Saturday, April 23, 2005

David Abram: The Spell of the Sensuous

(courtesy of Walking as Knowing as Making)

DAVID ABRAM (PhD) is an ecologist and philosopher whose writings have helped catalyze the emerging disciplines of environmental philosophy and ecopsychology. He is the author of The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World (Pantheon Books) for which he received the Lannan Literary Award for Non-Fiction in 1996. His work focuses upon the intertwined mysteries of perception and language -- the way in which these two dimensions modulate the ethical relation between humankind and the animate earth.

Dr. Abram is also an accomplished sleight-of-hand magician who has lived and traded magic with indigenous magic practitioners on several continents. He began practicing sleight-of-hand magic in his late teens, and it is this craft that sparked his ongoing fascination with perception. When he was nineteen, Abram began working regularly as "house magician" at Alice's Restaurant in Massachusetts, and soon was performing steadily in clubs throughout New England. He took a year off from his studies at Wesleyan University to journey as a street magician through Europe; upon graduating summa cum laude from Wesleyan in 1980, Abram began traveling as an itinerant magician throughout rural parts of Southeast Asia, living and studying with traditional magicians and medicine-persons in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Nepal.

Abram became increasingly fascinated by the interactive relation between these traditional magicians and the various animals, plants, and natural elements that constitute the local terrain. Upon returning to North America, he became a careful student of natural history and ecology while continuing to perform throughout Canada and the United States. A much-reprinted essay originally published in The Ecologist (written while he was studying at the Yale School of Forestry in 1984), entitled "The Perceptual Implications of Gaia," brought Abram into alliance with the scientists formulating the Gaia Hypothesis, and he was soon lecturing in association with biologist Lynn Margulis and geochemist James Lovelock in both Britain and the United States.

In 1993, Abram received his doctorate from SUNY at Stony Brook for his work on the ecological dimensions of perception and of language. At the heart of Abram's ongoing research is an examination of the ecology of perception (the manner in which sensory perception bind the human organism into the more-than-human natural world). More recently, his work also analyzes the decisive influence of language upon our perception of the earthly environment, and argues that human language is much more intimately related to the more-than-human natural landscape than has been conventionally assumed.

Dr. Abram's papers and essays, in such journals as Environmental Ethics, Orion, The Ecologist, Parabola, and Wild Earth, have been widely reprinted and anthologized in numerous books. His first book, The Spell of the Sensuous, termed "revolutionary" by the Los Angeles Times and the Village Voice, has been described in Science as "a truly original work: Abram puts forth his daring hypothesis with a poetic vigor and argumentative insight that stimulate reconsideration of the technological commonplace . . . With Abram anthropology becomes a bridge between science and its others." (Science, January 10, 1997). Frequently called upon as a spokesperson for wild nature, Dr. Abram has been the recipient of fellowships from the Watson and the Rockefeller foundations. Dr. Abram and his wife, Grietje Laga, are the founders of Alliance for Wild Ethics (AWE), an organization dedicated to ecological education and the rewilding of community and culture.

The Spell of the Sensuous

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