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Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology

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David Abram’s first book, The Spell of the Sensuous—hailed as “revolutionary” by the Los Angeles Times, as “daring and truly original” by Science—has become a classic of environmental literature. Now Abram returns with a startling exploration of our human entanglement with the rest of nature.

As the climate veers toward catastrophe, the innumerable losses cascading through the biosphere make vividly evident the need for a metamorphosis in our relation to the living land. For too long we’ve inured ourselves to the wild intelligence of our muscled flesh, taking our primary truths from technologies that hold the living world at a distance. This book subverts that distance, drawing readers ever deeper into their animal senses in order to explore, from within, the elemental kinship between the body and the breathing Earth.

The shapeshifting of ravens, the erotic nature of gravity, the eloquence of thunder, the pleasures of being edible: all have their place in Abram’s investigation. He shows that from the awakened perspective of the human animal, awareness (or mind) is not an exclusive possession of our species but a lucid quality of the biosphere itself—a quality in which we, along with the oaks and the spiders, steadily participate.

With the audacity of its vision and the luminosity of its prose, Becoming Animal sets a new benchmark for the human appraisal of our place in the whole.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2010

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About the author

David Abram

24 books276 followers
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 other awards, the international Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction. Abram is founder and creative director of the Alliance for Wild Ethics (AWE); his essays on the cultural causes and consequences of ecological disarray have appeared often in such journals as Orion, Environmental Ethics, Parabola, Tikkun, and The Ecologist, as well as in numerous anthologies.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 182 reviews
Profile Image for Adam.
996 reviews196 followers
November 30, 2014
I'll use this article I wrote as a stand-in for a review:

If people took the science about climate change seriously, gas station attendants would turn off the pumps. Coal miners would put coal back in the ground — with shovels. The National Guard would occupy the refineries, confiscate the tankers and shut down the pipelines.

It would be an international state of emergency, with a response beyond any emergency mobilization we have had to muster before. Never before has the threat been so great, nor so pervasive.

We have now critically endangered the most fundamental support systems of our species. Yet we somehow disconnect the disasters we are already experiencing as a result of climate change and the culture that has produced them.

It is not unusual that a major scientific discovery has gone largely unnoticed and isn't integrated by our culture as a whole. American society is not especially scientifically literate at the moment. However, I suspect a deeper factor is at work.

The gist of much of modern science has been to put us in our place amongst our brethren — the sea otters, the nudibranchs and the archaea. We are star stuff, sorted by geologic processes and organized into mutually dependent, self-interactive communities by evolution.

Yet still we think of ourselves as uniquely sentient and uniquely able to communicate. We systematically deny the rights of our non-human kin. We have forgotten the spiritual and practical lessons that once bound us to the Earth, and now we refuse to listen to science when it rediscovers the same wisdom.

Civilized humans — those who have been affected by agriculture, and later industry — have gradually become alienated from what you might think of as the social life of their land. Ecological communities depend on communication, and humans once participated directly in this communication.

This is a very practical measure — if you depend directly on the behavior of the ecosystem, it pays to know what it is experiencing — that is expressed in deeply cultural and spiritual terms. That these cultural practices and beliefs are often denigrated as superstitious by our own culture speaks to the impracticality of our current beliefs and practices.

This alienation has progressed apace with the ever-intensifying modes of production that civilized humans have engaged in. Things like writing, houses, cities, watches, school and the Internet have pulled ever more of our attention to purely human messages, as if to drown out the ever louder cries of ecological distress from the planet.

The causality here is probably not decipherable. While Crimeth Inc., a decentralized collective of activists, asserts that "alienation is the root of the problem — the devastation of the environment simply follows from it," it seems more plausible to define the alienation as a result of modes of production that both demand and permit it.

This thesis is developed at length in David Abram's two works, "The Spell of the Sensuous" and "Becoming Animal." Abram contrasts the phenomenology — how the world is experienced — of oral and written cultures, and glorifies at length the intuitive beauty of an oral culture's engagement with the physical-world-as-community.

Abram imbues the phenomenology of oral cultures with a deep appeal. However, the phenomenology of this kind of living is something people in our culture can only experience fleetingly, or after a long apprenticeship among an indigenous culture.

This is not why his idea matters. Oral cultures have only managed to live sustainably within various ecologies of the Earth for countless generations by listening to what the land is saying and valuing its messages. No culture can ever aspire to sustainability if it is deaf to the animate earth.

Our culture will never become sustainable as long as it prizes material consumption over life; as long as it bases its livelihoods on the conversion of the living into the dead. Solar panels and windmills aren't enough. Sustainable agriculture is great, but it's not enough.

Any environmental movement that doesn't address this fundamental, psychopathic alienation will be too little, too late, no matter how many victories it achieves.
Profile Image for Martin Keogh.
Author 14 books5 followers
August 26, 2010
The challenge in reading this book is that it kept making me go outside to take walks. To sit. To observe. Every time I read parts of it I felt more embodied and more part of the world around me. A must read!
Profile Image for Amy Hannon.
13 reviews5 followers
November 2, 2010
I didn't think I could love a book more than David Abram's first book, The Spell of the Sensuous, but this second book, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology, is like the flower of which that book was the bud. It reads like poetry in its constant evocation of sensible experience in nature whether the language of crows or the whispering of pine trees. It has a way of making it feel as if our senses can unfold and open as well as expand beyond our bodies into the whole living planet and its myriad forms. Abram tells stories of his encounters with animals in the wild and with shamans from around the world. Each story makes his magic seem simpler and more accessible. If you are interested in the intellectual roots of our alienation from the animate Earth and our own human possibilities, read this book. Read it slowly. Then read it again.

Profile Image for Keith Swenson.
Author 15 books49 followers
September 1, 2021
The message of "Becoming Animal" is that we are unable to truly communicate with the written word, and this book serves as an excellent example. It is very self indulgent. David Abram obviously sees himself as a poet, yet writes as if he holds a thesaurus in his left hand and produces some of the most unnatural prose I have ever read. It is, however, ironic to read a book when the author believes that books are a wedge between us and the real world, and so lets look past the writing style and consider the message.

"We don't see the world the way it is because our brain replaces what we see with concepts." In a chapter called "Depth" he discusses how our perception changes once we can put a label on something. When you don't understand what you are seeing, things are a jumble of color and shades, but once you grasp what you are looking at, then the scene changes from a smattering of colors into, say, a room with table and chairs. He is right, as soon as you know it is a chair, you stop seeing all the other possibilities. He describes the directly sensed world as 3D, while the conceptualize world is "flat". Anything you read or learn about through scientific instruments lacks the three dimensionality of directly experienced things.

It reminds me of the the Indian philosophy claim that the world is an illusion (but he makes no reference to this). This was my attraction to the book in the first place with the hope he might have some wisdom on how to blend the sensual with the conceptual. But I was disappointed.

In the chapters "House" and "Wood & Stone" he jumps from one unlikely claim to another without establishing a foundation. He claims that stones have immense compressed energy because if he was to hold himself as still like that it would take a lot of effort. He conflates intelligence with consciousness, and then goes on to claim that rocks and streams are conscious. At one point he uses the literary expression "the cliffs move me" as the basis for a claim that rocks move. He conflates the idea of "existence" with the idea of "life" and concludes that everything that exists is alive.

In the chapter "Reciprocity" he tells us that microscopes and other scientific instruments portray a false world. We must reject everything that can not be sensed directly. Utter nonsense. I can't sense a virus directly, but that does not mean that my knowledge of viruses does not help me experience the world "better". I understand his point that a scientific cataloging of the world in a sense removes you from it, but that does not mean that everything should be forgotten. My knowledge of the workings of the world CAN be used to enhance my sensory experience. Instead of seeing a phantom inhabiting a sick person, I will see instead the symptoms of an infection, and gain a better understanding of what the person is feeling and experiencing. I can't accept the position that a scientific understanding must be rejected in favor of what I can actually see, hear, taste, smell, and touch.

I liked his idea that we are "in" the Earth, because the atmosphere is very much bound together with the ground and rocks beneath our feet. We are in and part of the Earth.

The chapter called "Mind" starts with a fairly decent review of historical concepts of the mind: Descartes' dualism, Damasio's distributed consciousness. He then launches into an extension of these, founded only by rhetorical questions, to the idea that the Earth is part of your mind as well. I can buy into the idea that your setting can have a strong influence on your mood, but he goes quite a bit further into saying that as you move around you are linking up with other parts of the Earth-mind. He explains jet-lag as having nothing to do with the shift of time or circadian rhythms, but instead that when you land you hook up with a different mind and that rules your actions -- at least until you get used to the presence of the new mind.

He then has a couple of chapters on speech, using this again in a way that bears little relationship to the common meaning of speech. Everything it seems "accrues language", even rocks, and the wind. Then, in a profound bit of logic, concludes that since everything speaks, therefor everything must also listen.

Finally, toward the end of the book the chapter "Sleight of Hand" describes his journey in the mountains of Nepal as a traveling magician doing sleight-of-hand tricks looking for shamans. He would do a trick in a village and wait for the other magicians to hear of it and contact him. He describes in detail how a local shaman while attempting to heal a sick woman, used a sleight of hand trick to make it appear that he was pulling the evil spirit out of the body in the form of what turned out to be bird entrails. The story was that as long as you deceived the patient into thinking you drew that out of them, then the evil spirit might be confused and jump to the bird guts. I enjoyed this chapter, but it might be because I had gotten used to the tortured prose by that time.

The finale of the book is a rail against literacy. He believes the world can only be known through an oral culture, and he points out nine qualities that make an oral culture superior to our own culture which has been cut off from the world by the written word. He recognizes that written books are a compromise that we have to live with, but he yearns for the good old days when primitive cultures were the height of civilization (and life was nasty, brutish, and short).

Much of what he talks about is perception: how we as humans perceive the world. There is a wealth of literature on that subject which could be referenced and built upon, but David Abram does not, and it is his loss. There is much to learn on this subject, but not from this book. I was, in the end, quite disappointed.
Profile Image for Sean Wilson.
190 reviews
February 6, 2018
A breathtakingly inspiring book about looking at the world we live in, and rekindling that natural animal connection we have with Earth. After about 200 pages, the book kind of drags on—still nonetheless interesting—but the conclusion is fantastic, leaving you with a newfound perception of this beautiful planet we live in.
Profile Image for David.
69 reviews
October 17, 2015
The author's purplish prose will make or break your opinion of this book. He's the sort of guy who attaches an adverb to every verb and writes rococo phrases like "at this present moment of the earth's unfolding" instead of the word "now". If that appeals, go for it; if not, avoid at all costs.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
933 reviews94 followers
April 5, 2020
This was hard to rate. I liked it and didn’t like it at the same time. Like many great nonfiction books about nature, this book makes me notice the world around me better, and differently than before, so in that way, it was good. There were little gems and pearls of genius sprinkled throughout that made pause, but maybe there weren’t enough of them. I want to read his first book, spell of the sensuous; he has a phenomenal descriptive talent and makes you more aware of all of your senses.

It took me a while to recognize what I didn’t like, and part of me wishes he had a better editor because his message could be more powerful. I think some of it was intended to catch your attention, and to be creative with language, and use words no one else is using, all of which I admire, but it made me want to stop reading. I would trudge on, and then he would surprise me with something extremely cool and sometimes, earth shattering.

For example, he once stood in the yard of a friend and watched as the sun rose, creating shadows, which he proposes is part of night that remains with us, and watched as his shadow changed throughout the morning and afternoon, and made it seem nonchalant, like everyone is doing this, and should. Since the shadow is part of night, at noon, when there is no shadow, he wrote that siesta time in many countries allows “their tissues and organs (to) respond to this interior visitation by the night, allowing the many cells or souls within them be tutored by the darkness that has taken refuge within their flesh.” It is a cool way to look at shadows, and completely fresh and original.

I like a lot of his imagery. About scent: Odors “sparkling like wine in some part of your brain that had earlier been rocked to sleep by the soporific dazzle of sunbeams, but now has been startled into attentive life by this more full blooded magic…” About the stars: “Or if we were a different mammal- a fox…- we’d hardly notice that alluring openness overhead…but since we balance on 2 legs, our heads are held already in the sky, and so we can’t avoid the stunning puzzle posed by the stars.” About sleep: “We sleep, allowing gravity to hold us, allowing Earth- our larger body- to recalibrate our neurons, composting the keen encounters of our waking hours (the tensions and terrors of our individual days), stirring them back, as dreams, into the sleeping substance of our muscles. We give ourselves over to the influence of the breathing earth. Sleep is the shadow of the earth as it seeps into our skin and spreads throughout our limbs, dissolving our individual will into the thousand and one selves that compose it- cells, tissues, and organs taking their prime directives now from gravity and the wind- as residual bits of sunlight, caught in the long tangle of nerves, wander the drifting landscape of our earth-borne bodies like deer moving across the forested valleys.”

About gravity: Instead of thinking of gravity as a heaviness that hold us down, it could be thought of as “a mutual attraction between our body and the earth,” a “rising up into us from the solid earth,” a “felt magnetism” between people that is part chemistry also. The he ruins it a bit by saying we have (or we’ve) “forgotten the erotic nature of gravity and the enlivening pleasure of earthly contact.”

A gem: the author felt oddly bereft when his family was getting ready to move from a beloved house/cabin made from beautiful wooden beams; he writes, “it was a though we’d been living for a year in a dense grove of old trees, a cluster of firs, each with its own rhythm and character, from whom our bodies had drawn not just shelter but perhaps even a kind of guidance as we grew into a family.” I like that imagery. I am ignoring the previous experience with the wooden beams that vibrated negative energy when the child of the house went on a trip for the first time but improved after he told them she was coming back, only gone for 10 days. I also learned a little about how the written word changed our perception of the world as we had to recently learn to read silently which may be linked to the seemingly endless thoughts that can clutter our minds. Also how screens are changing our vision, preventing it from focusing as the camera does it for you on TV, and the flatness of a computer screen also can have effects. Or the flatness can’ve effects. *can’ve is a play on the plethora of contractions in the book that really interrupted my reading like Life’s and we’ve and I’ve, all the time*

“Each thing organizes the space around it, rebuffing or sidling up against other things; each thing calls, gestures, beckons to other beings or battles them for our attention; things expose themselves to the sun or retreat among the shadows, shouting with their loud colors or whispering with their seeds; rocks snag lichen spores from the air and shelter spiders under their flanks; clouds converse with the fathomless blue and metamorphose into one another; they spill rain upon the land, which gathers in rivulets and carves out canyons…” Thing=thing of nature whether tree, rock, water, wooden beam.

“Such reciprocity is the very structure of perception. We experience the sensuous world only by rendering ourselves vulnerable to that world. Sensory perception is this ongoing interweavement: the terrain enters into us only to the extent that we allow ourselves to be taken up within that terrain.”

“…Breathing involves a continual oscillation between exhaling and inhaling, offering ourselves to the world at one moment and drawing the world into ourselves at the next…”

“…Our surmise regarding the subtle functions of neural processes within the brain are profoundly constrained by the fact that the brain did not evolve in order to understand itself. The complex organization of the brain evolved as a consequence of our sensorial and muscled engagement with the landscapes that surround us.”

“Other animals, in a constant and mostly unmediated relation with their sensory surroundings, think with the whole of their bodies.”

“The companion call is rarely indicated in my birding field guides. The call is commonly uttered by both the female and male of a mated pair, usually in an alternating pattern. It seems a way of staying in close auditory contact…”

“There are so many unsung heroines and heroes at this broken moment in our collective story, so many courageous persons who, unbeknownst to themselves, are holding together the world by their resolute love or contagious joy. Although I do not know your names, I can feel you out there.”
Profile Image for jeremy.
1,113 reviews275 followers
October 5, 2010
of the many books i have read in recent years, whether fiction or non, i cannot recall a single work written with more poetic elegance than david abram's becoming animal. nearly every one of abram's sentences shimmers with a melodious resonance that commands an unhurried pace. abram, cultural ecologist, anthropologist, philosopher, and accomplished sleight-of-hand magician, has a rich and varied background that seems to nurture the many complementary perspectives evident in his writing. becoming animal explores some of the same thematic territory as his first book (1997's award-winning the spell of the sensuous), yet seems to have been written with deeper insight, greater cohesive focus, and more stylistic maturity.
it is only now, as we find both our lives and our high-tech laboratories threatened by severe fluctuations in the weather, as we watch coastlines disappear and foodwebs collapse and realize that our own children will not be exempt from the violence that our onrushing "progress" has inflicted upon the earth, only now do we notice that all our technological utopias and dreams of machine-mediated immortality may fire our minds but they cannot feed our bodies. indeed, most of this era's transcendent technological visions remain motivated by a fright of the body and its myriad susceptibilities, by a fear of our carnal embedment in a world ultimately beyond our control- by our terror of the very wilderness that nourishes and sustains us. to recognize this nourishment, to awaken to the steady gift of this wild sustenance, entails that we offer ourselves in return. it entails that we accept the difficult mystery of our own carnal mortality, allowing that we are bodily creatures that must die in order for others to flourish. but it is this that we cannot bear. we are too frightened of shadows. we cannot abide our vulnerability, our utter dependence upon a world that can eat us. vast in its analytic and inventive power, modern humanity is crippled by a fear of its own animality, and of the animate earth that sustains us.

while abram is well aware of the pervasive and ever-accelerating unraveling of our ecosystems, it is far from being the book's locus, bearing only but the briefest of contextual mentions. becoming animal diverges from the rash of recent works eager to emphasize environmental degradation or offer overly simplified quick-fix, feel-good solutions, and instead offers compassionate and insightful musings on our own misplaced roles within the larger web of life. abram relates personal tales and anecdotes that were integral to his own understanding of earthly cosmology. abram is clearly a patient and curious observer of the animate world, often forsaking more entrenched conceptions in favor of truths discerned via his own experiential discoveries. open-minded and humble in his knowledge, abram even encourages the reader to make sense of what he or she themselves may have learned. "i've written this book, a spiraling series of experimental and improvisational forays, in hopes that others will try my findings against their own experience, correcting or contesting my discoveries with their own." rare is the writer receptive to a reader's challenge of their own authorial authority.
as copernican and newtonian insights took hold, sensory perception was increasingly derided as deceptive; only that which could be measured and analyzed mathematically could be taken as true. the spreading cultural detachment from bodily experience enabled a new audacity in our human researches, empowering a wondrous range of discoveries and technological innovations. but it also left us curiously adrift, bereft of our most immediate source of contact and rapport with the surrounding terrain. dismissing our felt experience, we sacrificed much of our animal empathy with the animate earth, forfeiting the implicit sustenance we'd always drawn from that empathy. while amassing our analytic truths and deploying our technologies, we became more and more impervious to the needs of the living land, oddly inured to the suffering of other animals and to the fate of the more-than-human world.

throughout becoming animal, abram argues for a reorienting and retuning of our senses, a physical and perceptual realigning of ourselves with the natural world. within chapters entitled "shadow," "wood and stone," "reciprocity," "depth," "mood," "the speech of things," and "shapeshifting" (amongst others), he leads us on a meandering course through nuance and sagacity. an abundance of rich, vivid storytelling skill allows abram to ably navigate us through to what, for many, will undoubtedly be a new way of thinking about, and engaging in, our world. becoming animal is a breathtaking work of both great import and timeliness. david abram has crafted the rarest of literary gems: a sublime effort combining transcendent prose, lucid insight, and lasting consequence.
our age-old disparagement of corporeal reality has in our time brought not just our kind but the whole biosphere to a horrific impasse. the aspiration for a bodiless purity that led so many to demean earthly nature as a fallen, sinful realm (and the related will-to-control that's led us to ceaselessly mine and manipulate nature for our own, exclusively human, purposes) has made a mangled wreckage of this elegantly interlaced world. yet a new vision of our planet has been gathering, quietly, even as the old, armored ways of seeing stumble and joust for ascendancy, their metallic joints creaking and crumbling with rust. beneath the clamor of ideologies and the clashing of civilizations, a fresh perception is slowly shaping itself- a clarified encounter between the human animal and its elemental habitat.
3 reviews2 followers
July 31, 2012
Very interesting. Not the kind of book you want to read in one swell foop. Take your time and chew on it as you go.
Profile Image for Joseph Carrabis.
Author 36 books87 followers
March 31, 2020
Becoming Animal starts with a "Notes to the Reader" section. Summed up, it is "If you don't like this book, you're a PeePeeHead." The "Notes to the Reader" section is followed by a nine page introduction that can be summed up as "If you don't like this book, if you aren't captivated by my language, by my awe at being awed, at the fact that I'm busting my gut to be the next Loren Eiseley, that I've written an agonizingly self-indulgent book because my first book took off unexpectedly and now I'm pedalling as fast as I can to live up to this mythos everybody's wrapped me in, you're a PeePeeHead."
I found the writing overly flamboyant. I found the voice, tone, and style to be way on the other side of "Look at me! I'm self-aware! Animals and trees are our brothers and sisters! Ooh! Ahh!"
More than anything else I found this book to be riding a wave. If that wave didn't exist, this book wouldn't be here and Abram wouldn't be touring the world telling people they're PeePeeHeads if they don't appreciate the dirt they're walking on.
Just to be clear, I appreciate the dirt I'm walking on. Have for years. So I suppose as a wake up call to the rest of the planet, it's a good thing.
Just wasn't a good thing for me. If you really want to explore these topics, read Farley Mowat and Barry Lopez. They covered the same areas (both geographically and psychologically) without getting in the way of what they were communicating.
Profile Image for Mercedes Dellatorre.
21 reviews2 followers
December 20, 2021
No sé si existe este concepto, pero este podría ser un libro de compañía, no me refiero a un libro de mesa de luz ni de consulta permanente, sino a un libro que acompaña un momento específico que requiere una elaboración en el tiempo, un proceso madurativo. El texto está dividido en capítulos situacionales (sombra, casa, madera piedra) descriptas a través de apreciaciones físicas, mentales y emocionales de una belleza narrativa asombrosa; sin embargo, la sensación que se va construyendo es la de un espacio complejo que requiere de un tiempo para ser.
El pensamiento de David Abram es algo así, podría pensarse como una duración perceptiva que, en su no apuro conceptual, en su no búsqueda de respuesta inmediata, genera un descubrimiento cada vez más sutil y profundo del presente. Las influencias de Abram pueden rastrearse en la fenomenología de la percepción de Merleau-Ponty.
El título del libro es un homenajea la creatividad exuberante de Deleuze, además de una intención de abrir nuevos sentidos y asociaciones a esta frase.
Author 2 books10 followers
June 24, 2021
I'm all for poetic and personal writing in creative non-fiction (I loved what I've read by Philip Hoare for instance) and I can see that the author wants us to feel as much as think about the natural world, but unfortunately I felt the writing here was getting in the way by calling too much attention to itself. Maybe I was hoping for it to get more academic? It seemed to promise an examination of humanity's relationship with nature, which I thought would draw from historical, literary, anthropological research in a more rigorous way. But this feels more like a stream-of-consciousness love letter based on anecdotal, subjective experiences that just didn't hold my interest. I'm sure the author is a lovely person and I'd love to see what other books are on his bookshelf.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,659 followers
September 7, 2018
I loved Abram's first book and this one is just as illuminating, but it's a whole lot more annoying. It's still worth 4 stars if not more for all of the insights that I gleaned from it. However, there is so much in here about Abram's wanderings around the world and his bird calls and just cooky thoughts and behaviors that it was often hard to extract the really poignant nuggets.
Profile Image for Cate.
12 reviews1 follower
November 10, 2010
Absolutely brilliant, and a "must read" for those who care about this planet and all who live on it.
Profile Image for Jake.
232 reviews50 followers
April 28, 2020
The following are notes I stumbled across on my computer, that I wrote when I first read this book years ago. My apologies if it is a lot of none-sense. Don't say I didn't warn you.

David Abram asks us to reconsider how we see the world.. He asks us to look, hear, smell, and taste what is around us. What is truly aware, and truly awake. What can hear us? What knows we are there? Which fauna and much crazier, which flora. This book, becoming animal, is strange in its ability to reinvoragte certain ideas which have so long ago died in western culture. Our society finds it self in a gradually descent from our once understood unity with our surroundings. While at once we may have felt like simply another part of nature, we are now, at the top of scala natrula, a being far removed from the environment we are in. As we sit inside our homes, with our floors that do not look look like trees, and our air conditioners which do not appear to be powered by the same energy that strikes bolts across the sky, it is easy to forget that outside is just a fiction. That we are still sitting above the earth with its dirts, mites, slime and rocks even if the climate in our small caves feel synthetic. Debates like nature and nurture fight can only exist in a world where man forgets he comes from.
In one part of the book Abram discusses the evolution of language. Language as we currently see it, in its phonetic manifestation is much different than the language of ancient texts. While for most western culture we see the beauty of our gradual ascent into genius hood, in the gradual arising of our brilliant increase from histories bounties,but he does not see the world as such. Rather , in our cultural evolution some things have been forgotten, or have simply disappeared*1. One must wonder, what is it that we have gained and what is it that we have lost? Has our current view of nature been diminished to the point in where we are blind of the **Possibility** of the consciousness of plants and animals (see for example:https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/09... the hidden life of trees), or have we perhaps become truly more wise as we have broken loose of superstition?

There was this deeply enchanting story about his experiences with the shamans. a few parts of the stories jumped out to me. 1. When in touch with nature, and in close proximity to animals, can we perhaps gain a relationship with other animals that don’t intend to eat us, and us not intending to eat them? what is it that we would discover if we could keep such relationship. Next, the shamanistic village took pride in the dead body of a young girl, letting her flesh, “go back from the dust from whence it once came”, by quite literally offering the corpse to nature. This behavior shows how deeply in touch with nature many early humans were, and how, via our am blad mimg, caves all all the above we have distanced our self from our molecular origins. The last cool idea was on magic in where ill present the following line
““Contrary to modern assumptions, sleight-of-hand conjuring probably originates not as an illusory depiction of supernatural events, but as a practical technique for unlocking, and activating, the fluid magic of nature itself.”
Basically stating that the whole shtik with shamans tricking the people into believing that they are mystical forces was not a product of mere, early religion taking it self as a product of idiocy used to control the people, but as a way of letting ones mind succumb to the complexities of nature, and letting nature take its course. Quite literally, the shamans would, according to this narrative, use the placebo to trick their people into finding health.. just as holy people in christians religions do the same. The senses can trick the immune system into health.

It has been awhile, but I agree with many of the reviewers that there was a lot of cookiness to this book. Overall though, the writing was outstanding
Profile Image for Andrea McDowell.
562 reviews303 followers
June 5, 2013
This is a book that should be read in the spring.

Unfortunately, I first picked it up in the fall, and found the first fifty pages a tough slog. Where was the evidence, the statistics, the science? There is none, of course; this is a book of moral and environmental philosophy, and more of the felt-truth flavour than the chain-of-logic variety.

I had much better luck with it when I picked it up after a full day of hiking and gardening, with the dirt still under my fingernails and the songs of birds in my ears. Well, of course--the earth is alive, and we are connected to it, and we should remember that we too are animals and part of the world. And it doesn't need any evidence. It's self-evident.

"there's a tacit sense that we'd better not let our awareness come too close to our creaturely sensations, that we'd best keep our arguments girded with statistics and our thoughts buttressed with abstractions, lest we succumb to an overwhelming grief--a heartache born of our organism's instinctive empathy with the living land and its cascading losses." (p. 7)

That hurdle overcome, I polished the book off lickety-split.

Abram's central argument (if you can call it that, when it consists largely of appeals to the reader's empathy and personal experience) is that we, too, are animals; and, being animals, we ought not to think of ourselves as or act as if we are separate from the rest of nature. Go outside; pay attention; listen to things, because everything has a voice, and talk to them too, because they are listening to you. You may not find his argument convincing in a typical linear logic sense, but it is beautifully stated and deeply felt, and it's hard to see how taking ourselves off of the evolutionary pedestal and resituating ourselves with the rest of creation could possibly lead to any harm.

"Perhaps the broad sphere, itself, needed our forgetfulness. Perhaps some new power was waiting to be born on the planet, and our species was called upon to incubate this power in the dark cocoon of our solitude. Ours enses dulled, our attenntion lost to the world, we created, in our inward turning, a quiet cave wherein a new layer of Earth could first shape itself and come to life. But surely it's time now to hatch this new stratum, to waken our senses from their screen-dazzled swoon, and so to offer this power back to the more-than-human terrain. The cascading extinctions of other species make evident that the time is long past ripe. The abrupt loss of rain forests and coral reefs, the choking of wetlands, the poisons leaching into the soils, and the toxins spreading in our muscles compel us to awaken from our long oblivion, to cough up the difficult magic that's been growing within us, swelling us with pride even as the land disintegrates all around us. Surely we've cut ourselves off for long enough--time, now, to open our minds outward, returning to the biosphere that wide intelligence we'd thought was ours alone. ... Sentience was never our private possession." (p. 129)

OK, the language may be a little overwrought from time to time. Also, Abrams really likes the word "cascading." But as a book to bring you back into your senses, as a living creature in a living world, it's hard to beat.
Profile Image for David.
6 reviews1 follower
April 9, 2013
A spellbinding edict for the de-familiarization of our Earthly habitation, Abram's Becoming Animal is equal parts poetic lyricism and paradoxical migrane. Because I have a taste for the phenomenological, and a penchant for the ornate, I lean toward the former: David Abram’s writing is both beautiful and instructive, even when it demands a leap of faith that he has a direction to his wandering and purpose to his probing. Sometimes I wanted to slow him down, to have him scale back his far-reaching implications, to instill some modesty in his aims, but I think Abram successfully initiates a shift in the relationship to our planet, and to our plane of existence.

He works to de-familiarize our relationship with the mundane. He builds on such chapters as “Shadow”, “House”, “Wood and Stone”, “Depth”, “The Speech of Things”, and deconstructs, with deliberately disorienting language, the commonsense relationships that we have with these things. He argues that the all things that make up the Earth – animate and inanimate, material and immaterial – are inextricable from our biological, psychological, and spiritual evolution, and that our recent (5000 years) elevation of the abstract and theoretical over the sensuous and material, has caused a horrifying rift between our sensitive selves and the Earth that gives us life. It is this rift that allows us to callously poison the elements and choke their dependent organisms.

Further, Abram argues, our common habitation with all earthly residents means more than a pragmatic connection of mutual dependence; rather, human language, movements, and senses are all intimately, and dynamically, attuned to the planet’s inhabitants, whether a precocious raven or an idle boulder. Abram probably could have explicated this in about half the amount of pages, but his form and style mimic his content: the stress he exerts on language – wrenching metaphors and painstaking description – shift the mode of communication in the same way that he exhorts a reconsideration of our views on the subject. This makes Becoming Animal an exhausting but worthwhile experience.

A sleight of hand artist by trade, Abram conjures an elaborate and protracted “trick” of language while shifting the ground on which it stands, in an effort to loosen the grip that written and technological communication has on contemporary society. The trick works; Abram disarms our programmed skepticism and resistance, and forces an appreciation of the magician’s display, rather than resistance of awe and dissection of methods. Abram’s subject matter is truly rooted in the ordinary, but if you allow him to, he will make you believe in the magic of that which we eat, breathe, hear, and feel every day.
Profile Image for BJ.
74 reviews3 followers
March 22, 2022
If you're picking up this book, it's likely that you already have an interest in the "woo woo," so there is little need to mention that, while the author does seem to have an academic writing style, the content is a little out there.

The underlying premise of the book is that human beings are animals, and have lost their connection to the natural world around them as well as forsaken oral traditions in favor of the written word. This is not a new theory by any means, but I enjoyed the hands-on approach the author took in his research. Rather than present data and arguments for the position, he immerses himself in a shamanistic oral tradition and records his experience. Some of those experiences, while difficult to fully believe, are interesting and compelling.

I enjoyed this book, and recommend the audio version of it if you have the means. Though the author seems to overindulge in alliteration at times, the prose is attractive, and having it read aloud adds an element to the storytelling.
Profile Image for claire.
57 reviews1 follower
April 29, 2012
Dave is a wonderful person and writer who has so much insight on what it means to be truly human in the world. This is a work to be savored.
Profile Image for Andrew.
1,975 reviews686 followers
August 14, 2020
OK, I think I get what David Abram is going for. I will say that he is not wrong a lot more often than he is right. He would likely take that as a compliment.

We have drank from the same wells. We have both admired Merleau-Ponty, wrestled with Deleuze, and for both of us, our first love was the pure reverie of the natural world. We both admire how indigenous societies were able, through close interactions with the patterns of nature, able to form coherent knowledge systems that were anathema to 19th Century positivism but have since been shown to map pretty well onto contemporary ecology. And we are both are horrified by the ways in which people are conditioned to drift through life in zombie mode, immunized to the sensuous joys of the world around them. Perhaps above all else, we have a great deal of respect for the mind as grounded in the body, and the body as grounded in the natural and physical world.

Here's the thing though. For every brilliant, subtle observation, elegantly told through rich, detailed description, there's an equal measure of hippy-dippy bullshit. Yes, rocks tell us stories through their textures and makeup. No, this does not mean that rocks have a story to tell. Abram would say that I am relying on the post-literacy divide between the literal and the metaphorical. He's probably right. But as a good philosophical pragmatist, I see a function in that divide. And so, to a certain degree, his whole project kind of falls apart in my eyes. Gorgeous prose though, and maybe provocative enough to be worth reading.
Profile Image for anna.
86 reviews21 followers
January 10, 2021
This book rocked my world!!!!!!!!! Life-changing, far-reaching, glittering, warm, generous, careful—Abram is such a gifted, talented, powerful, generous writer and individual, you would have to be the world’s biggest cynic not to be moved by his words and worldview, or allergic to feeling things for things other than urself. This book has changed my life and i hope i never forget the experience of reading this, taking my time and letting myself slowly feel the way in which my entire bodily experience of the world — the earth — has shifted or transformed by way of Abram’s scopic teachings. A book to dive into and embrace fully. I know i always say books change my life but this one rly CHANGED MY LIFE !!!!
Profile Image for Holly.
370 reviews5 followers
May 1, 2022
“Every rock and tree and creature has a life, has a spirit, has a name. … Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon? Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grins? Can you sing with all the voices of the mountain? Can you paint with all the colors of the wind? Can you paint with all the colors of the WIND?” (epic music)
Profile Image for Dylan Horrocks.
Author 71 books416 followers
September 4, 2013
An attempt to build a meaningful contemporary animism, this is the most deeply pagan book I've read this year, and I don't remember it using the word "pagan" once. At times the prose was too much: dense, verbose, overly rich and self-indulgent. But really, that's in keeping with what Abram is trying to achieve: an assertion of radical subjectivity and a call to immerse ourselves in the rich density of both sensuous language and physical reality. Occasionally cringe-inducing, but if you can get past that, this book is an opportunity to try seeing and thinking about the world in a genuinely interesting way.

Personally, I found myself arguing with Abram much of the time I was reading, but it was one hell of an interesting argument and I'll be thinking about it for some time to come.
242 reviews5 followers
January 16, 2011
A big proportion of this book recounts Abram's interaction with non-alphabetic nature--birds, rocks, water and is actually quite a good read. Even more to my liking and occurring mostly in the second half of the book is Abram's analysis of how phonetic literacy isolates us and makes us fear being part of the natural world. It is safer to retreat into a purely human self-reflective words leading to some kind of in-our-heads fundamentalism. It almost makes you guilty to be reading when you could be conversing with the real world. Abram's analysis has major implications for our environmental issues.
Profile Image for Darla Graves.
4 reviews
March 31, 2013
This is one of my Top Twenty books of non-fiction. I couldn't say enough great things about this book if I tried forever. There are so many phrases highlighted in my Kindle version that it really pops! I even bought a hard copy of it after reading the digital because I knew that I would return to it over and over. Even if you're already in tune with Nature, this book will shift your perceptions further. LOVE IT!
Profile Image for Sarah.
465 reviews21 followers
November 26, 2020
Got half-way through then quit. I was looking for a pop-science book on how people can reconnect with nature, and Abram is an ecologist so I thought this would fit the bill. Instead I got:
- Laboured, purple prose that obscured meaning
- Anti-science rhetoric
- Anti-literature rhetoric
- Opinions stated as facts
- Self-indulgent smugness
Profile Image for Abe Something.
259 reviews3 followers
October 3, 2019
Abram suggests that the earth is an aggregate life form comprised of a multitude of living things, and he defines living more widely than you likely do. He says that we forgot this along way, and elevated ourselves over the other forms of life we share the earth with. In prioritizing our brand of intelligence over all others, we lost touch with our nature—our factual existence as an organism living in concert with the others who inhabit this place. We don’t recognize the intelligence of other beings, and so we don’t see them as equals in the game of existence.

Abram will tell you rocks have an active power, evidenced by their ability to capture your attention, arrest you, or take your breath. This book is peak paganism/pantheism.

I am onboard for most, if not all, of what Abram puts forth in this book. We’re letting this place rot because we don’t see it as our house. We made houses, ones don’t require any harmony with the elements, and we protect those and the things in then with more vigor than we do the rivers, kestrels, boulders, winds, wildflowers, bears, gulls, squids, and so on.

This book made me want to build and live a better, more attuned to the natural frequencies, life.
Profile Image for Veronica Watson.
112 reviews68 followers
June 7, 2021
I find myself agreeing with the criticisms Abram makes against Western culture and civilization and the historical splitting the human psyche. Abstractions of written languages, Platonic worldview and a highly technological society create distances in our relationship with the natural Earth and our material, animal body, is true enough. The author also writes beautifully. Some of the chapters were mesmerizing in description. Particularly, his time spent in Asia.
However, I find his foundational philosophy weak and unconvincing, too prone to repeation. His strength is in his personal experiences and his essay writing not in theory. But this is just a little bit of a critical casting in my part. Mostly, this book is needed, if not for an entire embrace of his cosmology, at least a perspective that enriches our sense of embodiment and awakes us to ourselves as grounded in the world. We are desperately needing this return to our place in nature. The havoc of our removal and our dismissal from the nested quality, the interdependence of our place in the world, is a blight that will bring a desolate Earth and soul.

*I recommend reading as a philosophy to complement Abram, Heidegger, Husserl and Merleau- Ponty.
Profile Image for Luminea.
282 reviews
June 6, 2022
David Abram is a naturalist, animist, and storyteller whose writing awakens all of my senses. I enjoyed this book and his personal anecdotes immensely.

As someone who considers themselves a pagan and has walked an earth-centred spiritual path for three decades, I do wish that paganism, witchcraft, or other modern earth-based spirituality had been given a nod in the conversation about religion, atheism, and "new age" spirituality. While these paths are highly individual, I do believe there are many people today who organize their beliefs and spiritual practices around a respectful, animist, and reverent view of the earth and the cycles of the natural world.
Profile Image for Rhys.
696 reviews93 followers
February 9, 2021
I liked Spell of the Sensuous.

This book, at its best, is a notable effort to express the ineffable; to explore perception absent apperception; to be prior to being a being. It was rhapsodic, fluid and, well, tedious.
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