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11 October

I wrote to you impelled by the need to share the emotion aroused in me by your talent, which affected me like the sound of sad, sublime music. Why does it exist, this need for sharing? I have no idea and neither have you, yet we both know perfectly well that in some way it is burned into the human heart, that there’s no life without it and that it contains a great mystery. After all, when you write your books you too are merely responding to this need, and what’s more- you abandon your whole self to it completely.

I’ve always read a great deal- and kept many diaries, in common with all those whose lives are unfulfilled- and I still read widely, I’ve read your work before, but not very often, I mostly knew you by reputation. And now this latest book of yours… How strange! Somewhere, somehow, a hand puts pen to paper, a soul reveals a tiny particle of its secret existence by the tiniest possible hint- for what can words express, even words such as yours!- and suddenly there’s no space, no time, no differences of fate or circumstance, and all your thoughts and feelings are mine, are both of ours. Truly, there is but one universal soul on earth. And doesn’t that make my impulse to write to you understandable- to communicate my feelings and share something and complain a little? Aren’t the works you create and the letters I write to you one and the same? For you too are trying to reach someone, to express some kind of feeling, when you send your lines through space towards some invisible person. You know, you too are complaining- more often than not, only complaining!- for our complaints are synonyous with that cry for understanding which is so fundamental to every human being: how often it occurs in songs and prayers, in poetry and outpourings of love!

Perhaps you’ll answer me, if only briefly? Please answer.

Ivan Bunin, “An Unknown Friend,” 1923, translated by Sophie Lund

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Two articles with contents one would be hard pressed to make up, and both of which I could image being the content of Wendell Berry’s nightmares.

First, the editors of the Oxford Junior Dictionary decided to take out lots of old, good, pleasant-sounding words having to do with God, the countryside, and history, and replace them with horrible nasty words having to do with technology, pop culture, and colourless academic/policy hack speak. One need hardly look further for a snapshot of the destructiveness of post-industrial capitalist culture, really.

Some of the words removed: mistletoe, goblin, altar, bishop, monastery, monk, psalm, saint, sin, duchess, duke, decade, heron, kingfisher, lark, ox, oyster, thrush, weasel, apricot, ash, county, cowslip, fern, hazelnut, primrose, sheaf, walnut, willow.

And some included: Blog, voicemail, attachment, database, cut and paste, celebrity, creep, citizenship, EU, brainy, boisterous, bungee jumping, committee, compulsory, biodegradable, dyslexic, food chain, trapezium, alliteration, curriculum, classify, block graph.

Of course, I doubt very much the editors have any particular animosity towards God or saint or trees or countryside. Rather, for them, those things, being impractical, have no place in a child’s vocabulary. They defend the removals by arguing that Britain is now a multifaith, multiculture society- but then why not include words having to do with other faiths and cultures? And why remove the countryside words? No, rather, what they meant is Britain is a society in which either no goes to church or into the countrside, or rather, they ought not, and they certainly aren’t to be expected to read or write about it.

Second, it turns out that big government ‘conservatism’ (what are we conserving, again? Oh, right, big capital!) is a jolly fine idea, really, writes Bill Kristol. Small isn’t beautiful– it’s not very practical nor very likely, not unlike those outdated words the wise Oxford editors jettisoned.  Of course, not just any big-government is meant- no, while silly ‘liberals’ want to repair roads and bridges and schools, what we need are bigger and better bombs and bullets. Why bother about building bridges when you could be blowing up bridges in other people’s countries? Yes, Mr Kristol tells us, government should be limited- limited to war, destroying domestic freedom, and saving corporate capitalism.