The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram
Three chapters into this book, I was already fully saturated, ready to burst. Between each chapter, I had to take a breath, to calm myself, to relax, before plunging back into the depths of Abram's writing.
The Spell of the Sensuous may be the most moving work of nonfiction I have ever read.
David Abram has walked on both sides of human perception, that which resonates and is one with all earthly manifestations, and that which denies sentience, spirit and psyche to all elements exterior to humankind. Only someone who has been profoundly immersed in sensual interaction with the world, and who has also been cut off from that interaction by participation in his own "civilization," could write such an intense analysis of the human perceptual landscape.
Abram believes that it is by our disengagement with the world, with our theorized separation from nonhuman elements, and with the process of abstraction that divides us from the realms of actual perceptual existence, that we have come to a place where we can move with such blind heartlessness within the earth. He advocates strongly for a return to a state of perceptual abandon and intimacy with the land, such that we are immersed fully in the voices and the breaths of elemental existence.
In The Spell of the Sensuous, Abram charts a progression from non-literate, perceptually-saturated western cultures to the rational, dichotomous western culture we see today. He contrasts this progression against other indigenous cosmologies; in western culture, we see the lineage move away from the engaged, intimate understanding of existence, while among the Aboriginal Australian, Hopi, Navajo and Koyukon peoples, this most important cosmology is retained. Abram suggests that the western loss of perceptual understanding was tied closely to the development of a phonetic alphabet, that written language evolved (or devolved) to a place where it facilitated an interactive loop between the scribes and their words, a loop which cycled upon itself without the presence of the landscape. Thus we come now to a space where we live in a world of our own human construction, isolated from the basic meanings and interactions of existence -- and so isolated, we make heartless choices because we hear no other voices than our own.
The simple message of Abram's work is to reimmerse. Reimmerse ourselves in the land, root ourselves in the soil, breathe in and interchange air with all creatures bound to this earth. We must open ourselves to our perceptual experience if we are to preserve and honor the earth, if we are to live fully, and ultimately, to survive.
The Spell of the Sensuous reminds us of the most amazing testament to the earth's vitality: our own perceptions. Abram returns us to our own experience, giving us back to what we perceive. It is the most powerful tool that we humans can use to reawaken our consciousness, for we are fundamentally perceptual beings, and it is only by theory and dogma that we have been separated from the reality of our senses. Abram's proof is ultimately ourselves; for indeed, if we open ourselves to perception then we will no longer have to fear that we are alone: our senses will saturate us with the undeniable richness of existence.
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