Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What I'm Reading: The Hidden Wound

I've read Wendell Berry's The Hidden Wound before, and I'm positive that I'll read it again. Berry, well known for his poetry and writing about the land and the environment, tackles race in this extended essay, originally written in 1970, with an afterword added in 1988. He writes gracefully about how race and the legacy of slavery has affected our entire nation, and him personally.

He's especially interested in how slavery set up an unhealthy relationship between whites and the land and the labor associated with maintaining (and loving) the land on which we depend for our existence. This concept of the degradation of essential tasks by the wealthy and powerful, has modern political resonance in the current struggles over illegal immigration and the constant refrain that "illegals do the work that Americans won't." I'm sure that Wendell Berry has written elsewhere, and more recently, about this, but The Hidden Wound will get you thinking about it. (As well as lots of other things--it got me thinking a lot about what exactly constitutes community and the power of neighborhoods.)

Here are a few quotes that I marked:

"I am a good deal more grieved by what I am afraid will be the racism of the future than I am about that of the past. The past may to some extent be understood, and it is our obligation to do that, but it cannot be corrected. 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 toward two complementary dangers: that, to whites, ancestral guilt will seem an adequate motive; that, to blacks, ancestral bondage will seem an adequate distinction."


"The essential cultural discrimination is not between having and not having or haves and have-nots, but between the superfluous and the indespensable. Wisdom, it seems to me, is always poised upon the knowledge of minimums; it might be thought to be the art of minimums."

If I could I'd just cut and paste the whole book here, so everyone could read it. But you'll just have to get a copy for yourself.

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