Reading Wendell Berry and Bernd Heinrich from an urban p.o.v.

The roots of the two writers’ differences are regional and occupational. Berry is a farmer in Kentucky; Heinrich is a scientist who lives in Maine. Accordingly, the former writes about cultivation and conservation while the latter writes about discovery, the process of going from question to answer. But centered in the work of both men is the value of practice, study, and devotion. Their essays demand that attention be paid to what is around and underfoot, what is all too easily taken for granted. Berry says this explicitly and often. Heinrich implies it. Each of their essays, by virtue of its attention and clarity, says, look at this, how could you not?

Though Berry’s essays are often knotty moral arguments and Heinrich’s educational, reading the collections side-by-side felt like a kind of escapism, if not in the way that word is usually applied. They are not, strictly speaking, relaxing. However, when so much of what I read, think, and talk about on a daily basis is directly wrapped up in whatever fresh crisis our president has precipitated, reading deeply considered work that is focused on the world as it grows from the ground is a genuine respite. Both Heinrich and Berry require my full attention long after I’ve finished reading; like the practices of cultivation and scientific study they write about, reading their essays is a slow process that rewards focus and patience.

Read all of "I Don't Spend Much Time in Nature, But I Love Reading About It" by Bradley Babendir at Literary Hub.


Wrapping up the Digital Wendell Berry discussion

Matt Stewart responds to a range of responses to his original essay "Stop Talking about Wendell Berry on Twitter":

It is true that the glass is decidedly half-empty in this analysis and that I risk hyperbole. But if the readers of Wendell Berry do not speak forcefully and often about the costs of our digital world, who else will? Who else can be counted on to simply reject, at times, these new “necessities?” Who else will remind us that we have options beyond either a grim realism that just accepts the tools that we have at hand and a shallow techno-utopianism that awaits not a new tool but a talisman? Poor old Twitter ($7.41 billion in total assets as of 2017) and Facebook ($84.5 billion in total assets as of 2017) can defend themselves, and I do not think it irresponsible to indulge in some hostile interrogation of the influence of their products.

I urge my fellow localists to think of their Tweets and Facebooks as analogous to cigarettes or plastic grocery bags. One or two are not so bad and they can even be enjoyable and useful. But they are not designed for moderate use and in the quantities with which we pump them out, a severe reckoning is at hand. I think it is likely that future generations will not look on us kindly as they labor to clean up the digital equivalent of secondhand smoke and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Read all of "A Digital Relation to the Universe" by Matt Stewart at Front Porch Republic.

Find a list of all articles in this series HERE at Front Porch Republic and here on this site.


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.


Review of new Wendell Berry collection

The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry is a selection of 31 essays spanning five decades of his works, and it could not have come at a better time as our nation thrashes about in search of a voice of reason. Who better than Berry to explain to us “who we are, where we are, and what we must do to live” (“The Way of Ignorance,” 2004)? The essays are not presented in chronological order, nor even in any kind of thematic progression; rather, the collection, arranged by Paul Kingsnorth of County Galway, Ireland, rhapsodizes in a kind of orchestral composition of rhetorical movements – from ethos to pathos to logos and back again.

Berry is not confined to the subjects related to his bailiwick i.e., agrarian culture, and is utterly unafraid of any topic that sticks in his craw, as only a humble “apprentice of creation” and a writer without institutional affiliations can be. He lays into quite an assortment of subjects from economics to feminism to education to civil disobedience, and a whole host of topics in between, each one a treasure of insight and strategic action.

Read "'The World-Ending Fire' collects 31 essential Wendell Berry essays" by Richard Horan at The Christian Science Monitor.


Wendell Berry in conversation about local economies

Listen to a conversation between two giants of the local economy movement in this extended episode. Helena Norberg-Hodge founded Local Futures, produced the film The Economics of Happiness, and wrote the book Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh. Wendell Berry is a poet and activist, an author of over 40 books, and a lifelong advocate for ecological health, the beauty of rural life, and small-scale farming. Their far-reaching discussion touches on human nature, technology, experiential knowledge, agriculture policy, happiness, wildness, and local food systems.

Listen to "Beautiful Places: A Conversation with Wendell Berry" at Local Futures.


New study of Wendell Berry due in January 2019

In Virtues of Renewal: Wendell Berry’s Sustainable Forms, Jeffrey Bilbro combines textual analysis and cultural criticism to explain how Berry’s literary forms encourage readers to practice virtues of renewal. While the written word alone cannot enact change, Bilbro asserts that Berry’s poetry, essays, and fiction can inspire people to, as Berry writes, “practice resurrection.” Bilbro examines the distinct, yet symbiotic, features of these three genres, demonstrating the importance of the humanities in supporting tenable economies. He uses Berry’s pieces to suggest the need for more robust language for discussing conservation, ecology, and the natural—and regenerative—process of death. Bilbro additionally translates Berry’s literature to a wider audience, putting him in conversation with philosophers and theologians such as Ivan Illich, Willie Jennings, Charles Taylor, and Augustine.

See complete information at The University Press of Kentucky.


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.


Nick Offerman on Wendell Berry's new Library of America volume

Wendell Berry’s works are, perhaps, the literary equivalent of one of the farm tables from his own stories, laden with robust dishes of every stripe, from savory to sweet to salty, all to be washed down with spring water, lemonade and buttermilk, or perhaps a little firewater if our luck holds. And the analogy doesn’t end there, either, because that multi-plattered feast is surrounded by smells, by raucous laughter and talk, roosters and roof-drumming raindrops, or at other times by silence, solemn and gravid.

The gift of Mr. Berry’s yarn-spinning is in how his work delves deeper and deeper, proceeding to tell you about the origins of the table itself, complete with the details of its earnest maker, as well as which joints are sound, and which might eventually give out due not to any fault of the craftsperson but to an unseen pitch pocket hiding inside one of the large stretcher tenons, weakening the joint with a natural, hollow cavity. And he’s still not done because he will then proceed to delineate the history of the oak tree from which the table’s boards were hewn, decades ago, and what was going on in that particular corner of the woodlot the day that tree was felled.

The table linens get the same treatment, as does the salt cellar, and . . . well, I imagine I’ve made my point. Attempting to apprehend the scope of his vision leaves me literally slack-jawed, tuckered out, and dumb.

Read all of Mr. Offerman's thoughts at Library of America.


On tweeting about Wendell Berry

Seeing quotations from Wendell Berry and advertisements for his work on Twitter is as jarring as imagining Burley Coulter spraying Jayber Crow from a Ski-Doo upon his return to Port William. A localist does not have to be a Wendell Berry fundamentalist to see that this is a problem. I will admit to dark visions of starting a fakeWendellBerry Twitter account and trolling anyone that posts about him on Twitter with Marshall McLuhan’s #YouKnowNothingOfMyWork!, but that seems counterproductive.

Read all of "Stop Talking about Wendell Berry on Twitter" by Matt Stewart at Front Porch Republic.

Read "The Irony of Twitter," a response by Jake Meador at FPR.

Ben Sixsmith offers some positive approaches to the use of Twitter in "Talking about Wendell Berry on Twitter" at FPR.

Read "Big Other is Watching. Hallelu!" by Eric Miller at FPR.

Read "Alone Together on the Internet" by Tara Anne Thieke at FPR.

Read "In Praise of Boredom" by Robert Moore-Jumonville at FPR.

Read "What Tolkien Can Teach Us About Twitter" by L. M. Sacasas at FPR.

Read "Marginalia" by Jeff Bilbro at FPR.

Read "Sparking Little Platoons" by Gracy Olmstead at FPR

Read "The Bar Jester Goes Off (While Putatively Responding to Matt Stewart)" by Jason Peters at FPR

Read "A Digital Relation to the Universe" by Matt Stewart at FPR

See John Fea's response, "Actually, Matt Stewart, you DO have 'to be a Wendell Berry fundamentalist' to believe those who use social media are delusional" (the substance of which is mostly contained in its title). Read the Comments there for a bit more and a response from Matt Stewart. Also, a followup by John Fea, "Another Post About People Who Tweet About Wendell Berry" (22 May 2018).