Everything that has a beginning has an end

Posts tagged “David Abram

To better understand our position as living beings in a living world

 

“An inspired collaboration between filmmakers Peter Mettler (The End of Time) and Emma Davie (I Am Breathing) and radical writer and philosopher David Abram (The Spell of the Sensuous), Becoming Animal is an urgent and immersive audiovisual quest, forging a path into the places where humans and animals meet, where we pique our senses to witness the so-called natural world—which in turn witnesses us, prompting us to reflect on the very essence of what it means to inhabit our animal bodies.”

Excerpts from an interview with the filmmakers,

“David’s writing is very poetic and descriptive, but in the cinema it is the images and sounds that do most of the work.”

…we describe “nature” as something fundamentally apart from ourselves. This is a central paradox that we were always aware of and engaged with throughout the process of making Becoming Animal. Although the film is partially about our urge to exist beyond our limited notion of self and other – to claim a more expanded sense of being that connects us sensorially to everything – there is also an additional aspect that even to think this realization is to already be one step removed from the immediacy of experience. So the perennial question of how the mind both liberates and limits is also present, and film, with its endless hall of mirrors, can reflect this. We hope the film exists in a space in which the cumulative effect of David’s ideas, woven into a cinematic journey, will start to create new links in the minds of the audience, resonating with their own deep questions about these themes.”

“It is a paradox to make a film about our senses and the connection to our surroundings, while also addressing how these technologies have changed our relationships to our surroundings. But that is exactly what we wanted to embrace, so that as one watches the film there is an awareness of the mediated nature of the experience of cinema itself. This is why at times you will hear the rustling, breathing animal (Peter) that holds the camera as he makes his way through the brush, and why you see the crew, cameras, and David – our “guide” – intermittently throughout. This layer provides a way to better understand what we are all going through, whether as filmmakers, tourists, or as a cultural audience.”

“We hope that the film addresses in some way what we have been calling a crisis of perception, exemplified by the fact that while our culture possesses more tools and knowledge than ever before, our understanding and awareness of the world remains quite limited. It seems that, in looking into the root of our problems, it’s also important to address how we actually see.”

“Empathy, awareness and reciprocity are qualities we hope Becoming Animal may evoke, to better understand our position as living beings in a living world.”

The Village & The Forest

“While persons brought up within literate culture often speak about the natural world, indigenous, oral peoples sometimes speak directly to that world, acknowledging certain animals, plants, and even landforms as expressive subjects with whom they might find themselves in conversation.”

David Abram

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From the Edges

“There are always individuals who are a little too sensitive to spend all their time hanging around other humans, because they pick up too much from nervous systems that are the same shape as themselves. If someone depressed walks in the room, they find themselves getting depressed, and if someone happy walks in they’re immediately joyous. They’re too easily influenced by other humans, and yet their sensitivity is just right for entering into a rapport with a very different shape of awareness, with an owl, for instance, or an oak tree, or an ant.

These particularly sensitive folks tend to gravitate quite naturally to the edge of any traditional culture, where with one hand they can turn toward the human collective, but with the other they are open to the whole field of other-than-human powers. They become the intermediaries between the culture and the living land.

I think that every culture worthy of the name recognizes the need for such folks. These persons are the boundary keepers, those who tend the boundary between the human community and the wild, more-than-human world in which human culture is embedded. Their craft or work is to keep that boundary porous, to ensure that it remains a fluid membrane and doesn’t harden into a static barrier.”

David Abram – The Boundary Keeper

 

 

“When I look at the state of the world right now, I see an arc bending towards something that dwarfs any parochial concerns about particular presidential elections or political arrangements between human nations, and which should put those events into deep perspective. I see a grand planetary shift that has not been seen for millions of years. I see that half the world’s wildlife has gone, and half the world’s forests, and half the world’s topsoil. I see that we have perhaps two generations of food left before we wear out the rest of that topsoil. I see 10 billion people needing to be fed. I see the highest concentration of carbon in the atmosphere since humans evolved. I see coming waves of political and cultural turmoil resulting from all of this, which makes me fear for my children, and sometimes for myself.

Our stories are cracking: the things we have pretended to believe about the world have turned out not to be true…In such times, we write to make sense of things, and to examine our stories in their proper perspective. We write new stories because the old ones are half-dead now.

I think we could make a case that most of the world’s great religions, philosophies, artforms, even political systems and ideologies were initiated by marginal figures. There is a reason for that: sometimes you have to go to the edges to get some perspective on the turmoil at the heart of things. Doing so is not an abnegation of public responsibility: it is a form of it. In the old stories, people from the edges of things brought ideas and understandings from the forest back in to the kingdom which the kingdom could not generate by itself.”

Paul Kingsnorth – 2016:Year of the Serpent

 

 

“I’m really interested in the landscape of the mythology and the mythology of the landscape. That’s where I get curious. And so for the last twenty years I’ve been taking people up out into the few remaining wild places in Britain. And also that led to a certain curiosity into where does wildness still reside in language itself. Could there be places within stanzas within stories within poems where old gods still reside. And so quite naturally  I’ve been brought back into story as a way of articulating wild information, information from the edges.

For me a compelling story is when you feel a variety of intelligences at play. And I would go so far as to suggest that culturally for thousands of years, stories in their fullness in their efficacy were a form of negotiation with weather patterns, with the movement of the hunt, with the dreams of the people, with the bones of the dead, with the future memory of those to come. All of that was present in the story, which can be told as simply as ‘Once upon a time, there was a woman at the edge of a great forest.’ But make no mistake, some of the most incredible thinking of our age is transmitted through stories.”

Martin Shaw – Storytelling from the Edge

(All Photographs by Jerry Uelsmann)

 


Lived by the Powers


Debra’s recent post ‘Our Lady of the Well‘ over at The Ptero Card dove deep into the rabbit hole by asking how can we trust language to communicate especially if we are dealing with matters of the unconscious, as Jung did in documenting his journey into that hidden realm in The Red Book. It is a critical question for her as she tries to navigate through Jung’s book. It is a question that touches me deeply as well as one who participates in creating images, sometimes watching them evolve without knowing where or what they have emerged from or how they are going to end up when they are finished. I have my own interpretation of what these images mean, if anything, but I am always fascinated by how others react to them, positive or negative.

Writing, for me, can be a bit of a challenge as I am such a visually oriented person. I ‘see’ things in a certain light – as a composition when looking through a camera lens or more intuitively when working on other images, wondering what will reveal itself to me as I work through the process of manipulating pixels or paint. But her post caused me to reflect on how communication happens, what alchemical process connects one persons attempt to use words to convey an idea and how does the reader or listener understand or respond to what is being said. Beyond language, what else is happening to evoke this interaction with not just words but other types of expression.

Cory Doctorow quotes from David Byrne’s ‘How Music Works’ explaining how Byrne comes up with the lyrics to some of his music, (Bold emphases mine)

” …I begin by improvising a melody over the music. I do this by singing nonsense syllables, but with weirdly inappropriate passion, given that I’m not saying anything. Once I have a wordless melody and a vocal arrangement my collaborators (if there are any) and I like, I’ll begin to transcribe that gibberish as if it were real words.

I’ll listen carefully to the meaningless vowels and consonants on the recording, and I’ll try to understand what that guy (me), emoting so forcefully by inscrutably, is actually saying. It’s like a forensic exercise. I’ll follow the sound of the nonsense syllables as closely as possible. If a melodic phrase of gibberish ends on a high oohsound, then I’ll transcribe that, and in selecting the actual words, I’ll try to try to choose one that ends in that syllable, or as close to it as I can get. So the transcription process often ends up with a page of real words, still fairly random, that sounds just like the gibberish.

I do that because the difference between an ooh and an aah, and a “b” and a “th” sound is, I assume, integral to the emotion that the story wants to express. I want to stay true to that unconscious, inarticulate intention. Admittedly, that content has no narrative, or might make no literal sense yet, but it’s in there — I can hear it. I can feel it. My job at this stage is to find words that acknowledge and adhere to the sonic and emotional qualities rather than to ignore and possibly destroy them.

Part of what makes words work in a song is how they sound to the ear and feel on the tongue. If they feel right physiologically, if the tongue of the singer and the mirror neurons of the listener resonate with the delicious appropriateness of the words coming out, then that will inevitably trump literal sense, although literal sense doesn’t hurt.”

As Jung recorded his entries into what would be known as The Red Book, he used not only words but created images such as this one

Does this illustrate some deeper archetypical connection with what he was going through (I think yes). His illustrations deepen the effect of the words, making it a richer experience.
What is going on here? What is being communicated to Jung, or through Jung. What energies are flowing in and through any of us when we are having a crisis, or feeling joy, or having any number of things happen to us? Are we the only ones inhabiting that experience? David Abram in an essay discussing Gary Snyder’s ‘Mountains and Rivers without End’, explores the Aboriginal concept of dreamtime. Dreamtime he explains

“is a kind of time out of time, a time hidden beyond, or rather, within the manifest presence of the land. It is that time before the world itself was entirely awake — a time that still exists just below the surface of wakeful awareness — that dawn when the totem ancestors first emerged from their slumber beneath the ground, and began to sing their way across the land. The earth, of course, was still in a maleable, half-awake state. And as the Dreamtime ancestors — Kangaroo Man, or Tortoise Woman, or Honey-Ant Man, or Wallaby Woman — as they first wandered, singing, across the surface of the earth, they were shaping the land as they traveled, forming valleys where they laid down, creating creeks or waterholes wherever they urinated, and forests where they kicked up dust, etc.. So today, when an aboriginal man goes walkabout, travelling along his ancestral dream tracks, he chants the verses originally sung by his dreaming ancestor, singing the land into view as he walks through it. And, in this manner, he renews not only his own life, but the very life of the land itself.”

This brings me back to Jung’s circumstance. What was it in his unconscious that was speaking to him. What was it that drove him to courageously dive into the darkness and then out again in his experience that would become The Red Book? Is there some deep mystery like an underground river that Jung tapped into? David Abram again,

“it is not humans alone who dream, and not just the other animals and the plants, but rather the land itself dreams, continually. The Dreamtime is not something that happened once and for all in the distant past; rather the Dreaming lies in the same relation to the open presence of the land around us as our own dream life lies in relation to our conscious or waking experience. It is a kind of depth, ambiguous and metamorphic. Indeed, it is a sense of both the past and the future not as dimensions that reside somewhere else, but as realms that are hidden, secretly, within the depths of the present moment. A sense of time as depth. Deep Time.”

All of this makes me wonder, in our communication with each other and within the whole sphere of life, is it just us in our limited capacity of thought and language that is speaking? Or is it something greater than ourselves? Are we tapped into an unknown or unseen reality and is it in fact possible to know and experience that something that is just as real as what our waking senses can communicate to us? What is happening to us when we ‘hear’ words in our head as we are writing them or ‘see’ images in our mind as we are creating them? Are we in some dream state while awake or is something dreaming us as we move through our experience? And if each of us is being dreamed, ‘lived by the powers’ as James Hillman says in another of Debra’s posts, then how does that connect each of us – to ourselves, to each other, and to the whole possible sense of reality that confronts us. And what responsibility do we have in this regard?

…In the comfort of the world
In the arms of my big nurse
From the science of the heart
To each animal and plant…


David Abram and Animism – Everything is Alive. Everything Speaks.

“The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

David Abram‘s perspective on how we perceive the world around us and how that perception can not only alter the ideas we may have about this world , but that it can also dramatically impact how we interact  (or inter-be as Thich Nhat Hanh would say) with everything and everyone we come into contact with  – this is of particular interest to me. I had read his Spell of the Sensuous some time ago and have had his Becoming Animal on my shelf, unread, since it was first released. I have finally taken it down and begun to dive into it. It challenges me to get out of my head and into my body, to be present. It also challenges me to look at the world with new eyes and to connect more dots as to why I have such an interest in this and related subjects which I hope to explore more as time allows.

The following are extended excerpts from an interview he gave to Derrick Jensen in 2000. That interview is worth reading in its entirety if the following is of any interest.

David Abram –

I’m trying to understand how it’s possible that a culture of intelligent critters like ourselves can so recklessly and so casually destroy so much that is mysterious and alive, and in the course of it destroy so much of ourselves and our own capacity for wonder.

And it seems to me that it is not out of any real meanness that we are destroying so much of our world. It’s simply that we no longer notice these other beings, no longer really notice or feel that we are a part of the same world that the ravens and the rivers inhabit. We don’t sense that we’re inside the same story in which the squirrels and the salmon are characters.  Somehow our ways of speaking, and our ways of living, perpetuate this odd notion that we stand outside of the world, apart from the world, looking at it, pondering it as if from some distant vantage point.  And our science steadily tries to figure out the world, to come up with a precise blueprint of how it all works — as if the world were a vast machine we could somehow diagram and control if we can just get the right perspective.

How can we humans live in right relation to this river valley so that both we and the river and the salmon can all flourish — rather than: what kind of a machine is a salmon in itself, or what are the mechanisms that make this forest tick? By asking these latter questions we take ourselves out of relation to the forest, out of relation to the salmon, in order to comprehend their workings. I suppose it would be okay if we then brought ourselves back into a living relation with those beings. But we don’t! Instead we begin to focus on how to manipulate the forest, how to engineer the genome of the salmon for our own ostensible benefit.  So much research, today, seems motivated less by a sense of wonder than by a great will-to-control. It is a mark of immaturity, I think, a sign that science is still in its adolescence.

In our culture we speak about nature a great deal.  Mature cultures speak to nature.  They feel the rest of nature speaking to them.  They feel the ground where they stand as it speaks through them.  They feel themselves inside and a part of a vast and steadily unfolding story in which storm clouds and spiders are just as much players as they are (more…)


The Boundary Keepers

David Abram 

“…as a kid I had this odd experience… of being somewhat porous. For instance, I’d inadvertently pick up the accent of anyone I was speaking to. If I was speaking on the phone to someone from another country, everybody in the room would know from my accent the nationality of the person I was speaking to.

I was very mimetic—easily influenced by other people’s ways of speaking or moving—and I often felt ashamed of this, like I was somehow spineless and had no real integrity of my own. Only later, when I stepped into the village cultures of Indonesia, did I discover that this oversensitivity, which is fairly useless in our society, is very, very useful to any culture which assumes that everything is alive and sentient.

There are always individuals who are a little too sensitive to spend all their time hanging around other humans, because they pick up too much from nervous systems that are the same shape as themselves. If someone depressed walks in the room, they find themselves getting depressed, and if someone happy walks in they’re immediately joyous. They’re too easily influenced by other humans, and yet their sensitivity is just right for entering into a rapport with a very different shape of awareness, with an owl, for instance, or an oak tree, or an ant.

These particularly sensitive folks tend to gravitate quite naturally to the edge of any traditional culture, where with one hand they can turn toward the human collective, but with the other they are open to the whole field of other-than-human powers. They become the intermediaries between the culture and the living land.

I think that every culture worthy of the name recognizes the need for such folks. These persons are the boundary keepers, those who tend the boundary between the human community and the wild, more-than-human world in which human culture is embedded. Their craft or work is to keep that boundary porous, to ensure that it remains a fluid membrane and doesn’t harden into a static barrier.

It seems obvious to me that this is a capacity we all share; it’s part of being human. At the same time, there are folks who are a little oversensitive, perhaps as much as twenty percent of any population, who aren’t really good at working in the middle of the human community. That’s not really where their gifts are. They’re not very good at making decisions for the village, but they are really quite good at entering into relation with the other beings—with the animals or the local plants—and picking up what the land itself might need from us.

In the West, because we speak of the land and the rest of nature as a basically passive and insentient set of objects, such folks don’t know what to do with themselves. There’s no recognition that their sensitivity is good for anything, is actually necessary to the culture. Perhaps they learn to stifle their instinctive sensations, which just makes them sick; they become confused; often they get into quite a lot of trouble with the cultural mainstream.”

Abram’s account answers some recent questions for me and relates to a recent conversation with a close friend about being an empath.

(This is who I am)