Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wendell Berry, Port Royal, KY

I've paused a bit on Mr. Berry's fiction and gone back to essays recently. One that I read today was particularly impactful, and I felt an urge to share a few paragraphs. Pardon any copyright issue here... If WB had his say, he wouldn't fault me for sharing the words without his permission, as he has said openly that not he nor anyone can own words or art. He would however, take issue with the use of the computer to share the text (he writes all his work on a 1956 Royal Standard typewriter - more than 40 books have passed through that man-powered machine).

Here he picks up this oft used expression of "governing least" and endorses it... but pushes a little further to discuss what is expected and required of individuals who wish to live in a little-governed society: responsibility. This general concept is thrown around a lot, and I hear it attached to Jefferson and other founding fathers. You have to think that they meant what Berry says here... they would indeed be disappointed to hear their concept of small government simplified and bastardized into a catch phrase used by people who basically think they should be free to do what they want regardless of consquences to the greater community.


Good piece here, on "an ethic that can be clarified in a column of figures."


Great writing here on the fact that in our age, "what were once private acts become public."


Community, defined:


And this is what really got me... a discussion of an ideal community. Something that I've not had the opportunity to even lose or walk away from, because I've never been part of one. I'm not sure if anyone is part of one today (here he is referencing rural farming communities of days gone by).

This is what marks a good author I think - a voice for The People. Someone who says what you want to say, better than you could ever say it. When you complete a paragraph or an essay and you think Yes - this is it - he has hit it dead on center, or you find that you have teared up on a public transport because the text rings so true.

Anyway - back to the content below. I believe that people want to be part of communities. We don't want to be close in vicinity only... specialists going about our daily lives and tracking our numbers and driving our cars. Good God, who would voluntarily and purposefully take on a life like that? We're bound to a system though - bound by fear and a lack of confidence. We're on a big, industrial train going forward... and folks are afraid to jump off.


These excerpts are from an essay called The Loss of the Future. I've noted that the book that includes it - The Long Legged House - is available at Hamilton Bookseller for a bargain price of $4.95 (down from $14.00). You can also view the Google Book here.

Give it a read. Crushingly good. Mr. Berry is a superb author, and he is best at showing us how we ought to conduct ourselves.

12 Comments:

Blogger Jean-Paul Lipton said...

amazing how much of his writings still hold true through today. Timeless.

12:04 AM  
Blogger Wendy Berrell said...

The Loss of the Future...

The big question, that plagues me: "Are we screwed, or not?"

Yes, no, yes, yes, no... I just don't know man. If I knew, I'd be master.

2:36 PM  
OpenID Cutthroat Stalker (Scott) said...

Wendy,

Wendell knows his stuff! I've always been a big fan, but haven't read this particular book yet. Thanks for the excerpts.

It's interesting what he writes here because this is a very close description of the community I'm very lucky to live in. We have a fairly low population density (~700 people/sq mile) with a total of 1000 people living in the city limits. I know the names of all of my neighbors within several blocks (I've only lived here two years, but my wife, who grew up here, probably knows the names of 80% of the people living here).

There is low turn over. There are few rental properties. There are doctors, dentists, teachers, lawyers, farmers, carpenters, plumbers, engineers, international bankers, etc. living here. Smallest lot size for a house is 5/8 acre. Almost every block (10 acres in size) has some form of livestock living there: chickens, horses, cows, goats, etc.

My neighbors help plow my driveway and I help shovel their walks. They give me advice on how to fix my plumbing, I help them with their internet connection. Charity here is definitely personal. A single mother receives free babysitting, help with her car, groceries when she needs them, etc. And she in turn organized a "free shopping day" just before Christmas (she asked members of the community to donate new and gently used items and then on the appointed day she opened the "store" so other needy members of the community could "shop" (free) for Christmas).

They have a summer softball league where lots of folks show up in the town square to visit and get a burger at the refreshment stand. All the young girls in town participate in the yearly May Day celebration that has run (nearly uninterrupted) for 146 years.

Children grow up, go to college, move away, then move back with their own families.

As with many communities that started as a farming community, some of the farmers are selling land to developers and small subdivisions are being built. This is beginning to change the dynamics of the community. But luckily, it has been slow, so the new members of the community are brought into and absorbed by the community, the community does get transformed into something else.

But not every community is so lucky. Are we screwed? Huge chunks of America are. Small pockets of resistance are holding on though.

Anyhow, thanks for the read and time to reflect on what a great place I live. And how unfortunate it is that not everyone gets to experience it.

Sorry to take such a huge chunk of real estate on your page.

- scott c

3:29 PM  
Blogger Wendy Berrell said...

No need to apologize for taking some space - good way to use it is with the words you put in it.

You describe quite a community. Why do you think it is what it is today?

I've been thinking about this a lot. I want to be a better community member. However, many of the "community" things a guy can think of seem a bit contrived... and/or gimicky. Not long-lasting. This is because we don't WORK together. We simply live together. We're a bunch of specialists who are close in vicinity, but that's about it. If we worked together, we'd know that one week we're in my field, and the next week we're in yours, etc. You can't create that bond without the work being there to cement it.

It seems you've come to an intermediate situation that allows for a sort of bond - beyond what most places have but probably still a bit short of the ideal that Berry holds up as sacred.

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