When I read Another Turn of the Crank in college, I remember finding it irritating. Who was this moralizing purist, this thinly veiled Christian claimWhen I read Another Turn of the Crank in college, I remember finding it irritating. Who was this moralizing purist, this thinly veiled Christian claiming to know good from evil, and decrying reductionist thought? These days I've mellowed out a bit, and come to realize that authors who get under my skin like that are often the most interesting. Berry is no empty provocateur. If he pisses you off, there's something to be learned in considering why.
First of all, there's plenty I agree with in this book. I like his way of framing interactions as nurturing or exploitative, and I like the way he applies that frame not just to our interaction with the non-human world, but also to the ways we treat each other. I agree that the more leverage technology provides the greater the risk of damaging its object, and often its subject. The longer your lever, the harder it is to see what you're doing. Ok. C'mon. Someone say, "That's what she said!" Ok. Let's move on.
But then there are passages like "If competition is the correct relation of creatures to one another and to the earth, then we must ask why exploitation is not more successful than it is." (p. 106) and "until recently there was no division between sexuality and fertility, because none was possible" (p. 135). Aside from what seem like self-evident successes of competition in nature and human affairs, and the fact that prostitution and other sexual practices that have little or nothing to do with reproduction have been around for some time, his method of arguing based on his own norms and assumptions is irksome. Competition isn't the "correct" relation of creatures to one another, it's just what we observe happening. Saying that a division between sexuality and fertility is a recent innovation doesn't make it true.
Of course, both those quotes come from what I found to be the most inflammatory chapter ("The Body and the Earth"), which was actually also the most interesting to me. Linking the fertility of the land to that of the body isn't something I'd thought of or heard before. Viewing "freedom" from fertility as another destructive disconnect in our lives runs so counter to our ideas of reproductive rights, but it's worth questioning whether our culture has adapted to the technology of birth control to the extent that other cultures incorporated sex without it. Does dividing sex from reproduction prevent us of from thinking about future generations in the same way buying food at a supermarket prevents us from thinking about animal welfare and treatment of the land? No doubt there is a whole body of literature dealing with this of which I am simply unaware.
I also find it somewhat frustrating to read a book that's replete with moral critique of the society in which I live and yet finish without some vision of how to improve. What's Berry's literal notion of the good life? Does he think we should all be Amish? Does he see a realistic path from the society we have to one that's better? This isn't a critique of the book, really. Obviously there aren't easy answers to problems like our disconnection from the land, but it's unsatisfying. I guess that's life....more