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Book Review: Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram

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David Abram knows you better than you know yourself. He feels the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and sees your muscles tense as you experience the new. He hears your breath rattle as you sharply inhale and smells the sweat that’s just starting to bead on your brow when confronted with the unfamiliar. David Abram is a master of noticing and, lucky for us, a master of communication as well. He welcomes us with open arms into his fully sensate world in Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology (2011, Vintage Books).

We live in compartmentalized times. Our work is separate from our home. Our friends are separate from our family. And our lives and experiences are separate from the world around us. It hasn’t always been this way. For the vast majority of our human history, we relied on our animal senses and our collective knowledge about the natural world for our very survival. But with the ever quickening growth of science and technology, we as individuals have surrendered more and more of this knowledge to experts. We no longer trust our bodies to the point that we now dress according to what the weatherman tells us and not what we actually experience by stepping out of our front doors.

In this volume, Abram shares with us the truly profound and magnificent world that he sees and that we are missing out on by shutting ourselves off from such thoughtful consideration of our surroundings. It doesn’t matter if he’s home with his daughters, alone in the wilderness, or trekking the world, he is a conscious participant in his environment. He notices, processes, and then mindfully adds to the conversation.

Divided into 13 chapters, Abram’s writing begins with a rumination about shadow and its depth, flows through tales of encounters with whales and magicians, and we end our journey by making the crucial connection between this disconnect between humans and our environment and our ability to destroy it unchecked and seemingly without remorse. While our forefathers and mothers would have seen our modern acts of destruction as painful wounds on their own bodies, we have a hard time comprehending our relationship to the world and so don’t notice its injury. Abram calls to us to heighten our awareness; not only for our own benefit, but for that of the world.

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