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The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (1996)

av David Abram

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
1,1981116,774 (4.32)10
For a thousand generations, human beings viewed themselves as part of the wider community of nature, and they carried on active relationships not only with other people but with other animals, plants, and natural objects (including mountains, rivers, winds, and weather patterns) that we have only lately come to think of as "inanimate." How, then, did humans come to sever their ancient reciprocity with the natural world? What will it take for us to recover a sustaining relationship with the breathing earth? In The Spell of the Sensuous David Abram draws on sources as diverse as the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty, Balinese shamanism, Apache storytelling, and his own experience as an accomplished sleight-of-hand magician to reveal the subtle dependence of human cognition on the natural environment. He explores the character of perception and excavates the sensual foundations of language, which-even at its most abstract-echoes the calls and cries of the earth. In this lyrical work, Abram weaves his arguments with a passion, a precision, and an intellectual daring that recall such writers as Loren Eisleley, Annie Dillard, and Barry Lopez.… (mer)
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Quick Review: This book was beautiful and ended up being more than I expected it to me. I left it feeling hopeful and encouraged that we can do better in this world. I want more people like this! ( )
  CADesertReader | Mar 23, 2024 |
For me this is a really wonderful take on the role of artists (among other things) and how it could change as the culture changes.

Abram is far more responsible to the potential of the subject than most authors would be; that is, he's both curious and scholarly, scrupulous and generous. He began as a sleight-of-hand magician doing anthropology, and the simple intuitive brilliance of that combination is a thread throughout the book. ( )
  AnnKlefstad | Feb 4, 2022 |
This is a brilliant and subtle book whichc makes us question about our relation with nature, perception and our environment. It is really a spiritual book. ( )
  phcallefr | Aug 15, 2020 |
This book makes absolutely no sense.

Look, I understand that the alphabet is a phenomenal technology that has transformed human thought and consciousness, but if you are able to make your argument using that technology then obviously the technology is not mutually exclusive with that argument.

The thesis of the book--so far as it has one--is that closeness with and participation with the earth as a thing with value in its own right was, for many cultures, enacted within a spiritual system that saw breath, air and spirit as all-encompassing and synonymous; and that, as the alphabet codified breath, it must also be responsible for the separation of breath and spirit, and our divisions from each other and from the world around us. But if you are capable of making that argument with the alphabet then obviously the alphabet is not to blame. He makes outright nonsensical assertions such as: "It was not enough to preach the Christian faith: one had to induce the unlettered, tribal peoples to begin to use the technology [alphabet] upon which that faith depended." To which I can only say: oh please. The vast majority of christian converts throughout history have been illiterate, and for a good chunk of that time the bible was only available in a language none of them could read or understand!

Oh but that's ok, because, as he says later on, "It is a style of thinking, then, that associates truth not with static fact, but with a quality of relationship .... A human community that lives in a mutually beneficial relationship with the surrounding earth is a community, we might say, that lives in truth."

How about not. How about you say that, and I throw rotten tomatoes at you for doing so.

First off: truth is a perfectly good word already with a good, valuable, and necessary meaning of its own. You want a word that means "living in a good relationship with the earth?" Come up with a new one.

Second: Who gets to define what "mutually beneficial relationship" is or looks like? And how is that determined without reference to "static fact," or outside, objective reality? How would anyone ever arrive at this relationship from the place we currently inhabit WITHOUT reference to truth using its current meaning?

Third: Even once that relationship has been arrived at, we are going to need to be able to reference "truth" as we currently understand it to pursue other important goals, such as human equality. For centuries now women and people of colour have had to fight slowly and with incredible push-back against inequitable and incredibly unjust systems by referencing external facts such as "in fact no black people are not stupid or violent" and "woman are not motherbots." And let's be clear: it is entirely possible, and has been the case for much of human history, that it is very possible for a human civilization to treat its constituent members like disposable shit while still maintaining their local environments in a fairly serviceable condition, so figuring out the earth-relationship part is no guarantee that it will lead to a just, equitable, meaningful or fair way of life for the people who make up that society.

But the whole book is like this, and his attitude toward "truth" as a concept worth preserving in its current state may be why he plays so fast and loose with actual truth.

Like this one:

"Of course, not all stories are successful. There are good stories and mediocre stories and downright bad stories. How are they to be judged? If they do not aim at a static or 'literal' reality, how can we discern whether one telling of events is any better or more worthy than another? The answer is this: a story must be judged according to whether it makes sense. And 'making sense' must here be understood in its most direct meaning: to make sense is to enliven the senses."

Yeah. Ok. Find your nearest MRA or Nazi sympathizer and ask them what stories "enliven their senses."

So you may be asking yourself then why I gave the book even two stars.

There are parts of it that are written beautifully, and I do feel that I learned a fair bit about the cosmology and spiritual systems of a great number of societies worldwide, which was interesting, though I'm not sure I trust his representations and I'd want to double-check his references before assuming that the information is fair or accurate. After all, maybe they were just stories that properly enlivened his senses. He presents a way of thinking in parts of the book that is fascinating--not his own, to be sure, but that of the cultures he writes about.

So that's worth a star. And I do believe, as he does, that we need to re-embed ourselves with the rest of nature (conceptually and psychologically--we have never actually severed ourselves from it, but our belief that we have is responsible for most if not all of our environmental problems). But I believe that we need to do so with proper respect and relationship to the relevant facts, not on the backs of insubstantial just-so stories that can't bear the weight. ( )
2 rösta andrea_mcd | Mar 10, 2020 |
I read this because it informed Jenny Odell's wonderful talk how to do nothing.

I got a pretty distasteful primitivist, psuedosciency vibe from lots of it. But setting that aside I think there's still a lot of interesting stuff in here. Abram dives deep into the effects of language, especially phonetically written language, on how we abstract the world around us. To me the valuable thing is the act of investigating language and other tools for abstraction, as opposed to the specific analysis & evidence he gives for his points. Peripherally there's also lots of fun stuff about the reciprocity of perception and the conceptual barriers between the senses.

I can definitely see how this book can read as anti-progress, anti-abstraction, or anti-civilization. However if you take him at his word that it is not these things maybe you'll have a better time with the book. In my view he is arguing that we are living too much in our own constructed worlds, but that the way forward is not to reject abstraction but to learn to have it coexist with direct sensory perception.

If I were to read it again, or recommend someone else read it, I would say the beginning and end are quite good but the middle is eminently skimmable, filled with kind of cringey Noble Savage stuff. All the points he makes in the middle get summarized at the beginning and the end anyways. ( )
1 rösta haagen_daz | Jun 6, 2019 |
Visa 1-5 av 11 (nästa | visa alla)
David Abram's much talked about, long-awaited, revolutionary book ponders the violent disconnection of the body from the natural world and what this means about how we live and die in it, in our work clothes, commuting, standing tall in the saddle, dead.
 
Speculative, learned, and always 'lucid and precise' as the eye of the vulture that confronted him once on a cliff ledge, Abram has one of those rare minds which, like the mind of a musician or a great mathematician, fuses dreaminess with smarts.
tillagd av jburlinson | ändraVillage Voice
 
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For a thousand generations, human beings viewed themselves as part of the wider community of nature, and they carried on active relationships not only with other people but with other animals, plants, and natural objects (including mountains, rivers, winds, and weather patterns) that we have only lately come to think of as "inanimate." How, then, did humans come to sever their ancient reciprocity with the natural world? What will it take for us to recover a sustaining relationship with the breathing earth? In The Spell of the Sensuous David Abram draws on sources as diverse as the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty, Balinese shamanism, Apache storytelling, and his own experience as an accomplished sleight-of-hand magician to reveal the subtle dependence of human cognition on the natural environment. He explores the character of perception and excavates the sensual foundations of language, which-even at its most abstract-echoes the calls and cries of the earth. In this lyrical work, Abram weaves his arguments with a passion, a precision, and an intellectual daring that recall such writers as Loren Eisleley, Annie Dillard, and Barry Lopez.

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