The Way of Ignorance and Other Essays by Wendell Berry

by Bufkinite@evpl on Sunday, April 26 2009, 3:19pm. Viewed 727 times.

Book jacket art: The Way of IgnoranceWendell Berry is by now surely the “elder statesman” of living responsibly in a sustainable fashion, with strong local allegiances to a place in every sense of the word: the local ecology, culture, community, and people.  He seems to be aware of the fact that, if not a statesman, he certainly qualifies as “elder,” being now well into his seventy-fourth year, and he frequently mentions his elderly status in passing in these essays:

"I know well that I am hardly the first aging man to look back on his youth as 'a better time,' and perhaps I am sufficiently aware of the dangers.  It is true nevertheless that in my lifetime I have witnessed a lot of destruction.  And I can’t say that I believe this destruction has been compensated by any of the gains we designate as 'progress.'"

He also honors his elderly status in a way he hasn’t in his previous 16 books of essays: the third and final section of this book gives the stage to two younger writers in the same agrarian and communitarian vein: Daniel Kemmis and Courtney White.

Berry's writing continues to develop its plainsong character, saying what he thinks clearly in words so carefully chosen that he makes it look easy.  It is nothing short of astounding that he can put such deep thought into such straightforward language. Here's a two-sentence example:

"We have to have a sort of pity for the CEO of a polluting corporation who desires wealth, healthy children, and a vacation in the restorative purity of nature.  And surely we have to extend the same pity to those who are sure that 'it takes a village to raise a child' but forget that it takes a local culture and a local economy to raise a village."

Moreover, the brevity he began to develop in essays that appeared in Home Economics (an out-of-print gem which EVPL unfortunately does not have) has matured as well.  The essay “Contempt for Small Places” runs less than two pages, and “Rugged Individualism,” and “We Have Begun,” both run less than three pages.

You would be mistaken to the point of foolishness however, if you assumed that he wasn’t saying very much. The book is divided into three sections, which I think of loosely as “essays about the political situation,” “essays about the cultural situation,” and “essays about how we bring the two into harmony.”

Highly, highly recommended.

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