Delight Springs

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Wendell Berry

Birthday of poet/novelist/farmer/environmentalist Wendell Berry (1934), whose poem about a man who diligently archives his vacation but still misses it could be an allegory of life in our socially mediated, digitally translated time. WA
...preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.
Aren't we rarely "in it" these days, many of us, though constantly online, in touch, in REC mode? Framing, documenting, liking, sharing, but not fully experiencing the moments of our lives?

Or is that just Chicken Little the Luddite squeaking?

Either way, Wendell Berry is an admirable defender of authentic existence and living at first hand, in touch with the earth that sustains us. Like his friend Gary Snyder he reminds us that nature isn't just something external to our lives but is life itself. We need to be there for it. In it.

I went to Berry years ago for help assembling my thoughts on the place of hope in our affairs, in Springs of Delight.
Writer and poet Wendell Berry tautly summarizes the call to hope I find so prominent in James and Dewey: "A part of our obligation to our own being and to our descendants is to study life and our conditions, searching always for the authentic underpinnings of hope." But, he elaborates significantly, the search must center on ourselves, in our own time:
"We can do nothing for the human future that we will not do for the human present. For the amelioration of the future condition of our kind we must look, not to the wealth or the genius of the coming generations, but to the quality of the disciplines and attitudes that we are preparing now for their use . . . [T]he man who works and behaves well today need take no thought for the morrow; he has discharged today's only obligation to the morrow."

Berry goes on to illustrate but also to strain this correct emphasis on the present as preparing (and possibly sabotaging) but not simply waiting on the future. He says that disciplined attention to present needs aligns us "with natural processes, [with] no explicit or deliberate concern for the future. We do not eat, for instance, because we want to live until tomorrow, but because we are hungry today and it satisfies us to eat." In fact, both kinds of reasons—present satisfaction and continued existence—are coordinate in human action.
Maybe the best thing the eminently-quotable Berry ever said: "Be joyful because it is humanly possible." At least be present.

5:50/5:59, 75/90

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