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


David Abram's "The Spell of the Sensuous" is a philosophical exploration of how our senses connect us to the natural world and how modern society's emphasis on language and technology has led to a dangerous disconnect from our ecological roots.

Here's a breakdown of the book's key arguments and themes:

1. The Primacy of Sensory Experience:

  • Abram argues that our senses, not just our minds, are the primary means through which we understand the world.
  • We are not separate from nature but deeply intertwined with it, constantly engaging in a reciprocal exchange of perception and influence.
  • The natural world is not an inert backdrop but a vibrant, communicative web of life that "speaks" to us through sensory experiences.

2. Language as a Double-Edged Sword:

  • While acknowledging the power of language, Abram warns against its potential to create a false dichotomy between humans and the "more-than-human" world.
  • Written language, in particular, can lead to a sense of detachment from the immediate environment as we become absorbed in the abstract world of symbols.

3. The "Magic" of Oral Cultures:

  • Abram draws on his experiences with indigenous cultures to illustrate how oral traditions foster a more intimate relationship with the natural world.
  • Storytelling, rituals, and songs in these cultures are not merely symbolic expressions but active engagements with the living landscape, enhancing a sense of interconnectedness.

4. The Crisis of Sensory Deprivation:

  • Modern society, dominated by technology and urbanization, has led to a sensory deprivation that alienates us from the natural world.
  • This disconnect has ethical implications, as it makes it easier to exploit and destroy that which we no longer feel connected to.

5. Reclaiming Sensory Awareness:

  • Abram calls for a radical reevaluation of our relationship with the natural world, urging us to rediscover the "spell of the sensuous."
  • This involves actively engaging our senses through practices like mindful walking, nature immersion, and paying attention to the subtle rhythms of the living world.

6. Towards an "Ecological Self":

  • By cultivating sensory awareness, we can begin to dismantle the illusory boundaries between ourselves and nature, fostering a more ethical and sustainable way of being in the world.
  • This involves recognizing the agency and intelligence inherent in all living things and acknowledging our responsibility to the ecological web.

Key Concepts:

  • More-than-human world: Abram's term emphasizes the inherent worth and agency of all living beings, not just humans.
  • Phenomenology: He draws on this philosophical approach to emphasize the importance of lived experience and sensory perception.
  • Animism: Abram suggests that recognizing the animacy of the natural world is essential for ecological awareness.

Overall, "The Spell of the Sensuous" is a call to action, urging us to awaken our senses, remember our ecological roots, and rediscover the magic of a world brimming with life.