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Picturing a World

Touch

After reading David Abram’s deeply thought-provoking book, Becoming Animal, I have been thinking about what it means to open oneself to the world through all of the bodily senses and more particularly how to incorporate such awareness into fiction. Can an artistic medium effectively communicate what is perceived through seemingly unrelated senses?

The impact of tactile qualities struck me recently when I saw Samuel Palmer’s watercolor and gouache of a pear tree. I wish a reproduction could do justice to the way its fat bunches of blossom bulge out and glow, to how the tenderness of petals combines with the blossoms’ forceful presence. It is not a matter impasto, but rather of shading and suggestion. Language has a wide vocabulary for color and shape, less so for textures or the touch of air against skin, of the different kinds of warmth and cold; but Abram’s book teaches by example how to strive to achieve effects.

For a taste of Abram’s thinking, read an excerpt at Becoming Animal or listen to an hour-long conversation between him and Dougald Hine at the Dark Mountain Project.

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