The Spell of the Sensuous

Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World
Narrated by: Sean Runnette
Length: 12 hrs and 4 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (122 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

For a thousand generations, human beings viewed themselves as part of the wider community of nature, and they carried on active relationships not only with other people but with other animals, plants, and natural objects (including mountains, rivers, winds, and weather patterns) that we have only lately come to think of as "inanimate". How, then, did humans come to sever their ancient reciprocity with the natural world? What will it take for us to recover a sustaining relationship with the breathing earth?

In The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram draws on sources as diverse as the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty, Balinese shamanism, Apache storytelling, and his own experience as an accomplished sleight-of-hand magician to reveal the subtle dependence of human cognition on the natural environment. He explores the character of perception and excavates the sensual foundations of language, which - even at its most abstract - echoes the calls and cries of the earth. In this lyrical work, Abram weaves his arguments with a passion, a precision, and an intellectual daring that recall such writers as Loren Eisleley, Annie Dillard, and Barry Lopez.

©1996 David Abram (P)2017 Tantor

What listeners say about The Spell of the Sensuous

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  • Overall
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Life changing!

This book will change the way you interact with and treat the world. It is heartfelt, insightful, creative, and important. The narrator has a unique voice, but he is incredibly good a pronunciation, which is important in this book. Listening to it aloud is helpful, especially because there are many words spelled out to make their sound, which is much easier to understand verbally. Stick with this book until the end- you will not regret it.

4 people found this helpful

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Stellar introduction to a revolutionary approach to language, nature and the human embedded in the natural world.

This book, exquisitely written and perfectly narrated, presents the impact phenomenology - as developed by Merleau-Ponty - has on our understanding of the language of humans and the roles language has played in both archaic and contemporary times as a controlling expression of our embeddedness in the natural world.

3 people found this helpful

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a truly amazing read

This is one of those books that will change the way you look at things forever. Well read and even more, amazingly well written. Mr. Abram's words are poetic, evocative, inspirational.

7 people found this helpful

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The Spell of the Sensuous is a book that could cha

The Spell of the Sensuous is a book that could change the way you see the world. It shines a detailed yet poetic laser-focused light on one moment in the development of the human species - that time around the 10th Century BCE when we transitioned from an animistic sense of ourselves as living parts of a living environment to suddenly experiencing ourselves as beings separate from Nature, with an "interior life." We went rapidly from being experientially embedded in the local landscape to being part of a "human world" that witnesses Nature but stands apart from it. Abrams makes the case here that this transition was triggered by the development of phonetic written language. The first written languages were pictographic or idiomatic, using symbols that represented aspects of the natural world (wavy lines represent flowing water, for example). But with phonetic writing, the symbols with which we recorded our experience and observations stopped representing what they described, and began to represent instead the sounds of the human voice. The letters of the alphabet do not describe Nature; they tell us how to say the words humans use to describe Nature. The subtle yet historically profound consequence is that we traded our direct I-Thou relationship with reality for a primary relationship with written text, with the sound of our own voice. Our sense of I-Thou was transferred from the ocean, the forest, the mountain, the gazelle, to the written page describing those things. Abrams makes the startling point that we did not transition at that point from animism to materialism; we did not become "no longer animistic." Rather we transferred our animism from the world to the word. From Nature to the written page. Consider that, as I type this review, I am filling pixels with shapes and scratches (letters that represent sounds made by the human mouth/tongue/voice). That's not what your brain is experiencing, though, looking at these scratches. You are hearing a voice in your head. You may be seeing images stirred by these words. You are in an animistic relationship with these written words, this electronic text. According to Abrams we once had that same kind of relationship with the natural world. We understood the voices of wind and water, birds calls and animal behavior, as directly as you and I agree on the meaning of these written words. Now we are trapped in a mental world one step removed from the natural reality we still depend on for physical survival. A world made rigid, frozen in time and space, by the unchangeability of text, the fixedness of recorded history, the "factuality" of material science, the unshakeable literalness of shared canons of knowledge. I am reminded, writing this review, of the theory that has become popular lately that we are living in a computer simulation. The universe is not what it appears to be, but is rather a complex computer program designed to mimic reality, created by some ancient aliens or ultradimensional intelligences. Well, maybe our simulacrum isn't quite so high-tech, and maybe no aliens are necessary to explain it. Maybe we have written ourselves into a textual human world divorced from Nature, and stepped into that world as if it were real. Maybe we are the aliens. Maybe the simulation is a story we're writing, phonetic word, by word, by word. Lots of food for thought here . If the concepts I've outlined in this review resonate with you, put The Spell of the Sensuous on your must-read list.

1 person found this helpful

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interesting ideas terrible narration

this is s good book from an ideas, philosophy, and principles perspective. they couldn't have chosen a poorer narrator. if I had it to do over, I would have read the book. this narrator should president over funerals.

2 people found this helpful

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You and I are a myriad of energies Being One.

In these times, a much needed regard for the role we play in the balance with the natural world and its fundamental symbiotic operation is here rendered as a poetic account of that which should be and was once, as the child in each of us...first experiencing it, so obvious... All too often forgotten by the clamour of burgeoning development within our isolated sphere of specifically human concerns, is a call... a beckoning for....this deeper listening, which finds us inextricably woven into the fabric of the environment of which we are so vitally interconnected. Can your heart, through this call for a deeper listening, be moved to reassess and redine your role in such a way that you conduct yourself henceforth in reverence to that greater Whole of which you are a part...? Can you be...as the child...awash with awe and heedful of your every influence, upon recognizing the Sacred Garden you were born to steward...?

2 people found this helpful

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Believe it or not ...

I can't listen enough to this book or the stories that come from personal experiences

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Entrancing

I will listen again,and maybe again Abram’s language is as sensuous as his intention to remind us of an experience deeper than the written word. Had to buy the print version to re read certain passages.

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contrived

it seems the author felt it important to rescue and explain away western culture's emphasis on modernization as a fluke of alphabetization. Seems he conveniently ignored colonization and its impacts in order to over- romanticize his own roots

3 people found this helpful

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Terrible reading/ listening ...

Who thought it would be a good idea to let this guy read an entire book in the cadence of a Pentacostal Minister? Bloody difficult to listen to!!

1 person found this helpful