Saturday, 13 March 2010
Wendell Berry on Contrarianism
I am done with apologies. If contrariness is my
inheritance and destiny, so be it. If it is my mission
to go in at exits and come out at entrances, so be it.
I have planted by the stars in defiance of the experts,
and tilled somewhat by incantation and by singing,
and reaped, as I knew, by luck and Heaven's favor,
in spite of the best advice. If I have been caught
so often laughing at funerals, that was because
I knew the dead were already slipping away,
preparing for a comeback, and can I help it?
And if at weddings I have gritted and gnashed
my teeth, it was because I knew where the bridegroom
had sunk his manhood, and knew it would not
be resurrected by a piece of cake. "Dance" they told me
and I stood still, and while they stood
quiet in line at the gate of the Kingdom, I danced.
"Pray" they said, and I laughed, covering myself
in the earth's brightnesses, and then stole off gray
into the midst of a revel, and prayed like an orphan.
When they said "I know that my Redeemer liveth,"
I told them "He's dead." And when they told me
"God is dead," I answered "He goes fishing every day
in the Kentucky River. I see Him often."
When they asked me would I like to contribute
I said no, and when they had collected
more than they needed, I gave them as much as I had.
When they asked me to join them I wouldn't
and then went off by myself and did more
than they would have asked. "Well, then" they said
"go and organize the International Brotherhood
of Contraries," I said "Did you finish killing
everybody who was against peace?" So be it.
Going against men, I have heard at times a deep harmony
thrumming in the mixture, and when they ask me what
I say I don't know. It is not the only or the easiest
way to come to the truth. It is one way.
Wendell Berry, The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer, The Mad Farmer Poems
[HT The Ochlophobist (http://ochlophobist.blogspot.com/)]
Since moving and unpacking my books I realise that I have misplaced my copy of Wendell Berry's The Art of the Commonplace, which loss is causing me no small amount of consternation. For those unfamiliar with Berry, he is an American farmer, from Kentucky in fact, Henry County to be specific, who also happens to be a poet, a prolific and well-regarded novelist (Jayber Crow, Hannah Coulter et al), essayist and sometime philosopher and apologist for all things agrarian ...as well as being a full-time contrarian (i.e., one who takes a view or action contrary to the majority of his contemporaries.)
Contrarians, who are by definition rare, are precious; we need more of them in the world (if that makes sense!). Some folk think contrarians are contrary just for the sake of it, whereas in actual fact they are more often than not contending for an important, life or death principle or truth that others have long since lost sight of. Without contrarians, the world would be even more dangerous and out of kilter than it is, for, as Kierkegaard, another contrarian, once noted: truth seldom resides in a majority.
As the pic of Mr. Berry shows, contrarians are not necessarily grumpy souls, but often as cheerful as those who are under the delusion that they are right simply because most everyone else thinks the same way they do. I ask you, how could you not like a man who wears a cardigan with such stylish aplomb?