“The Spell of the Sensuous” by David Abram

book cover

Subtitle: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World

Recommended to me by: David Mitchell

David Abram is both a sleight-of-hand magician, concerned with perception and connection, and a philosopher, concerned with insubstantial ideas. Traveling as a sleight-of-hand magician, he got to know indigenous magicians in Indonesia, Nepal, and the Americas. With them, he learned to pay attention to the immediate world of the senses.

This book is a mix of sumptuous sensuous tangible descriptions, and poorly supported abstract ideas. I loved the former, and grumpily argued with the latter as I read. He claims that the alphabet divided us from our immediate participation in the natural world. In the coda, he says that even he doesn’t really believe that; it was just a starting point for discussion.

Yes, we humans are part of the world, not divided from it. Attending to our senses, to the wide, breathing present, nourishes us. Everything is equally alive, equally valid and valuable. Indigenous ways integrate with the world in a sustainable way. Each community’s stories convey urgently useful information about how to thrive in their specific place and time.

This book bridges the abstract world of philosophy with the sensuous world that indigenous peoples have inhabited all along. It casually elides all mention of privilege based on gender, race, wealth, and power. Published in 1996, it changed the conversation about ecology and sustainability.

Recommended as food for thought about how you want to connect with the world around you.

Book excerpt.

Available at Powell’s Books.

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