Saturday, February 14, 2009

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: The Spell of the Sensuous

David Abram
The Spell of the Sensuous

Vintage, 1997

Here's an extraordinary book about how we stopped perceiving the world as sacred and came to feel cut off. A daring leaping mix of ecology, linguistics, indigenous traditions and philosophy. It is also is a book that is remarkably different from chapter to chapter.

The first chapter, about Abram's experiences as a sleight-of-hand magician in Nepal and Indonesia, is lyrical and gorgeous. I admit that I also caught myself thinking, "Dude! I want some of what you are smoking!"

I thought chapter two might advocate wearing amethyst pendants. Not remotely. The next two chapters -- on philosophy and linguistics -- require black coffee and a clear-headed morning. It is exhilarating to watch someone think this way -- like watching a daredevil making leaps over cars -- except the leaps he is making are not sport but the leaps we need to survive on the planet.

Abram investigates the present, the past, the future, and where each can be found in the landscape. He even goes so far as to offer, on page 202, a meditation on how to dissolve time. (Of course I annotated my copy; you never know when you're going to need just this sort of thing.) The last section is about writing, how the Hebrews left out the sacred vowels but the Greeks left us marooned in the abstract. (My crude summary does violence to the text. It is exhilarating to read.)

Then comes the coda and, a few pages before the end, Abram says, basically, "This might be true and it might not and what is true anyway? Truth is what heals the planet and falsehood is what harms it." Part of me agreed and part of me felt like, well, the victim of a sleight-of-hand magician. I want my truths to be, well, true and not just gorgeous. The whole section made me uneasy.

I do not mean to condemn the book. Not at all. I have told everyone I know to read it -- because I want people discuss it with! Abram gave me raptures, lectures, arguments and questions. A beautiful book, well worth wrestling with and re-visiting.


Zot Lynn Szurgot said...

Here's a person to discuss it with. Let's make reading it a prerequisite for the license to raise a child.

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?