Wendell Berry

A similarly “active, reflective, responsible” author who writes on literacy and materiality is Wendell Berry. Berry compliments Rodriguez because of his self-aware rejection of new technologies; he exemplifies the decision making process that I would encourage students to make in their own contexts. A farmer in Kentucky who also happens to write, Berry wrote an essay published in 1987 that sparked much controversy entitled “Why I am Not Going to Buy a Computer.” Utterly aware of the computer's encroaching presence in American life, Berry takes a stand on rejecting it and provides intensely material reasons for this rejection. He says, “I would hate to think that my work as a writer could not be done without a direct dependence on strip-mined coal. How could I write conscientiously against the rape of nature if I were, in the act of writing, implicated in the rape?” (p. 170). Ever the conservationist, Berry demands that his readers recognize that computer use is more than entertainment, education, convenience, or frustration; it is, in fact, directly tied to our energy consumption, which is intimately connected to our natural and material resources. He furthers this argument, also, into its social connection with others. Of Berry's writings, David W. Orr (1990) says, “the kind of skills Berry has in mind are those of an ecologically competent and active citizenry who know how to do for themselves and have the character traits of frugality, truthfulness, and goodheartedness necessary to be a good neighbor and good citizen.  This implies management” of our material goods (p. 9). 

Even if students disagree with Berry 's stance, reading this essay may begin a discussion about how technology is interconnected with our lives, locally and globally. Because he writes with pencil and paper—a conscious and debated rejection of one material for the sake of another—his wife types and edits his works on a decades old typewriter. Aware of what changing these conditions would entail, he says: “the 'old model' in this case [is] not just our old Royal Standard, but my wife, my critic, my closest reader, my fellow worker. Thus . . . what would be superseded would be not only something, but somebody” (p. 171). This essay would be a great asset in a discussion with students to further and deepen these associations. Hopefully, it will challenge them to see the social ramifications of their literacy practices, particularly alongside the two previously discussed examples. Instructors could then make assignments that would encourage students to write new media texts that explore their literacy communities.

Berry's essay also furthers the intent of choice in an individual's material literacy practices. After Berry 's initial publication of this essay, many people wrote in disagreeing with him and critically analyzing his stance. For example, James Rhoads writes, “I have no quarrel with Berry because he prefers to write with pencil and paper; that is his choice. But he implies that I and others are somehow impure because we choose to write on a computer. . . . I would be happy to join Berry in a protest against strip mining, but I intend to keep plugging this computer into the wall with a clear conscience” (cited in Berry , 1990, p. 173). Nathaniel Borenstein says that “Many of us have found that computers can be an invaluable tool in the fight to protect our environment” (cited in Berry , 1990, p. 174). And, Bradley C. Johnson says that he “[finds] it ironic that a writer who sees the underlying connectedness of things would allow his diatribe against computers to be published in a magazine that carries ads for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Marlboro, Phillips Petroleum, McDonnell Douglas, and yes, even Smith-Corona” (cited in Berry, 1990, 174-175). Berry eloquently replies with the main idea that “to the extent that we consume, in our present circumstances, we are guilty” and that he merely wants to “limit such involvement” (p. 177, 176). These letters of counterargument and Berry 's response provide students with example and evidence of a need to defend their literacy choices. It furthers the idea of creating “active, reflective, responsible” texts, and a new media assignment will inherently require a defense and exploration of the students' chosen form of literacy and expression.

Berry and Rodriguez also compliment one another in their reflection on academic discourse and composition. Obviously, Rodriguez's text is founded on his negotiation between his home language and academic discourse. In his article “Going Public” about composition's roll in the university, Peter Mortensen (1998) tells us that Wendell Berry has “asserted, sarcastically, that the ‘mark of a good teacher is that he or she spends most of his or her time doing research and writes many books and articles'” (cited in Mortensen, 1998, p. 194).  Although Mortensen “respectfully disagrees” with the previous statement, he says that “ Berry probably would allow for a kind of teaching that can be reconciled with the need, as [he has] been advocating, to speak publicly about academic literacies” (p. 194).  Therefore, a discussion of Rodriguez and Berry can lead into a discussion with the students about the rhetorical choice of when to use and when not to use a more academic style of writing. Many students desire a bachelor's degree in order to gain or maintain a certain level of material prosperity, and by learning to communicate in the university sanctioned manner (being literate in academic discourse) they lay the foundation for achieving that goal. But, like Rodriguez, what might they be giving up in the process?


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