He reads Wendell Berry and changes his life.

Making the decision to walk away from a sixteen year career at a major class one railroad was not easy. The “fragment of a speech” that is posted below was one of the turning points that greatly fueled my decision to leave a place that in some ways, was a place that I very much enjoyed working.

When I first heard this “fragment,” I was brainstorming for a conference that the organization Railroad Workers United was hosting in Richmond, California. As the national organizer, my task was to welcome many organizations, many that do not normally work together, to an environmental conference to find common ground on very complex issues of public safety, working conditions and labor.

The inspiration that I found from this “fragment” was a question that I had to ask myself over and over for about two years. How complicit do I want to be?

Read the whole piece by John Paul Wright.


Thoughts on Wendell Berry and the Renewal of Christianity

For Berry, the American farm is a metaphor for life. In Postmodernity, there is a movement to reduce our neighborhoods into mere real estate, the human mind into a consumer, people into numbers, ideas into information, and vocation into employment. Yes, exploitation happens on the farm in northern Canada, but it also occurs in the suburbs of California, if we follow the farm metaphor to our present “post-everything” age.

In The Unsettling of America Berry explains exploitation as something more of a belief, of an attitude than just an ecological practice:

“The first principle of the exploitative mind is to divide and conquer. And surely there has never been a people more ominously and painfully divided than we are- both against each other and within ourselves. Once the revolution of exploitation is under way, statesmanship and craftsmanship are gradually replaced by salesmanship (The craft of persuading people to buy what they do not need, and do not want, for more than it is worth.) Its stock in trade in politics is to sell despotism and avarice as freedom and democracy. In business it sells sham and frustration as luxury and satisfaction.”

Read the entire article by Eric J. Kregel HERE.


Reading Wendell Berry in These Times

I was afraid to look at the news on Friday, and relieved and thankful when I finally did. There had been no vote on the bill. The fate of health care in the United States would be determined another day.

For some reason, it seems we are forcing ourselves to sort everything into the categories of liberal or conservative, and pro-government or anti-government, when of course the world is far more complex, and far more beautiful.

To keep myself sane and as a balm when I’m tired of all the vitriol, I’ve been reading Wendell Berry. I’ve wanted to dive into his writing for a long time. Needless to say, Berry doesn’t give much credence to strictly liberal or conservative world views.

He is a long-time Kentucky farmer and a devout Christian who writes poetry, short stories, novels, and essays, brilliantly. Affectionately known as “the mad farmer,” Wendell Berry is an American prophet, a voice of reason, humility, and humanity who has been compared to Emerson and Thoreau. If every person in America, young and old, read a few of his poems or stories, maybe we’d be in a better place.

Read the entire article by Valorie Grace Hallinan at Books Can Save a Life.


Reflections on Wendell Berry from a Maltese Scholar

Dr Mario Aquilina, lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Malta, reflects on Wendell Berry’s essay “Getting Along with Nature” (1982) from Home Economics.

The Azure Window, the collapse of which he speaks, is described at Wikipedia:

The Azure Window (Maltese: it-Tieqa Żerqa), also known as the Dwejra Window (Maltese: it-Tieqa tad-Dwejra), was a 92-foot-tall (28 m) limestone natural arch on the island of Gozo in Malta. It was located in Dwejra Bay in the limits of San Lawrenz, close to the Inland Sea and the Fungus Rock.

The formation, which was created after two limestone sea caves collapsed, was very popular among scuba divers and one of Malta's major tourist attractions. The arch, together with other natural features in the area of Dwejra, is featured in a number of international films and other media representations.

Since the early 2000s till late 2016, several parts of the arch broke away and fell into the sea, both by natural erosion and by irregular activities. With the weakening of the pillar, over the years, it collapsed in a storm on 8 March 2017.

 

Found at Dr. Aquilina's blog, The Art of the Essay.


On Wendell Berry, the Ideal, and the Real

In ‘The Loss of The Future’ (from The Long-Legged House, Shoemaker and Hoard, 2004 (1965), New York, p. 48) Wendell Berry writes:

One of the most damaging results of the loss of idealism is the loss of reality. Neither the  ideal or the real is perceivable alone. The ideal is apparent and meaningful only in relation to the real, the real only in relation to the ideal. Each is the measure and the corrective of the other. Where there is no accurate sense of the real world, idealism evaporates in the rhetoric of self-righteousness and self-justification. Where there is no disciplined idealism, the sense of the real is invaded by sentimentality or morbidity or cynicism and by fraudulent discriminations.

Berry seems to employ both meanings of ‘idealism’ here. It may be understood as ‘systems of thought in which the objects of knowledge are held to be in some way dependent on the activity of mind’ and, of course, ‘the practice of forming or pursuing ideals, especially unrealistically.’

Read the whole post by Samir Chopra HERE


On Wendel Berry at The Circe Institute Conference

The event described here took place on Friday, January 20, 2017.

Author Wendell Berry doesn’t leave his Kentucky farm often, but this past weekend he agreed to be our honored guest at the Classical Consortium Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. Amid the gilded cornices and sumptuous chandeliers in the historic Seelbach Hotel, Berry graced us with a delicious reading of passages from his magical novels. Like obedient children we sat, tired, invigorated from a day of stimulating sessions, eager to step into the world of his rich imagination.

The conference on the theme Truth or Nothing marked the first joint event of a group we loosely call the Classical Consortium: Classical Academic Press, CiRCE Institute, Institute for Excellence in Writing, Memoria Press, and Professor Carol. This three-day conference celebrated the quest for Truth in our spiritual endeavors, teaching, and learning. Speakers, break-out sessions, delicious meals, and non-stop, passionate conversation abounded in the corridors, the elevators, the coffee table, and virtually everywhere the rays of those beautiful chandeliers would reach. A magnificent reception welcomed us at the esteemed Highlands Latin School, sponsored by Memoria Press. Then two full days of plenary talks (one by yours truly), breakout sessions, and panels, filled out the next two days. The crowning moment, of course, was the dessert reception and reading of Wendell Berry. Ah yes, life is very good.

Berry understands so much about American culture through his mastery of rural life. He has his finger (and heart) on the pulse of what once were the driving forces of American life. He knows what it means to plant various crops so as to withstand the caprices of nature, to rely on one’s gut and gumption, and to turn to one’s neighbors as they turn to you. He can paint any character you ever could imagine with a fine, gentle brush, and yet these characters are so strong as to be unforgettable.

Read more of this reflection by Carol Reynolds at Professor Carol.


Thoughts on Wendell Berry, that Film, and His Not-Quite-Rockstar Status

Three years ago I had the pleasure to attend a talk between Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson at Cooper Union in New York City (my first time in New York City as an adult, which was a story in itself), moderated by New York Times columnist Mark Bittman. Wanting to quote a particular exchange between Berry and Jackson for a recent post here on From Filmers to Farmers I listened to the audio recording of the event to transcribe what I was after. While I was able to locate the sought after passage, I was aghast to find out that my favourite portion of the entire event was absent from the publicly available recording, something that was relevant to this post you're currently reading. So not only do I unfortunately not remember the lead-up to the particular exchange between Berry and Bittman, but I'm also forced to quote from memory. As I recall:

Bittman: You're a rock star.

Berry [quietly and sombrely]: No.

That got a bit of a giggle out of me. But as my sense of humour's fortune would have it, Bittman wasn't about to give up so easily.

Bittman: Yes, yes! You're a rock star, you're a rock star!

Eschewing an elaborate retort or explanation, and even more quietly and sombrely the second time around, Berry lowered his head, ever so slightly shook it, and once again simply said –

Berry: No.

Well that was just too much for me, and as I kid you not that that was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen and heard in my life, I couldn't help but instantly burst out with an appropriately over-the-top boisterous laugh. Thing is, and as I just as quickly noticed, not a single other person in the entire audience was laughing as well – not even a peep. So just as fast as I started laughing I somehow managed to contain my convulsions, kind of clearing my throat and sheepishly hoping that my tiny outburst could somehow be disguised and confused for a weird sounding cough.

While I of course wondered to myself why nobody in the entire audience seemed to have even snickered (Cooper Union – and the rest of New York City – was full of rock stars?), and more recently have wondered why said portion was edited out (I wanted to see if I could hear my "cough" and what it sounded like!), the more pertinent question is, Why did Berry disagree with being called – appropriated as? – a "rock star"?

This is just the beginning. Read the complete essay by Allan S. Christensen HERE.


And Yet More on The Wendell Berry Critique

Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy is the latest to add his thoughts to an ongoing critique of Wendell Berry's thought as embodied in his fiction. This round of writing began with Tamara Hill Murphy, was seconded by Rod Dreher, countered by Jeffrey Bilbro, and reasserted and extended by Matthew Loftus. Meador begins his own response to Murphy with this: 

Plough has recently published one of the better versions of a critique of Wendell Berry that is fairly common and fairly tiresome. The author, Tamara Hill Murphy, has a great many kind things to say about Berry but then says that Berry’s work is characterized by a naive idealization of the agrarian past and a romanticism about it that obscures the dark corners of that world.

Murphy makes the critique helpfully concrete (and stark) when she writes,

The dissonance with Berry occurs when I consider other family tales buried under the agrarian beauty. These are stories of shattered relationships, addiction, job loss, abandonment, mental illness, and unspoken violations that seem to separate my kinfolk from the clans in Port William. In Berry’s fictional village, readers occasionally witness felonies, infidelity, drunken brawls, and tragic deaths, but all of them seem to be told in a dusky, warming light. …

Berry’s body of work lauds an unadulterated ecosphere. How does he reconcile glossing over (or at least hiding from his reader’s view) the ugly dysfunctions that often prosper alongside the natural beauty of such villages and pasturelands? The stories I grew up hearing and observing provide an alternative cast of characters to the Port William community. I’ve seen firsthand not only the ornery nature of such characters but also the ingrown thinking that sometimes flourishes in out-of-sight locales. For example, there’s the good country farmer I watched with my own eyes fist-beat his son. They seemed to keep their farm by the mad farmer’s standards, but that did not make them good. I tiptoe around extended family members who fought their whole lives like Jayber Crow to avoid answering to “the man across the desk,” yet leave a trail of fractured relationships in their wake.

To be sure, if this critique were an accurate portrayal of Berry’s fiction, it would be rather devastating. But it fails on two fronts. First, it simply doesn’t account for the body of Berry’s work. Second, it fails to recognize the underlying philosophical critique Berry is making which is basically the same critique made explicitly by Lewis in The Abolition of Man and implicitly by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings.

See, again, all of "The Abolition of Troy Chatham" by Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy.

UPDATE (1.9.17) See, also, Rod Dreher's response to Jeffrey Bilbro in "Defending Wendell Berry" at The American Conservative

UPDATE (1.14.17) Tamara Hill Murphy responds to all of the above in "A Few More Words on the Hole in Wendell Berry's Gospel."


On Wendell Berry's "Way of Ignorance"

Novelist, poet, farmer, and environmental activist Wendell Berry (b. August 5, 1934) is the closest thing our era has to Thoreau — a magnificent writer whose poems and essays remind us, over and over, what it means to be awake to the world, inner and outer. Whether he is contemplating solitude and the two great enemies of creative work or examining how poetic form illuminates the secret of marriage, Berry breaks through even our most hardened ego-shells and beams into the cracks enormous warmth and wisdom.

That’s precisely what he does in The Way of Ignorance and Other Essays (public library) — a masterwork of luminous lucidity on our civilizational shortcomings, delivered with the intelligent hope necessary for doing better.

Read it all at Maria Popova's BrainPickings.


Wendell Berry and Life's Small Battles

Berry masterfully crafted these stories to be honest about the human condition with its complex mixture of triumph and sorrow. In so doing, he managed to communicate powerful and eternal truths about the importance of community, kinship, and love.

Just look at Uncle Peach and Wheeler Catlett. Uncle Peach is an estranged family member who makes poor life choices. Wheeler chose to push him away for many years. Broken families are no doubt a reality in this sinful world and perhaps among all of us. But Berry, through Wheeler’s mother, shows the importance and responsibility of love for those whom we call family. The human condition is messy and full of failure, but that does not excuse us from entering into the messiness.

A similar lesson is taught through Mat Felner and his mother. Sickness and pain is a reality with which all of humanity is familiar. Mat encountered this frailness first hand with the hurt man that stepped into his door. He was afraid and shocked by this man. We are all discouraged by the challenges of our world, but Mat’s mother was “a woman who did what the world put before her to do.” In another story, Elton Penn and the community showed love to the sick and desperate Mary Penn. Berry recognizes the realities of man’s fears, but encourages us to break free and love the world in small and ordinary ways, especially through our family members and neighbors.

Read the whole piece by Eric Peterman at The Washington Institute.