Sunday, October 28, 2007

Wendell Berry's Wisdom

I'm working on a long magazine piece about reconciliation. As I've done so often over the past 20 years or so, I went to my bookshelf to consult Wendell Berry. Over the past two days I re-read The Hidden Wound, his book on racial healing and reconciliation, written when he was only 34. As always, he offers much wisdom, concisely and beautifully. Here are two samples:

"There is, I am sure, such a thing as a sense of guilt about historical wrongs, but I have the strongest doubts about the usefulness of a guilty conscience as a motivation; a man, I think can be much more dependably motivated by a sense of what would be desirable than by a sense of what has been deplorable. The historical pressures upon race relations in this country tend always to push us toward two complimentary dangers: that, to whites, ancestral guilt will seem an adequate motive; that, to blacks, ancestral bondage will seem an adequate distinction."


"It may be the most significant irony in our history that racism, by dividing the two races, has made them not separate but in a fundamental way inseparable, not independent but dependent on each other, each needing desperately to understand and make use of the experience of the other. After so much time together we are one body, and the division between us is the disease of one body, not of two. Even the white man and the black man who hate each other are, by that very token, each other's emotional dependents."

I've never understood why Wendell Berry is not better known and more widely read and discussed. Then again, simple wisdom and decency, without irony, cynicism or sentimentality, seems of little interest to the intelligentsia or the media these days.


Matt Mullenix said...

We really need to sit down and talk. :-) Better yet, take the dogs out for a spin, then talk over a beer afterwards.

Berry is a favoite of mine and accounts for a large portion of my opinion on a lot of things. I might say he accounts for "too much" except that he's right, and you can't have too much truth.

Prophet of our age is probably not too strong a phrase for Wendell Berry. I'm afraid he will not be sufficiently well known and read until long after he's dead...

Henry Chappell said...

Matt, that sounds like a heck of an idea to me. We need to figure out how to make it happen. Seriously.

Wendell Berry's work has been a huge help to me, both personally and professionally. Of course I've read about all of his non-fiction, but I've also followed the Coulters, Proudfoots, Feltners and Beechums around Port William for years. I recently added HANNAH COULTER to my book pile.

I've often thought that he would be better know had he stayed at Stanford. But thank god he went home to Kentucky.

mdmnm said...

Something more for my reading list, given these recommendations.