[2010] Becoming animal

  title={Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology},
  author={Abram, D.},
  publisher={Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group}

In openlibrary.

My highlights:

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 a creativity proper to the body as a whole, arising spontaneously from the slippage between an organism and the folding terrain that it wanders?

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or a menacing region needing to be beaten and bent to our will; or simply a vaguely disturbing dimension to be avoided, superseded, and explained away.

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. Technology can also, and easily, be used as a way to avoid direct encounter, as a shield—etched with lines of code or cryptic jargon—to ward o whatever frightens, as a synthetic heaven or haven in which to hide out from the distressing ambiguity of the real.

While persons brought up within literate culture often speak about the natural world, indigenous, oral peoples sometimes speak directly to that world. Obviously these other beings do not speak with a human tongue; they do not speak in words. They may speak in song, like many birds, or in rhythm, like the crickets and the ocean waves. They may speak a language of movements and gestures, or articulate themselves in shifting shadows.

Our words tend to forget that they are sustained by this windswept earth; they begin to imagine that their primary task is to provide a representation of the world (as though they were outside of, and not really a part of, this world). The primordial power of utterance to make our bodies resonate with one another and with the other rhythms that surround us.

Certain built structures may invite and enhance the erotic pulse of the ground; others may muffle and mute that pulse, but they cannot immobilize the pulse entirely. Regardless of how profoundly they have been alchemized in the laboratory, the matter that gleams or sleeps in our creation sretains some trace of its old ancestry in the wombish earth.

There’s an affinity between my body and the sensible presences that surround me, an old solidarity that pays scant heed to our overeducated distinction between animate and inanimate matter.

This crystallizing sense of one’s body as a general locus of awareness does not arise on its own, but is accompanied by a dawning sense of the rudimentary otherness of the rest of the field of feelings. The self begins as an extension of the breathing flesh of the world, and the things around us, in turn, originate as reverberations echoing the pains and pleasures of our body. The things of the world continue to beckon to us from behind the cloud of words, speaking instead with gestures and subtle rhythms, calling out to our animal bodies, tempting our skin with their varied textures and coaxing our muscles with their grace, inviting our thoughts to remember and rejoin the wider community of intelligence.

The conviviality between the child and the animate earth is soon severed, interrupted by the adult insistence (expressed in countless forms of grown-up speech and behavior) that real sentience, or subjectivity, is the exclusive possession of humankind. The broken bond between the child and the living land will later be certified, and rendered permanent, by her active entrance into an economy that engages the land primarily as a stock of resources to be appropriated for our own, exclusively human, purposes.

Whenever we moderns hear of traditional peoples for whom all things are potentially alive such notions seem to us the result of an absurdly wishful and immature style of thinking. We know that such fantasies are illusory, and must ultimately come up against the cold stone of reality.

Simply to exist is a very active thing to be doing. Each thing, each being, is in steady intercourse with the entities and elements around it, negotiating its passage and exerting its participation in the ongoing emergence of what is. The stillness, the quietude of this rock is its very activity, the steady gesture by which it enters and alters your life.

I find myself entwined in a great gift economy, wherein each life partakes of other lives and gives of itself in return. We, too, are edible. We, too, are food.

We can feel the tangible textures, sounds, and shapes of the biosphere because we are tangible, resonant, audible shapes in our own right. We are born of these very waters, this very air, this loamy soil, this sunlight. We are sensitive and sentient bodies able to be seen, heard, tasted, and touched by the beings around us.

Most of this era’s transcendent technological visions remain motivated by a fright of the body and its myriad susceptibilities, by a fear of our carnal embedment in a world ultimately beyond our control—by our terror of the very wildness that nourishes and sustains us. To recognize this nourishment, to awaken to the steady gift of this wild sustenance, entails that we offer ourselves in return. We are bodily creatures that must die in order for others to flourish. We cannot abide our vulnerability, our utter dependence upon a world that can eat us.

An animistic style of speaking opens the possibility of interaction and exchange, allowing reciprocity to begin to circulate between our bodies and the breathing earth. Makes evident the consanguinity between ourselves and the enfolding terrain, invoking an explicit continuity between our lives and the vitality of the land itself. We bring our language back into alignment with the ambiguous and provisional nature of sensory experience itself—with the fact that we never perceive any entity in its entirety, but only encounter partial aspects according to the angle or mood of our approach.

It is only the lived, felt relationships that we daily maintain with one another, with the other creatures that surround us and the terrain that sustains us, that can teach us the use and misuse of all our abstractions.