On the psychology of Wendell Berry

I want to consider the psychology of Wendell Berry—not analyze Berry the author but rather probe the way that he sees the world. Berry has made his living as a thinker and writer but also as a farmer, and his unique connection to land and rootedness has much to offer those of us who feel unmoored.

Berry writes about the history of his Kentucky home in “A Native Hill.” He traces his family’s roots there to his maternal great-great-grandfather and his paternal great-grandfather, although the fog of time makes the details hazy. Berry grew to know the place intimately during his childhood, a connection forged more intensely due to the absence of mechanical means with which to farm the earth. When Berry left a comfortable teaching position at New York University to return, it was the first time that he chose the place, and his return made all the difference. Berry knows when his family began to live on the same acres which he occupies, but he is not naive about the fact that others lived there long before. According to Berry, “I am forever being crept up on and newly startled by the realization that my people established themselves here by killing or driving out the original possessors, by the awareness that people were once bought and sold here by my people, by the sense of the violence they have done to their own kind and to each other and to the earth, by the evidence of their persistent failure to serve either the place or their own community in it.”

Read all of "The Past is Our Definition" by Jonathan Foiles at Psychology Today.


Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow, Bookstore Closings, Grief

Jayber Crow broke my heart in exactly the way I needed it to be broken, allowing my changing-times sadness and confusion to flow.

Jayber’s growth of soul as he narrates his life from 1914 to 1986 (being Port William’s barber for 32 of those years) grew on me.

If you’ve been grieving the losses that have come with a modernized, technologically driven age, Wendell Berry can’t get the gifts of the past back for you, but he can help you honor them with an unsentimental grief.

He can help your soul to grow through facing those losses with an honest remembering and gratitude. He can help you consider what changes you might make in order live at least a little closer to what you believe.

Berry can even help you see your need to forgive yourself along with everyone else who, in greater or lesser degrees, allowed the lessening of localism and the desecration of the land to happen.

Read all of  "Becoming Rememberers: How Wendell Berry Helps Us Grieve Our Time’s Tragic Tradeoffs" by Peggy Haslar at Sparrowfare.


On Violence, Wendell Berry, and Doctor Who

Writer Wendell Berry would argue that violence is the norm, so to suggest that there are other options on the table stretches beyond Western Civilization’s imagination.

In his writing, he wouldn’t limit violence to just the military or crimes committed by individuals, but ecological violence (such as coal mining that destroys mountains, forests, rivers, and animal life).

In his essay “The Commerce of Violence”, Berry paints a picture of the tit for tat of violence, “It is only another transaction in the commerce of violence: the unending, the not foreseeably endable, exchange of an eye for an eye, with customary justifications on every side, in which we fully participate; and beyond that, it is our willingness to destroy anything, any place, or anybody standing between us and whatever we are “manifestly destined” to have.”

According to Berry, violence can soak into how we farm, how we trade, how we see the Earth, and how we see problems/solutions.

Read all of  "He Never Would: Doctor Who Reads Wendell Berry" by Eric J. Kregel at his blog.


Applying some Wendell Berry insights to church practice

Berry believes that those who know the land best (i.e. those who farm it) will be most equipped to overcome its unique challenges. He believes the land should be “seen and known with an attentiveness that is schooled and skilled,” ultimately calling for “local knowledge and local love in individual people—people able to see, know, think, feel, and act coherently and well without the modern instinct of deference to the ‘outside expert’” (p. 117).

It’s a fantastic essay for many reasons—not the least of which is its quality of composition. But my interest in Berry’s essay isn’t agricultural as much as it is theological. Truth be told, I know next to nothing about farming, so I’d be foolish to weigh in one way or another. But “An Argument for Diversity” strikes me as being remarkably relevant to something I hope to be a bit more informed about: the mission of the church. What Berry has to say about local knowledge and local solutions needs to be heeded by God’s people.

Read all of "Listen Up!" by D. T. Humphrey at his blog.


Reflections on Wendell Berry's latest

People like Sir Thomas Howard, Aldo Leopold, and J.I. Rodale were among those sounding the alarm that things weren’t quite right with the increasingly chemically dependent agriculture of their times. Their alarms have continued into today through people like Wendell Berry. After 60 years of writing about such things, his recent collection of essays, The Art of Loading Brush, subtitled, New Agrarian Writings, released in 2017, is proof Mr. Berry has much more to say. The book is an argument for agrarianism as a model for restoring not only nature’s health by caring for it, but in turn, through that same process, restoring the health of rural communities. Care of land requires co-operation, not only with nature, but with each other. In the essay, The Thought of Limits in a Prodigal Age, he makes that argument like this:

As long as the diverse economy of our small farms lasted, our communities were filled with people who needed one another and knew that they did. They needed one another’s help in their work, and from that they needed one another’s companionship. Most essentially, the grownups and elders needed the help of the children, who thus learned the family’s and the community’s work and the entailed duties, pleasures, and loyalties. When that work disappears, when the parents leave farm and household for town jobs, when the upbringing of the young is left largely to the schools, then the children, like their parents, live as individuals, particles, loved perhaps, but not needed for any usefulness they may have or any help they might give. As the local influences weaken, outside influences grow stronger.

Read the whole piece by Josh Retterer at Mockingbird


Reading Wendell Berry's "A Place on Earth"

The only book I loved this year was A Place on Earth by Wendell Berry. Although I’d been meaning to read his fiction for years, I started this book (according to my Goodreads activity) the day after my sister’s diagnosis. I had some idea that reading about a small farming community in Kentucky, written by the octogenarian poet-farmer-essayist-novelist Berry, would be comforting. I had no idea how deeply I’d identify with the character of a 60-year-old tobacco farmer.

All of Berry’s fiction—a smattering of novels, novellas, and short stories—take place in the same fictional town of Port William, Ky., which is based on Berry’s own hometown. It’s a small town, and each work focuses on a different family or generation or set of friends, so that reading them as a whole brings the entire interconnected community to life.

Read the complete article by Janet Potter at The Millions.


Reflections on the Wendell Berry documentary

I was introduced to the agrarian world of the writer, Wendell Berry, in my intro to philosophy class in college. I have been an avid reader of Berry ever since. His novels, essays, and poetry, have been a rich source of comfort, hope, and rebuke in my life.

There is something to Berry’s writing that I am drawn to. He carries a degree of elusivity that requires constant unpacking. It contains a truthfulness that I am not always able to exhaust. His prose are beautiful and turns of phrase poignant. His characters are rich and their relationships dense.

Last night, I went with my wife and a few friends to watch the film, Look and See, which is a documentary portrait of his life. There were two moments in the film that brought me to tears and put words to unexpressed elements of my attraction to Wendell’s writing. I want to share them quick before I write a longer post reflecting on the film as a whole.

Read the full article by Kris Rolls at Being-in-the-World.

 


On Wendell Berry, the Church, and the economy

Wendell Berry, in his essay God and Country (in What People Are For, 1988):

Organized Christianity seems, in general, to have made peace with "the economy" by divorcing itself from economic issues, and this, I think, has proved to be a disaster, both religious and economic. The reason for this, on the side of religion, is suggested by the adjective "organized." It is clearly possible that, in the condition of the world as the world now is, organization can force upon an institution a character that is alien or even antithetical to it. The organized church comes immediately under compulsion to think of itself, and identify itself to the world, not as an institution synonymous with its truth and its membership, but as a hodgepodge of funds, properties, projects, and offices, all urgently requiring economic support. The organized church makes peace with a destructive economy and divorces itself from economic issues because it is economically compelled to do so. Like any other public institution so organized, the organized church is dependent on the "economy"; it cannot survive apart from those economic practices that its truth forbids and that its vocation is to correct. If it comes to a choice between the extermination of the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field and the extermination of a building fund, the organized church will elect - indeed, has already elected - to save the building fund. The irony is compounded and made harder to bear by the fact that the building fund can be preserved by crude applications of money, but the fowl of the air and the lilies of the field can be preserved only by true religion, by the practice of a proper love and respect for them as the creatures of God.

Read the full, brief, but provocative thoughts of Jonathan Melton on this Wendell Berry quotation at The Patience of Trees.


Quoting Wendell Berry in and out of context

But the misappropriation of the Wendell Berry quote takes the cake, which comes at the summation of Walcher’s column, in which he correctly identifies Berry as “one of conservation’s most prolific and gifted writers” and pastes:

“To put the bounty and the health of our land, our only commonwealth, into the hands of people who do not live on it and share its fate will always be an error. For whatever determines the fortune of the land determines also the fortunes of the people. If history teaches anything, it teaches that.”

The quote is a misappropriation because it ignores all context and the body of Berry’s life and work. And because the ‘absentee’ authority Berry decries that are holding rural communities back are not the environmental agencies or the pubic health officials–in Frankfort or in DC. No, Berry’s criticisms are directed at the absentee coal baron, the Texas oil man, the faraway capitalist figuring on a ledger sheet that human health and local wealth is less important than what shows up on his side of the balance sheet, that are holding rural communities, too long shackled to boom and bust volatile economies, back.

If there is to remain any hope at all for the region, strip mining will have to be stopped. Otherwise, all the federal dollars devoted to the region’s poor will have the same effect as rain pouring on an uprooted plant. To recover good hope and economic health the people need to have their land whole under their feet. And much of their land has already been destroyed.

Read the complete article by Pete Kolbenschlag at Colorado Pols.

The article by Greg Walcher to which Mr. Kolbenschlag refers can be found HERE.


Reading Wendell Berry's "Roots to the Earth"

I just read Roots to the Earth, a collection of Wendell Berry’s poetry and prose on American rural life. It is a meditation on living well.

The book first appeared a quarter century ago in a portfolio illustrated with Wesley Bates’ woodcuts. Three years ago, Larkspur Press released a limited edition of one hundred copies. Last year, Berkeley’s Counterpoint Press made the book available to the general public.

Even at one remove from a letterpress printing, this affordable volume is lavish. Bates’ illustrations recall the work of Rockwell Kent, Lynn Ward, and other midcentury traditionalists. However, while Kent and Ward foregrounded their figures against midnight-dark skies, Bates opens his to the light. That echoes the generosity of Berry’s poems and recalls as well some of the cheer found in children’s books, which may explain why Skylight Books displayed the copy I bought in the store’s kiddie section. I think that’s a mistake. True, there’s no reason that older children can’t read Roots to the Earth. Yet it’s adults who are likely most receptive to Berry’s themes of faith, frugality, steadfastness, dignity and humility. Adult experience often teaches something about the cost of abandoning traditional values.

Read the whole article at Left, Write & Centaur