Wendell Berry and the Jefferson Lecture

First, you must know that I was unable to make my trip to DC a reality.  I was sorely disappointed, but I had to admit defeat when none of the scheduling or transportation options I had been counting on worked out.  I believe in things happening organically, and this trip just wasn't happening.  Thankfully, the NEH did a live webcast of the event and then archived it for all to see.  I watched this afternoon as I was waiting on students to turn in papers, and I was - once again - blown away by Mr. Berry and his intelligent attacks on our status quo.

I made several notes as I listened, but perhaps the most powerful segment was on imagination (around minute 23 on the video).  He says,
The sense of the verb to imagine contains the full richness of the verb to see. To imagine is to see most clearly, familiarly, and understandingly with the eyes, but also to see inwardly with the mind's eye.  It is to see - not passively - but with a force of vision and even with a visionary force.  To take it seriously, we must give up at once any notion that imagination is disconnected from reality, or truth, or knowledge.  It has nothing to do either with clever imitation or with dreaming up.  I will say from my own belief and experience that imagination thrives on contact, on tangible connection.  For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world, they must imagine their places in it.  To have a place, to live and belong in a place, to live from a place without destroying it, we must imagine it.  By imagination, we see it illuminated by its own unique character and by our love for it.  By imagination, we recognize with sympathy the fellow members, human and non-human, with whom we share our place.  
This definition of imagination figures prominently in Berry's explanation of the difference between what he calls Boomers and Stickers (quoting Wallace Stegner).  Boomers are exemplified by James B. Duke, the industrialist who was willing to do whatever it took to increase his wealth and holdings.  Stickers, on the other hand, are those (like Berry, his father, and his grandfather before him) who "abide in and live from some chosen and cherished small place."  This distinction is important to me because though I certainly haven't been a Boomer in the sense Berry intends, in my adult life I've been anything but a Sticker.  Our move to our new home has been prompted, at least in part, by my desire to be a Sticker.  To do right by a piece of property, to know it intimately, to accept its flaws and improve it with affection: these are the things I hope for.  Perhaps it is too much to ask of a modest house on a modest plot of land, but I feel an urgency to be there, to abide in and live from my chosen and cherished small place.

**edited to remove video as it wouldn't stop autolaunching from the homepage.  Go here to watch the video.***

For more on Berry, see this excellent article from Mark Bittman of the NYT.


  1. Looking forward to watching it this weekend when I have some time. I love the word "abide" and the sense of abiding -- to live and belong in and to live from -- seemingly simple and yet so powerful.

  2. This sounds like a wildly informative event and I'm sorry that the transportation didn't work itself out for you. I think you would have enjoyed it even more had you been there, but it is so wonderful when events like these are videoed and archived for us to see.