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

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Overview

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. On every page of this lyrical work, Abram weaves his arguments with passion and ...

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

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Overview

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. On every page of this lyrical work, Abram weaves his arguments with passion and intellectual daring.

"Long awaited, revolutionary...This book ponders the violent disconnection of the body from the natural world and what this means about how we live and die in it."—Los Angeles Times

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.

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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
From Barnes & Noble
By contrasting the spoken stories of indigenous oral cultures with electronically generated visions common today, the author reveals the impact that writing and language have had upon human experiences.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679776390
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/28/1997
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 181,783
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.68 (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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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2000

    Life Altering

    Few works command the senses of the reader as this one does. I feel the world Abrams describes. I can smell the air after it rains. I can see the delicate silk of the spider. I can taste the earth as I can see the imagary between the words. I am now reading the bibliography and using the material as a source for an even greater understanding of the world around me. David has proven that Dr Doolittle exists in us all.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted August 12, 2013

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