The Spell of the Sensuous

Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World

Paperback, 352 pages

English language

Published Feb. 25, 1997 by Vintage.

OCLC Number:

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3 stars (1 review)

[In this book, the author] draws on sources as diverse as the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty, Balinese shamanism, Apache storytelling, and his own experience as an accomplished sleight-of-hand magician to reveal the subtle dependence of human cognition on the natural environment. He explores the character of perception and excavates the sensual foundations of language, which - even at its most abstract - echoes the calls and cries of the earth.

2 editions

Review of 'The Spell of the Sensuous' on 'GoodReads'

3 stars

I read this because it informed Jenny Odell's wonderful talk how to do nothing.

I got a pretty distasteful primitivist, psuedosciency vibe from lots of it. But setting that aside I think there's still a lot of interesting stuff in here. Abram dives deep into the effects of language, especially phonetically written language, on how we abstract the world around us. To me the valuable thing is the act of investigating language and other tools for abstraction, as opposed to the specific analysis & evidence he gives for his points. Peripherally there's also lots of fun stuff about the reciprocity of perception and the conceptual barriers between the senses.

I can definitely see how this book can read as anti-progress, anti-abstraction, or anti-civilization. However if you take him at his word that it is not these things maybe you'll have a better time with the book. In my view …


  • Phenomenology & Existentialism
  • Philosophy of mind
  • Philosophy of nature
  • Movements - Humanism
  • Nature
  • Nature/Ecology
  • Sense (Philosophy)
  • Essays
  • Linguistics
  • Nature / Ecology
  • Body, Human (Philosophy)