The Spell of the Sensuous

Our alienation from the nature began with the invention of the alphabet author David Abram says, attributing the first alphabet to Semitic tribes around 1500 B.C.E. Prior to that, communication was oral or pictorial. The epics of Homer originally were sung and re-sung long before they were written down around the 7th century B.C.E. but by the 4th century B.C.E., the dialogues of Plato were written.

With the advent of alphabetic writing, notions of space and time were radically altered.  Not only did writing undermine the human participatory relationship with the natural landscape, it also dissolved the intimate link with particular places in which ancestral stories or myths took place. This  “double retreat,” as Abram calls it, opened the way to a “pure and featureless ‘space’- “an abstract conception that today seems to us more primordial and real than the earthly places in which we remain corporeally embedded.” Once written down a people’s history becomes an account of irreversible and progressive events and time becomes linear.

Abram places the ancient Hebrews in the context of this radically new sense of space/time. They were, Abram reminds us, “the first truly alphabetic culture that we know of, the first ‘People of the Book.’”