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Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology
 
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Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology [Format Kindle]

David Abram
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Extrait

Introduction
 
Between the Body and the Breathing Earth
 
Owning up to being an animal, a creature of earth. Tuning our animal senses to the sensible terrain: blending our skin with the rain-rippled surface of rivers, mingling our ears with the thunder and the thrumming of frogs, and our eyes with the molten gray sky. Feeling the polyrhythmic pulse of this place—this huge windswept body of water and stone. This vexed being in whose flesh we’re entangled.
 
Becoming earth. Becoming animal. Becoming, in this manner, fully human.
 
*
 
This is a book about becoming a two-legged animal, entirely a part of the animate world whose life swells within and unfolds all around us. It seeks a new way of speaking, one that enacts our interbeing with the earth rather than blinding us to it. A language that stirs a new humility in relation to other earthborn beings, whether spiders or obsidian outcrops or spruce limbs bent low by the clumped snow. A style of speech that opens our senses to the sensuous in all its multiform strangeness.
 
The chapters that follow strive to discern and perhaps to prac­tice a curious kind of thought, a way of careful reflection that no longer tears us out of the world of direct experience in order to represent it, but that binds us ever more deeply into the thick of that world. A way of thinking enacted as much by the body as by the mind, informed by the humid air and the soil and the quality of our breathing, by the intensity of our contact with the other bodies that surround.
 
Yet words are human artifacts, are they not? Surely to speak, or to think in words, is necessarily to step back from the world’s pres­ence into a purely human sphere of reflection? Such, precisely, has been our civilized assumption. But what if meaningful speech is not an exclusively human possession? What if the very language we now speak arose first in response to an animate, expressive world—as a stuttering reply not just to others of our species but to an enigmatic cosmos that already spoke to us in a myriad of tongues?
 
What if thought is not born within the human skull, but is a cre­ativity proper to the body as a whole, arising spontaneously from the slippage between an organism and the folding terrain that it wanders? What if the curious curve of thought is engendered by the difficult eros and tension between our flesh and the flesh of the earth?
 
*
 
Is it possible to grow a worthy cosmology by attending closely to our encounters with other creatures, and with the elemental tex­tures and contours of our locale? We are by now so accustomed to the cult of expertise that the very notion of honoring and paying heed to our directly felt experience of things—of insects and wooden floors, of broken-down cars and bird-pecked apples and the scents rising from the soil—seems odd and somewhat mis­guided as a way to find out what’s worth knowing. According to assumptions long held by the civilization in which I’ve been raised, the deepest truth of things is concealed behind the appearances, in dimensions inaccessible to our senses. A thousand years ago these dimensions were viewed in spiritual terms: the sensuous world was a fallen, derivative reality that could be understood only by refer­ence to heavenly realms hidden beyond the stars. Since the powers residing in such realms were concealed from common perception, they had to be mediated for the general populace by priests, who might intercede with those celestial agencies on our behalf.
 
In recent centuries, an abundance of discoveries and remarkable inventions have transformed this culture’s general conception of things—and yet the basic disparagement of sensuous reality remains. Like an old, collective habit very difficult to kick, the directly sensed world is still explained by reference to realms hidden beyond our immediate experience. Such a realm, for example, is the microscopic domain of axons and dendrites, and neurotransmitters washing across neuronal synapses—a dimension entirely concealed from direct apprehension, yet which presumably precipitates, or gives rise to, every aspect of our experience. Another such dimension is the recondite realm hidden within the nuclei of our cells, wherein reside the intricately folding strands of DNA and RNA that ostensibly code and perhaps even “cause” the behavior of living things. Alternatively, the deepest source and truth of the apparent world is sometimes held to exist in the subatomic realm of quarks, mesons, and gluons (or the still more theoretical world of vibrating ten-dimensional strings); or perhaps in the initial breaking of symmetries in the cosmological “big bang,” an event almost inconceivably distant in time and space.
 
Every one of these arcane dimensions radically transcends the reach of our unaided senses. Since we have no ordinary experience of these realms, the essential truths to be found there must be mediated for us by experts, by those who have access to the high-powered instruments and the inordinately expensive technologies (the electron microscopes, functional MRI scanners, radio telescopes, and supercolliders) that might offer a momentary glimpse into these dimensions. Here, as before, the sensuous world—the creaturely world directly encountered by our animal senses—is commonly assumed to be a secondary, derivative reality understood only by reference to more primary domains that exist elsewhere, behind the scenes.
 
I do not deny the importance of those other scales or dimensions, nor the value of the various truths that may be found there. I deny only that this shadowed, earthly world of deer tracks and moss is somehow less worthy, less REAL, than those abstract dimensions. It is more palpable to my skin, more substantial to my flaring nostrils, more precious—infinitely more precious—to the heart drumming within my chest.
 
This directly experienced terrain, rippling with cricket rhythms and scoured by the tides, is the very realm now most ravaged by the spreading consequences of our disregard. Many long-standing and lousy habits have enabled our callous treatment of surrounding nature, empowering us to clear-cut, dam up, mine, develop, poison, or simply destroy so much of what quietly sustains us. Yet few are as deep-rooted and damaging as the habitual tendency to view the sensuous earth as a subordinate space—whether as a sinful plane, riddled with temptation, needing to be transcended and left behind; or a menacing region needing to be beaten and bent to our will; or simply a vaguely disturbing dimension to be avoided, superseded, and explained away.
 
Corporeal life is indeed difficult. To identify with the sheer physicality of one’s flesh may well seem lunatic. The body is an imperfect and breakable entity vulnerable to a thousand and one insults—to scars and the scorn of others, to disease, decay, and death. And the material world that our body inhabits is hardly a gentle place. The shuddering beauty of this biosphere is bristling with thorns: generosity and abundance often seem scant ingredients compared with the prevalence of predation, sudden pain, and racking loss. Carnally embedded in the depths of this cacophonous profusion of forms, we commonly can’t even predict just what’s lurking behind the near boulder, let alone get enough distance to fathom and figure out all the workings of this world. We simply can’t get it under our control. We’ve lost hearing in one ear; the other rings like a fallen spoon. Our spouse falls in love with someone else, while our young child comes down with a bone-rattling fever that no doctor seems able to diagnose. There are things out and about that can eat us, and ultimately will. Small wonder, then, that we prefer to abstract ourselves whenever we can, imagining ourselves into theoretical spaces less fraught with insecurity, conjuring dimensions more amenable to calculation and control. We slip blissfully into machine-mediated scapes, offering ourselves up to any technology that promises to enhance the humdrum capacities of our given flesh. And sure, now and then we’ll engage this earthen world as well, as long we know that it’s not ultimate, as long as we’re convinced that we’re not stuck here.
 
Even among ecologists and environmental activists, there’s a tacit sense that we’d better not let our awareness come too close to our creaturely sensations, that we’d best keep our arguments girded with statistics and our thoughts buttressed with abstractions, lest we succumb to an overwhelming grief—a heartache born of our organism’s instinctive empathy with the living land and its cascading losses. Lest we be bowled over and broken by our dismay at the relentless devastation of the biosphere.
 
Thus do we shelter ourselves from the harrowing vulnerability of bodied existence. But by the same gesture we also insulate ourselves from the deepest wellsprings of joy. We cut our lives off from the necessary nourishment of contact and interchange with other shapes of life, from antlered and loop-tailed and amber-eyed beings whose resplendent weirdness loosens our imaginations, from the droning of bees and the gurgling night chorus of the frogs and the morning mist rising like a crowd of ghosts off the weedlot. We seal ourselves off from the erotic warmth of a cello’s voice, or from the tilting dance of construction cranes against a downtown sky overbursting with blue. From the errant hummingbird pulsing in our cupped hands as we ferry it back out the door, and the crimson flash as it zooms from our fingers.
 
For too long we’ve closed ourselves to the participatory life of our senses, inured ourselves to the felt intelligence of our muscled flesh and its manifold solidarities. We’ve taken our primary...

Revue de presse

"This book is like a prehistoric cave. If you have the nerve to enter it and you get used to the dark, you'll discover things about storytelling which are startling, urgent and deeply true. Things each of us once knew, but forgot when we were born into the 19th and 20th centuries. Extraordinary rediscoveries!" -John Berger

"David Abram is among the most important interpreters of the wild voice within us. At no other time in Western history have we needed to listen to that voice, and David's, as much as we do today."
—Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

“As with many deeply original—and radical—books, this work may startle, even provoke the reader in its electric reversal of conventional thought. Worth any provocation for the profundity of its insights, this is a portrait of the artist as a young raven, arguing, with all the subtlety of his mind, for the mindedness of the body. An exercise of uncanny imagination by a writer who has a sixth sense for the intelligence of the first five.”
—Jay Griffiths, author of Wild: An Elemental Journey

"Provocative, boldly recalibratingŠA creative and visionary ecologist and philosopher, Abram offers perception-heightening insights into the disastrous consequences of our increasing detachment from the living world as we funnel our attention to the cyber realm. He tells extraordinary tales of his encounters with wildlife from whales to ravens, and illuminates the planet¹s myriad forms of sentient life. In addition to writing with poetic precision about sensory experience‹his analysis of shadows and life¹s reciprocity are phenomenal feats of observation and eloquence‹he draws on his adventures as an itinerant sleight-of-hand magician and apprentice to indigenous shamans to forge an inspirited physics of being. Prodigious, transfixing, and rectifying.” –Booklist, starred review

“This brave and magical book summons wild wonder to re-mind us who we are.”
—Amory B. Lovins, Chief Scientist, Rocky Mountain Institute
 
“David Abram’s new book is so invigorating, its teachings leap off the page and translate immediately into lived experience. Shaking us free from the prisons of our mental constructions, Becoming Animal brings us home to ourselves as living organs of this wild planet.”
—Joanna Macy, buddhist scholar and activist
 
“If we are to survive—indeed, if we are to stop the dominant culture from killing the planet—it will be in great measure because of brave and brilliant beings like David Abram. This is a beautifully written, deeply moving, and important book.”
—Derrick Jensen, author of Endgame and A Language Older Than Words
 
“This startling, sparkling book challenges the technological temper of our times by returning us to the animal body in ourselves. Abram shows brilliantly how this body brings us back to Earth in a series of acutely moving descriptions of its polysensory genius. An original work of primary philosophy, it is written with verve, passion, and poetry.”
—Edward S. Casey, author of The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History

“Abram brings the magician’s sense of mystery and playful surprise to these experimental and improvisational forays...his celebratory embrace of all that surrounds him is refreshing in the extreme. The author is an inspired force who invites the neglected yet ever-present serendipities of the natural world to show themselves.” –Kirkus

“Abram’s prose is lighted from within, happy, solid and clear. It’s fun to read and helps the reader remember his or her place in the larger, luminous world.” –Los Angeles Times

“Fascinating…Highly readable, Becoming Animal sets a new benchmark for the human appraisal of our place in the whole world.” –Tucson Citizen

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2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Revutionnaire 4 septembre 2011
Format:Relié
Le livre de philo qui m'a le plus marqué depuis... des décennies! Mais...est-ce de la philo? C'est plutôt de la poésie à l'état le plus pur!
De quoi ne plus désespérer de l'humanité! Précipitez-vous sur ce livre!
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Amazon.com: 4.7 étoiles sur 5  59 commentaires
117 internautes sur 120 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Becoming Animal by recovering our essential humanness 29 octobre 2010
Par Glenn Aparicio Parry - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
If you have read Abram's impressive first book, The Spell of the Sensuous, you have probably been, like me, breathlessly awaiting his second. While the first book was a hard act to follow - being both a scholarly and passionate plea for humanity to recover its sense of humanness by recovering its immediate connection to what is other than human - his second equally wonderful book, Becoming Animal, is different. Abram makes no bones about not attempting the same comprehensive and scholarly review. Instead, he gives us a far more personal account of his journey into discovery of his animal and ultimately human self.

The result is another sublime work. Abram takes us through a variety of experiences in his daily life, some exotic, some mundane, but always immediate and present. It is a courageous work, taking us inside his life in a very intimate and direct way. Whether he is chronicling his baby daughter's spontaneous connection to a stone, his own adventures shapeshifting with ravens and shamans atop the Himalayas, his lament in leaving a rental home, or his clumsy attempts to fix a vacuum cleaner - Abram always maintains the same attention to presence. The book as a whole is an original guide to a way of thinking, seeing and interacting with the sensuous, breathing world.

Becoming Animal is a bit like entering a hypnotic trance, which is clearly Abram's intention. Every sentence embodies the message - keeping a rhythm, a pulse - just like the moving, breathing earth he speaks of. The sentences are a microcosm of the book, bringing together seamlessly what at first appear as diverse, unrelated experience. In the end, in a wholly personal way, he reprises some of the themes of his first book: that we need to reawaken our senses to the speaking, sensuous earth, that the written word and abstract thinking that pervades our society must be rebalanced by a restoration - a "restorying" of the land herself; that "rejuvenation of oral culture is an ecological imperative." He doesn't seek to eliminate abstract thinking or technology; he simply asks us to remember where it was abstracted from, so that we can remember our true origins and recover our essential humanness.

In short, it is another masterpiece from one of our most gifted contemporary storytellers.
54 internautes sur 57 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 This book actually deserves all five stars 27 octobre 2010
Par snowy owl books - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
For once I have found the enigma of a book that deserves all 5 stars from Amazon for it's gutsy interpretation of an old subject we rarely want to discuss. The human animal and his or her relation to the wild, how it creates thought and intelligence and even rationale. Let's examine how being more like an animal might do us some good....and less like a rational coldly removed abstract being bent on knowing truth by studying even more of the abstract. We have forgotten that experience in nature qualifies the true source of human development. Our surest form of truth is within the mystery of nature, everyday nature as perceived through our senses is what can bring us the most equitable and perhaps the most satisfyingly human encounter of the cosmos- not the science of quarks, genetics, microcosms, stellar phenomenon and such... though they may thrill with glitzy peeks of an unknown invisible universe at extravagant cost. This book is just incredibly different than others, as is the author and his divergent knowledge and experience of culture, city and mountains, he apprentices the world with a desire to understand how humans identify with the Earth- Remarkably honest, this man strides through sentences in a sort of bare nakedness of truth we have been longing to hear but somehow have not been able to say a word about in the last few centuries or so. It is complete ecstatic freedom and joy to read this authors uplifting work on the nature of being human - not the ever dualistic based "Human nature" that still pervades science and modern thought. How can you not enjoy a visionary work from a man whose very keen senses leads us all over the globes, face to face with mountains, magicians, shamanic creatures, old cities, and take us into the deepest observational realms of leaving our skin to soar like a bird. Magnificently done, now keep writing!!!
44 internautes sur 46 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Good Medicine 28 octobre 2010
Par Amy Hannon - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Thomas Berry diagnosed the ailment of our culture as autism. In a similar vein, Richard Louv called it nature-deficit disorder. Either way David Abram's new book, Becoming Animal, is good medicine for our entrancement with the written word and the electronic screens which flatten our world to two dimensions. In the philosophical tradition of the phenomenologists describing our different forms of alienation, this book lures us back to our authentic heritage as evolutionary cousins to both the stars and all the animals. It draws on insights unveiled in Abram's earlier masterpiece, The Spell of the Sensuous, but unfolds them like a Chinese puzzle to reveal ceaseless horizons of meaning hiding in our most common experience from seeing our shadows, hearing birdsong or sensing the dyanamism of a rock face in our path.

I especially love the reverend way Abram enfolds key ideas from the western Religions of the Book into our primal experience, explaining the metaphysics of angels and even of God, without any diminution of either concept but only expanded joy and access.

This is a marvelous, and yes, a magical book. Along with The Spell of the Sensuous, it will stand as a new classic in American philosophy and nature writing.
32 internautes sur 33 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Almost Perfect 8 février 2011
Par Eric Gross - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
First let me come out and say, I really loved David Abrams book Becoming Animal. I loved how eloquently it argued against philosophies of transcendence which are such an important part of most organized western religions, I loved how David described and conjured up the mystery of the natural world, and perhaps most of all I loved how he reminded us, so powerfully, of the innately expressive and conscious filled the natural world truly is. Many of his descriptions of this world reminded me of my own time studying with Navajo healers.
So why not five stars? I wish I could give it 4.5 stars.
As I said in the title of this review, Becoming Animal is almost perfect. It also has several not to trivial problems.
One, Abram rails against those who criticize writers who romanticize the hunter/gatherer - indigenous cultures of the world and of the past. He points out, in a lengthy footnote, how those same critics tend to romanticize the worlds of ancient Greece and Rome, yet shower contempt on those who write favorably about indigenous cultures. And I could not agree more strongly. Yet, Abram does romanticize these worlds. As beautifully as he extols their power and their connection with earth-based life, he totally ignores their own internal pressures to conform, as well as their often savage cruelty they visit upon their neighbors. In the book Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation, Jonathan Lear deftly describes the unceasing violence visited upon the Crow Nation by their traditional and more powerful enemy the Lakota. And this is one of countless stories of cultures dedicated to frequent violence and mindless animosity (not that are free of these very same vicissitudes). Often the reticence of these societies to innovate is a consequence of internal pressures to conform. Such stressors to internally conform in these societies often become unbreakable obstacles to innovation.
One of the core themes of Becoming Animal is the rootedness these traditional societies have with the Earth on which they live. But many of these same societies lack this rootedness, including several Abram mentions. The life on the high plains of such tribes as the Cheyenne and Lakota were very recent phenomena made possible by the acquisition of the horse, introduced into the Americas by the Spanish. Life on the high plains began with these tribes at around the same time it began with the European invaders. Many of these tribal groups are highly nomadic. The Navajo entered the 4 Corners region of the US around 1450 after a long migration from Arctic Canada beginning around 1300. They arrived in the Southwest not so long before the Spanish entered that same region. Thus the argument for ageless rootedness often falls apart.And these are just several of hundreds of possible examples.
Toward the end of the book, Abram unfortunately unleashes an attack on evolutionary theory by setting up a straw man hypothesis based on his projection that the science of evolution is too mechanistic and unwelcome to the complex web of inter-communication that he observes in the natural world. But such mechanistic models are exactly what modern science has, itself, rebuked. While the statistical incidence of mutation is random, how these random changes manifest and evolve in the complex eco-systems of the planet are entirely a consequence of the very same, rich and complex layers of inter-communication described and extolled so lovingly by Abram. Her really fails to get his critique right and the book suffers as a result.
Finally, his criticisms of the cartesian world are uncompelling. The world he correctly criticizes is, itself, a consequence of cultural and historical memes that go far deeper in the human story than what Abram describes. More compelling and evidence based critiques are raised by Morris Berman (see: Wandering God and my own writings, Liberation from the Lie. The emergence of mechanistic, soulless models was rooted in far deeper human cultural soil than what Abram presents in this book. I recommend each of these books for a more sweeping and compelling accounts for the degradation of the planets and social/individual life that resulted from the abandonment of the earthcentric life that forms the centerpiece of this book.
Abram is fantastic as a writer of narrative and some of my favorite passages are taken, directly, from his own life. I really loved his description of his kayaking off the coast of Alaska and encountering a colony of sea lions and how he responded to their sudden appearance with such brilliant and connected expression,. The personal quality of this book is really terrific.
But sometimes his use of language becomes too labored and flowery. Sometimes, it sounded strained, like he was working too hard to convince the reader of how smart and sensitive he is.
Nonetheless, this is an extremely valuable book and I really admire Abram for his originality, the challenge of the subject matter, and the power of this critically important message. This is a book that we need to read and absorb.
14 internautes sur 14 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Coming To Our Senses 8 décembre 2010
Par HW Mathews - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Mary Oliver advises us to `let the soft animal of your body love what it loves' in her oft quoted poem, `Wild Geese'; to open ourselves to the restorative, nurturing `rain' of sensory experience that waters us at our roots. Great advice but advice that many of us seem too busy or too scared to take at a time when I would argue we need to apply it most urgently.

Hopefully you can recall the sensual wonders of your early childhood: the feeling of sun on your face; the smell of flowers and the dirt in the garden bed; the taste of raspberry jam; the feeling of a pet's ear as you stroked it; the sounds of cooking in the kitchen and birds in the trees; and the sensory extravagance of climbing under air-dried sheets and a wool blanket on an autumn evening. But if you are like most adults in the world today, you can't or these are only vague memories. As adults, many of us feel cut off from this deep engagement with the world, and this lack of bodily engagement with the world is a major factor in our bravely soldiering on through our days and nights feeling empty, unfulfilled and curiously detached from daily life. It is ironic that in a time when we can reach into our pockets and pull out a device that will put us in contact with someone half-way around the world or tell us exactly where we are on the face of the planet, that so many of us feel strangely isolated and alone and disconnected from the very places where we live.

To help set this right, let me suggest that you obtain a paper copy of David Abram's `Becoming Animal' in which you can fill the margins with comments and notes or at least bend down the corners of the pages for a return visit and read what he has to suggest for finding our ways back to the sensual little creatures we were as kids and to regain a vibrant sense of being in a world that is waiting to engage us a every turn. This is a juicy, ripe pear of a book full of the sweetness of life that is a pleasure to taste as you turn the pages.

In `Spell of the Sensuous,' David reminded us that our senses are `our most intimate link with the living land, the primary way the earth has of influencing our moods and guiding our actions' and that our senses provide `the way our body binds its life to the other lives that surround it, the way the earth couples itself to our thoughts and our dreams. Sensory perception is the glue that binds our separate nervous systems into the larger, encompassing ecosystem.' He cautioned `If we ignore or devalue sensory experience, we lose our primary source of alignment with the larger ecology, imperiling both ourselves and the earth in the process.'

In `Becoming Animal' David literally immerses the reader in the subtle sensory/sensual aspects of `the more-than-human world' and how they are there for us to savor and demonstrates how we can restore a sense of joyful participation to even the most mundane of daily tasks be it waiting for a bus, walking to the mail box or cutting vegetables. With a poet's skill and a tracker's eye he lets us experience how feelings pool in certain places, how shadows are three dimensional presences not flat absences on a wall or the ground, how the fluid movement of water in streams, the roiling vitality of water vapor in clouds, and the delicate unfurling of a fern frond all speak to a dynamic force in the world, how the weather colors our moods and acts as a perceptual filter, and how vitally important it is to find ways of connecting with the place that you live such that you can move, act, speak and behave in a way to carries a sense of the place with you and literally grounds you and what you do in the truth of your home ground, David allows us to re-examine our lives, to reopen ourselves to the richness of experience we had as children, and to craft lives in which we feel more alive, more connected and more `placed.' As a final enticement to read this book, let me leave you with the following quote from the book (page 224): "Magic doesn't sweep you away; it gathers you up into the body of the present moment so thoroughly that all your [rational] explanations fall away: the ordinary, in all its plain and simple outrageousness, begins to shine - to become luminously, impossibly so. Every facet of the world is awake, and you within it."

It has been noted that `The best things in Life are not things' and in this book David makes a stunningly beautiful case for this assertion. Buy this book!
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