Apr 06 2011

David Abram’s Participatory Nature

Published by at 5:22 pm under Uncategorized

Through careful and detailed instruction, Abram shows that our relationship with our environments (and specifically with the natural world) is inherently and necessarily synaesthetic. However, his logic fails when Abram then assumes that this indicates some sort of participation on the part of the perceived. Why, simply because we must converge upon our own senses to gain a depth of understanding about a certain entity (say, for example, the dimensions of a boulder) does that entail active participation on the part of the object? Granted, when the monkey moves or calls out, it helps the hunter to learn about it, but the hunter would have learned about the monkey equally as comprehensively in another way (namely, by tapping into the convergence of all of his senses) had the monkey not shifted/called out (although this would have, admittedly, taken slightly longer). To the author, it is a tragedy that trees no longer speak to us; to me, they’ve been communicating in the same manner since forever, and it is simply a matter of attending to them properly that then determines whether we ‘understand’ their ‘language.’ The author also writes, “As nonhuman animals, plants, and even ‘inanimate’ rivers once spoke to our tribal ancestors, to the ‘inert’ letters on the page now speak to us’ (131). Quite frankly, I find it difficult to make the conclusion, based on the author’s body of evidence, that we used to marry animals and that now we have transferred that relationship to the written word and have thus lost our connection with the natural world. Granted, we progressed from an illiterate humanity to an alphabetized one, but that does not mean that we exchanged participation with nature for one with the written word, or at least not in the way asserted here. Maybe we have lost touch with the natural world, and maybe literacy was even an impetus behind this, but only insofar as it distracted us and stole the precious time previously spent communing with the wind.

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