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The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World Paperback – Feb 25 1997

4.6 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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  • The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Books Ed edition (Feb. 25 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679776397
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679776390
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.7 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 259 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #6,100 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Amazon

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

From Publishers Weekly

How did Western civilization become so estranged from nonhuman nature that we condone the ongoing destruction of forests, rivers, valleys, species and ecosystems? Santa Fe ecologist/philosopher Abram's search for an answer to this dilemma led him to mingle with shamans in Nepal and sorcerers in Indonesia, where he studied how traditional healers monitor relations between the human community and the animate environment. In this stimulating inquiry, he also delves into the philosophy of phenomenologists Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who replaced the conventional view of a single, wholly determinable reality with a fluid picture of the mind/body as a participatory organism that reciprocally interacts with its surroundings. Abram blames the invention of the phonetic alphabet for triggering a trend toward increasing abstraction and alienation from nature. He gleans insights into how to heal the rift from Australian aborigines' concept of the Dreamtime (the perpetual emerging of the world from chaos), the Navajo concept of a Holy Wind and the importance of breath in Jewish mysticism.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback
I heard the author in a spirited public debate between him and biologist E.O. Wilson a couple years ago, at the old Town Hall in Boston. The mutual respect between the two men was palpable (perhaps because they are both outspoken advocates for wild nature). Yet they hold richly contrasting views regarding human society and its relation to the earth. Abram's eloquence there moved me to order this book. Upon reading it I was, in a word, stunned. It's easily one of the most important works I've come upon in thirty years of serious reading.
A few of the reader reviews below are absurdly off the mark. One of them claims that the book is anti-science. That's simply inane; I'm a working biologist, and can avow that this book is entirely consonant with the best of contemporary natural science. Indeed "The Spell of the Sensuous" got a rave review in "Science" (the journal of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science). Here's a brief excerpt from that review: "A truly original work. Abram puts forth his daring hypothesis with a poetic vigor and argumentative insight that stimulate reconsideration of the technological commonplace...With Abram anthropology becomes a bridge between science and its others." (Science, vol. 275)

In any case, this is a book that NEEDS to be much more widely known. (I've just read it a second time, and I'm still reeling at the implications.) A bunch of other reviews by a range of well-known thinkers are printed in the paperback edition. I'll copy them here, since they give a fine sense of both the depth and the span of Abram's book:
"This is a landmark book.
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By A Customer on Aug. 1 2003
Format: Paperback
I just read the last page of Spell of the Sensuous and I am eager to read more. Having spent the summer studying western philosophy-- I found this book engaging. If the goal of philosophy is to help us make sense of the world around us and to help us strive to be "better humans" this book suceeds in a way that is urgent for the times. We have made great strides in language and science and mathmatics, but we must return from the abstract to the sensuous if we are to survive as a species.
Abrams' premise is that the development of the alphabet created an abstract world which became the foundation of western philosophy and religion, and that our involvement in this abstract world allowed us to separate ourselves for the first time from the natural world, eventually leading to this moment in time when we have all but forgotten our connection to nature.
I was especially moved by Abrahams definition of truth, that all our truths are false if they result in destruction of the planet. We must become aware of the reciprocality of the relationship we have with other living and nonliving things, including the very air we breathe.
How compelling to read that the very air for indigenous and early communities was considered sacred, connecting all living creatures with the world around them and with the creator,then to consider the relationship contemporary culture has with the invisble air, not as the breath of God, but as a dumping ground for pollution.
This book contains the framework for a new way of thinking about ourselves in the world. At the very least, it accomplishes what it sets out to do, which is to encourage an awakening of the senses. Through poetic prose, Abrams calls us outside of ourselves into a more vibrant and living world.
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Format: Paperback
There is much talk these days about a paradigm shift. I certainly hope that this is true. We really need one. And if there is, I am convinced that this book will be looked back on in the years to come as the most significant book of our times. It will be viewed as the book that cemented the shift.
I didn't think I would ever find a book like this. It not only gives beautiful expression to a world and a world of thought that I had come to think as irretrievably extinct, but it does it with so much power and background knowledge drawing with clarity and precision from many fields that are normally viewed as distinct disciplines (Philosophy, Anthropology, History, Linguistics) and puts it all together into a whole that is certainly greater than the sum of it's parts.
But it is also far more than an academic tour de force. David Abram is a magician in more than one sense. This book is itself truly a piece of magic.
For anyone who cares about planet earth, nature, mankind and our future, this book is an absolute must-read! Sure, some people will misinterpret it or read into it what they want. Maybe even reject it's basic premise outright. But if any book has the power to turn our thinking around (which I believe must happen for us to survive), this is it. Or at least, it's a fabulous start.
Good work, David!
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Format: Paperback
I read this for a grad-level seminar and was not expecting much substance. I was wrong, but only in the sense that this book opened my eyes to the power of language in a way that's different than immersing myself in good prose. A lifetime of reading and learning bits about other languages prepared me for the synthesis of this book, and I look forward to the summer so I can re-read it more leisurely to get even more from its rich construction.
In particular, I was fascinated by the suggestion that one name of God, "Yahweh", may actually be a symbolic representation of the Breath of Life, as the syllables correspond to the sounds of the intake and outtake of air. Abram does a better job explaining this than I can here, but it's worth reading just for that section alone, at least for me. The inference was that God would then be in all of us as the breath of life, making spirituality as real and tangible as any other part of life. It's not a religious book but that section -- maybe just a few paragraphs, really -- struck a part of me that hadn't expected to be affected by an environmentally focused book.
You might read this and have an entirely different reaction, based on your personal worldview and the symbology reflected therein. You might even find it weak or New Age-y. But if you give it a chance, you might find yourself breathing differently, too. I think that's worth the reasonable price.
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