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.


Sutterfield cites Wendell Berry in lecture about living in a time of death

On April 21, 2018, Ragan Sutterfield delivered the Tippy McMichael Lecture at St. Paul Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

He posed the questions: "What are we to do if we recognize the death of the earth and her ecosystems that have nurtured and sustained our lives? What do we do if we want to take this death seriously in search for a better way to live into whatever future life there will be on the the other side of chaos and mass extinction?" As the beginning of an answer he suggests, "Find a time and a place, and make them holy."

Sutterfield, author of Wendell Berry and the Given Life, has been deeply influenced by Mr. Berry's thought. In the following video he cites a brief passage from the early essay "A Native Hill."

Until we understand what the land is, we are at odds with everything we touch. And to come to that understanding it is necessary, even now, to leave the regions of our conquest—the cleared fields, the towns and cities, the highways—and re-enter the woods. For only there can a man encounter the silence and the darkness of his own absence. Only in the silence and darkness can he recover the sense of the world’s longevity, of its ability to thrive without him, of his inferiority to it and his dependence on it. Perhaps then, having heard that silence and seen that darkness, he will grow humble before the place and begin to take it in—to learn from it what it is.  


Fireflies, Memories, Mental Health and Wendell Berry

Earth Day is traditionally a day of gratitude for Mother Earth, a time for celebration. But this year, we are reading daily of assaults slowing undoing environmental protections.  Has anyone in this present administration ever read a poem or essay by the activist farmer from Kentucky, Wendell Berry?  He was a National Humanities Medalist in 2010.
 
Is this administration familiar with the American Psychiatric Association research on the benefits of a natural environment? It was on September 12, 2016, that the APA noted: 

"One area of substantial research is the benefit of natural environments or green spaces which can provide a calming atmosphere, evoke positive emotions and facilitate learning and alertness. Experiencing nature helps people recover from the mental fatigue of work. Some research has found that activity in natural outdoor settings can help reduce the symptoms of ADHD in children."    

Read "An Earth Day Lament: Fireflies, Memories, and Mental Health" by Rita Watson at Psychology Today.


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


On Wendell Berry, Options, and Fatherhood

And while farming is not really an option for most, I do think that it is in our work that we men, as fathers, can have the greatest impact on how our lives unfold in more human ways into today’s societal environment.   We long for our “vocation” and our “work” to be the same thing, which is actually another common thread in Berry’s work, because, especially for the laymen, those things ought to be united in the common idea of “economy” – the union or meaning, work, place, and home.  Berry’s idea holds a fuller understanding of vocation than either the typical Catholic or secular society does.  “Vocation,” to many Catholics, means the overarching “state” of religious, clergy, or lay that a person is called to. “Vocation” in secular society means your trade, generally, but one merely chosen and trained for.  But to Berry, vocation is that particular state that includes a “thing” you make because we were made to make, and this he presents in contrast to a mere “job”, which is had for the sake of money alone:

“[Vocations] are specific kinds of work to which [people] are summoned by God or by their natural gifts or talents.  The kind of work may be cabinet-making or music-making, cooking or forestry, medicine or mechanics, science or law or philosophy or farming – any kind of work that is whole…  A “job,” by contrast, is understood as any work whatever that one can earn money by doing…” (Wendell Berry, The Art of Loading Brush, 79).

Read the complete essay by Jason Craig at Catholic Exchange.


Wendell Berry and others inspire songs

The Vision was inspired by a powerful poem written by Wendell Berry that speaks deeply to my feelings about the earth, in all of its destruction and possibility. Upon meeting Wendell two times at his farm, I was amazed at how comfortable I was sitting with him and his amazing wife Tanya. I enjoyed his simplicity and how he cuts to the quick with no hesitancy or apology.

I looked this poem over and again the words that would become a song came to me and I arranged it without much effort. I usually channel poetry arrangements, but since Wendell is alive and well, I wanted to honor him and what I perceived to be his intention as clearly as I could. I did work on it more than other poems, nonetheless, it pretty much arranged itself.

I tend to select poems, melodies, and arrangements that are complex and a bit gut-wrenching and hard to sing. This one takes a lot of air! It also takes a bit of courage to sing because of the state of the world. I love the harmonies John and I do on this one.

Listen to the music and read more by Donna and John Paul Wright at The Thread in the Quilt.


The amazing journey of a thought from Wendell Berry

Dear Quote Investigator: In my opinion the most thoughtful and poignant quotation about the environment is the following:

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children

No one seems to know the origin of this saying. Perhaps it was constructed in recent decades, or perhaps it encapsulates the wisdom of previous centuries. Could you attempt to trace this quotation?

Quote Investigator: In 1971 the influential environmental activist Wendell Berry published a book titled “The Unforeseen Wilderness: An Essay on Kentucky’s Red River Gorge”. Berry emphasized the desirability of preserving natural areas and adapting a long-range perspective about the environment. Boldface has been added to excerpts:

We can learn about it from exceptional people of our own culture, and from other cultures less destructive than ours. I am speaking of the life of a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children; who has undertaken to cherish it and do it no damage, not because he is duty-bound, but because he loves the world and loves his children…

Quote Investigator then proceeds to trace and cite uses of the quotation down through the years and across some fairly obscure sources. Follow the entire journey at The Quote Investigator.


Wendell Berry cited on William Carlos Williams

To Wendell Berry, whose life has been spent in the very different environs of rural Kentucky, Williams’s intense rootedness in place is a major part of his example and legacy. He praises “Williams’ lifelong effort to come to terms with, to imagine, and to be of use to his native and chosen place.” This “local adaptation,” as Berry calls it, has more than literary implications: in the course of the book, it becomes an ecological, economic, and political creed.

Fundamental to this interpretation of Williams is the idea that he and his poetry benefited from being so closely tied to Rutherford. “As a part of the necessary conversation of a local culture,” Berry writes, “poetry becomes more urgently important than it can ever be as a high-cultural or academic specialty.”

Read the complete essay by Adam Kirsch at The New York Review of Books.


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.


Wendell Berry cited in New York Times Op-ed

The first ideal was the Steward. This is the small yeoman farmer and craftsman who lives close to the soil — self-reliant, upright, humble before creation and bonded to his local community.

“The name of our proper connection to the earth is ‘good work,’” Wendell Berry wrote, “for good work involves much giving of honor. It honors the source of its materials; it honors the place where it is done; it honors the art by which it is done; it honors the thing that it makes and the user of the made thing. Good work is always modestly scaled.”

Read the whole article by David Brooks at The New York Times.