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

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Animal tracks, word magic, the speech of stones, the power of letters, and the taste of the wind all figure prominently in this intellectual tour de force that returns us to our senses and to the sensuous terrain that sustains us. This is a major work of ecological philosophy that startles the senses out of habitual ways of perception.

Animal tracks, word magic, the speech of stones, the power of letters, and the taste of the wind all figure prominently in this ...

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Overview

Animal tracks, word magic, the speech of stones, the power of letters, and the taste of the wind all figure prominently in this intellectual tour de force that returns us to our senses and to the sensuous terrain that sustains us. This is a major work of ecological philosophy that startles the senses out of habitual ways of perception.

Animal tracks, word magic, the speech of stones, the power of letters, and the taste of the wind all figure prominently in this intellectual tour de force that returns us to our senses and to the sensuous terrain that sustains us. This is a major work of ecological philosophy that startles the senses out of habitual ways of perception.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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. Jan.
Library Journal
This is an interesting, if impossible to classify, book; Abram is a philosopher, magician, and essayist of the Utne Reader type; this book grew out of his explorations of magic and sorcery in indigenous cultures and the relationship between magic and the natural world. Where he leads the reader after this is tough to summarize: Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Balinese sorcerers, origins of the alphabet, Kant, Newton. Word by word this is readable and connected to a fascinating thesis: that our perceptions grew from the natural world around us, and we can "return to our senses" and be reinvigorated, reformed, by the experience. While serious readers of ecology will likely have their ideas expanded and challenged by Abram, it is more likely that his work will be of greater interest to students of philosophy, ethnography, and anthropology. Literate readers and academic collections in the philosophical sciences are likely audiences; the book is probably too ambitious for most general readers.-Mark L. Shelton, UMass Medical Ctr., Worcester
Donna Seaman
Abram, an eloquent and original ecologist, philosopher, and sleight-of-hand magician, explores the psychology of perception in this intriguing and unusual book. He believes that if we, that is, industrialized Westerners, could recognize ourselves as sensuous beings inextricably connected to all of life, a knowledge the people of indigenous oral cultures have grasped for millennia, we would stop destroying the environment. Abram proposes some stimulating, even provoking explanations for why and how we became "so estranged from nonhuman nature." He begins with an arresting discussion of shamanism in which he suggests that the "magic" shamans perform involves not the "supernatural" but an exquisite attunement to the natural world itself; that shamans function as intermediaries between people and the "larger, more-than-human field." Western culture abandoned this intimate connection to the "life-world," Abram postulates, after becoming infatuated with written language, the wellspring of our penchant for abstract thought, and technology. Abram develops his theories with great flair, then, in the final sections, attempts to reawaken our sensuousness and remind us that we must cultivate a fresh and responsible awareness of our tentative place in the universe.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679438199
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/30/1995
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.45 (w) x 9.57 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
1 The Ecology of Magic: A Personal Introduction to the Inquiry 3
2 Philosophy on the Way to Ecology: A Technical Introduction to the Inquiry 31
3 The Flesh of Language 73
4 Animism and the Alphabet 93
5 In the Landscape of Language 137
6 Time, Space, and the Eclipse of the Earth 181
7 The Forgetting and Remembering of the Air 225
Coda: Turning Inside Out 261
Notes 275
Bibliography 305
Index 315
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