In several engrossing chapters, he describes how this happened. It was almost as if I had indeed succumbed to a kind of magic! David Abram synthesizes so many different areas of thought - ecology, anthropology, psychology, art, philosophy - seamlessly. David Abram's writing casts a spell of its own as he weaves the reader through a meticulously researched work that gently addresses such seemingly daunting topics as where the past and future exist, the relationship between space and time, and how the written word serves to sever humans from their primordial source of sustenance: the earth. It is a deep meditation on how hunter-gatherers see and experience the world and what their vision has to teach us 'moderns'. Since the trend of Western thought has been dominated by the same influences that got Plato started down this track, it's no surprise that this initial mistake has dogged our culture ever since.
His writing, too, is often gorgeous - it merely needed a booster shot of confidence now and then. The natural world becomes an object of progressively more abstract study rather than the sensuously experienced root and locus of all being. At the time, I had no way of fully understanding what he meant and whether it was a compliment or not. The notion that perception and language are inter-dependent is supported throughout the book. David Abram is, in my mind, the principle philosopher of the modern age. We then wonder why we are often unable to communicate even among ourselves.
This leads him to the startlingly useful insight that our habitual way of regarding hunter-gatherers and farmers has turned reality on its head. Now, two years later I have read the book in its entirety over the last 6 months. Starting from the pre-history of written language, he tells the story of language not just as a technological innovation, but as the story of man interacting with his surroundings. If we could perceive our world as a living, breathing, intelligent entity of which we are a part, ecological agendas would be unnecessary. That we in the modern technological world have become disconnected from the natural world is really beyond argument. Heck, even the slightly dated work of Walter Ong's Orality and Literacy could correct a lot of this.
This book ponders the violent disconnection of the body from the natural world and what this means about how we live and die in it. He claims that we have become disconnected from the Earth. If I was forced to come up with one word to describe it then that would be audacious. This book has teachings, not knowledge. Stick with this book until the end- you will not regret it. And thus the health, balance, and well-being of each person is inseparable from the health and well-being of the enveloping earthly terrain.
We are so familiar with living entirely in our heads that it is nearly impossible to grasp that experience of pure perception before our conceptualising minds internalise it. Just reading about the phenomenology championed by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger caused me to have a kind of ontological panic. The spell of the sensuous: Perception and language in a more-than-human world. Instead, the story is forensic in nature, but does not attempt to be definitive. Now, in one of his most extraordinary journeys, Narby travels the globe - from the Amazon Basin to the Far East - to probe what traditional healers and pioneering researchers understand about the intelligence present in all forms of life. The words began to speak to us, while the landscape fell silent. Written down and thus recountable at will, stories become divorced from specificity of place.
That we in the modern technological world have become disconnected from the natural world is really beyond argument. But I still found I had the wonderful opportunity to meet David Abram on a number of occasions while living in Santa Fe. New stories lurk here that might just be the saving of us all. Abram articulates a possible path of language that is not a relationship between abstractions disjointed from the terrain that shapes it, but which takes place within the inherentness of being immersed and connected to the world as it is sensed and experienced. Peoples moving into a new land haven't had time to realize, for example, that the North American or Australian mammals haven't evolved to deal with hunting pressure from humans, so you should only take so many.
The introduction and the conclusion should be skipped as they frustratingly contradict the general content of the book. We in the West, however, have all but lost it, considering ourselves as being outside of, detached from, and superior to nature. Abram states that, far from being out of the ordinary, synaesthetic experience is more emblematic of the realms of perception that are available to us which some turn to drugs to reenact if we are tuned into the possibilities for experience inherent in our nature. Anyone whose read those philosophers will know what an achievement that is! There were no clues within the text, other than the context. We no longer experience the Earth as she naturally exists without our coercion and direction.
These indigenous communities participate in a natural, nonhuman world that is alive, full of mystery and to which utmost attention and respect must be given. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. We may well ask of what use will this be? The phonetic script of the Hebrews allowed them to lift their entire culture off the land that had sustained it and take it into exile with them - one of the first cultures thus abstracted. 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 really took my time with this book. The world can suddenly appear very different when you have a philosopher using words and ideas together in a very novel and unique way. His insight into the relationship between shamanism and the more-than-human world offers, I think, a necessary corrective to interpretations of shamanism and animism which continue to perpetuate an implicitly Christian dualism between body and spirit.