am 3. Februar 1998
One day I spotted a bird at my feeder that I didn't recognize. I got out my field guide, identified the bird, mentally patted myself on the back, then looked out at him again. He was a perky handful of mottled brown fluff, with delicate feet and shiny black eyes -- and it suddenly struck me that whatever name I applied to him was utterly irrelevant to the living reality of the bird himself.
Another pertinent story: I live in high desert country, where a fragile ecosystem has evolved over millennia, perfectly adapted to the region's harsh soil and scarce water. In recent years, a number of people have bought plots of land near my house and put mobile homes on them. They've then scraped every hint of vegetation off the lot. The ambitious ones do things with gravel and railroad ties and bags of fertilizer. But most just leave the soil bare, as if possession is exemplified by their victory over "weeds."
So I read Abram's book with a shock of recognition. His concepts aren't particularly original (I kept being reminded of the English Romantic poet Wordsworth), and he often takes for granted that his readers accept his assumptions. I find it ironic, too, that such an eloquent and persuasive writer should devalue language. While I think he takes that argument too far, he's absolutely right that by defining "knowledge" and "civilization" as "distance from the non-human," we've lost a sense of our place in nature that is endangering our planet's health and our survival as a species. It's unfortunate that the book is being marketed through New Age and ecological sources; it deserves a much wider readership.
am 22. Juli 2000
Abram has undertaken a fascinating look at language and not only the changes it has undergone over time, but also how these changes have changed human perceptions. Another reviewer spoke of all the disparate topics that are woven together in this work, and that is an apt description.
As a storyteller, I found the accounts of the cultures with a largely oral tradition to be compelling. In one example, he tells of an aboriginal Australian man trying to tell the story of a dreamline at Jeep speed, and running out of breath. These tales are meant to follow the landscape at walking speed, and trying to tell them by car changes the entire texture of the tale.
For those who are looking for a challenging read about our connection with the natural world, how language interacts with that connection, and a history of the development of writing, this is the book you want. Whether you agree with his ideas and philosophy or not, you will have much food for thought.
am 19. Juni 1998
David Abram argues persuasively that the alphabet and written language have alienated us from the world in which we live. He compares our platonism, which imprisons intelligence and subjectivity within humans and denies them to other creatures, to the animism of oral cultures, which regards all beings as intelligent subjects. The alphabet, invented by Semites and perfected by the Greeks, was instrumental in this great change. The knowledge and wisdom that our ancestors learned from other creatures we now find in the printed word. Abram, an ecologist and philosopher now living in New Mexico, says we are intelligent, subjective beings because we are part of an intelligent, subjective universe. The unfinished task he leaves us with is to reconcile the beauty of the written language of books with the living language of our environment.
am 4. September 1997
Abram has woven many abstract, complex ideas into this wonderful book. His concepts of participation, of a reciprocity between the inanimate (as well as animals) and humans, of a tension and exchange, helped me solidify many concepts I found seeds of in fiction books (especially Pynchon, Delillo, and Abbey). He never comes off as tacky New Age or bored academician--everything presented in this book is sincere, thoughtful, and thoroughly engrossing.
The book bogs down slightly in the latter stages, as he discusses the nature of language, and his tone is on even keel throughout (only rarely does he stab with his words when something particularly bothers him), but overall this book will be remembered a decade from now as a landmark; hopefully, as the germ for a school of thought that will help America, and the world, to find a solution to our cancerous growth habits
am 12. März 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.
am 5. Oktober 1999
A fascinating odyssey through the mind, first with the philosophical viewpoint of phenomenology which at last tries to describe reailty as it shows itself to us/itself and the perspective of the other both indigenous peoples and animals and plants. At times lyrical and deeply personal and at others academic it nevertheless doesn't let go of the connection it forms at the beginning with tales of Abrams life. One feels that the experience of the world so honestly told throughout the book at times, provide the true wonder evident in Abrams life. It is a pity more of these experiences were not forthcoming. It reminds me of the answer given by a Zen student in Japan when asked about his practice : "the world is so beautiful you almost can't stand it"
am 3. September 1998
This book was a pleasure to read. Skillfully written, reading it was a sensuous experience in and of itself. The content and the references are of high quality. On the down side, there are several repetitive passages throughout the book. Nonetheless, I recommend the book wholeheartedly. Also, as a companion piece, consider reading Kieran Egan's "The Educated Mind." Egan writes about the development of intellectual tools--somatic, mythic, romantic, philosophic, and ironic. Abram's covers the somatic and mythic tools quite well. Egan cover's the whole set at a higher level but with less focus. Together, the two books complement each other nicely.
am 13. Januar 1999
Every time I looked up from the pages of this book, I saw the world in a new light. David Abram claims that the invention of the modern alphabet drastically altered the way we see and interact with our environment. He backs this up with evidence from his own experiences in Indonesia and Nepal, and with studies done by anthropolists around the world. Each idea is well supported by the one that comes before and flows naturally into the next. Despite the potential for this to be a 'heavy' work, it is written with a graceful and light touch. Even today, images that David Abram crafted shine in my memory like a happy dream.
am 8. April 2000
In my third grade classroom, I used the first part of this colorful book to introduce fractions, both equivalent and adding fractions. They loved the hands-on Pizza Math! We also used the last half of the book to introduce a weighing activity and a discussion of money. The students gave it a definite thumbs up. As a teacher I found the colorful illustrations helpful to the students and appreciate the simple presentation of each concept.
am 5. Januar 1998
The best parts are the indigenous stories. I found a lot of Abram's philosophical writing unclear, and as the reviewer in Philosophy and Religion noted, he often presents his beliefs without really supporting them. However, those beliefs are often thought-provoking. And one section (on the future and the past) inspired me to write a poem--I suspect Abram would say that therefore his book succeeded with me at least in part.