David Abram, ecologist and author of Spell of the Sensuous (1996), is the hierophant of a group best described as environmental ecstatics—nature writers with a primary interest not in studying or saving the earth, but in reveling in its metaphysical powers. In his new book, Becoming Animal, Abram is on a particularly complicated, mystical, and almost messianic mission: He wants to reclaim "creatureness"—our animal senses and subjectivity—in a society in thrall to the "cult of the expertise" and the tyranny of machines. He hopes to reintroduce us to a pungent, unpredictable world of "resplendent weirdness."
The book is not, however, purely a call to the wild. Abram has a clear sense of the world we're in and why it exists. "To identify with the sheer physicality of one's flesh may well seem lunatic," Abram writes, because the body is so vulnerable to "scars and the scorn of others, to diseases, decay, and death." It's understandable, the author points out, that we abstract our physical selves and seek sanctuary in virtual worlds. But—and here the book's dervish dance of an argument begins—in doing so we renounce our vast stores of "mammalian intelligence" and our citizenship in the natural world. In an effort to counteract these tendencies, Abram delivers meandering disquisitions on birdsong, the beauty of shadows, indigenous lore, and why good rhythm can protect you from the wrath of sea lions.
Abram's sentences are lush, unpruned, and unfashionable: References to the "wombish earth" and "chthonic powers" pop up with dismaying frequency. But his indifference to irony, economy, and current literary fashions can also be refreshing. He allows himself to be expansive, sentimental, and more than a little mad ("The feathered ones," he writes of birds, "have long been crucial allies for our kind"). When he succeeds, his book is transformative, animated by piercing observations and hallucinatory intensity. He observes how his shadow, "never violating its Pythagorean proportions, expand[s] imperceptibly toward the eastern horizon." And how, in van Gogh's paintings, objects "are not situated in space but actively deploy or secrete the space between them." Still, he misfires with regularity: Cloying neologisms accrue ("mothertouch," "fathersong"), and everything is alive in a wide-eyed Disney movie kind of way (stones "hunker" adorably into the soil, his house "glowers" at him). Abram's peculiar consciousness can become so strong that the reader can feel stuck, even claustrophobic. To commune with the natural world, here, seems to mean communing with a world bearing Abram's unmistakable thumbprint.
Abram excoriates anything that mediates our relationship with the earth—shoes, chairs, language—and his book falters when he shifts into activist mode. His prescriptions for addressing climate change and the devastation of biospheres (more farmer's markets, more oral storytelling) is naïve at best and dangerously feckless at worst. But in the end no one will read Becoming Animal for its authority or even its acuity. This lopsided book so exalts in imperfection and idiosyncrasy that it practically seems to celebrate its own blemishes. Its contradictions—solipsism mixed with compassion, overheated prose mixed with precise observation—couple to create a work of inconsistent genius.
Parul Sehgal is a nonfiction editor at Publishers Weekly.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
David Abram’s first book, The Spell of the Sensuous—hailed as “revolutionary” by the Los Angeles Times, as “daring and truly original” by Science—has become a classic of environmental literature. Now Abram returns with a startling exploration of our human entanglement with the rest of nature.
As the climate veers toward catastrophe, the innumerable losses cascading through the biosphere make vividly evident the need for a metamorphosis in our relation to the living land. For too long we’ve inured ourselves to the wild intelligence of our muscled flesh, taking our primary truths from technologies that hold the living world at a distance. This book subverts that distance, drawing readers ever deeper into their animal senses in order to explore, from within, the elemental kinship between the body and the breathing Earth.
The shapeshifting of ravens, the erotic nature of gravity, the eloquence of thunder, the pleasures of being edible: all have their place in Abram’s investigation. He shows that from the awakened perspective of the human animal, awareness (or mind) is not an exclusive possession of our species but a lucid quality of the biosphere itself—a quality in which we, along with the oaks and the spiders, steadily participate.
With the audacity of its vision and the luminosity of its prose, Becoming Animal sets a new benchmark for the human appraisal of our place in the whole.
DAVID ABRAM is an ecologist, anthropologist, and philosopher who lectures widely around the world. He is the award-winning author of Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology, and The Spell of the Sensuous. His essays on the cultural causes and consequences of environmental turmoil have been published in numerous magazines, scholarly journals and anthologies. David is co-founder and director of the Alliance for Wild Ethics (AWE); he lives with his family in the foothills of the southern Rockies.of Ways of Seeihttp://www.wildethics.org/ AQUI MAS COMMENTS...