Wendell Berry and Why I Reread the Lord of the Rings

From Wendell Berry’s essay, “In Defense of Literacy”:

. . . We must know a better language.  We must speak, and teach our children to speak, a language precise and articulate and lively enough to tell the truth about the world as we know it.  And to do this we must know something of the roots and resources of our language; we must know its literature.  The only defense against the worst is a knowledge of the best.

But to appreciate fully the necessity for the best sort of literacy we must consider not just the environment of prepared language in which most of us now pass most of our lives, but also the utter transience of most of this language, which is meant to be merely glanced at, or heard only once, or read once and thrown away.  Such language is by definition, and often by calculation, not memorable; it is language meant to be replaced by what will immediately follow it, like that of shallow conversation between strangers.  It cannot be pondered or effectively criticized.  For those reasons an unmixed diet of it is destructive of the informed, resilient, critical intelligence that the best of our traditions have sought to create and to maintain– an intelligence that Jefferson held to be indispensable to the health and longevity of freedom.  Such intelligence does not grow by bloating upon the ephemeral information and misinformation of the public media.  It grows by returning again and again to the landmarks of its cultural birthright, the works that have proved worthy of devoted attention.

From A Continuous Harmony, one of Berry’s earlier works.

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