Animism and the Alphabet: David Abram
In “Animism and the Alphabet”, David Abram, a journalist in the Environmental Ethics and a founder of the Alliance for Wild Ethics (AWE), asserts that through the evolution of the human language, there is a widening gap in the relationship between humanity and nature. Through the examples of pictographic systems and hieroglyphics, Abram suggests that our earliest forms of writing stemmed off of our ecological origins and “remained tied to the mysteries of a more-than-human world”.
As a result of these primitive methods of expression, Abram then describes humanity’s need to convey and define other terms that cannot be expressed through pictures: The development of phonetic script. This was the transfer of sounds and the speaking voice rather than a simple picture that depicts meaning through vision. This innovation came with the creation of the Semitic aleph-beth, later to evolve into our modern-day alphabet, which created a new detachment between human culture and the rest of nature.
Abram believes that the major turning point in our connection with nature lies in the Greek’s lasting contributions to the written world allowing for the “indebtedness of human language to the more-than-human perceptual field…preserved in the names and shapes of the Semitic letters” to be forgotten. Abram states that the Homeric epics ballads and songs in Greek culture supported the idea that men interact with the non-human world.
These original “oral texts” were first memorized through a series of formulas and then performed with the poets own creativity and improvisation; however, when these songs became the first large written texts, Iliad and the Odyssey obtained a timeless quality, remaining forever preserved on paper. Abram believes that it is through this alphabetic technology that “language was beginning to separate itself from the animate flux of the world”.