Thursday, May 10, 2012

Wendell Berry's Imagined World

Here are some of my favorite paragraphs in the very good article by James Schall on Wendell Berry.

The stark localism of Berry is very attractive in many ways. He wants to get us out of the cities and back to the land, to know our neighbor. He wants us to preserve the land and in the process of preserving ourselves and our planet. It is a majestic vision, no doubt. Yet, man is a city living being. The exodus from the land was not merely a plot against mankind but rather a fulfillment of man and the city in which the higher things could take place. It is not that great and human things do not take place in the economic order, but that they are not enough, do not speak what man is. Berry himself, after all, is also a college professor. Scenes of him with his horses and plough are striking, but so are those of his being given a medal by the president. Without the city, he could not speak.

Yes: were the guys who invented your microphone and started your publishing company "boomers" or "stickers"?

The Jefferson lecture has many moving passages. But it somehow struck me as a kind of ecological utopianism. It promotes a world of villages. Berry wants to put us all to work. He seems to reverse Pieper’s notion that we work in order to have leisure. The lives of his characters are honorable and deeply sensitive, no doubt of it. His grandfather, he tells us, took but one trip in his life, to Tennessee, and didn’t see much there that would want to make him leave again. Ever since I read William Cobbett, I have realized that we can achieve our salvation even if we never leave home. If Berry does anything, he makes us nostalgic for our homes. To what extent we are also “restless” at home is not always clear. The Jefferson Lecture re-domesticates us. Still, it does not seem like a lasting city, let alone a lasting farm, even when we live there all our lives and care for the land and animals.

You thought the story of the city mouse and the country mouse was basically a parable about how there is no lasting city on earth, and although where you live may be bad, there are many other worse places. But you have no idea how fascistic a country mouse could be before you listen to Wendell Berry. In Berry's parable, the country mouse returns home, repents of his trip, then scolds the city mouse for preferring his urban residence.

“And so I am nominating economy for an equal sanding among the arts and humanities. I mean, not economics, but economy, the making of the human household upon the earth.” Berry, I am sure, would not disagree with the famous phrase, “We have here no lasting city.” But the Jefferson Lecture does leave me perplexed about the admonition “Increase, multiply, and subdue the earth.” I had always supposed that this passage encouraged us to use our minds and hands so that we could accomplish these purposes. The Jefferson Lecture seems to oppose our minds to our affections, the city to the economy. One suspects that we would be better off if we could harmonize the two instead of pitting them against each other.

Emphasis mine. The imagined world of Wendell Berry is no less silly than the one "imagined" by John Lennon, it just has more tillable land, furry animals, and maybe a few Indian tribes running around killing each other. Berry is a user of the land and a user of resources just like everybody else he criticizes. The fact that he may use a little bit less than others is ultimately a matter of taste and not morality. I don't care what he does with his life, but he seems to care a lot what others do with theirs and has developed his own Sharia-like law based on his preferences. Continuing to pay serious attention to him as a thinker because a few of his quips are quotable and insightful is a dubious practice which can be applied to moral idiots such as Mao Tse-Tung, Muhammad Ali and the aforementioned Mr. Lennon, although I am reminded that the line "I believe in yesterday" was penned solely by Mr. McCartney.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

I'm smiling with you...

...and yes, I'm smiling at you.