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Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology

This book is insidiously subversive even within the green movement. You could read Becoming Animal as a quirky but engaging exercise in nature writing. David Abram certainly knows how to capture the essence of a walk in the woods, but there’s a lot more going on here. Holistic health practitioners have gravitated to Becoming Animal because it recognizes the importance of learning how to reconnect with nature. The policy and scholarly realms would do well to follow suit because Abram shows the limits to rationalistic means of addressing “environmental issues.”

What’s particularly remarkable about Abram’s Thoreauesque perspective is that he is a scholar himself — in cultural ecology and philosophy. How on earth did he manage to succeed in an academic environment without irrevocably damaging his almost pre-modern sense of balance between his mind, body and spirit? Abram founded the Center for Humans & Nature. His bio page is here.

Speaking of college, Becoming Animal would be an excellence first assignment for an environmental studies program — undergraduate or graduate.

— S. Salmi

Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology
  • David Abram, 2010
  • Vintage Books, New York

“And so to speak of enveloping nature in determinate, mechanical terms, or even to write of the environment in a purely functional manner, as ‘our human life-support system,’ contravenes and cuts short the conviviality between our animal body and the animate earth. It stifles the spontaneous life of the senses. Our eyes begin to glaze over, our ears become deaf to the speech of tree frogs and the articulations of rain. What we say has such a profound effect upon what we see, hear, and even taste of the world!” (p. 64)

“Walking through the forest, we often fail to register the vocal sounds of other animals, the whistles of squirrels and the intermittent calls of various birds, because although our bodies are in the forest, our verbal thoughts are commonly elsewhere. As Thoreau chides himself, ‘What business have I in the woods if I am thinking of something out of the woods?’ What business indeed! As soon as I call my errant spirit back home to its senses, my animal organism awakens from its slumber. Now the snap of a far-off twig brings a new alertness to my listening, as the hypnotic humming of insects and the dark squeak of two trunks rubbing against one another yields a keen awareness of my proximity to lives being lived at different scales from my own.” (p. 192)


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