David Abram

A Quote by David Abram on language, ecology, expression, earth, speech, and place

For the Amahuaca, the Koyukon, the Apache, and the diverse Aboriginal peoples of Australia – as for numerous other indigenous peoples – the coherence of human language is inseparable from the coherence of the surrounding ecology, from the expressive vitality of the more-than-human terrain. It is the animate earth that speaks; human speech is but a part of that vaster discourse.

David Abram

Source: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Vintage), Pages: 179

Contributed by: Siona

A Quote by David Abram on earth, intelligence, language, place, gods, ecology, magic, and space

The singular magic of a place is evident from what happens there, from what befalls oneself or others when in its vicinity. The songs proper to a specific site will share a common style, a rhythm that matches the pulse of the place, attuned to the way things happen there – to the sharpness of the shadows or the rippling speech of water bubbling up from the ground. In traditional Ireland, a country person might journey to one distant spring in order to cure her insomnia, to another for strengthening her ailing eyesight, and to yet another to receive insight and protection from thieves. For each spring has its own powers, its own blessings, and its own curses. Different gods dwell in different places, and different demons. Each place has its own dynamism, its own patterns of movement, and these patterns engage the senses and relate them in particular ways, instilling particular moods and modes of awareness, so that unlettered, oral people will rightly say that each place has its own mind, its own personality, its own intelligence.

David Abram

Source: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Vintage), Pages: 182

Contributed by: Siona

A Quote by David Abram on space, place, earth, land, ecology, environment, writing, and language

Once the stories are written down, the visible text becomes the primary mnemonic activator of the spoken stories – the inked traces left by the pen as it traverses the page replacing the earthly tracks left by the animals, and by one’s animal ancestors, as they moved across the land. The places themselves are no longer necessary to the remembrance of the stories, and often come to seem wholly incidental to the tales, the arbitrary backdrops for human events that might just as well have happened elsewhere. The transhuman, ecological determinants of the originally oral stories are no longer emphasized, and often are written out of the tales entirely. In this manner the stories and myths, as they lose their oral, performative character, forfeit as well their intimate links to the more-than-human earth. And the land itself, stripped of the particularizing stories that once sprouted from every cave and streambed and cluster of trees, begins to lose its multiplicitous power. The human senses, intercepted by the written word, are no longer gripped and fascinated by the expressive shapes and sounds of particular places. The spirits fall silent. Gradually the felt primacy of place is forgotten, superceded by a new, abstract notion of “space” as a homogenous and placeless void.

David Abram

Source: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Vintage), Pages: 183-184

Contributed by: Siona

A Quote by David Abram on experience, relationship, earth, environment, humanity, presence, and life

To describe the animate life of particular things is simply the most precise and parsimonious way to articulate the things as we spontaneously experience them, prior to all our conceptualizations and definitions.

Our most immediate experience of things is necessarily an experience of reciprocal encounter – of tension, communication, and commingling. From within the depths of this encounter, we know the thing or phenomenon only as our interlocutor – as a dynamic presence that that confronts us and draws us into relation. We conceptually immobilize or objectify the phenomenon only by mentally absenting ourselves from this relation, by forgetting or repressing our sensuous involvement. To define another being as an inert or passive object is to deny its ability to actively engage us and to provoke our senses; we thus block our perceptual reciprocity with that being. By linguistically defining the surrounding world as a determinate set of objects, we cut our conscious, speaking selves off from the spontaneous life of our sensing bodies.

If, on the other hand, we wish to describe a particular phenomenon without repressing our direct experience, then we cannot avoid speaking of the phenomenon as an active, animate entity with which we find ourselves engaged. To the sensing body, no thing presents itself as utterly passive or inert. Only by affirming the animateness of perceived things do we allow our words to emerge directly from the depths of our ongoing reciprocity with the world.

David Abram

Source: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Vintage), Pages: 56

Contributed by: Siona

A Quote by David Abram on senses, environment, animals, ravens, connection, earth, and perception

The senses are complementary powers evolved in complex interdependence with one another. Each sense is a unique modality of this body’s existence, yet in the activity of perception these divergent modalities necessarily intercommunicate and overlap. It is thus that a raven soaring in the distance is not, for me, a mere visual image; as I follow it with my eyes, I inevitably feel the stretch and flex of its wings with my own muscles, and its sudden swoop toward the nearby trees is a visceral as well as a visual experience for me. The raven’s loud, guttural cry, as it swerves overhead, is not circumscribed within a strictly audible field – it echoes through the visible, immediately animating the visible landscape with the reckless style or mood proper to that jet black shape. My various senses, diverging as they do from a single, coherent body, coherently converge, as well, in the perceived thing, just as the separate perspectives of my two eyes converge upon the raven and convene there into a single focus. My senses connect up with each other in the things I perceive, or rather each perceived thing gathers my senses together in a coherent manner and it is this that enables me to experience the thing itself as a center of forces, as another nexus of experience, as an Other.

David Abram

Source: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Vintage), Pages: 56

Contributed by: Siona

A Quote by David Abram on civilization, diversity, language, connection, relationship, extinction, and earth

As technological civilization diminishes the biotic diversity of the earth, language itself is diminished. As there are fewer and fewer songbirds in the air, due to the destruction of their forests and wetlands, human speech loses more and more of its evocative power. For when we no longer hear the voices of warbler and wren, our own speaking can no longer be nourished by their cadences. As the splashing speech of the rivers is silenced by more and more dams, as we drive more and more of the land’s wild voices into the oblivion of extinction, our own languages become increasingly impoverished and weightless, progressively emptied of their earthly resonance.

David Abram

Source: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Vintage), Pages: 86

Contributed by: Siona

A Quote by David Abram on earth, magic, life, living, aliveness, relationship, landscape, and language

In truth, the human experience of magic – our ancestral, animistic awareness of the world as alive and expressive – was never really lost. Our senses simply shifted their animistic participation from the depths of the surrounding landscape toward the letters written on pages and, today, on screens. Only thus could the letters begin to come alive and to speak. As a Zuni elder focuses her eyes upon a cactus and abruptly hears the cactus begin to speak, so we focus our eyes upon these printed marks and immediately hear voices. We hear spoken words, witness strange scenes or visions, even experience other lives. As nonhuman animals, plants, and even “inanimate” rivers once spoke to our oral ancestors, so the ostensibly “inert” letters on the page now speak to us! This is a form of animism that we take for granted, but it is animism nonetheless – as mysterious as a talking stone.

And indeed, it is only when a culture shifts its participation to these printed letters that the stones fall silent. Only as our senses transfer their animating magic to the written word do the trees become mute, the other animals fall dumb.

David Abram

Source: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Vintage), Pages: 131

Contributed by: Siona

A Quote by David Abram on speech, environment, writing, discourse, language, and land

In the absence of any written analogue to speech, the sensible, natural environment remains the primary visual counterpart of spoken utterance, the palpable site, or matrix wherein meaning occurs and proliferates. In the absence of writing, we find ourselves situated in the field of discourse as we are embedded in the natural landscape; indeed, the two matrices are not separable. We can no more stabilize the language and render its meanings determinate than we can freeze all motion and metamorphosis within the land.

David Abram

Source: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Vintage), Pages: 140

Contributed by: Siona

A Quote by David Abram on meaning, language, speech, world, mystery, and environment

No event for the Koyukon – or for most other indigenous peoples – is ever entirely meaningless or accidental, but neither is any event entirely predetermined or fated. Rather like the trickster, Raven, who first gave it its current form, the sensuous world is a spontaneous, playful and dangerous mystery in which we participate, an articulate and improvisational field of powers ever responsive to human actions and spoken words.

David Abram

Source: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Vintage), Pages: 153

Contributed by: Siona

A Quote by David Abram on intellect, reason, humanity, earth, and animals

Does the human intellect, or “reason,” really spring us free from our inherence in the depths of this wild proliferation of forms? Or on the contrary, is the human intellect rooted in, and secretly borne by, our forgotten contact with the multiple nonhuman shapes that surround us on every hand?

David Abram

Source: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Vintage), Pages: 49

Contributed by: Siona

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