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Knowing our Place

Oversimplification signifies a separation from one’s place. By place, I am referring to the physical-geographical locale of one’s habitation. The place where I live.

Much of the language I hear from students, from adults, and from our shared culture reflects the overwhelming attempt to simplify things, to simplify everything.Food, literature, transportation, tools, conversation, communication, relationships, etc. I can think of ways in which each of these have been simplified and repackaged into something far more useable. They have been stripped of complexity. They now require far less work.

It worries me when when I see aberrance to hard work, and even more so now that I think on the condition it reflects and the barrier it raises against a real understanding of the things we see and touch, of the places in which we live. Work has a way of instilling a deep understanding that I gain for the objects of my labor. It joins the subject to the object. In the words of Coleridge, it “instills love, and educes obedience.”

I just finished reading Wendell Berry’s Imagination in Place,and the opening essays address the influence that his place, his home, has had on his writing and understanding of who he is.

The reason oversimplification indicates a distancing from my place is that my place is unavoidably complex. The more simplified my language becomes, the more unfamiliar I become of my home(land), and of who I am.

To demonstrate, Berry reflects on the influence “media speech” has imposed on our communal identities.

This oversimplified language of the media and politics is as far as possible from the best of the local speech I heard as a child, which was like no other in the world because it was of and about our place, which was like no other in the world. In it we were at least beginning to imagine ourselves somewhat as we actually were, and even somewhat as we should have been. Now, under the influence of media speech, we can only pretend and try to be like everybody else. –Wendell Berry

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