The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Tag Wendell Berry

The Berry blogger's dilemma

There is something slightly embarrassing for those readers of Wendell Berry who first discovered his work on the internet. I myself fit in to this category. It is a sure sign of being a Berry neophyte (note the agricultural metaphor), since someone who is initiated to his thought would know better than to approach his work through an electronic medium.

The reason for this is twofold. First, Berry himself has chosen not to use computers. He rejects the premise that computers increase the quality of writing. I believe that we can infer that his opinion of the internet and blogging would fare no better than the technology upon which they are based. There is something supremely ironic about reading about a man's case against the computer on the internet.

A second reason can be derived from Berry's thoughts on energy. Berry is a conservationist. He does not seem to mind, however, writing and purchasing works printed on the remains of trees. As an important conveyor of our culture (which he values quite highly), books are a worthy expenditure of natural resources. Another factor in favor of printed books as a medium is that they are durable. That is, one book, if cared for and shared liberally, might spread its value to many people over many years. I suspect that a calf-skin codex would be even better in Berry's estimation, since it could even last 1,600 years and bless millions. The internet as a storage medium is quite the opposite of books with respect to energy. A Wendell Berry article is in no way durable when conveyed electronically. Information online is ephemeral. Rather than requiring a fixed amount of resources at production like a book, an online article requires electricity each time it is accessed, even if by the same individual. This electricity is typically generated in an unsustainable and polluting manner (both are anathema to Berry).

Therefore I must come to the uncomfortable conclusion that Berry himself might condemn the reading of his articles online. I would hazard to guess that he is blissfully ignorant, however. So this is my formulation of the Berry bloggers' dilemma: to blog about Wendell Berry is to contradict his writings. Indeed, if I myself become a full-fledged adherent of Berry's thought, I would have no choice but to quit blogging and disconnect from the internet entirely. The internet is a terrible example of an increasing volume of decreasingly useful information being disseminated to an increasingly large audience, all at the expense of non-renewable energy. So if I one day disappear completely from the internet, blame first Wendell Berry.