Wendell Berry’s, Remembering
The novel, Remembering, which is authored by Wendell Berry, helps to brings us in tune with the primal reminiscence that is present in every person’s heart. It talks of a man who suffers through the loss of his arm, after it is caught in a farming machine. The main philosophical issue that arises within the novel can be presumed to be that of racism. However, Berry goes on to state that racism is not the issue, rather it is man’s immoderate desire to be greater than he actually is that is, the bone of contention. This was proven in the Garden of Eden as man sought to be like God. Therefore, our inordinate desire can be said to be the root for all injustices and evil. The novel goes on to provide a detailed image of this fact. By invoking this line of thought, Berry brings to light the epic theme surrounding his narrative. This same theme causes the reader to incorporate the creation story of the Bible into it, as the author tends to refer much to it as well as its cognates. This paper will delve deeper to discuss this main philosophical issue in the novel, Remembering, while explaining the reasons why I agree with the author’s viewpoints.
The most important part of the novel is reflected within its title. Although it does simply refer to one’s memory, it is fundamental that its importance is not overlooked in any way. The reason for this is that it does conjure the mythical, theological as well as the epistemological edifices of Plato and his anamnesis and also several meditations on creation. The term is also used to draw on the archaic as well as rich analogy of the body of Christ, both individually and as members of the trinity. The title can be said to focus on the main theme of the novel, which includes an epic journey that stems from brokenness but ends in wholeness through memory.
When Andy loses his arm, he is limited in the things that he is able to do. The tasks he used to perform before, now become difficult to accomplish. He is now unable to do simple tasks such as buttoning up his shirt, caressing his wife and caring for his well being as well as he had done before. In this way, the author tries to bring forth the aspect of our weakness as people, that we are naturally dependent and incomplete. The frustration that faces Andy causes him to reject the limits that are set for all people. He says that he is not accountable to any person, a statement which is then corrected by his wife. The loss of Andy’s arm can be significantly compared to the fall of man. It is a representation of the original wound that caused mankind to be followers of evil rather than followers of what is good. Although different remedies through technology have been tried to make Andy better, the consequences still have to be faced and dealt with, and its cause corrected.
The fact, that the Lord provided clothing for our fore parents, stands as confirmation that technology is indeed something worthwhile. However, this has to be done in a manner that shows an understanding of creation to be the first as well as the original gift. It is important to note however that technology is also the cause of the misfortunes we face. The reason for this is that people have chosen to use technology as a way of escaping from the original order, and also to dominate upon it. According to Immanuel Kant, it is important that this original order is understood, for once this is done then technology becomes completely infernal.
Hidden deep within, the wound that Andy has is a reflect of the human sexuality. Although many may doubt this fact, much study does reveal this. A glance at the creation story shows us how the Lord God made woman from man’s rib. This can also be equated to a wound. Although there was no injury on the body of man, there is a certain loss of independence as well as bodily integrity as well as the sexual differentiation that is known as male and female. The human sexuality is the mark upon which testifies of the futile pursuit for autonomy. However, this making of a woman from man’s rib can also be viewed as a gift, which is used to reveal the deepest identities and vocation.
On the other hand however, the original unity as well as the solitude that man has in his relationship with God, leads us to the ordering of the Eros, which is found within the account of Socrates. Through his novel, the author tries to bring out a deeper meaning that is hidden within the mysteries of a person’s sexuality and solitude. At one point or the other, people do experience some kind of dependency and solitude. There are several responses that people have when they are faced with this kind of situations. In the novel, Andy handles this situation by becoming very rebellious. This escalates and leads to the rebuff of his identity. This is evident in the book, where he is asked if he was Andy. He however denies that, and walks in the opposite direction.
Andy’s stay is soon filled with solitude and he decides that it would be best to take a walk. It is during this walk that he sees an inscription on the walls of a Catholic church and is then motivated to make a turning point in his life. The setting of the novel is very vital to the course that Andy chooses to take. Its setting is done in the Western parts of the United States, within a city that has over the past been associated with self-inventions. We can see that Andy makes an attempt to move towards the West. This can be said to be a way of escape from his body as well as the different things that are limiting him. The end of his journey is the frontier of biotechnology, and in his case, having the victory over the suffering he has undergone as well as death.
Andy finally makes up his mind to go back home and accept life as it has been laid out for him. He is no longer afraid of his limitations, partiality, death or suffering that comes with every day living. In this way Berry is able to challenge as well as to reverse the romanticism within the novel. Andy is then reconciled to himself. He begins praying as he finds his way back home, reminiscing of his past as he offers meditations that stem from his new-fangled wisdom. The main subjects of his meditation revolve around life’s mysteries, his being, beauty, community, tradition, history and memories. He also expresses grief over the cost necessary to ensure that these things are repudiated.
In order to make a strong connection between fantasy and the human body, the author tries to bring out the connection that is present between abstraction and lust. Lust is considered to be a reduction of oneself and therefore despite of the appearances, it requires the involvement of escape from the body. This is seen when the author juxtaposes Andy from his fantasy of flight. Flight is a representative of the efforts a person makes in order to transcend the confines that are present. However, it is important to note that the fantasy that takes place within this part of the book is due to loneliness. He had a deep desire to have contact with other people.
This goes to prove that people are dependent upon other people in one way or another. It is in this light that Andy begins missing his dear wife, hoping that her forgiveness and trust would one day befall him, and in turn cause her to return into his open arms. The author proceeds to draw our attention even more to a greater and more important meaning of what our relationship was before the fall of man and desire for greatness. Andy returns home to find his wife not there; he writes a note of apology and leaves it where his wife can see it.
This can be likened to the ‘New Jerusalem’ that is seen in the Bible. “And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Revelations 21:2. Although marriage is a sacrament, it is however not the highest end of man. Man can only attain his highest once he surrenders wholly to Christ and lives in constant communion and fellowship with him. In this way, man can sure be fulfilled and made whole. The novel, Remembering, gives us hope that although our sinful nature may have caused us to have great wounds, these same wounds can be healed. It also reveals how when we act in our sinful nature, we move towards, Manichaeism, Romanticism, Gnosticism and many other dualism forms, which cause us to reject the beautiful gift that is creation as well as ourselves. He goes ahead to portray what this kind of reject does to us.
These views are also supported by most of the theories brought up by most of the famous philosophers. One such theory is that found in Plato’s apology which is his own version of Socrates apology speech. This speech acknowledges that the acquisition of knowledge is a process that takes time and effort to grow. Additionally, it must begin with the declaration that a person is ignorant and that they lack knowledge. From this point onwards, a person is able to grow in different areas of their life. This is similar to what Andy experienced. The wound that he despised so much became a source of growth for him. Additionally, in the novel Sophie’s world by Jostein Gaarder, the experiences of Sophie present a better picture of how memory can be used as a learning process. Sophie learns from her teacher’s historical experiences. Additionally, her learning process is enhanced by what she encounters from Hilde’s perspective. This is a perfect example of how reminiscence can be used to as a learning aid. Descartes meditations are also show supporting evidence for the views expressed in this book. The most important part of this meditation is the significance of understanding the human mind. In his view, Descartes viewed the human mind as the only part of life that a person has full control over. This can be seen in Andy’s fantasy of flight where he creates different images in his mind. In Andy’s perspective, these images help him overcome his problems. Nietzsche’s views are also applicable here as he emphasizes the understanding of a person’s physical reality as opposed to searching for answers in the world beyond. In this book, Andy only became comfortable after accepting his conditions as they formed his reality. In summary, Plato, Descartes and Nietzsche’s theories can be used to support the issues raised I this book.
As the novel comes to a close, it only goes ahead to reinforce the philosophical issue of people trying to be greater than what they actually are. The author brings the reader back to this theme that has been very implicit throughout the entire novel, imaging it to Andy, his marriage, the human sexuality as well as the community within which it is ordered. At this point, we see Andy reminiscing of the wholeness that he once had in life as well as in his nuptials with his dear wife, Flora. In his injury, we find that Andy goes ahead to fight against the very same things that brought him joy and the wholeness. An in depth look into the journey that Andy has made will reveal an aspect of spirituality within it. These are better emphasized through the themes of transgression and repentance. The end of his journey would be significant of the paradise, a mystical vision of heaven. Remembering, brings us in tune with the primal reminiscence that is present in every person’s heart and above all else, it creates within us an awareness that is quite unlike any other on what the body is all about. This in turn gives us the much needed hope that we need to receive redemption.