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Sight and sensibility

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2000

    Seeing Beyond Ourselves

    Of the many books I have read this long summer, only this one would I call beautiful. It is not just a read but an encounter with a deeply inspiring being who seems to become an actual presence herself¿someone to guide us back toward awakening to the wondrous, sensuous world around us. Far beyond the information purveyed or even the stories told, Laura Sewall herself emerges from her luminous prose as though to point with a gentle smile to the doorway which will lead us from our self-made enclosure, from the prison of our own device. This prison seems to consist of our habit-routines which bind our perceptions. Her special field of expertise is sight. She shows how we have lost our ¿depth-perception¿ by seeing everything in terms of our own culturally constructed self and its illusory security. We have learned to see only objects in terms of their potential use or threat to us. We do not see into them or their unified relations or our relationship with them and through them: ¿The canon that our Western worldview posits is that the healthy, well-adjusted adult is autonomous and independent, not interdependent¿ (247). Instead of seeing the living world and knowing we are part of it, we see a dead world reduced to ¿resources¿. But her tale is much more than a position or an argument. She shows the reader both through her own experience (including a powerfully transcendent moment of awakening on the East African veldt) and, more subtly, through her expressive prose and prose-poetry. Reading this book is itself an experience which approaches such transcendent moments. For Laura Sewall, ¿perception is the dynamic ground of our many relationships with the world¿ (17) which ¿may become the ground for a sensuous, even ecstatic relationship with the world¿ (18). And this is the kind of many faceted text which can remind us of that. Nearing the end, as the author called for the courage of new consciousness, I feared for a time that we were going to leave terra firma and go soaring into the airy-fairy realms of New Age spiritualism. But I was wrong, and relieved to be so. This fine author stayed firmly on our dusty planet: ¿My prayer is that we get down, that we get down and dirty¿ (274). When I was finished, I closed the book and whooped for sheer joy.

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