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The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World Paperback – February 25, 1997
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David Abram's writing casts a spell of its own as he weaves the reader through a meticulously researched work that gently addresses such seemingly daunting topics as where the past and future exist, the relationship between space and time, and how the written word serves to sever humans from their primordial source of sustenance: the earth.
"Only as the written text began to speak would the voices of the forest, and of the river, begin to fade. And only then would language loosen its ancient associations with the invisible breath, the spirit sever itself from the wind, the psyche dissociate itself from the environing air," writes Abram of the separation caused by the proliferation of the written word.
In writing The Spell of the Sensuous, Abram consulted an engaging collection of peoples and works. He uses aboriginal song lines, stories from the Koyukon people of northwestern Alaska, the philosophy of phenomenology, and the speeches of Socrates to paint a poetic landscape that explains how we became separated from the earth in the first place. With minimal environmental doomsaying, Abram discusses how we can begin to recover a sustainable relationship with the earth and the nonhuman beings who live among us--in the more-than-human world. --Kathryn True
Long-awaited, revolutionary... This book ponders the violent disconnection of the body from the natural world and what this means about how we live and die in it. -- Los Angeles Times
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The first chapter, about Abram's experiences as a sleight-of-hand magician in Nepal and Indonesia, is lyrical and gorgeous. I admit that I also caught myself thinking, "Dude! I want some of what you are smoking!"
I thought chapter two might advocate wearing amethyst pendants. Not remotely. The next two chapters -- on philosophy and linguistics -- require black coffee and a clear-headed morning. It is exhilarating to watch someone think this way -- like watching a daredevil making leaps over cars -- except the leaps he is making are not sport but the leaps we need to survive on the planet.
Abram investigates the present, the past, the future, and where each can be found in the landscape. He even goes so far as to offer, on page 202, a meditation on how to dissolve time. (Of course I annotated my copy; you never know when you're going to need just this sort of thing.) The last section is about writing, how the Hebrews left out the sacred vowels but the Greeks left us marooned in the abstract. My crude summary does violence to the text. It is exhilarating to read.
Then comes the coda and, a few pages before the end, he says, basically, "This might be true and it might not and what is true anyway? Truth is what heals the planet and falsehood is what harms it." Part of me agreed and part of me felt like the victim of a sleight-of-hand magician. I want my truths to be, well, true and not just gorgeous. The whole section made me feel uneasy.
I do not mean to condemn the book. Not at all. I have told everyone I know to read it -- I want people discuss it with! Abram gave me raptures, lectures, arguments and questions. A beautiful book, well worth wrestling with and re-visiting.
As an aside, I tried the meditative technique the author recommends in Part II of Chapter 6 and was thrilled with the results. Highly recommended.
The average reader could get discouraged by the seven chapters of analysis and hypotheses written in formal, if not scientific language, that begged the necessity of the Kindle dictionary at many of the page turns.
But, the Coda. Ahh, the Coda at the end is beautiful prose filled with hope and wisdom for seekers who, in their hearts, know that connection with our earth and each other is the only sustainable path forward.