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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

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  4,605 ratings  ·  349 reviews
Winner of the International Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction

Animal tracks, word magic, the speech of stones, the power of letters, and the taste of the wind all figure prominently in this intellectual tour de force that returns us to our senses and to the sensuous terrain that sustains us. This major work of ecological philosophy startles the senses out of habitual way
Paperback, 368 pages
Published February 25th 1997 by Vintage
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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
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
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
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
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. ...more
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
Jul 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy, nature
Welcome to the 1990's. Bill Clinton is president, the budget is balanced, Dances with Wolves is the #1 movie, houses are stucco, and turquoise is the new jewelry craze. Taking a walkabout through the Spirit of the Sensuous is like taking a walk down the same nature trails of the 90's mind.

Although it comes upon the reader gradually, David Abram takes the reader through a tour de force of a fashion through an ecology of experience in the natural world, a phenomenology of our senses in the lifewo
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
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.

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
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
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.
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
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
Jun 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I mean WOW! This book is like nothing I've ever read. It's part philosophy, part meditation, part anthropology, dialect, religion, environmentalism, social commentary. And yet it works and it feels right and true. The thesis sounds bland: writing severed the link that existed between our language and the language of the earth and other animals. Not only that, but in that same process (which we're going to blame Plato for), we also began to conceive of time and space separately as well as our bod ...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. ...more
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,
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.
Jan 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
Fantastic work that explores how our disconnection from the living/sensual world has made us incomplete and therefore led to the massive need for a course correct that would help us grow spiritually and put an end to the madness that pervades modern society.

Abram explores many themes and comes at the work as a philosopher, an "anthropologist," and a sleight of hand magician. Whereas I enjoyed his background story, I really dug the philosophical exploration of Merleau-Ponty, Husserl, and Heidegge
Jun 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram is a magnificent book, beautifully written and powerfully argued. More importantly, it is intellectually ambitious, attempting to give the reader unique insight into the human condition. I will do what I can to reduce its "point" to a few sentences and then offer some personal thoughts.

Abram contends that humanity is alienated from its role within nature, as a feature of nature, not an arbiter of nature. He posits that this alienation is deeply wounding a
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
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
Victor Finn
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
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Sustainability Bo...: Book Review 2 8 Nov 27, 2016 08:44AM  

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David Abram 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 received, among othe ...more

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