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

The spell is one many naturalists, artists, children, dreamers, outcasts, and mystics have been in the grips of for some time. It's real magic, not trickery. It's a way of seeing that we are of the world, that our languages too, are not so much of us, but of this same world. Our abilities to sense and to communicate are yet another way Earth expresses itself. It depends on our mutual, participatory perception with each and every other worldly thing. Heady stuff; holy, soul-y stuff too.

But why are the shadows of doubt so prevalent? David Abram argues that perhaps our beloved alphabet could be to blame. The abstraction of direct experience into symbolic representations of human-made sounds enforces the notion, indeed the belief, that the power of language is solely the privilege of humans. An alphabetized civilization?this is where trickery begins and the magic of true experience is scorned. But Abram holds out hope that a new synaesthetic participation with the world through writing can emerge.

Although there were parts of the Spell of the Sensuous when I wished the author had moved more slowly, taken smaller steps to make his points instead of assumptive leaps (and let up a little on the "my time among the shamans" shtick), on the whole, Abram does a marvelous job rolling solid academic scholarship together with poetry and experiential stories. It helps that he is telling me what I want to hear: the lake, the maple, and the dragonfly speak to me, speak through me; without them I don't have much to say. It's a shame that most skeptics will likely never pick up this book or allow themselves back into the conversation.

 

ISBN: 0679776397

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