Uncle Cran: Ozark Urbarmacher?
In the above photo taken by my wife of our daughter driving an all-terrain vehicle on Uncle Cran's Ozark farm a couple of summers ago, you see how green and lovely the land appears in this peaceful pastoral scene, but a lot of hard labor is required to arrive at this image of cultivation, and Uncle Cran is about to describe his early spring cultivation efforts in response to Cousin Bill's "Weekly Ramblings" report on his own 'cultivation' efforts at his Kansas homestead:
Today we got our exercise in, walking . . . three plus miles for Cheryl, two plus for me and the dog (I did less as I had a yard to mow . . . the dog had no excuse). Rainy weather is in the forecast this way . . . for the next several days. I'm ahead of the game…got the lawn mowed. That's it for today. Enjoy your week.Such were Cousin Bill's modest words on his 'cultivating' activities, as reported on Uncle Cran's e-list, to which Uncle Cran responded with his own account of cultivation in the Ozarks:
Bill:There appears to be a streak of competitiveness in Uncle Cran, and I have to admit that he does seem to have worked quite hard. He is obviously what the Germans call an Urbarmacher, one who makes the land arable, i.e., suitable for agriculture. I encountered this word recently as used by the Catholic theologian Raimon Panikkar in a German text that my wife and I are translating into English. In looking further into the term's meaning, I discovered that the Western Marxist Walter Benjamin had portrayed himself in a similar manner to describe his own culture-critical efforts:
Sorry to wait so long in reading your WR's.
I know you have been working awfully hard in your huge lawn, feeding various critters, and walking your dog. Here on the farm I have been doing a few minor chores myself.
For instance, I spent 21 days during late January to early March digging hundreds of rocks out of my hay field with a rock rake and a pick and hauling them off with the front end loader bucket on my tractor. I loaded them all by hand, and they made two small piles, each one about 8 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 3 feet high. They ranged in size from my fist to some more than 100 pounds.
Also during this time I walked over every foot of the field with a hand-held limb cutter and cut off the stems of the bushes I had been brush hogging with the tractor. The limb cutter was to cut the stems at ground level so I could run my hay mowing machine later this spring.
Then I used my 6-foot-wide rock rake to scrape up all the bushes and stems and dump them in several large piles.
After this I took my trailor and hauled 5 tons (10,000 pounds) of fertilizer to the farm, [where I] loaded it onto my fertilizer/seed spreader with a scoop shovel. The spreader holds about 400 pounds each load. Then I spent about 8 hours spreading the fertilizer over my pasture and hay fields, pulling the spreader with my tractor.
Then I took some electric line poles that the electric company replaced with new ones, and dug 5 holes about 8 inches in diameter, and 3 feet deep. I cut the poles into 8 feet lengths, and used the tractor to set them into the ground. I cut 3 lengths of the poles into 9 feet lengths and set them at an angle to brace the upright posts. Then I re-stretched the 5 five strands of barbed wire back into place.
In my spare time, I used the weed eater to clear out some tall grass in my yard, dug several hundred thistle plants out of my fields with the pick, and dug a patch of prickly pear cactus out of my field. Later I dug a few of the cactus spines out of my hands and fingers.
I won't mention the various projects Gay wanted done, plus all the assorted chores, such as cattle feed and hay, and some minor jobs for neighbors.
But of course, none of this compares with your duties. I am almost ashamed to tell you what I've been doing.
Other than that, I have been using my leisure time to read some good books.
Have a good week,
But every ground must at some point have been turned over by reason, must have been cleared of the undergrowth of delusion and myth. This is to be accomplished here for the terrain of the nineteenth century.This passage occurs on page 935 of The Arcades Project (translated by H. Eiland and K. McLaughlin, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Belknap Press and Harvard University Press, 1999). For stating himself this way, Benjamin was criticized by Rolf J. Goebel in A Companion to the Works of Walter Benjamin (Camden House, 2009):
Faced with the "Urwald," [i.e., the primeval forest,] Benjamin sees himself in the role of an "urbar Macher" (bearer of reason, who "makes [the ground] arable"), "clearing the undergrowth of delusion and myth. Thus, he is the "cultivator" who transforms the wilderness into a place of "culture" (see the Latin colo = I cultivate, and its derivations cult, culture). This comes to be exactly the role that according to history the "civilized" Europeans have accomplished for the "savages" they colonized. In a strange manner, Benjamin falls back into the typical missionary attitude of the colonizers, who usually are the object of his critique. (page 229)This might seem a bit harsh on poor Mr. Benjamin -- and by extension on Uncle Cran -- for Mr. Benjamin perhaps thought that he was implicitly, though never quite expressly, setting himself at odds here with the manner of Martin Heidegger, that German philosopher who eulogized the primeval forest wilderness and pursued a mythicizing mystification of nature that clothed his fascist tendencies with a shroud of essentialized legitimacy. But we see from Mr. Goebel extensive evidence of many words and terms -- in German, English, and Latin -- that this was not the case. Mr. Benjamin was instead adopting the role of missionizing colonizer!
Neither Walter Benjamin nor Uncle Cran can therefore be known as cultivators of reason and fields but rather as European-style missionary colonizers, whereas Cousin Bill is just a simple lawnmower man . . .