Doorgaan naar hoofdcontent

Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry on Solitude and Why Pride and Despair Are the Two Great Enemies of Creative Work

“True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible… In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives.”

“One can’t write directly about the soul,” Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary. Few writers have come to write about it — and to it — more directly than the novelist, poet, and environmental activist Wendell Berry, who describes himself as “a farmer of sorts and an artist of sorts.” In his wonderful and wonderfully titled essay collection What Are People For? (public library), Berry addresses with great elegance our neophilic tendenciesand why innovation for the sake of novelty sells short the true value of creative work.
Novelty-fetishism, Berry suggests, is an act of vanity that serves neither the creator nor those created for:
Works of pride, by self-called creators, with their premium on originality, reduce the Creation to novelty — the faint surprises of minds incapable of wonder.
Pursuing originality, the would-be creator works alone. In loneliness one assumes a responsibility for oneself that one cannot fulfill. 
Novelty is a new kind of loneliness.
Wendell Berry (Photograph: Guy Mendes)
Berry paints pride and despair as two sides of the same coin, both equally culpable in poisoning creative work and pushing us toward loneliness rather than toward the shared belonging that true art fosters:
There is the bad work of pride. There is also the bad work of despair — done poorly out of the failure of hope or vision. 
Despair is the too-little of responsibility, as pride is the too-much. 
The shoddy work of despair, the pointless work of pride, equally betray Creation. They are wastes of life. 
For despair there is no forgiveness, and for pride none. Who in loneliness can forgive?
Good work finds the way between pride and despair. 
It graces with health. It heals with grace. 
It preserves the given so that it remains a gift. 
By it, we lose loneliness: 
we clasp the hands of those who go before us, and the hands of those who come after us; 
we enter the little circle of each other’s arms, 
and the larger circle of lovers whose hands are joined in a dance, 
and the larger circle of all creatures, passing in and out of life, who move also in a dance, to a music so subtle and vast that no ear hears it except in fragments.
Illustration from Wild by Emily Hughes
Echoing Thoreau’s ode to the woods and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips’s assertion that cultivating a capacity for “fertile solitude” is essential for creative work, Berry extols the ennobling effects of solitude, the kind gained only by surrendering to nature’s gentle gift for quieting the mind:
We enter solitude, in which also we lose loneliness… 
True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. 
One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources. 
In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.
The return from such humanizing solitude, Berry cautions, can be disorienting:
From the order of nature we return to the order — and the disorder — of humanity. 
From the larger circle we must go back to the smaller, the smaller within the larger and dependent on it. 
One enters the larger circle by willingness to be a creature, the smaller by choosing to be a human. 
And having returned from the woods, we remember with regret its restfulness. For all creatures there are in place, hence at rest. 
In their most strenuous striving, sleeping and waking, dead and living, they are at rest. 
In the circle of the human we are weary with striving, and are without rest.
Indeed, so deep is our pathology of human striving that even Thoreau, a century and a half ago, memorably despaired“What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?” But the value of such recalibration of our connectedness in solitude, Berry suggests, is that it reminds us of the artist’s task, which is to connect us to one another. He returns to the subject of despair and pride, which serve to separate and thus betray the task of art:
The field must remember the forest, the town must remember the field, so that the wheel of life will turn, and the dying be met by the newborn.
Seeing the work that is to be done, who can help wanting to be the one to do it?
But it is pride that lies awake in the night with its desire and its grief.
To work at this work alone is to fail. There is no help for it. Loneliness is its failure.
It is despair that sees the work failing in one’s own failure. 
This despair is the awkwardest pride of all.
But Berry’s most urgent point has to do with the immense value of “thoroughly conscious ignorance” and of keeping alive the unanswerable questions that make us human:
There is finally the pride of thinking oneself without teachers. 
The teachers are everywhere. What is wanted is a learner. 
In ignorance is hope.
Rely on ignorance. It is ignorance the teachers will come to. 
They are waiting, as they always have, beyond the edge of the light.
All of the essays in What Are People For? are imbued with precisely this kind of light-giving force. Complement it with Berry on what the poetic form teaches us about the secret of marriage, then revisit Sara Maitland on the art of solitude, one of the year’s best psychology and philosophy books.


  1. Deze film Incendies - Wajid Mouawad 2010.

    Wajid is from Lebanon but lives in Canada. Be aware of spoilers in the synopsis. Believe me when I tell you, you don't need it to watch and fully get to understand it! Wars are dirty, and as such bring out the worst in people. Not all people!

    On youtube unfortunately due to the uploading order the playlist starts with the last 10/10 part which doesn't show anyway due to musical copyright issues. I found the last part intact here however. It's like a Greek tragedy against a more modern background. Beautiful cinematography, montage, directing and acting imho. Love the slow pace which make for letting things sink in.

    (Imagine all the different refugee story's of which some may be just as dramatic... as hard to explain, suffering from comparable humiliating dirty war secrets that are to hard to come forward with.)


Een reactie posten

Populaire posts van deze blog

Geert Mak Pleit Nu Voor Vriendschap met Rusland

Ik kwam zojuist mijn oude vriend, de bestseller-auteur en mainstream-opiniemaker Geert Mak in de regen op straat tegen. Na elkaar te hebben begroet, vertelde Geert mij dat hij van oordeel is dat Europa zo snel mogelijk met Rusland om de tafel moet gaan zitten, om de opgelopen spanningen te deëscaleren. De VS heeft heel andere belangen dan 'wij,' aldus Mak, die benadrukte dat de macht van 'onze' Atlantische bondgenoot ingrijpend aan het afnemen is. Kortom, ik hoorde wat ikzelf al enige jaren op mijn weblog schrijf. Opvallend hoe een Nederlandse opiniemaker binnen zo'n betrekkelijk korte tijd zo wezenlijk van oordeel kan veranderen.  Immers, Mak’s gevaarlijke anti-Rusland hetze was een treffend voorbeeld van zijn opportunisme. Mei 2014 beweerde op de Hilversumse televisie de zogeheten ‘chroniqueur van Amsterdam, Nederland, Europa en de VS,’ dat er sprake was van een 'Russische gevaar,’ aangezien ‘meneer Poetin’ aan ‘landjepik’ deed en dat de Russische president d…

America Has Been at War 93% of the Time Since 1776

America Has Been at War 93% of the Time – 222 out of 239 Years – Since 1776 By Washington's Blog Global Research, December 26, 2017 Washington's Blog 20 February 2015 Region:  Theme: 

Native American Rape Survivors

A sign marks the entrance to White Earth Indian Reservation in Mahnomen County, Minn. (J. Stephen Conn / CC 2.0) WHITE EARTH RESERVATION, Minn.—Candice (not her real name) awoke with a start. Someone was pulling down her sweatpants. It was a male friend. “Stop!” she shouted. He kept groping her. She kicked him and he fell off the bed. She dashed out of the bedroom, tripping and tumbling down the stairs. Gripped with fear, she heard his footsteps behind her in the dark and forced herself to stand upright as she staggered out to the porch. Candice was still intoxicated. She got into her car and drove into a ditch. A white police officer pulled up. She struggled to hold back tears as she told him about the attempted rape. All the officer saw was a drunk and disorderly Native American woman. He dismissed Candice’s report of sexual assault as a lie she had made up to avoid getting a DUI. He did not take her to the hospital for a forensic exam. The sexual assault was not recorded in his pol…