Straightforward Ambiguity

In reading Berry and comparing him to the most recent author, Dillard, one is immediately struck by a sense of definitiveness in grammar and sentence structure.  Regardless of this matter-of-fact sense of speech, deeper reading suggests that perhaps Berry is definitively stating that he still has not found the answers that he needs.  In “Preserving Wildness” he states in one of his numerical points “There does exist a possibility that we can live more or less in harmony with our native wildness” (518).  He doesn’t necessarily explain what this state of harmony is comprised of, and admits later in the paragraph that it will never be perfect or concrete, but he does state that it is possible.  In “Preserving Wildness”, he continues his dichotomy between “naturalists” and “technicalists”, insisting that he would like to straddle the line in between the two.  His work in Kentucky in “The Making of a Marginal Farm” frequently addresses the damage that human technology has done to the land, and the amount of time it would have taken to rebuild simply a few feet of soil around the entirety of the property.


There is certainly an interesting amount of self-examination done by Berry in his essays.  He does not condemn any single group of people, faction, or movement, but takes on the “human predicament” of co-existing with the thing that will kill us with a neutral and matter-of-fact tone.  He is more direct than Dillard, and tends to pursue a point to the end of the paragraph rather than conclude on a topic some five chapters and one hundred-and-thirty pages later.  His concept of co-existence on the planet goes along with Dillard’s notion of place within the universe, but Berry’s notion seems to require self-consciousness rather than avoid it as Dillard would have us do.


Another thing Berry does very well in his essay “Preserving Wildness” is layout very simple reasons for preserving the wilderness and coexisting with nature.  He gives us the two questions, “What will nature permit is to do here?” and “What will nature help us to do here?” to explain to the reader exactly why we do try as we do to preserve nature.  The reasons for coexisting with nature may have been more obvious in previous centuries, but with the rise of technology, it seems to become more obsolete in people’s minds.  We all underestimate exactly how important nature existing in its raw and untouched form is for medicine and other scientific advancements upon which we depend every day.

One thought on “Straightforward Ambiguity

  1. Nice title. I agree, there is something that seems more straightforward with Berry, in comparison to Dillard (less looping, perhaps). But I think it could be argued that Dillard in some of those very loops is delving into self-consciousness, rather than avoiding it. So, what’s Berry’s self-consciousness look and feel like? His emphasis on ‘responsibility’ for me is one way to think through that.

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