Our species, the author affirms, is a “family of amnesiacs.” We have not only forgotten “the language of bodies, of body on body, wind on snow, rain on trees, wave on stone . . . dream, gesture, symbol, memory,” but we contrive to actively repress and silence it. A moment of interspecies communication, when environmental activist Derrick Jensen, told a coyote to stop killing his chicken and was listened to, put him on a new trail: Humans are not the only ones who have language. Nature herself is full of words. We merely need to learn to listen and hear.
This passionate and ruthlessly honest book comes from the author’s rich experience, and with superb skill he weaves an electric tapestry from threads of autobiographical reflection and philosophical rumination.
A Language Older Than Words is a broad-based indictment of our alienated, self-indulgent, and destructive postmodern lifestyle, which finds ever new excuses for its fundamental insanity. Jensen doesn’t mince his words or paint a pretty picture. He talks about all those things our civilization likes to avoid, as if by an unspoken consensus taboo—from war, genocide, violence, the arms race, coercive education, punitive justice, and environmental devastation to sexual abuse, death, defecation, and not least his own childhood abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father. He invites the reader to think and especially to feel along with him. In this regard, I found Jensen’s vivid descriptions of slaughtering his own meat disturbing. Yet, as a vegetarian, I must applaud him for his integrity in not buying prepackaged meat.
Jensen clearly means to provoke and shock, and still he wonders whether “the language is raw enough.” I for one think the book’s language is incredibly efficient, and the author’s fine lyrical style allows one to stay connected to his strong message, without caving in prematurely. If you care—or should I say dare?—to read this book from beginning to end, you will be deeply affected and hopefully changed by it.
This is undoubtedly one of the most powerful works I have ever read.