Becoming Animal – An Earthly Cosmology, by David Abram
This is an important book. I’ve long held, upon viewing social practices of the last thirty years or so, as well as the tack of intellectual disciplines over that time, that we’re entering an era in which our right brain activities predominate. That is, we’re more prone to passionate, emotional responses. We see things not discretely but in relationship to other observed phenomena. We demand rapid responses to everything; consequently change in our world is moving at an accelerating pace. We’re more prone – and here’s where Abram’s book comes in – to be more aware of the natural world, i.e., to be in our bodies.
By that, I mean we’re not the intellectual creatures we once were, in which we saw everything in abstracions, from our family structure to philosophy and religion to the natural world around us. Instead, we’re more involved with sensory input; we’re once again developing a collective take on reality in terms of what our senses tell us.
Abram is a philosopher by education. And when he takes on philosophers from Descartes to our present ones, who seem to be drowning in brain studies and the like, he doesn’t dispute them. Instead, he embraces them as parallels to his more body-centric outlook.
The older philosophers have sought reality “out there,” in some unreachable, transcendental province our body mechanisms can only reach via mind and its inductive and deductive abilities. Abrams, however, accepts reality as the body knows it. He sees form’s discreteness, but he also sees its inter-linkage with all other forms of matter and energy, from angels to rocks. Sort of an interactive web of mutual experience.
The sort of thing that delights this reader/writer is that he not only states his bodily case, he gives us extended examples from his own far-flung experiences. His writing here is readable, enjoyable, with a flair of voice that tells one that he’s not only at home in his body, he’s at home with the elegance of words.
He does get a bit carried away with some of his examples, particularly his experience with shamans of various cultures, and he tarries too long in his summation. But his experiences and the stories they yield – which in turn underscore his developing philosophy – are as powerful a read as thosee by adventurers such as Jon Krakauer. As with most groundbreaking thought that’s been reduced to writing, Abram’s tales are essentially about him. But he knows as much about the world of rocks and the world of mind as he does about his own body and senses.
My rating: 18 of 20 stars