Thursday, November 9, 2006

TWO LANDSCAPES

CITIZENSHIP PAPERS. I came across a good essay by Wendell Berry in a book I checked out of the public library last week. Citizenship Papers is a collection of essays by Berry, published in 2003 by Shoemaker & Hoard (Washington, D.C.). It includes his "Thoughts in the Presence of Fear," which I regard as the most poignant response to 9/11. These essays include references to 9/11 throughout, however, and that makes the collection quite valuable for current contemplation. Here are a few portions from the essay "Two Minds."

CULTURAL LANDSCAPE. "We live in two landscapes, one superimposed upon the other . First there is the cultural landscape made up of our own knowledge of where we are, of landmarks and memories, of patterns of use and travel, of remindings and meanings. The cultural landscape, among other things, is a pattern of exchanges of work, goods, and comforts among neighbors. It is the country we have in mind."

ACTUAL LANDSCAPE. "And then there is the actual landscape, which we can never fully know, which is always going to be to some degree a myserty, from time to time surprising us. These two landscapes are necessarily and irremediably different from each other. But there is danger in their difference; they can become too different. If the cultural landscape becomes too different from the actual landscape, then we will make practical errors that will be destructive of the actual landscape or of ourselves or of both."

DESTROYING OUR SENSE OF 'HOME.' Berry gives various examples of the destruction or reuse of actual landscapes--the arctic, deserts, strip-mining, landmarks, battlefields, historic farmlands, sacred places, etc. He asserts: "We have enormous and increasing numbers of people who have no home landscape, though in every one of their economic acts they are affecting the actual landscapes of the world, mostly for the worse. This is a situation that is unprecedentedly disorderly and dangerous."

SUPERFICIAL CULTURE. "To be disconnected from any actual landscape is to be, in the practical or economic sense, without a home. To have not country carefully and practically in mind is to be without a culture. In such a situation, culture becomes purposeless and arbitrary, dividing into 'popular culture,' determined by commerce, advertizing, and fashion, and 'high culture,' which is either social affectation, displaced cultural memory, or the merely aesthetic pursuits of artists and art lovers."

CREATING OUR OWN LOSTNESS. "We are thus involved in a kind of lostness in which most people are participating more or less unconsciously in the destruction of the natural world, which is to say, the sources of their own lives. They are doing this unconsciously because they see or do very little of the actual destruction themselves, and they don't know, because they have no way to learn, how they are involved. At the same time many of the same people fear and mourn the destruction, which they say they can't stop because they have no practical understanding of its causes."

What to do? More later...

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