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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dazzling. This book changes lives.
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...
Published on March 16 2004

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars HMMMM....
Dr.Abram's book introduced me to a whole new way of looking at language and especially writing in relation to the sensuous earth, and for that I am grateful (and that is why i rated it a 3 out of 5). I would definitely recommend this book for anyone interested in the study of language, philosophy or the environment.
Published on Dec 31 2003 by S.J. Snyder


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5.0 out of 5 stars Being fully human is not just about "people", April 15 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Paperback)
We live in a culture that is immersed in a futile solipsism of self-help philosophies based exclusively on how we interact with other human beings.
David Abram's landmark work, "The Spell of the Sensuous", jolts us out of this dim matrix with the power of a shaman who heals a terminal case of psychic amnesia.
We have become so institutionalized as social creatures that we have forgotten how many of our mental dislocations are not the results of social interaction, but stem from a lethal rejection of our connection to non-human elements.
Using a formidable writing style that conjures up a rapturous kind of sensory splendor, Abrams seduces the reader into "re-approaching" the very elements that constitute our living Universe. In the process, he reinvigorates our understanding of what it is to be not merely "human", but also an intricate part of a much broader existence. Once this is understood, one can be "informed" by the whisperings of the wind, the implicate energy of a tree, or the painfully beautiful colours of an autumn sky.
Scan the shelves of the self-help section at any large bookstore, and you can count on the fingers of one hand the books that deal with anything other than how to act/respond to/ignore/interpret/ make the most of/"don't sweat", etc., the actions and intrusions of other people. Here, at last, is a meditation on the expansive vistas of everything else that surrounds us, and how a reconnection to it all is a fundamental part of the balanced life.
"Going within", in the mystical sense, cannot be accomplished in the absence of "going out". Perhaps, in the end, the two are in fact one. It is a known fact that the iron in our bodies originates from the cosmic furnace of suns - that what we are, in the deepest physical sense, is part of an overarching, stellar dance of utterly universal proportions.
David Abrams makes you feel that connection. He makes you actually feel it.
If the bland diet of talk show inspired pabulum leaves you slightly jaded, read this book. The world will be transformed from shadowy monochromes to rich gradations of scintillating colour.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Put down your books; learn to read the world around you. . ., Jan. 15 2001
By 
Ruth Henriquez Lyon (Duluth, Minnesota USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Paperback)
This book exposes how our Western worldview has evolved to be based on literacy, abstract thought, and separation from the body. By "the body" I mean not just our individual, animal bodies, but the body of the earth and the material cosmos. By removing ourselves from this sensuous realm, we have lost the connection to "the living dream that we share with the soaring hawk, the spider, and the stone silently sprouting lichens on its coarse surface."
There is a paradox here, because this is a book about the drawbacks of literacy and abstract, logical thinking. But it is itself a piece of very well-argued and logical written discourse. However, it works, and not just because Abrams' arguments are so convincing. It works also because Abrams is an artist; he has the gift of using words and imagery that can reach below the logical brain to inspire a more direct way of perceiving the world. The result is a book which is a moving combination of philosophical writing and pure poetry.
Abrams works from a phenomenological standpoint, and the beginning of the book includes a very understandable discussion of phenomenology's history and major ideas. This is the most readable introduction to this branch of philosophy that I have found. Abrams explains it in such a way that you want to put the book down and try out this sort of perception for yourself.
Abrams then proceeds to show how, starting at the time of alphabetization, the western mind began to grow away from direct physical knowing of the world and toward abstract, conceptual representations. Our language became removed from nature, and helped us remove ourselves from nature.
As a counterpoint to the Western use of language, Abrams then goes on to show how indigenous peoples use language as a way to connect with the body and the physical realm. In these oral cultures language "is experienced not as the exclusive property of humankind, but as a property of the sensuous life-world." In other words, the world-the animals, plants, stones, wind-- speaks a language that most of us can no longer hear. Abrams explores indigenous oral poetry and stories to illustrate this entirely other way of experiencing language.
My first reading of this book triggered a conversion, in the sense of that word which means "turning." It spun me 180 degrees mentally and spiritually, from the world of concepts to the world of my immediate perception. I'm on my third reading now and still incorporating teachings passed over previously. It is paradoxical, how this book on a return to "the physical" can catalyze spiritual perception so powerfully.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding, Complex & Thorough, Jan. 3 2001
This review is from: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Paperback)
An outstanding animistic take of our world. Abram approaches the multifaceted phenomenology of human perception from the vantagepoint of our hunter-gatherer/tribal kin in relation to the modern world and how we shifted our senses to be who we are today. Abram's view is in-depth, much more so than I could adequately follow at times (my deficit, not his), and he establishes part of his thesis by asserting how:
"Conventional scientific discourse priviledges the sensible field in abstraction from sensory experience, and commonly maintains that subjective experience is 'caused' by an objectifiable set of processes in the mechanically determined field of the sensible. Meanwhile, New Age spiritualism regularly priviledges pure sentience, or subjectivity, in abstraction from sensible matter, and often maintains that material reality is itself an illusory effect caused by an immaterial mind or spirit. Although commonly seen as opposed world-views, both of these positions assume a qualitative difference between the sentient and the sensed; by prioritizing one of the other, both of these views perpetuate the distinction between human 'subjects' and natural 'objects,' and hence neither threatens the common conception of sensible nature as a purely passive dimension suitable for human manipulation and use."
To top it off, although Abram's focus is on the phenomenology of perception, with emphasis given to language, the rise of the alphabet and phonetic writing, he acknowledges this view is merely part of vast-ranging processes that contributed to a fundamental cultural behavioral shift for humanity: from those who celebrated the surroundings within which they lived (simply, hunter-gatherers) to those that view themselves as separate from and dominant over the life-world in which they coexist in (us, the people of modern cultures). In other words, Abram leaves open the fact that "many other factors could have been chosen" for which to focus on, for instance, the rise of arable agriculture roughly 10,000 years ago.
Abram's book flows with the complexity, subtlety and beauty of our natural world, so I recommend it with caution, that in our modern, so-called civilized age, many of us, though intrinsically capable of animistic awareness (because, as living beings, we are ultimately part of the same space, time and matter of that in which we inhabit), have been dulled on a daily basis by modernities and our incessant cultural commotion. Be that as it may, this work may be difficult to follow, especially if approached from a linear, mechanistic, technocratic viewpoint. Correspondingly, Abram is clear to remind us that this work is more about "a style of thinking ... that associates truth not with static fact, but with a quality of a relationship."
The Spell of the Sensuous is a one-of-a-kind document of animistic awareness. It is a brilliant compliment to aspects of Daniel Quinn's work as well as the efforts of many others concerned about the "depths of our ongoing reciprocity with the world."
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5.0 out of 5 stars Challenges our assumptions about writing and language, July 22 2000
By 
Gwyneth Calvetti (West Salem, WI United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Paperback)
Abram has undertaken a fascinating look at language and not only the changes it has undergone over time, but also how these changes have changed human perceptions. Another reviewer spoke of all the disparate topics that are woven together in this work, and that is an apt description.
As a storyteller, I found the accounts of the cultures with a largely oral tradition to be compelling. In one example, he tells of an aboriginal Australian man trying to tell the story of a dreamline at Jeep speed, and running out of breath. These tales are meant to follow the landscape at walking speed, and trying to tell them by car changes the entire texture of the tale.
For those who are looking for a challenging read about our connection with the natural world, how language interacts with that connection, and a history of the development of writing, this is the book you want. Whether you agree with his ideas and philosophy or not, you will have much food for thought.
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4.0 out of 5 stars language and the walls it generates, Oct. 5 1999
By 
Frank Bierbrauer (Cardiff, Wales, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Paperback)
A fascinating odyssey through the mind, first with the philosophical viewpoint of phenomenology which at last tries to describe reailty as it shows itself to us/itself and the perspective of the other both indigenous peoples and animals and plants. At times lyrical and deeply personal and at others academic it nevertheless doesn't let go of the connection it forms at the beginning with tales of Abrams life. One feels that the experience of the world so honestly told throughout the book at times, provide the true wonder evident in Abrams life. It is a pity more of these experiences were not forthcoming. It reminds me of the answer given by a Zen student in Japan when asked about his practice : "the world is so beautiful you almost can't stand it"
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5.0 out of 5 stars A magical, soulful book, Feb. 27 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Paperback)
I read this book because I met the author at a magicians' conference and was fascinated by his study of shamanism. When I read it I connected with it totally. I felt that FINALLY someone is talking about the world as something that isn't just about people. I'm very tired of being so human-focused all the time. This book was very refreshing and wonderful.
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5.0 out of 5 stars David Abram has written a scholarly and poetic book., Jan. 13 1999
By A Customer
Every time I looked up from the pages of this book, I saw the world in a new light. David Abram claims that the invention of the modern alphabet drastically altered the way we see and interact with our environment. He backs this up with evidence from his own experiences in Indonesia and Nepal, and with studies done by anthropolists around the world. Each idea is well supported by the one that comes before and flows naturally into the next. Despite the potential for this to be a 'heavy' work, it is written with a graceful and light touch. Even today, images that David Abram crafted shine in my memory like a happy dream.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good Food for Thought, Sept. 2 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Paperback)
This book was a pleasure to read. Skillfully written, reading it was a sensuous experience in and of itself. The content and the references are of high quality. On the down side, there are several repetitive passages throughout the book. Nonetheless, I recommend the book wholeheartedly. Also, as a companion piece, consider reading Kieran Egan's "The Educated Mind." Egan writes about the development of intellectual tools--somatic, mythic, romantic, philosophic, and ironic. Abram's covers the somatic and mythic tools quite well. Egan cover's the whole set at a higher level but with less focus. Together, the two books complement each other nicely.
D. Wesley
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5.0 out of 5 stars tantilizing, July 20 1998
By 
sasha_ (New York, NY United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Paperback)
The Spell of the Sensuous has been referred to as interdisciplinary; certainly the voice of the book carries over some linear arguments, some narrative, and then leaves you in the world again, silent and wide-eyed and seeing things just a little more fully than before.
I cannot wait for Abrams to write more. Either pure (and brief) philosophy, or an account of his travels, or, should he be so moved, even a novel.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A surprising look at nature and the alphabet, June 18 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Paperback)
David Abram argues persuasively that the alphabet and written language have alienated us from the world in which we live. He compares our platonism, which imprisons intelligence and subjectivity within humans and denies them to other creatures, to the animism of oral cultures, which regards all beings as intelligent subjects. The alphabet, invented by Semites and perfected by the Greeks, was instrumental in this great change. The knowledge and wisdom that our ancestors learned from other creatures we now find in the printed word. Abram, an ecologist and philosopher now living in New Mexico, says we are intelligent, subjective beings because we are part of an intelligent, subjective universe. The unfinished task he leaves us with is to reconcile the beauty of the written language of books with the living language of our environment.
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