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

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  2,662 ratings  ·  276 reviews
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 mo ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published February 25th 1997 by Vintage (first published 1996)
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4.27  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,662 ratings  ·  276 reviews


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Brandon
Jul 31, 2007 rated it really liked it
In Chinese medicine, disease is defined as that which goes against the Breath of Nature (Bian Hua變化). This statement begs the question: If human disease is that which goes against the breath, how are we going against the breath? Or more specifically, how did we get to this point of widespread cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, allergies, and depression? David Abram's Spell of the Sensuous offers some important insight.

Once upon a time, humans were inherently tied to the land as hunter-gat
...more
Samantha
Jan 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite, non-fiction
I had the wonderful opportunity to meet David Abram on a number of occasions while living in Santa Fe. My poetry professor was having us read this book, partly because David Abram was a personal friend of his and partly because the book is just remarkable on a thousand different levels. It has a poetry to it, to be sure, but no other phrase works quite as well as "Spell Binding" when describing this book. It's wordy, you can't read it in one sitting like some pulp fiction book. But I still found ...more
Jason
Dec 07, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: we-own
The book has two significant flaws:

1) Abram is far too quick to succumb to reducing Judeo-Christian sensibilities to the villainous role here. In doing so, he's exacerbating the dialectic gulf he's making otherwise noteworthy leaps toward bridging. I had a hunch he'd be headed down this path, though, when he summarily blacklisted the Genesis creation account as narrative of oppression and dominion, ignoring its long tradition, in various theological circles, as an account emphasizing relational
...more
Carmine
May 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
My reaction to this book—and even more so to Abram's later book, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology—is akin to the gratitude of a drowning person toward he who tosses her a lifeline. To have someone so lyrically articulate the intense sadness and sense of loss I and others feel about humanity's disconnection from our fellow animals and our home planet was enormously validating. Abram serves the role of a shaman, an intermediary between the natural world and the spiritual world: he is a schola ...more
Janie
Feb 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Wow. David Abrams covers enormous ground, delving into philosophy, cultural anthropology, the environment, phenomenology, and spirituality. I read this book in NYC and it helped convince me (as did 9/11) to leave the city for an island off the coast of Maine where I lived for five years reconnecting with the natural world and my place in it. This is an important book for anyone concerned about the contemporary society's disconnect from nature.
Clayne
Can't say how much I enjoyed reading this. This is one of those books where you feel continuously enlightened as you move through it's wondrous realms of experience and ancestral wisdom. I highly recommend to anyone interested in moving beyond atheism into a spirituality that makes much more sense (pun not intended, but well-appreciated). Recommended for anyone interested in indigenous cultures and animism in general, and people who follow anti-civ philosophy but have not yet examined spirituali ...more
Bob Nichols
Aug 31, 2009 rated it it was ok
Abram starts out strong by providing a fresh perspective about the separation of humans from nature. Anchoring his work first in Husserl's phenomenology and then Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception, Abram says that we think more about the world than experience it. He writes that we are first and foremost physical bodies that complete themselves only through active relationships with nature. There is, in other words, a visceral circuit of energy with the world and it is this that gives us ...more
Tom
Jul 02, 2012 rated it did not like it
Try as I might, I can't get myself to finish this book. Every time I pick it up, the rapidly compounding fallacies produce a visceral rage, and I'm unable to continue.

Essentially, Abram's argument is based upon two things: 1) reifying a linguistic metaphor of agency, and 2) brashly asserting the non-arbitrariness of language (despite evidence to the contrary, which he does not cite). Upon this shaky foundation, he tells us that all things in the world, sentient and non-, should be seen as "subje
...more
Bob Hamilton
This is not an easy book to review. Indeed, I'm not sure if I've ever read a book that has left me with quite so much to think about. That we in the modern technological world have become disconnected from the natural world is really beyond argument. Focusing on language, Abram offers a radical approach to an understanding of why this happened, and also just a hint at how we can begin to reconnect - because it is common sense, of course, that humankind cannot continue this process of disconnecti ...more
The Nerdwriter
Dec 05, 2018 rated it liked it
The 5-star rating system on Goodreads is too limiting. Maybe I should stop using it. For me, David Abram's The Spell of The Sensuous is a strong three, but a weak four. A 7 out of 10, which sounds a lot better than 3 out of 5. As in all other ways, this book defies easy categorization. It's hard to say how I felt about it. At times Abram frustrated me -- more than once I rolled my eyes at the text -- and yet his work certainly affected me, provoked internal arguments. Sometimes I wonder if being ...more
Brandy LaChapelle
May 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Abrams is incredibly adept at rolling language, the landscape, magic and sexy breathing life into ...philosophy? Phenomenology is the most intelligent philosophical notion I have ever come across. Abrams' translates the writings of Marleau Ponty and reminds us of our responsibilities to the cycle of life. In this time of going green we should all be talking to the bugs and the trees and grass and the dirt to see what they think would be the best course of action.
Cynthia
Jun 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Probably one of my favorite books in the world, a brilliant discussion of language and how humans are deeply cognitively, emotionally, spiritually connected with the landscape, the earth.
Adam
Jul 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Adam by: Melody Moberg
Spell of the Sensuous is two things in one book. In the bright light of the academic world, it is a treatise that attempts to illustrate, if not prove, a rather ambitious thesis: that the advent and development of writing, from ideograms to Hebrew un-voiced phonetic script to the complete-with-vowels Greek alphabet, has been in large part responsible for the gradual estrangement of agricultural and now industrial humans from the living, speaking world evidenced to them through their senses.

Abra
...more
Andrea McDowell
May 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: green
This book makes absolutely no sense.

Look, I understand that the alphabet is a phenomenal technology that has transformed human thought and consciousness, but if you are able to make your argument using that technology then obviously the technology is not mutually exclusive with that argument.

The thesis of the book--so far as it has one--is that closeness with and participation with the earth as a thing with value in its own right was, for many cultures, enacted within a spiritual system that sa
...more
KA
Jul 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A densely written book that takes the phenomenological intersubjectivity and concept of the life-world of Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty's conception of the participatory nature of perception as its jumping-off point, builds on Heidegger's horizonal and grounded understanding of time, critiques the rise of written language as that which gradually loosened our hold on the sensual and sensuous world, and ultimately puts forward a sense-based, animistic, and story-based understanding of t ...more
Keith
Nov 20, 2010 added it
Onto something awesome

Suits me because the thought connections are in line with other thinkers I've been fueled by: Paul Shephard (Nature and Madness, Coming Home to the Pleistocene), Joseph Chilton Pearce (the Magical child, Exploring the crack in the Cosmic Egg)
Aldous Huxley (doors of perception, marriage of heaven and hell) ; Guy Debord (society of the spectacle)
and last but certainly not least Derrick Jensen the writer, inspirer, killer culture criticizing Earth activist for the radical Bla
...more
Owen Brush
Oct 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"By denying that birds and other animals have their own styles of speech, by insisting that the river has no voice and that the ground itself is mute, we stifle our direct experience. We cut ourselves off from the deep meanings in many of our words, severing our language from that which supports and sustains it. We then wonder why we are often unable to communicate even among ourselves." Pg 263

"A story must be judged acording to whether it makes sense and 'making sense' must here be understood i
...more
gk
Jul 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: favorites, nonfiction
One of those books that I had to read slowly, to have time to stop & reflect. It introduced me to a lot of ideas which at first glance seemed strange, but on further thought made such sense that I wondered how for so long I had thought differently. (And even the ideas and theories I ended up not agreeing with, I liked thinking about.)

The book induced a paradigm shift, made me look at the world in a new way - it seemed much richer, afterwards, much more vibrant.
Ali Eastley
Jul 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
one of the MOST pivotal books in my personal development; beautiful writing, flooring substance. (non-fiction)
Victor Hugo
Tudo começou com a compra deste livro numa feira de velharias. Sem saber o que esperar dele, só sabia que o seu título me chamava a atenção e que o devia levar comigo para casa. Logo nos primeiros momentos de leitura percebi porque o trouxe comigo. Lia-o devagar e tomava notas; fazia rascunhos das minhas reflexões; lia-o nos intervalos de outras leituras; demorei quatro anos a percorrer as suas páginas; foi vagaroso, mas foi assim que fez sentido, com o tempo necessário para digerir tanta inform ...more
Kathleen
I just recently finished reading The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram a while ago. I really took my time with this book. Not only because it was dense and complex and full of interesting and varied ideas that made meaningful progress slow, but also because I so thoroughly enjoyed this book. I wanted to live in its world as long as I could, to envelop myself in it completely.

In The Spell of the Sensuous, Abram brings together his academic knowledge of continental philosophy (and more specific
...more
Lesliemae
Nov 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Lesliemae by: J. Reibetanz
I have been reading this book for the last 4, if not 7, years. It was first recommended to me in the second year of my undergraduate degree in a course on Shakespeare. The professor in one of his quiet moments suggested that my writing was very "sensitized". At the time, I had no way of fully understanding what he meant and whether it was a compliment or not. When I asked him later, he only directed me to continue my self-work, go to graduate school, and always carry Abram's Spell of the Sensuou ...more
Cameron
Jan 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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? Abr ...more
tout
Feb 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: terra-magicae
I wasn't expecting this book to be a mixture of an intro to phenomenology via Husserl, Merleu-Ponty and Heidegger and anti-civilization leaning anthropological studies. The parts that are particularly interesting for me focus on the ontological change that took place in the transition from oral pre-alphabetic cultures to the rise and proliferation of alphabetic cultures. Abram articulates a possible path of language that is not a relationship between abstractions disjointed from the terrain that ...more
Michelle
Aug 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: summer08
Capital! Capital! Capital!

The first thing that amazes me about this book is how poetic David Abram's writing is on a book of theories. Page after page, I never got lost in his many abstract ideas (still new to me) because his language holds life in itself, much like his beloved Earth.

The real chunk of the book starts with a crash course on phenomenology, but soon ecology, language, perception, Greek philosophy, mythology and native cultures are all synthesized harmoniously into a beautiful uni
...more
Chandler
Jun 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Even though it reads as speculation, it's engrossing speculation--

Probably showing my ignorance in these subjects, but what I found most interesting is the way Abram is able to drape a reverant spiritual framework onto hard matter; in my experience, the arguments for "everything is exactly as it is" tend to be rather bleak in their conclusions, ignoring the subject of mystery completely.

Thankfully, the book isn't spirituality justified by the terrible new-age "we're all energy" mantra; instead,
...more
Mariana
Jan 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Wow! This is a worthwhile book which establishes a stable foundation for eco;ogy based on our connection to the earth. Using such diverse thbinking as Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, our alphabet, and Apache, Navajo, and aboriginal thought to show we must reconnect to the land.
"Any undue harm that befalls the land is readily felt within the awareness of all who dwell within that land. And thus the health, balance, and well-being of each person is inseparable from the health and well-being of the envel
...more
Dylan Grant
One of the most important books I ever read. David Abram synthesizes so many different areas of thought - ecology, anthropology, psychology, art, philosophy - seamlessly. This book is a work of "Eco-Philosophy" and will make anyone who reads it closer to Nature. I plan on re-reading it one day when I have enough time. I hope that within a generation David Abram will be recognized as being one of the great philosophers of the western tradition alongside names like Wittgenstein or Descartes - seri ...more
Ann Klefstad
May 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
For me this is a really wonderful take on the role of artists (among other things) and how it could change as the culture changes.

Abram is far more responsible to the potential of the subject than most authors would be; that is, he's both curious and scholarly, scrupulous and generous. He began as a sleight-of-hand magician doing anthropology, and the simple intuitive brilliance of that combination is a thread throughout the book.
Jeffrey Bumiller
Aug 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I found this book to be very challenging at points,which is one of the reasons I loved it so much. It is, at times, very heavy on philosophy, yet still written in such a beautiful,calming and welcoming way. Highly recommended for anyone interested in language beyond the written word, and anyone searching for an avenue back to a more significant connection with the natural world.
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David Abram (born June 24, 1957) is an American philosopher, cultural ecologist, and performance artist, best known for his work bridging the philosophical tradition of phenomenology with environmental and ecological issues. He is the author of Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology, published in 2010 and of The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World, for which he ...more
“A story must be judged according to whether it makes sense. And 'making sense' must be here understood in its most direct meaning: to make sense is to enliven the senses. A story that makes sense is one that stirs the senses from their slumber, one that opens the eyes and the ears to their real surroundings, tuning the tongue to the actual tastes in the air and sending chills of recognition along the surface of the skin. To make sense is to release the body from the constraints imposed by outworn ways of speaking, and hence to renew and rejuvenate one's felt awareness of the world. It is to make the senses wake up to where they are.” 39 likes
“...along with the other animals, the stones, the trees, and the clouds, we ourselves are characters within a huge story that is visibly unfolding all around us, participants within the vast imagination, or Dreaming, of the world.” 27 likes
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