Cameron's Reviews > The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World

The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram
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Jan 19, 09

Read in January, 2008

I find The Spell of the Sensuous’ captivating exploration of language, phenomenology, and oral versus written storytelling an absolutely essential addition to anybody interested in how language and place are braided inextricably together. Abram, relying upon the theories of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Edmund Husserl, and American Indian peoples, explores what happens when, through the invention of writing, language is apparently “severed” from the sensual, material reality that it is born out of? Abram uses Merleau-Ponty, in particular, to demolish notions of language being the “special province” of humanity, arguing instead that the “expressive potency—the soundful influence of spoken words upon the sensing body . . . supports all the more abstract and conventional meanings that we assign to those words” (80). I, like Abram, find phenomenology’s capacity to complicate subject/object, mind/body, and nature/culture binaries absolutely fascinating, and echo his ending call for writers not to abandon language with its “unnoticed and unfortunate side-effects,” but rather to “[take:] up the written word, with all of its potency, and patiently, carefully [write:] language back into the land” (273). However, Abram leaves issues of gender, queer theory, and language relatively untouched in this book, fields from which many astute critiques of phenomenology have been launched (see Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology, Durham and London: Duke UP, 2007). Still, The Spell of the Sensuous offers a unique, well-written theoretical framework from which to examine the difficult, interlocking problems of language, materiality, and the environment.

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