History

Author Quotes: Wendell Berry On Paths And Roads


“The difference between a path and a road is not only the obvious one. A path is little more than a habit that comes with knowledge of a place. It is a sort of ritual of familiarity. As a form, it is a form of contact with a known landscape. It is not destructive. It is the perfect adaptation, through experience and familiarity, of movement to place; it obeys the natural contours; such obstacles as it meets it goes around. A road, on the other hand, even the most primitive road, embodies a resistance against the landscape. Its reason is not simply the necessity for movement, but haste. Its wish is to avoid contact with the landscape; it seeks so far as possible to go over the country, rather than through it; its aspiration, as we see clearly in the example of our modern freeways, is to be a bridge; its tendency is to translate place into space in order to traverse it with the least effort. It is destructive, seeking to remove or destroy all obstacles in its way. The primitive road advanced by the destruction of the forest; modern roads advance by the destruction of topography.

That first road from the site of New Castle to the mouth of the Kentucky River–lost now by obsolescence or metamorphosis–is now being crossed and to some extent replaced by its modern decendant known as I-71, and I have no wish to disturb the question of whether or not this road was needed. I only want to observe that it bears no relation whatever to the country it passes through. It is a pure abstraction, built to serve the two abstractions that are the poles of our national life: commerce and expensive pleasure. It was built, not according to the lay of the land, but according to a blueprint. Such homes and farmland and woodlands as happened to be in its way are now buried under it. A part of a hill near here that would have caused it to turn aside was simply cut down and disposed of as thoughtlessly as the pioneer road builders would have disposed of a tree. It’s form is the form of speed, dissatisfaction, and anxiety. It represents the ultimate in engineering sophistication, but the crudest possible valuation of life in this world. It is as adequate a symbol of our relation to our country now as that first road was of our relation to it in 1797.”

– Wendell Berry, excerpt from A Native Hill
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Berry’s words are potent, but they carry an extra weight for those have grown up on I-71 and can visualize its toll on the land. It’s true that the principle remains the same anywhere, but part of his point lies in relating to the land itself, and I can picture the very landscapes he has in mind.

A Native Hill is a wonderful and expansive essay covering Berry’s own flight from and eventual enlightened return to the Kentucky hillside his forefathers had long farmed.

Congregation of Wits


This story is too wonderful not to repost. I have got to start using the word “pasquinade” more often.

Author Quotes: Wendell Berry and Our Violent Heritage


“When I lived in other places I looked on their evils with the curious eye of a traveler; I was not responsible for them; it cost me nothing to be a critic, for I had not been there long, and I did not feel that I would stay. But here, now that I am both native and citizen, there is no immunity to what is wrong. It is impossible to escape the sense that I am involved in history. What I am has been to a considerable extent determined by what my forebears were, by how they chose to treat this place while they lived in it; the lives of most of them diminished it, and limited its possibilities, and narrowed its future. And every day I am confronted by the question of what inheritance I will leave. What do I have that I am using up? For it has been our history that each generation in this place has been less welcomed to it than the last. There has been less here for them. At each arrival there has been less fertility in the soil, and a larger inheritance of destructive precedent and shameful history.

I am forever being crept up on and newly startled by the revelation that my people established themselves here by killing or driving out the original possessors, by the awareness that people were once bought and sold here by my people, by the sense of violence they have done to their own kind and to each other and to the earth, by their persistent failure to serve either the place or their own community in it. I am forced, against all my hopes and inclinations, to regard the history of my people here as the progress of the doom of what I value most in the world: the life and health of the earth, the peacefulness of human communities and households.

And so here, in the place I love more than any other and where I have chosen among all other places to live my life, I am more painfully divided within myself than I could be in any other place.”

– Wendell Berry, Excerpt from the essay “A Native Hill”
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I rediscovered this essay a few days ago and it was a welcome comfort to read the same sentiments I have been wrestling with spoken of with the characteristically gentle articulation that Wendell Berry brings to all his writings.

I am a great lover of nature and physical spaces. While I have long been considering the tragedies we commit against nature agriculturally and ecologically, I have been realizing in a shocking new way that every physical place is stained with the blood of the innocent. Perhaps “realizing” isn’t the correct word. I’ve known it long, but it is beginning to violently discourage me.

My heart has been heavy with the immensity of human suffering in every corner of this beautiful planet. Not just human suffering, but oppression at the hands of other men. Human history is a series of violent oppressions, revolutions, exterminations, and slaveries. Men fight each other as tribes until they are stolen away to become generations of slaves in a foreign land, a land itself obtained by the routing and eradication of the native children by those who arrived there themselves under force of oppression. It’s almost too much to bear, and at this point the gravity of it makes me despair regardless of the beauty of the greatest landscapes.

Berry goes on to sight further historic references and propose that it is our disconnection from identifying with a multi-generational history and a detachment to our physical land that leads us to consume without question and thus builds over generations a willingness toward violence.

I can see the correlation.

Read A Native Hill here.

55 Classics Review #3 – “Brothers And Friends: An Intimate Portrait Of C.S. Lewis” by Major Warren Hamilton Lewis


Upon reflection it seems a very gracious decision for The Classics Club to allow me to include my 55 list among the ranks. This book in particular is, beyond any stretch of the imagination, definitely not a classic. There is simply no way to spin it as such. It is the diary of a mostly obscure man who was the brother of a famous author. It is really a very great read, but it is more a specialty reading for certain enthusiasts.

Warren Lewis and his brother “Jack” (C.S. Lewis lifelong nickname) were inseparably close. They purchased a house together when they were in their 30’s and spent the rest of their lives under the same roof. While Jack was undoubtedly a devoted brother, it seems that Warren was far more attached to Jack as the only person he really felt he had maintained a deep connection with throughout his life.

The book is broken into 3 oddly-timed, untitled sections, but I would break it into 4 chapters based on the various lifestyles and tones portrayed in seasons.

Early Adulthood – Warren stayed in the army after WWI as a career soldier. He did not enjoy army life but felt it would be an easy way to retire as an early pensioner, which he did before his 38th birthday. The first section of the book covers his tours of duty in China, weekend visits to the home called the Kilns which he was already jointly purchasing with Jack and the old Mrs. Moore (Minto, as they called her, was the mother of Jack’s dead WWI brother-in-arms, Paddy Moore) in Oxford, and general army life.
Pre-WWII Retirement – From the end of 1932 to the start of World War II probably marked the highlight of W.H. Lewis’ lifetime. He had retired young, moved into the Kilns with Jack, was able to start taking annual “walking tours” with his brother, and was not yet plagued by alcoholic tendencies. He found delightful ways to keep himself busy both at home in Oxford and in frequent and long holidays. He owned a river boat, which he lived on for seasons at a time. At this time all his earlier plans had come together.
Post WWII – Lewis was called back to duty during the Second World War. He did not see combat but was promoted to the rank of Major. He stopped writing in his journal for the majority of the war and there are a number of subtle differences in the way he writes afterward. He frequently makes discouraged remarks about food rationing, destruction, and rebuilding efforts. He begins to really loath the housing situation at the Kilns. While he expresses constant dissatisfaction about his and Jack’s home life with Minto, the group of friends known as the Inklings really flourishes in this era. In these days he begins to have a very serious and sometimes de-habilitating alcohol problem.
Post Minto – The brothers lived with Mrs. Moore for nearly 40 years and while everyone else seemed to universally acknowledge that she was a singularly unfair sapping and discomforting force in Jack’s life, he seems never to have complained or swayed in his devotion. They endured domestic horrors that taught Warren to stay away for months at a time. By the time she passed the brothers were getting to be old men themselves and the post-Minto years are marked by C.S. Lewis’ short and painful marriage to Joy Gresham Lewis and by general decay. This section is defined by the sicknesses and deaths of many friends and eventually Jack himself, whom Warren feared outliving his entire life. He lives beyond his younger brother by nearly a decade, and his loneliness without him is highlighted by his entries about technological modernizations, spiritual shortcomings, and thoughts on his own weakening and coming death.

I would really highly recommend this book to a few certain groups of people.

The title itself is misleading because huge portions of the entries have nothing to do with Jack Lewis. It is much more of an honest insight into the mind of his brother regarding all aspects of his own life. That being said, it is still one of the best texts I have read for intimate thoughts on C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings in general. Any scholar can write a thousand pages on a man’s life and a group’s dynamics, but to have one from among them providing a small collection of situational anicdotes and circumstantial ponderings on the men themselves is far more revealing as to their personalities. Anyone who enjoys their works will probably find this a worthy endeavor.

I would also recommend this book to fiction lovers, war history buffs and Anglophiles. The book is full throughout of W.H. Lewis’ thoughts and mini-reviews of the books he was reading (constantly and voraciously) and descriptions of wonderful places he has been visiting in China, both U.S. coasts, Scotland, England, Ireland, and his own back garden. The man loved books (reading and re-reading everything from Homer and Wordsworth to Dorothy Sayers), walking, and the seaside, and his descriptions of landscapes in both wonderful and rough weather can be quite poetic. As I mentioned before, his general attitudes and thoughts here and there give the reader a very interesting and unique insight into the life of a middle class, British man whose adulthood was forged by WWI and rocked to its core by WWII. These things obviously are peripheral, but they are some of the most consistent material throughout.

Overall, this book does provide a thoroughly unexplored side of C.S. Lewis’ life, but, to a greater extent, it displays the admirably honest reflections of a man growing, sometimes poorly, in a world in total upheaval. It ends in gradual and extensive loneliness and decay, perhaps not easy reading for the faint-of-heart.

I have summarized a couple of the most fascinating entries here:

What the Lewis’ bros. knew about Hitler’s Nazi Germany and when they knew it.

What is most likely the first review of The Lord Of The Rings ever written.

“What is your favorite ‘classic’ literary period and why?”


Over at The Classic’s Club they like to publish a “Monthly Meme”, a monthly blogging prompt question for the member to participate in. This months question is

“What is your favorite ‘classic’ literary period and why?”

I’ll provide my answer and ask you guys to feel free to do the same!

If you’ve been reading this blog then you know that I like to play fast and loose with terms like “classic”. Maurice Sendak is classic, Orson Scott Card is classic, Neil Gaiman is classic. In the same way I’m gonna bend the rules in defining my idea of a “literary period” as well. I ask for immense grace on the part of the reader.

I’m not really a fan of any one particular genre or period in which great work has been done; my tastes span just about every style from every time period. However, if I had to choose one time period as being great for the arts, I would choose 1914 to 1945. That is to say, the time frame from the beginning of The Great War to the end of World War II.

It is a hard truth to swallow, but war encourages good art. War encouraged better politics, better philosophy, better religion, and better culture. Are these worth the price? They probably never could be, but for some reason we need war to sharpen our ideas into feasible, real-world scenarios. I use the word “need” here not as an absolute belief but based on cyclical, historic evidence.

War takes the extreme ideals of young men and forces upon them (and everyone else) the costs and consequences of those ideas. Throughout history cultures have come to radical political and philosophical conclusions and have seen them tested in action through various political upheavals. A world-wide war has the unique sobering effect of drastically changing and solidifying the most earnest opinions at the very heart of every man. The World Wars and the time between them were an era of intense and costly trial and error, a time when every man and women, whether identified now as aggressor, defender, or victim, was drastically solidified in a frame of mind that would haunt or direct the remainder of his or her earthly experience. Grandiose philosophical and political ideals would eventually be pulverized into crippling fear, stunning bravery, blinding hatred, and inspiring forgiveness and understanding. All of the destruction wreaked resulted very clearly in artistic revolutions of all kinds.

Concerning World War I, I think literarally of D.H. Lawrence, W. Somerset Maugham, Fitzgerald, Hemmingway, and T.S. Eliot among dozens of others. These are not necessarily known for war literature, but war imposed itself upon and transformed all in their craft. I consider C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien, destined to be friends as both fought through some of the most bloody and unsurvivable experiences of The Great War. Both lost most of their dearest friends, and even their more whimsical works are depicted with the sobriety of a man who has wrestled with war first-hand.

I consider the upheaved, unsettled time between the wars and the seemingly unavoidable onset of the Second World War. Another generation of men and women are rocked to their very cores, including Lee, Capote, Salinger, Vonnegut, Wouk, Mailer, and Lois Lowry among an entire generation in transition. Most rebelled against society at large, unable to cope with the unforeseen impacts that continue to ripple through culture today.

I especially think of the story of Ernest Hemmingway, already a revered author and now a war correspondent, meeting for drinks with a then-undiscovered J.D. Salinger, in a little house near the frontline in the midst of WWII. Young Salinger had carried a rough draft of the first six chapters of what would become The Catcher In The Rye stuffed in his jacket since before he landed on the beaches on D-Day and he had somehow found time to write and submit short stories to magazines from on the frontline. He had already built up a bit of a reputation with Hemmingway, and they spent a hearty evening together, drinking wine through the cold winter night and discussing the quality of Salinger’s work and literature in general. Before dawn they separated once more, and from what we know had very little interaction thereafter. Eventually, the elder would turn into a severe alcoholic before committing suicide, while the younger would seek solace in mystic religion and half a century of extreme reclusion.

While it can feel trite to explore the literary implications of the most destructive periods in world history, our art has more to say than anything else when we look to see how the minds of men are molded by these terrors. The lives of these artists, perhaps more so than their art at times, display the coping of humanity with unspeakable confusion. Some we find doubly moored to the foundations they already claimed, other finding some source of respite in the aftermath. So many others we find spiraling without answer, creating in the constant wake of the thousand-yard stare.