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.


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.


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.


Review of UK selection of Wendell Berry's poetry

Wendell Berry was born in Henry County, Kentucky nearly a hundred years after the publication of Emerson’s Nature in 1836. He has lived, farmed and written there for more than half a century. Berry’s poems, novels, and essays examine this same question of place, of what it means to live deep-rootedly, a question that returns, time and again, in The Peace of Wild Things, a new selection of his poetry published by Penguin earlier this year.

The book runs roughly chronologically, beginning with poems from Berry’s first collection, The Broken Ground, published in 1964, through to poems from the early 2000s. There’s also a generous selection of “Sabbath Poems”, tied to Berry’s ritualistic Sunday morning walks, which he began to write in 1979, and the most recent of which in this selection is taken from A Small Porch, published by Counterpoint in 2016. The Peace of Wild Things opens with “The Apple Tree”, a poem that establishes a number of Berry’s poetic and conceptual traits, which have remained fairly consistent across his career. As he puts it in “Damage”, an essay from 1974, “If I live in my place, which is my subject, then I am ‘at’ my work even when I am not working. […] When I am finished writing, I can only return to what I have been writing about.”

Read the article by Rowland Bagnall at The Oxonian Review.


Concerning new Wendell Berry collection, "The World-Ending Fire"

It would be as reductive to call Wendell Berry a conservationist as it would be to call him an essayist. In the 31 pieces collected in The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry, the National Humanities Medal-winning poet, novelist, essayist, conservationist and farmer expounds on topics that range from farming, technology, economics, man’s proper relationship to nature, government, and social movements, to industrial disasters, marriage, the human acquisition of knowledge, drowning, labor, animal husbandry, eating, education, the Bible, Huckleberry Finn, and pleasure. Written between 1968 and 2011, all of the essays are ultimately about the same thing: how to live a rightly-ordered life.

Berry is not the type of chipper environmentalist who believes that capitalism can persist unabated as long as we install more solar panels. Nor is he the type of cerebral climate catastrophist who considers all action futile, opting instead to mutter into his wine glass about the anthropocene. In his view, the rightly-ordered life respects nature’s ability to give us sustenance and to destroy us, as it brings both the yearly flowering of bluebells and the deadly currents of the flooded Kentucky River. Topsoil is “Christ-like in its passivity and beneficence.” Nature is, in the words of the poet Edmund Spenser, “the greatest goddesse… the ‘equall mother’ of all,” who “knittest each to each, as brother unto brother.’” She operates as God’s deputy to mete out earthly justice. And she has a warrant out for us.

Read "What Wendell Berry Wants" by Colette Shade at The New Republic.

The World-Ending Fire will be published on May 8, 2018 by Counterpoint.


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.  


A suggestion to follow Wendell Berry's path of humility

Limiting ourselves to the sphere of present work requires a modesty that acknowledges we don’t have all the answers (despite our IQs or fancy data) and cannot predict the future. In this globalized era, characterized by a pervasive Internet and endless information, it seems harder than ever to take a humble approach to life’s problems. With so much information and connection at our fingertips, surely we can make the world better. Surely we can solve life’s problems.

But Berry tears away the illusion of power that so often accompanies our increased connectivity. Quantity does not equal quality. No matter what, we are still finite human beings, full of error and hubris. As Berry puts it in his essay “The Presence of Nature in the Natural World,” “Once we acknowledge, once we permit our language to acknowledge, the immense miracle of the existence of this living world, in place of nothing, then we confront again that world and our existence in it, forever more mysterious than known.”

Berry asks us to be more humble and particular in addressing problems we face—not just global problems (such as environmental and political crises, or humanitarian conflicts) but local and even personal dilemmas, too. The conservative approach to “fixing” things should be measured and humble, cognizant of our lack of control. That’s an attitude that does not describe either political party in Washington these days; neither does it generally describe our daily attitudes when tackling life’s problems. Do we really believe that life and its workings lie beyond our control? If so, will we react in fear and denial—or will we embrace our lowly and limited place in the world? 

Instead of seeking to predict, Berry suggests we should seek to “provide”: to take up humbly and thoughtfully limited actions that will best enable us to serve our families and communities in the near (not distant) future. Provision might involve eliminating debt, living within one’s means, providing food and shelter for those we love, and otherwise seeking to steward our possessions in a virtuous manner.

Read "What Wendell Berry Can Show Zuckerberg Types about Making a Better World" by Gracy Olmstead at Intercollegiate Review.


Read the Introduction to "Telling the Stories Right: Wendell Berry’s Imagination of Port William"

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks. These are the instructions for telling our stories right, and stories told in this way compel us to tend the splintered light of goodness that shines through the cracks of our wounded world. But even as Hannah [Coulter] so beautifully comes to terms with the limits of her only life, she yet worries. She is unsettled by the thought that she and Nathan may have narrated their seemingly simple lives in a way that encouraged their children to leave: “But did we tell the stories right? It was lovely, the telling and the listening, usually the last thing before bedtime. But did we tell the stories in such a way as to suggest that we had needed a better chance or a better life or a better place than we had?” Hannah is unwilling to answer her own question, though she must ask it of herself—she must live in her uncertainty. She ponders what would happen if someone, “instead of mourning and rejoicing over the past, [said] that everything should have been different.” In the end, she knows that such a line of thinking is the “loose thread that unravels the whole garment.” And so Hannah resists a reductive story; she refuses to tug at the loose thread. Instead, despite the imperfect nature of her life’s garment, Hannah learns to weave her narrative in gratitude.

The essays that follow are our giving of thanks, our collective attempt at telling the right stories about life and its fictional representations; they are our efforts to trace some of the narrative threads that hold together Berry’s Port William stories. We have written in hope that our words can elucidate the workings of Berry’s fiction, which makes goodness compelling to so many of his readers. What does it mean to “tell the stories right?” This is a question that haunts not only Hannah and the authors in this collection, but Berry himself.

Read the Introduction in Jeff Bilbro's post at Front Porch Republic