Monday, January 5, 2009

Wendell Berry

Some Further Words
by Wendell Berry

Let me be plain with you, dear reader.
I am an old-fashioned man.
I like the world of nature despite its mortal dangers. I like the domestic world of humans, so long as it pays its debts to the natural world, and keeps its bounds.
I like the promise of Heaven.
My purpose is a language that can repay just thanks and honor for those gifts, a tongue set free from fashionable lies.

Neither this world nor any of its places is an "environment."
And a house for sale is not a "home."
Economics is not "science," nor "information" knowledge.
A knave with a degree is a knave.
A fool in a public office is not a "leader.
A rich thief is a thief.
And the ghost of Arthur Moore, who taught me Chaucer, returns in the night to say again:
"Let me tell you something, boy.
An intellectual whore is a whore."

The world is babbled to pieces after the divorce of things from their names.

Ceaseless preparation for war is not peace.

Health is not procured by sale of medication, or purity by the addition of poison.
Science at the bidding of the corporations is knowledge reduced to merchandise; it is a whoredom of the mind, and so is the art that calls this "progress."
So is the cowardice that calls it "inevitable."

I think the issues of "identity" mostly are poppycock. We are what we have done, which includes our promises, includes our hopes, but promises first.
I know a "fetus" is a human child. I loved my children from the time they were conceived, having loved their mother, who loved them from the time they were conceived and before. Who are we to say the world did not begin in love?
I would like to die in love as I was born, and as myself of life impoverished go into the love all flesh begins and ends in. I don't like machines, which are neither mortal nor immortal, though I am constrained to use them.(Thus the age perfects its clench.)

Some day they will be gone, and that will be a glad and a holy day.

I mean the dire machines that run by burning the world's body and its breath.
When I see an airplane fuming through the once-pure sky or a vehicle of the outer space with its little inner space imitating a star at night, I say, "Get out of there!" as I would speak to a fox or a thief in the henhouse.

When I hear the stock market has fallen, I say, "Long live gravity! Long live stupidity, error, and greed in the palaces of fantasy capitalism!"

I thinkan economy should be based on thrift, on taking care of things, not on theft, usury, seduction, waste, and ruin.

My purpose is a language that can make us whole, though mortal, ignorant, and small.
The world is whole beyond human knowing.
The body's life is its own, untouched by the little clockwork of explanation.
I approve of death, when it comes in time to the old. I don't want to live on mortal terms forever, or survive an hour as a cooling stew of pieces of other people.
I don't believe that life or knowledge can be given by machines.
The machine economy has set afire the household of the human soul, and all the creatures are burning within it.

"Intellectual property" names the deed by which the mind is bought and sold, the world enslaved.
We who do not own ourselves, being free, own by theft what belongs to God, to the living world, and equally to us all.
Or how can we own a part of what we only can possess entirely?
Life is a gift we have only by giving it back again.

Let us agree: "the laborer is worthy of his hire," but he cannot own what he knows, which must be freely told, or labor dies with the laborer.
The farmer is worthy of the harvest made in time, but he must leave the light by which he planted, grew, and reaped, the seed immortal in mortality, freely to the time to come.
The land too he keeps by giving it up, as the thinker receives and gives a thought, as the singer sings in the common air.

I don't believe that "scientific genius" in its naive assertions of power is equal either to nature or to human culture.
Its thoughtless invasions of the nuclei of atoms and cells and this world's every habitation have not brought us to the light but sent us wandering farther through the dark.

Nor do I believe "artistic genius" is the possession of any artist. No one has made the art by which one makes the works of art.
Each one who speaks speaks as a convocation.
We live as councils of ghosts.
It is not "human genius" that makes us human, but an old love, an old intelligence of the heart we gather to us from the world, from the creatures, from the angels of inspiration, from the dead -- an intelligence merely nonexistent to those who do not have it, but -- to those who have it more dear than life.

And just as tenderly to be known are the affections that make a woman and a man their household and their homeland one. These too, though known, cannot be told to those who do not know them, and fewer of us learn them, year by year.
These affections are leaving the world like the colors of extinct birds, like the songs of a dead language.

Think of the genius of the animals, every one truly what it is: gnat, fox, minnow, swallow, each made of light and luminous within itself.
They know (better than we do) how to live in the places where they live.

And so I would like to be a true human being, dear reader - a choice not altogether possible now.

But this is what I'm for, the side I'm on.

And this is what you should expect of me, as I expect it of myself, though for realization we may wait a thousand or a million years.

May-August, 2001 Berry, Wendell. "Some Further Words." American Poetry Review May/Jun 2002

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