“The Speech of Things”

Abram 1“So language, from the perspective of the fully embodied human, seems as much an attribute  of  other animals and plants as of our own garrulous species. Yet, as we know from many of the  traditional, indigenous peoples among us, this is still too restrictive: language accrues not only  to those entities deemed “alive” by modern standards, but to all sensible phenomena. All  things have the capacity for speech—all beings have the ability to communicate something of  themselves to other beings. Indeed, what is perception if not the experience of this gregarious,  communicative power of things, wherein even ostensibly “inert” objects radiate out of  themselves, conveying their shapes, hues, and rhythms to other beings and to us, influencing  and informing our breathing bodies though we stand far apart from those things? Not just  animals and plants, then, but tumbling waterfalls and dry riverbeds, gusts of wind, compost  piles and cumulus clouds, freshly painted houses (as well as houses abandoned and sometimes  haunted), rusting automobiles, feathers, granitic cliffs and grains of sand, tax forms, dormant volcanoes, bays and bayous made wretched by pollutants, snowdrifts, shed antlers, diamonds, and daikon radishes, are all expressive, sometimes eloquent, and hence participant in the mystery of language. Our own chatter erupts in response to the abundant articulations of the world: human speech is simply our part of a much broader conversation.

It follows that the myriad things are also listening, or attending, to various signs and gestures around them. Indeed, when we are at ease in our Abram 2animal flesh, we will sometimes feel that we are being listened to, or sensed, by the earthly surroundings. And so we take deeper care with our speaking, mindful that our sounds may carry more than a merely human meaning and resonance. This care—this full-bodied alertness—is the ancient, ancestral source of all word magic. It is the practice of attention to the uncanny power that lives in our spoken phrases to touch and sometimes transform the tenor of the world’s unfolding.”

David Abram
Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology (Vintage Books: New York, 2010, pp.172-73.)


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