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on 12 March 1998
Our graduate Micro-Sociology Theory course used this as one of the texts, along with Mead's Mind, Self, and Society, and Reynold's Symbolic Interactionism. I really enjoyed Spell of the Sensuous, it was a refreshing, creative evalution. His writing style was a very appropriate fit with the content. His eloquent pleas are convincingly supported. I'll be rereading this book (although my copy is falling apart already!) with great enthusiasm. This truly is an interactive experience between the reader and the text! I did not rate this a 10, as his theory does not always withstand scrutiny. Abram is not a sociologist by profession, but his observations, explanations, and predictions seem very plausible and on-target. This is a great interdisciplinary application. Highly recommended.
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on 9 May 2013
The general idea behind this book is that alphabetic writing has allowed a degree conceptual abstraction that has isolated us from a reciprocal engagement with the natural world,to the detriment of all concerned.
The first chapter was quite disconcerting, as I found it to be a rather melodramatic and cringe-worthy personal enlightenment narrative,that I felt would be patronising in the extreme for all but the most urbanised readers who've never even owned a pet or smoked a joint in the local park and spend all day in a plastic cubicle.Fortunately,for the rest of the book the author relinquishes this indulgence and presents a more sensible academic approach to the subject and only interjects emotional content sparingly.
Throughout the rest of the book subjects such as animism/connection to landscape/time/space and air are tackled by examining how these areas are perceived by indigenous peoples such as the Australian Aborigines/Hopi and Navajo.The philosophical theories of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty regarding phenomenology and the participatory nature of perception are also draughted in to add weight and intellectual credibility.
The writing is maintained at a level that never pushes the lay reader too far as regards technical philosophy and contains enough supporting anthropological and historical information to sustains ones interest.
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on 31 March 2015
A fantastic combination of phenomenological, anthropological, spiritual and poetic writing. An incredibly informative and wonderous read. Essential.
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on 10 August 2009
The Song of Songs of the concrete reality of the Earth is sung by David Abram in The Spell of the Sensuous from 1996. The foundation is laid by a demonstration that phenomenology not, as by Husserl, has to reduce the experience of reality to something purely subjective (solipsism). As by Merleau-Ponty, it can also look at perception as a duet between the body and the landscape it inhabits, a dance for two, an open cycle completed first in the concrete environment. Traditional science focuses the material world apart from the experience of it, while New Age often maintains that material reality is an illusion created by an immaterial consciousness. They seem to be opposed, but both see nature as something passive, to be manipulated by man. Both views are unstable, but by bouncing from scientific determinism to spiritual idealism and back, contemporary discourse easily avoids the possibility that both the perceiver and the perceived are interdependent and at once both sensible and sensitive. Merleau-Ponty is of the opinion that language has a first sensuous, evocative dimension of tone, rhythm and resonance and that added abstract dimensions build upon this flesh of language. Our speech inscribes us in the chattering, whispering landscape.
But how did we end up in this inert, deterministic world that we often seem to live in? One reason is the Jewish and Christian traditions with a God who is not of this world; another one is the philosophical tradition from Socrates' and Plato's Athens with the derogation of the sensible and changing forms of the world in favour of pure ideas in a nonsensorial realm beyond the apparent world. And both traditions were, from the start, profoundly informed by writing, by the strange and potent technology we have come to call "the alphabet". Abram tells about the history of the alphabet, were the crucial point is the transfer of the Semitic aleph-bet into the Greek "alphabet". The Semitic letters kept a certain relation to physical reality: Aleph meant ox and "A" had the shape of the head of an ox etc. But when the Greeks took over, the letters lost all sensorial reference and turned into an abstract human system of signs.
Abram strolls in the landscape of oral language, more exactly in those by Indians and the Aborigines in Australia. In the "Dreamtime" of the Aborigines he finds a total symbiosis between landscape and language. Innumerable Ancestors wandered in the Dreamtime, singing, across its surface, shaping the landforms by their actions. Every trait in the landscape is loaded with stories, speeches and songs. For my own part, I am back in the landscapes of Selma Lagerlöf's Gösta Berling's saga and Nils Holgersson.
Abram ponders upon space and time, earth and air, especially air. To us today air is not much more than empty space - we forget how air by the vital breathing connects the smallest cell within us with the whole earthly world. Words like "psyche", "pneuma", "spiritus", "anima", "atma" once also meant air, breath, wind. Air seems to have been looked upon as the stuff that builds mind, as the subtle body of the soul.
For many oral, indigenous people, the boundaries enacted by their language are more like permeable membranes, binding the people to their landscape. But after the establishment of phonetic writing, language became an impenetrable barrier, a hall of mirrors: from a purely "interior" zone the speaking self looks out at a purely "exterior" nature. But the human mind is not some otherworldly essence that comes to house itself inside our physiology. Rather it is induced by the tensions and participations between the human body and the animate earth.
Something is terribly wrong with our global aspirations, Abram means. In order to obtain the image of the earth whirling in the darkness of space, humans have had to relinquish something just as valuable - "the humility and grace that comes from being fully a part of that wirling world. [...] If, however, we simply persist in our reflective cocoon, then all of our abstract ideals and aspirations for a unitary world will prove horribly delusory. If we do not soon remember ourselves to our sensuous surroundings, if we do not reclaim our solidarity with the other sensibilities that inhabit and constitute those surroundings, then the cost of our human commonality may be our common extinction."
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on 13 September 2016
Might be the best book I've ever read.

If you like Gary Snyder, Alan Watts, John Gray, James Lovelock, Bill McKibben, Maurice Merleau-Ponty etc - this will become your bible.
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on 9 February 2011
I am not an animist, but this book is the best example of "ecophenomenology" I have read. Abram's application of Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology to the question of our relation to - or better, our being-completely-a-part-of - all nature is full of insight and philosophical and practical potential. The ability of this philosophical approach to nature to address actual experience of many of us who feel the world's and universe's specialness is very impressive. In terms of more spiritual-theological tradition, Abram reminds me of Schleiermacher (at-one-ness with nature as the basis of spirituality), even though the latter is, of course, a liberal Christian, and Abram is an animist. All in all, this book is philosophically and "environmentally inspiring".
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on 14 July 2015
it makes sense having this book. is just like my second bible
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on 25 January 2016
A beautiful read -everypage poetic and informative .
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on 16 April 2008
The main thesis of this book is that the alphabet, or rather, the adaptation of the hebrew alphabet that the greeks effected, is to blame for our current state of separation from nature.
However, the real joy about reading the fundamentation of such claim is that David Abram manages to drag you into the animistic view of the world.
The way he describes his own experiences is highly poetic. Anyone who has travelled to asia knows what it feels like to be there and the difficulties of comming back to the western society.
When he analyses indigenous concepts and practices, you can't help immersing yourself in the forgotten magick of the sensuous landscape.
This natural form of awareness,according to Abram, could be the solution to the ecological crisis and the unhappy separated state of human kind.
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on 20 August 2014
If you want to read a book that will change how you feel about and your relationship to the world - this and his later book Becoming Animal are it.
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