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Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.


Wendell Berry Takes His Papers and Leaves

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: Keith Goetzman, environment, coal, Wendell Berry, Appalachia, energy, wilderness and wildlife, air and water, health, Lexington Herald-Leader, I Love Mountains, mountaintop coal removal,

Wendell BerryWendell Berry is truly a man of letters: The famously computer-hating agrarian writer still pens all his essays and books by hand. So it’s got to hurt the University of Kentucky to hear that it won’t be getting his voluminous archives as it had expected. Why? Because Berry, a man of rock-hard principle, is offended that the university is naming a new dorm for basketball players the Wildcat Coal Lodge in order to please coal-friendly donors.

The Lexington Herald-Leader got its hands on the acid letter Berry sent to the university regarding the matter. “It is now obviously wrong, unjust and unfair,” he wrote, “for your space and work to be encumbered by a collection of papers that I no longer can consider donating to the University.”

The papers measure 60 cubic feet in volume and would fill about 100 boxes, the Herald-Leader reports. They remain at the school while Berry negotiates their transfer to the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort.

Are university officials surprised? They wouldn’t be if they looked back to this passage in a 2005 essay by Berry, which originally appeared in the book Missing Mountains: We Went to the Mountaintop But It Wasn’t There: Kentuckians Write Against Mountaintop Removal (Wind Publications):

Coal is undoubtedly something of value. And it is, at present, something we need—though we must hope we will not always need it, for we will not always have it. But coal, like the other fossil fuels, is a peculiar commodity. It is valuable to us only if we burn it. Once burned, it is no longer a commodity but only a problem, a source of energy that has become a source of pollution. And the source of the coal itself is not renewable. When the coal is gone, it will be gone forever, and the coal economy will be gone with it. … If Kentuckians, upstream and down, ever fulfill their responsibilities to the precious things they have been given—the forests, the soils, and the streams—they will do so because they will have accepted a truth that they are going to find hard: the forests, the soils and the streams are worth far more than the coal for which they are now being destroyed.

See the full essay at the website of ILoveMountains.org.

Source: Lexington Herald-Leader, ILoveMountains

Image by David Marshall, licensed under Creative Commons.

joseph
8/17/2016 10:55:41 AM

Mr. Berry is pointing out something more than a proclivity to pander to coal and money. He is pointing out the obvious about coal and its impact on KY and our earth. Yet...he speaks to what universities are doing now. Everything is for sale. Naming rights, every square inch of a university now can be bought, for the right price. The buyer has naming rights for a specific amount of time, then it is up for grabs for the highest bidder once again. As state aid has decreased for universities from over 70 percent to 25 percent or so, the losers are the students who must pay more out of pocket. At the same time, universities are scrambling for donors, and money and more money to propel their advertising, their branding, and naming of buildings. Yes, money does talk, especially at universities. It is not about students, it is about bright and shiny "new buildings" while instructors and professors lose their jobs - but the place looks really good from the outside. Inside, the important things are crumbling. The losers are clearly the students.


michael harris
7/13/2010 9:11:01 AM

Education is the enemy to the extent they continue to promulgate and extend the influence of the dominant paradigm that is completely disconnected with the concept of cooperative, organic emergence in every aspect of life. The stupid, competitive single-mindedness of basketball and college sports is glaring representation of this incompleteness of the mind. That's not education. That's a recipe for continued catatonic slumber. Wendell is brilliant in a most elegant way; he drills down to what is real and connects with it and lets the rest of values, beliefs and actions flow from there. That means challenging the unconscious frames we all walk around with, have been conditioned and rewarded with,and don't even know we have. These frames might be summarized fairly completely as the institutions of education, religion and government. Another great 'Berry' (Thomas) may have mentioned this a time of two.


yobaba
7/8/2010 2:43:05 PM

While I am from the west coast and do not have a complete understanding of what it is like to live in a state that depends on coal for capital, I do know that education comes with a price. Out here in the west our universities are paid for by a combination of taxpayer dollars and "donations" from wealthy alumni; for example, Phil Knight of NIKE fame practically "owns" the University of Oregon and the saying goes that you can hardly walk a block on campus without finding a building named after a member of the Knight family. With that in mind, I strongly urge you to go to this link, an article that describes what is REALLY going on in the world of big donors: http://salem-news.com/articles/july032010/nike-university-ew.php This might also shed some light on the relationship between UK and those so-called "coal-friendly donors". Just sayin'.


matthew auciello_1
7/8/2010 11:48:49 AM

I disagree with the use of "computer-hating" as a description of Berry's stance on technology and word processing - and I'm quite sure he would not be happy with it either (read "Feminism, the Body, and the Machine"). Regardless, I'm glad to read this article, and thrilled that Berry maintains his principled stance against meaningless convenience, centralization, and technocracy, while standing firmly and simply on both his words and his deeds - pencil and paper readily in hand - without the consumerist crutch. We can all take a lesson from this. Especially the decision-makers at UK, who fail to understand the implications of pandering to the Coal Industry, and who fail to understand the intensity and importance of Berry's legacy-in-archive.


shirley turner
7/2/2010 9:10:23 AM

I find it appalling that education is sleeping with the enemy. The seemingly caring, contrite, and empathetic individuals who create, and then become part of, the undeniably pathological, corporate network is inarguably horrid. It smacks of a despotic lack of professionalism and an absence of creativity and imagination. For corporations and universities to be in each other's pocket says that one has bought the other. It is absolutely amoral. This cannot long endure without a day of reckoning.