Sunday, September 19, 2010

A wild and beautiful book

Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology. By David Abram. Pantheon.

How is it that our curious, inventive species has gone from worshipping nature to destroying it? Why did human beings lose appreciation for the great mesh of earthly existence and our place within that intricate and spectacular dance of life-sustaining relationships? A creative and visionary ecologist and philosopher, David Abram offered provocative answers to these complex and urgent questions in his first book, the highly influential Spell of the Sensuous (1996). In his second recalibrating mix of stories, reflections, and discoveries, he offers original and profound insights into the causes of our disparagement of “sensuous reality,” of “bodied existence,” and the horrific consequences of our increasing detachment from the living world, a separation accelerated by the seductiveness of the cyber realm.

Abrams reawakens appreciation for our knowing bodies and minds––our animals selves which evolved to thrive on Earth, in one ravishing passage after another. From encounters with other animals (Abram’s tales of the wild are extraordinary) to an astonishing response to shadows to the many forms of sentience on the planet to an arresting discussion of the significance of oral culture. Not only does Abram write with poetic precision and ethical intent, he also draws on his unusual experiences as a sleight-of-hand magician and his apprenticeship to indigenous shamans as he writes about perception, awareness, and the endless complexity and surprises of the living world with breathtaking insight.

Wonder is an emotion we need more of, Abram believes, and this is a book in which close observation and sustained contemplation of natural wonders inspires an “earthly cosmology” meant to redirect our attention and compassion away from the human-made realm and back to the “enfolding earth.” We can’t “restore” nature, Abram writes, without “restorying” our breathing, spinning, sentient planet, and this enrapturing book is a start, as Becoming Animal reminds us that the sacred is in our every cell and everywhere around us.

Monday, September 6, 2010