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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What I underlined: Berry, The Unsettling of America, chapter 7 edition

I don't care if I bore others with this stuff, it makes me happy. Now then:

It is hardly surprising, then, that there should be some profound resemblances between our treatment of our bodies and our treatment of the earth.

And yet these works that so magnify us also dwarf us, reduce s to insignificance. They magnify us because we are capable of them. The diminish us because, say what we will, once we build beyond a human scale, once we conceive ourselves as Titans or as gods, we are lost in magnitude; we cannot control or limit what we do.

[Berry quoting a letter he received] "Healing, it seems to me, is a necessary and useful word when we talk about agriculture. ... The theme of suicide belongs in a book about agriculture ..."

By health, in other words, we mean merely the absence of disease. ... But the concept of health is rooted in the concept of wholeness. ... But how can it be whole and yet be dependent, as it obviously is, upon other bodies and upon the earth, upon all the rest of Creation, in fact?... Our bodies are also not distinct from the bodies of other people, on which they depend in a complexity of ways from biological to spiritual. They are not distinct from the bodies of plants and animals, with which we are involved in the cycles of feeding and in the intricate companionships of ecological systems and of the spirit. They are not distinct from the earth, the sun and moon, the the other heavenly bodies.

Persons cannot be whole alone. ... Intelectually, we know that these patterns of interdependence exist; we understand them better now perhaps than we wver have before; yet modern social and cultural patterns contradict them and make it difficult or impossible to honor them in practice.

Healing is impossible in loneliness ... To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation. ... They cut off access to the wilderness of Ceration where we must go to be reborn-- to receive the awareness, at once humbling and exhilarating, grievous and joyful, that we are a part of Creation, one with all that we live from and all that, in turn, lives from us. They destroy the communal rites of passage that turn us toward the wilderness and bring us home again.

At some point we began to assume that the life of the body would be the business of grocers and medical doctors, who need take no interest in the spirit, whereas the life of the spirit would be the business of churches, which would have at best only a negative interest in the body.

The isolation of the body sets it into direct conflict with everything else in Creation. It gives it a value that is destructive of every other value. That this has happened is paradoxical, for the body was set apart from the soul in order that the soul should triumph over the body.

You cannot devalue the body and value the soul-- or value anything else. ... Relationships with all other creatures become competitive and exploitive rather than collaborative and convivial.

By dividing body and soul, we divide both from all else. We thus condemn ourselves to a loneliness for which the only compensation is violence-- against other creatures, against the earth, against ourselves.

After the games and idle flourishes of modern youth, we use them only as shipping cartons to transport our brains and our few employable muscles back and forth to work.
As for our spirits, they seem more and more to comfort themselves by buying things.

what is the burden of the Bible if not a sense of the mutuality of influence, rising out of an essential unity, among soul and body and community and world? These are all the works of God, and it is therefore the work of virtue to make or restore harmony among them. ... The Bible's aim, as I read it, is not the freeing of the spirit from the world. It is the handbook of their interaction. It says that they cannot be divided; that their mutuality, their unity, is inescapable; that they are not reconciled in division, but in harmony. What else can be meant by the resurrection of the body? The body should be "filled with light," perfected in understanding. ... We are to treat others as we would want to be treated; thought is thus barred from any easy escape into aspiration or ideal, is turned around and forced into action. The following verses from Proverbs are not very likely the original work of a philosopher-king; the are overheard from generations of agrarian grandparents whose experience taught them that spiritual qualities become earthly events

this is a network, a spiritual network, by which each part is connected to every other part.

Healing, on the other hand, complicates the system by opening and restoring connections among the various parts-- in this way restoring the ultimate simplicity of their union.

fragmentation is a disease

One's "identity" is apparently the immaterial part of one's being ... Treatment, it might be thought, would logically consisit in the restoration of these connections: the lost identity would find itself by recognizing physical landmarks, by connecting itself responsibly to practical circumstances; it would learn to stay put in the body to which it belongs and in the place to which preference or history or accident has brought it; it would, in short, find itself in finding its work.

There is, in practice, no such thing as autonomy.

The result is another absurd pseudo-ritual, "accepting one's body," which may take years or may be the distraction of a lifetime. ... she will see her own beauty only by a difficult rebellion.

The concerns of the body-- all that is comprehended in the term nurture-- are thus degraded, denied any respected place among the "higher things" and even among the more exigent practicalities.
The first sexual division comes about when nurture is made the exclusive concern of women.

Thinkers do not act. ... Workers are simplified or specialized into machine parts to do the wage-work of the body, which they were initially permitted to think of as "manly" because for the most part women did not do it.

In the urban-industrial situation the confinement of these traditional tasks divided women more and more from the "important" activities of the new economy. ... This determination that nurturing should become exclusively a concern of women served to signify to both sexed that neither nurture nor womanhood was very important.

As the persons exclusively in charge of the tasks of nurture, women often came into sole charge of the household budget; they became family purchasing agents. ... Women had become customers ... The modern housewife was isolated from her husband, from her school-age children, and from other women. She was saddled with work from which much of the skill, hence much of the dignity, had been withdrawn, and which she herself was less and less able to consider important. ... Such a woman must be told-- or subtly made to understand-- that she must not be a drudge; that she must not let her work affect her looks, that she must not become "unattractive," that she must always be fresh, cheerful, young, shapely, and pretty. All her sexual and mortal fears would thus be given voice, and she would be made to reach for money.

Motivated no longer by practical needs, but by loneliness and fear, women began to identify themselves by what they bought rather than by what they did. ... All these "improvements" involved a radical simplification of mind that was bound to have complicated, and ironic, results.

The division of sexual energy from the functions of household and community that it ought both to empower and to grace is analogous to that other modern division between hunger and the earth.

The sacrament of sexual union, which in the time of the household was a communion of workmates, and afterward tried to be a lovers' paradise, has now become a kind of marketplace in which husband and wife represent each other as sexual property.

The model of economic competition proved as false to marriage as to farming. ... Sexual romance cannot bear to acknowledge the generality of instinct, whereas sexual capitalism cannot acknowledge its particularity. But sexuality appears to be both general and particular. One cannot love a particular woman, for instance, unless one loves womankind-- if not all women, at least other women. The capsule of sexual romance leaves out this generality, this generosity of instinct; it excludes Aphrodite and Dionysus. And it fails for that reason. Though sexual love can endure between the same two people for a long time, it cannot do so on the basis of this pretense of the exclusiveness of affection.

Husbands and wives become competitors necessarily, for their only freedom is to exploit each other or to escape.

The idea of fidelity is perverted beyond redemption by understanding it as a grim, literal duty enforced only by willpower. This is the "religious" insanity of making a victim of the body as a victory of the soul.

Virtue, like harmony, cannot exist alone; a virtue must lead to harmony between one creature and another. ... We heard the words "forsaking all others" repeated over and over again for so long that we lost the sense of their practical justification. They assumed the force of superstition: people came to be faithful in marriage not out of any understanding of the meaning of faith or of marriage, but out of the same fear of obscure retribution that made one careful not to break a mirror or spill the salt.

It is possible to open this issue of the practicality of fidelity by considering that the modern age was made possible by the freeing, and concurrently by the cheapening, of energy. ... In modern times we have never been able to subject our use of energy to a sense of responsibility anywhere near complex enough to be equal to its effects.
It may be that the principle of sexual fidelity, once it is again fully understood, will provide us with as good an example as we can find of the responsible use of energy.

At the root of culture must be the realization that uncontrolled energy is disorderly-- that in nature all energies move in forms; that, therefore, in a human order energies must be given forms. ... The forsaking of all others is a keeping of faith, not just with the chosen one, but with the ones forsaken.

Another use of fidelity is to preserve the possibility of devotion against the distractions of novelty. ... But fidelity prepares us for the return of these moments, which give us the highest joy we can know: that of union, communion, atonement

To forsake all others does not mean-- because it cannot mean-- to ignore or neglect all others, to hide or be hidden from all others, or to desire or love no others. ... One cannot enact or fulfill one's love for womankind or mankind, or even for all the women or men to whom one is attracted. If one is to have the power and delight of one's sexuality, then the generality of instinct must be resolved in a responsible relationship to a particular person. ... No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it. ... the paradox that one can become whole only by the responsible acceptance of one's partiality.

One lives in marriage and in sexuality; at home and in the world. It is impossible, for instance, to conceive tha ta man could despise women and yet love his wife, or love his own place in the world and yet deal destructively with other places.

more to come...

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