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A Language Older Than Words [Paperback]

By Derrick Jensen (Author)
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Item description for A Language Older Than Words by Derrick Jensen...

At once a beautifully poetic memoir and an exploration of the various ways we live in the world, A Language Older Than Words explains violence as a pathology that touches every aspect of our lives and indeed affects all aspects of life on Earth. This chronicle of a young man's drive to transcend domestic abuse offers a challenging look at our worldwide sense of community and how we can make things better.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   412
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.8" Width: 5.9" Height: 1.2"
Weight:   1.35 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Mar 1, 2004
Publisher   Chelsea Green
ISBN  1931498555  
ISBN13  9781931498555  

Availability  0 units.

More About Derrick Jensen

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Derrick Jensen is the prize-winning author of A Language Older than Words, The Culture of Make Believe, Listening to the Land, Strangely Like War, Welcome to the Machine, and Walking on Water. He was one of two finalists for the 2003 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, which cited The Culture of Make Believe as "a passionate and provocative meditation on the nexus of racism, genocide, environmental destruction and corporate malfeasance, where civilization meets its discontents." He writes for The New York Times Magazine, Audubon, and The Sun Magazine among many others. He is an environmental activist and lives on the coast of northern California.

Derrick Jensen currently resides in Crescent City, in the state of California. Derrick Jensen was born in 1960.

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Product Categories

1Books > Special Features > New & Used Textbooks > Social Sciences > Geography
2Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Arts & Literature > Authors
3Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > General
4Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Memoirs
5Books > Subjects > Health, Mind & Body > Mental Health > Abuse & Self Defense > Domestic Violence
6Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Social Sciences > Human Geography

Reviews - What do customers think about A Language Older Than Words?

A Call to Rethink Language  Mar 15, 2008
The survival of the human species depends on our ability to transcend the confinements of symbolic language. It has its uses but, ultimately, is limited. Derrick Jensen, masterfully and with powerful prose, not only explores his journey of discovering the sacred mundane but also offers a call to every individual, on the basis of how he or she interacts with the world, to reopen the vaults of childhood wonder and ardently refuse the mountains of trash heaped upon our persons by the narrow mind of modern culture. Thank you, Derrick.
Deeply Radical Elegantly Written Heartfelt  Mar 15, 2008
Derrick Jensen is a brilliant literary stylist. Even if you hate everything he argues for in this book, it's still worth reading.
Horror and hope  Mar 5, 2008
The planet is being destroyed. Endless war, unprecedented ecocide, nuclear weapons proliferation...the aforementioned are just a small sampling amongst the many measures that wreak havoc upon today's world. And how are ordinary human beings expected to combat this hulking giant that is the capitalist military-industrial complex? Consider that millions of people suffer under literal slavery (see Laos, Burma, Thailand, etc.) and scores more endure wage slavery (the "sophisticated" form of slavery...see the United States, Canada, Great Britain, etc.) Then consider the widespread cultural practices that brutally oppress women and the bloody ethnic/racial conflicts that permeate nearly every corner of the globe. When put in these terms, the outlook looks rather bleak. But once again, what can we do?

"I don't have time to think about deforestation in South America, I'm just trying to put food on the table."

Throughout the course of this book, environmental activist Derrick Jensen explores this prevailing culture of violence. We learn that as a child, Jensen faced horrific abuse under the hands of his father. Jensen concludes that his father's violence was not unique in the sense that it is symptomatic of a culture that accepts (even encourages) authoritarianism, oppression, and psychic devastation. Likewise, the Holocaust was not unique, as there have been numerous holocausts throughout the course of human history, all resulting in mass deaths of "lesser" human beings.

To Jensen, silence is the most salient part of the problem. As a child, Jensen attempted to deny the fact that abuse was taking place in his household. The facts were just too gruesome, too overwhelming. "I don't want to think about, so I won't think about it. If I never think about it, it's like it never actually happened." Jensen connects the micro to the macro; claiming that society at large operates under the same pathological mindset. The atrocities we witness everyday are so intense and harrowing that we minimize (negate, really) their impact. Only after breaking free from this cycle of silence will humanity begin to free itself by taking action in the face of destruction.

Jensen's writing style is unique. His prose is very casual and accessible. He weaves together his personal opinions with an ample amount of empirical evidence and varying philosophical and psychological perspectives. Included also are interviews and conversations Jensen has had with close friends, most of them sharing an ideology similar to his own.

Jensen's solutions are radical, not reformist, in nature. He believes that only the complete and utter abolition of industrial civilization will free humans and the environment alike. His position is that of an anarcho-primitivist or a neo-Luddite. These ideas are expanded upon and explained more thoroughly in Jensen's subsequent body of work.

This is a great book, very well written and moving. Even if you do not agree with Jensen's arguments or ideological standpoints (I actually disagree with him on several issues) there is great value to be found within these pages.
An incredible wake-up call  Aug 12, 2007
I can't think of another book that has affected me as profoundly as this one. It woke me up to the living world, or rather, made me remember what I knew as a child and managed under this coercive culture to forget: that the natural world speaks to us, if only we listen. As we witness the world being murdered before our eyes, we urgently need to learn to listen, before it's too late.

In all of Derrick Jensen's work, he offers brilliant insights about why civilization is killing the planet and what we can and must do about it. Many people have described this book as "heartbreaking," and that's true -- it breaks through the surface of hearts hardened by denial, confronts us with despair, then leads us carefully to the other side of that despair into healing and the possibility of conscious action. It combines investigation and well-reasoned political analysis with an engaging personal style and rare honesty that together offer the reader both intellectual understanding, and just as importantly, a deep emotional comprehension.

After reading this book I immediately bought three copies to give to relatives, in the hope that they would be strengthened by it as I have been, to break the silence, join the world, and stop the horrors.
The pigeons told me...  Jul 6, 2007
As novels go, this one is OK. Too bad it's not a novel. Taken as a work of "philosophy of nature," I am not sure whether I am more surprised or depressed by all of the positive, swelling reviews of this poorly written, terribly irrational and profoundly dishonest book. References to Jensen's courage are sprinkled generously throughout these reviews but having slogged through this book, I would say the author is more narcissistic than courageous, more self-absorbed than profound.

From the first page on, the writing resembles the efforts of the average high school sophomore's early attempts at profundity. On the one hand, page after page of "matter-of-fact" assertions about what is wrong with nearly everyone and everything except Jensen himself are linked by spurts of polemical rant that are simply under-documented or, worse still, totally undocumented. Jensen writes with the sloppy hyperbole and loosely formed metaphor of one who is eager to fill pages. Confirming my suspicion that Jensen is aiming for a "big book" is the endlessly repetitive quality of the events narrated: no event in his life bears telling only once. The resulting text is one of the most poorly written books I have ever forced myself to read. (Some here have claimed this book was the best they have ever read, I personally can't imagine such a dire reading list.)

To defend himself against the obvious charge that his basic arguments are unscientific, irrational and purely anecdotal, Jensen attacks Cartesian philosophy early in his book, making of it a rather flimsy structure and then pompously knocking down the over-simplified Descartes he himself has created. Quoting (without references)someone who may or may not be Descartes, Jensen points out that the philosopher held many of the horrible world views of his day (racism, sexism, anti-Semitism) as if Descartes' philosophical insights are simply invalid because he does not meet the benchmarks of contemporary cultural values some 300 plus years later. Ditto Jensen's dismissal of science and the scientific method. Roughly put, Jensen argues that scientists torture animals and have created terrible and destructive forces, like atomic weapons, therefore the argument that something ought to be demonstrably reproducible and confirmable is just part of the whole evil and silencing system and need not be brought to bear on his own assertions about life, the planet, etc.

One painfully obvious example is the "conversation" Jensen has with the coyotes eating his poultry and the "conversations" he has with the poultry itself asking their permission to kill and eat them. Jensen is convinced, based on his observations, that when he politely asks the coyotes to stop eating his birds in exchange for bird parts he will give them that they hear him and act according to his wishes. He does not consider any other possible explanation for the animals' behavior; they are not agents of their own lives but rather puppets in a world of his creating in which he has the god-like ability to convey his desires to other species and they, apparently conversant in English, obey. Similarly, Jensen threatens his drakes by saying whichever one next sexually assaults a female will be slaughtered. Again, the ducks understand and one "chooses" to be his dinner.
No need to establish any evidence that such communication happens, just interpret events as they suit your world view and they are so. Oddly, it never seems to occur to Jensen that perhaps the coyotes have communicated with the ducks too, receiving as Jensen does, the ducks' permission to eat them.

This raises the question of Jensen's honesty. Throughout the book he asserts that the stars, the coyotes, trees, his dogs and bees have spoken with him. They are intimately aware of his needs and change their behavior to meet them. And so it goes, it turns out that it is OK for Jensen to eat meat because he bought the chicks he raises to "meathood" and they belong to him, and what's more they gave him permission. But didn't slaves "belong" to their masters, didn't wives 'belong" to their husbands, and children to their parents? No need to answer these or any questions, because Jensen is not interested in a verifiable truth, just in the Truth as he creates it to justify his own actions and condemn the same behaviors in others.

Like the biblical god he emulates, Jensen holds jealous sway over the world he rules, broaching no interlopers or false gods (science, reason, other points of view, his neighbor's home) and swaying wildly between a message of love (with caveats) and a wrathful and destructive impulse to punish the unworthy and the sinful. And, as with proof of god, there seems to be no human or natural event that cannot be ruthlessly twisted to support Jensen's arguments. The list of his evidence is long: the holocaust, African bondage in the Americas, genocide in Rwanda and of Native peoples, extinction of species, rape, child murder, racism, sexism, homophobia and even Jensen's own sexual abuse at the hands of his father. The list goes on and on, but rather than actually analyze any of these events trying to get to understanding through contextualization, Jensen proffers a "you're either with me or with my father who raped me" argument. Believe on him or burn in eternal hell fires.

Clearly from the reviews here, Jensen has many followers (they refer to him by his first name, even in these reviews) but I remain firmly committed to rational discourse and evidentiary argument. But don't just take my word for it, my oregano plant hated this book and the starlings in the tree outside can't stop telling me how awful it truly, truly is.

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