David Abram really made me think twice about my realities in this week’s readings. He begins by outlining the issues that come with creating an alphabetic culture. Abram claims that the development of a written language (in contrast to oral story telling) creates an abstraction of space and time that is a “pure and featureless ‘space’”(Abram, p. 185). To us today this seems “more primordial and real than the earthly places in which we remain corporeally embedded” (Abram, p. 185). I grappled with this idea that “as the technology of writing encounters and spreads through a previously oral culture, the felt power and personality of particular places begins to fade” because I have never known a world that did not have this arbitrary place where reading/storytelling/writing occurs (Abram, p. 183).
My understanding is that when we were a mostly oral culture, the stories are so deeply rooted in the places that they were physically told, that when stories began to be written down they lost a large portion of their meaning. The creation of written language makes “the places themselves are no longer necessary to the remembrance of the stories, and often come to seem wholly incidental to the tales, the arbitrary backdrops for human events that might just as easily have happened elsewhere” (Abram, p. 183). The example that Abram provides, about Aboriginal Dreamtime, saying that “the Dreamtime does not refer to the past in any literal sense (to a time that is finished and done with), but rather to the temporal and psychological latency of the enveloping landscape” reminded me of a paper I wrote in an class at Guilford entitled Religion Dreams and Dreaming (Abram, p. 193).
In my class I studied the Plains Native American dream sharing culture, which has a great emphasis not on the retelling (or sharing) of dreams, but on the visual and physical space it took place. Plains religions have a focus on the importance and insight of the mythical world, and specifically how dreaming creates a connection to this world. The Plains Indians have a long history of visionary lore, which acts a way of communication with dream spirits through a vision experience. The dreams, or visions, in the Plains religious traditions are a form of seeking knowledge, a search for personal empowerment, or a way to receive a gift of power that can all be used within their community. For the Plains Indians, there is no separation between the dreaming and waking world. In our Western way of thought we associate the term dreaming with the idea of unconsciousness. Their visions are just as undeniably real as the waking life, and they treat them with the same authenticity. The dreaming culture in the Western world today places a strong emphasis on visual components. The Plains Native Americans have visual and kinesthetic features, like those that we tend to associate with dreams, but are most strongly focused on the auditory nature within the dreams.
In terms of Abram, he says that what accompanies establishing a written language and loosing this “felt power and personality of particular places” comes with a difficultly of finding ways to live in the present (Abram, p. 183). When Abram came back from his travels and he wondered about the fixation of the past and future, asking himself “Where were these invisible realms that had so much power over the lives of my family and friends?” (p. 201). Our Western concept of time indeed needs to be recognized as culturally constructed and also critiqued. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, as we are coming to the last few weeks of school. I have a constant nostalgia, while being simultaneously anxious about what is next, and therefore finding it very difficult to just appreciate the moment I am in. Abram says “everybody that I knew seemed to be expending a great deal of effort thinking about and trying to hold onto the past—obsessively photographing and videotaping events, and continually projecting and fretting about the future—ceaselessly sending out insurance premiums for their homes, for their cars, even for their bodies. As a result of all these past and future concerns, everyone appeared (to me in my row and newly returned state) to be strangely unaware of happenings unfolding all around them in the present” (Abram, p. 201).
I hope to worry less about my “next steps” and appreciate my time at Guilford for what it has given me. I hope that this upcoming trip will be a good reminder for me to step back and breathe, and internalize Abram’s words and concepts in a physical environment and not just on a page.