVs.

Don't believe it, though. Don't believe any of it. It's a bunch of lies. Propaganda. Reactionary hype. Jensen is clearly out of his mind. Perhaps he's a communist. Don't listen to him, don't listen to me, nor to anyone else who blackens your rainbows or eclipses your sunshine. Don't buy this book. It might affect you. Go to the mall, plop down in front of the TV, or hit the disco and dance away the thought of this pessimistic review - but do keep an eye out for those grenades.

Essential reading.

j.w.k.
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71 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2000
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Oh how I wish I could get every member of Congress, say, or every schoolboard member across the country to read this profound book. Imagine such "leaders" having the sensitivity, insight and values that Derrick Jensen displays in this book! Our world would not be the same. The book has a lot of sadness to it - and why not, since the subject - the pain and destruction being inflicted upon our dear old mother earth and all her children - is a sad one indeed. There's a lot of honesty here, and a willingness to go places the less-courageous would never go. A sad, moving and powerful tale this is, but not a depressing one, for it goes deep into what ails us and our planet home, and that kind of depth is ultimately exhilerating and encouraging. A truly remarkable book - please buy it! In fact, buy as many as you can and give copies to friends and foes alike!
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
Derrick Jensen has written this book from his own, and the world's, soul. What starts as a "feel-good" book on interspecies communication becomes a searing examination of his own silencing as a child (his father viciously abused him, his mother, and his siblings), and his perspective widens to encompass the silencing of all life on earth through the murderous practices of industrial, religious, military, and political institutions through history. Jensen indisputably links individual suffering and violence with that of other life forms -- and of the Earth that we continue to ravage in our denial of pain. This book is a masterpiece; it is agonizing to read -- yet hopeful...though in a most cautious manner. To anyone daring to awaken to the signs in and around us, time is running out for us humans to change our suicidal and ecocidal behaviour. Jensen dares us to face our pain and transform it into loving action on behalf of Life. I consider him a prophet. He spares us nothing in his passion for healing. We must pass through raging agony in order to wake up and shake ourselves free of our denial and inertia -- but the pain we (and everything else that lives) will feel if we don't change our ways will be indescribably worse.
I also recommend Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown's book, "Coming Back to Life," which gives us specific practices that individuals, groups, and communities can do to take loving action. WE CAN DO THIS -- and we need to do it together.
Please -- read this book and act with it!
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is one of the most profoundly moving books I've ever read. I absolutely encourage everyone to buy it and read it, over and over. Never before have I read words that so courageously challenge our assumptions about the way we live while simultaneously awakening a profoundly intimate connection with our souls. Jensen weaves a story of abuse, love, and impassioned relationship with family, friends, nature, culture, and self. The son of a wealthy attorney in western Montana, Derrick Jensen reveals heart-wrenching details of his own childhood, and uses these experiences as a springboard to talk about the culture at large. In a provocative weaving of his own experience, critical research, and folk stories, Jensen makes clear the relationship between the intimate atrocities of domestic violence and the larger atrocities of ecological destruction. Yet, he promises that when we begin to change our way of living, on both personal and cultural levels, we will find a whole world of connection waiting for us. It is a world of joy and pain and love and sorrow, but most deeply of all, connection. With masterful skill, awareness, and insight, Jensen's hard-hitting yet poetic writing style forces readers into an acute awareness-and deep experience--of the connected relationships between our personal lives and the world. This book is a guide for living and should be read by anyone interested in being alive.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
I'll try to make this short. This is a wonderful book, but it's not perfect. It comes from the long tradition of idealism born in the American West which includes such figures as Josiah Royce, Ezra Pound and John Steinbeck (though its subect matter is like none of those writers'). It is indiscretely confessional in its personal tone. It is violently radical in its political tone. And it is unapologectically idealistic. Jensen doesn't so much offer any practical solution to the problems he describes as he proposes theoretical responses. It makes the book an interesting philosophical statement rather than a manual for action. Stoics and realists will truly hate it, if they get past the Preface. That reminds me: The first chapter, called "Silencing" is the best in the book and will (or should) knock the breathe out of you. Generally, the writing is lyrical and has the ability to make you swoon. Jensen's creation is so original in that it combines lyricism with propaganda. Most of the world's great revolutionaries were far too scientific to pull off a style even remotely close to this. Read it, but keep your head about you.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2000
Format: Paperback
Did the stars speak to you, or the trees? I grew up by a lake, and at night in the summertime I slept under the stars. The bullfrog songs lulled me to sleep. Connection to the natural and spiritual world, and to my sibling, kept me alive through difficulty. Derrick Jensen calls this book "a prayer of thanksgiving." He's walking the ground that Richard Rhodes walked in _A Hole in the Heart of the World_, seeking meaning and purpose beyond the violence and pain of his childhood. This book had a profound effect on me, not unlike Viktor Frankl's _Man's Search for Meaning_. Derrick Jensen seeks to stop genocide and ecocide, and perceives family violence as a microcosm of the larger violence. Something meaningful exists in the pages of this book, a truth beyond words. If you read intuitively, you will find it for yourself, within yourself, and you will begin to think of what you can do to bring some part of misery to an end. Not everyone wants to protect a tree for two years like Julia Butterfly Hill, or spend a lifetime advocating with the energy of Audre Lorde -- but we can begin by erasing amnesia and intentional ignorance. (Just read what he says about schooling, pages 103, 104!) I believe that if the earth is going to survive, more of us will need to become aware of the interconnectedness here. As Meir Berliner said, "When the oppressor gives me two choices, I always take the third." This book will open thoughts to those third choices.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
If I could afford it, I would GIVE copies of this book away. I believe it is that important. If polls are to be believed, the majority of Americans say they are concerned about the environment, but few of us manage to live up to our convictions. Jensen's book is so compelling that has the power to push readers from complacency to activism in a quiet, but forceful manner.
What is truly unique about this book is the manner in which Jensen discusses his own journey to personal activism. He spent years numbing himself to the sexual abuse inflicted upon him by father. He sees the same processes at work in our destructive relationship to the environment. Learning to treat each othe with greater respect and learning to appreciate the natural living environment, he argues, are irrevocably linked.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
...you're prepared to confront your deepest self along with the earth, politics, religion, science, and to risk changing your inner and outer self at last and for good, then don't read this book. Jensen spares no one and nothing in his blistering attack on our blind-deaf-dumb-unfeeling selves and culture. If on the other hand, you'd like to find the wonder of yourself and the earth and your fellow creatures (human and non-), then this is the book for you. I promise you, nobody comes out of this book the same. It's a painful, wondrous, moving experience. It confirms your worst fears but at the same time leaves you understanding you are not alone in your feelings about our destructive culture. Knowing that in itself makes the read worthwhile. Thank you, Derrick Jensen.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
Denial is such a tricky thing to talk about. It is designed to protect us from truths we absolutely see exist but find too frightening or upsetting to our world view, our sense of safety and stability, to acknowledge.

We know they are there.

We look away, and only talk with others who wont mention anything that makes us feel or think about the horror, the pain and the fear we live with daily in our insane, abusive culture of destruction and denial. And anyone who talks about the truth, who causes us to see, must be silenced.

Derrick Jensen will not be silenced.

A Language Older Than Words is an intelligent and unrelenting exploration of the patterns of abuse and denial in our culture that extend into every aspect of our lives, our relationships with each other, with women, children, and the natural world. Jensen shouts where others fear to whisper, and validates our natural knowledge that we are an inseparable part of the living world, and our culture of denial is silencing and killing everything.

This courageous, from the gut, truth telling rips down those layers of denial revealing how we have been taught to fool ourselves and how much of the experience of being human we have lost. Because in order to ignore the suffering (our own and that of most of the other creatures on the planet) we must also shut ourselves off from our own experience and the wonder, joy, complexities, and ecstasy of living in relationship with others and the natural world. Jensen's inspiring writing offers a way back to fully exploring and experiencing our own lives.

A Language Older Than Words is a passionate and poetic catalyst that will blast open your perceptions and give you courage to face your denial and abandon your fears. It is a gift of welcoming us back to what it truly means to be human, to be alive, to have relationship with all living things. I highly recommend this book to everyone. It is a springboard to so much further understanding, experience, and discovery. Jensen is truly one of the most important philosophers writing today.

Don't wait another day to read this book!!!
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