Nick Offerman Honors Wendell Berry at NBCC Awards

On Thursday, March 17, Wendell Berry was presented with The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle. The presentation speech was made by actor and woodworker Nick Offerman, whose remarks included:

Ladies and gentlemen, to my way of thinking, this exceptional lifetime achievement as farmer, poet, husband, citizen, novelist, neighbor, essayist, father, son, grandfather, pacifist, brother, and fisherman, with the disposition of a philosopher king, would not have so occurred had it not been for two imperative life choices. The first and most consequential of these was of course his marriage to his wife Tanya in 1957. I misspoke when I said that he alone had made his bed, because he and Tanya have tucked in the bedclothes together now for nigh on 60 years. They’ve each been responsible for 50 percent of the bed-making and if there has in fact been any deviation from that ratio, well, that’s their business. They’re still together so they clearly must have hit upon an accord of some stripe. However, as Mr. Berry is to be rightly and fulsomely lauded for the achievements he has compiled, I vowed that his marriage must be cited in the same breath, for in many ways marriage and fidelity are the central themes at the root of Mr. Berry’s life’s work. Literal marriage between two people yes, but also our undeniable betrothal to the natural world and our responsibilities to that bed as well. As he tells us in his essay “The Body and the Earth”: “No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, we can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it. Where we live and who we live there with define the terms of our relationship to the world and to humanity. We thus come again to the paradox that one can become whole only by the responsible acceptance of one’s partiality.”

To read the complete speech, please visit Vulture.com.

 


On Wendell Berry on Poetry and Marriage

I often think that literature is the original internet, each footnote and citation and allusion a hyperlink to another text. I was reminded of this recently, while devouring Anne Lamott’s superb book on imperfection, grace, and belonging, where she quotes an instantly enchanting passage by poet and environmental activist Wendell Berry. Compelled to find its origin, I was led to a beautiful 1982 essay titled “Poetry and Marriage: The Use of Old Forms,” found in Berry’s altogether magnificent collection Standing by Words: Essays ... Berry explores the unexpected but profound parallels between poetry and marriage — or, more broadly, union — through the lens of form as both a hedge against and an embracing of the unknown. It is at once a celebration of the idea that life is not a straight line but a zig-zag and an insightful look at how form and structure — often expressed today through our fascination with daily routines and our constant quest to perfect our own — ground us into more liberated lives.

Read more of this by Maria Popova at Brain Pickings


On Wendell Berry's marriage stories

From Jake Meador's "Wendell Berry's 'Room of Love'" at Fare Forward

Near the end of The Gift of Good Land, Wendell Berry writes, “To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.” This quote, perhaps more than any other quotation from his work, gets to the heart of Berry’s vision and the purpose of his writing. Berry’s project for over 50 years has been to argue for the goodness of reverent breaking and to demonstrate its possibility.

But as Berry’s phrasing suggests, reverent breaking is not just about discrete actions, but about the kind of people we are. Most of us who exploit the world, after all, are not so vicious that we willingly do things to desecrate God’s creation. Rather, we do it through our carelessness, laziness, or ignorance, failing to recognize the connection between our actions and the health of creation. And so the real question with Berry isn’t so much how we can break creation reverently, but how we can become the sort of people capable of breaking creation reverently. And this is why Berry’s novels are so vital to understanding his work. For it is in his novels that he shows us how we can go about becoming the sort of person capable of such a relationship to the created order.

One of the particularly powerful images Berry uses to capture this reverent relationship to creation is marriage. The stories of Port William are stories of marriages—Ptol Proudfoot and his wife Miss Minnie in the early 20th century all the way to the faithful stewards Danny and Lyda Branch of Berry’s later stories. Throughout Berry’s body of work, marriage functions as a means of learning how to live in creation, how to break it with reverence and in such a way that, in time, it will actually flourish. There are three marriages in particular that can offer a powerful picture of how Berry thinks we can break creation honorably and how we can become the sorts of people capable of such things.

 Red much more at Fare Forward


Another approach to Wendell Berry's view of marriage

A few weeks ago, back when I was a more productive blogger, I wrote about what I thought was an unjustified appropriation of a phrase from poet-farmer Wendell Berry by two opponents of gay marriage, Anthony Esolen and his book-reviewer Matthew J. Franck. Berry, I pointed out, came out in favor of gay marriage just last year, and I quoted Fred Clark’s insistence that the gesture was “wholly of a piece with everything else the man has written and argued and defended.”

Today I want to spend some time justifying that statement. I do it because I don’t really like the culture war (believe it or not) and I’m fascinated by those rare figures—like Dorothy Day, Walker Percy and (sometimes) Pope Francis—embraced in equal measure by both sides. Berry is one of those figures. You’re as likely to see him quoted by Emily Stimpson as by Fred Clark, by Casey Fleming as by Rod Dreher.

I promise I’m not trying to claim Berry for my side of the war. I’m doing it because I think figures like Berry, Day, etc. present a unique opportunity to talk across that divide. When, for example, Jake Meador accuses Berry of changing his mind on marriage or Stimpson (more preposterously) suggests that Berry just hasn’t thought enough about marriage, well, I think there are things in his writing that they’re missing. And maybe they’ll listen to him if they won’t listen to me.

Read on at Letters to the Catholic Right


On the Use of a Wendell Berry Title

“The Country of Marriage,” as Franck writes, is part of the title of Esolen’s last chapter, the capstone of his book which is, entirely, an argument against gay marriage.

Of course, “The Country of Marriage” is also the title of a book of poems by the deeply Christian Wendell Berry. And Berry, of course, made waves last year by vehemently standing up for gay marriage. As Fred Clark observed at the time, no one should have been surprised by that—Berry’s support of gay marriage is “wholly of a piece with everything else the man has written and argued and defended.” Catholic writer Jerry Salyer argued something similar a few weeks ago.

For the record, I love the image, the idea of marriage as a country or a landscape. But if you’re going to use that idea, you need to put it into Berry’s much larger understanding of what a landscape is. You need to look at the way Berry understands nature, which is very different from what the way Esolen sees it.

via Letters to the Catholic Right


A Critique of Wendell Berry's Same-Sex Marriage Ideas

On one hand there is the rather unexpected sight of a tobacco farmer born in 1930s Kentucky pondering aloud how he might feel were he “one of a homosexual couple.” On the other, we recall that Berry’s work invokes the ideals of the 1960s at least as much as it does those of the Bible Belt, and that he has connections to a Democratic Party which today cares far more for the gospel of sexologist Albert Kinsey than for its historical voter base of country folk and factory workers. In other words, Berry’s Georgetown College speech highlights a deep contradiction within the man’s rural mystique. The Georgetown speech calls for a serious and honest re-evaluation of the thought that led up to it, and we might begin such a re-examination by considering Jayber Crow, Berry’s widely celebrated millennial novel.

Read more at The Catholic World Report


Blog Watch: Looking back at Wendell Berry and Gay Marriage

Berry, who turns 80 this year, still lives on his Hardin [sic] County, Kentucky, homeplace, and still knows how to stir things up. The clip at the top today, in lieu of a Sunday sermon, is the unabashedly heterosexual Berry's coming out as a supporter of same-sex marriage during early 2103.
 
In typical Berry fashion, it was done in a roomful of Baptist preachers on the campus of Georgetown College, affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention  --- Daniel in the lions' den.
 
Berry minced few words about his views concerning gay marriage and a variety of other topics, nor did he spare the Christian church, skewering it with a variety of quotable paragraphs, including this:
 
“If I were one of a homosexual couple — the same as I am one of a heterosexual couple — I would place my faith and hope in the mercy of Christ, not in the judgment of Christians. When I consider the hostility of political churches to homosexuality and homosexual marriage, I do so remembering the history of Christian war, torture, terror, slavery and annihilation against Jews, Muslims, black Africans, American Indians and others. And more of the same by Catholics against Protestants, Protestants against Catholics, Catholics against Catholics, Protestants against Protestants, as if by law requiring the love of God to be balanced by hatred of some neighbor for the sin of being unlike some divinely preferred us. If we are a Christian nation — as some say we are, using the adjective with conventional looseness — then this Christian blood thirst continues wherever we find an officially identifiable evil, and to the immense enrichment of our Christian industries of war.”
It was quite a performance, characterized as an "epic slanderfest" by one appalled conservative (previously an admirer of Berry).
 

Wendell Berry cited on Marriage

In the United States we equate an ordinary life with a failed one. Wendell Berry describes the modern marriage in Feminism, the Body and the Machine as, “an intimate ‘relationship’ involving (ideally) two successful careerists in the same bed...a sort of private political system in which rights and interests must be constantly asserted and defended. Marriage in other words, has now taken the form of a divorce.” Berry lives on his family’s farm in rural Kentucky, and his point is simple: If you always have to argue about who does what, you will be unhappy. If everyone just picks up a shovel and does their part, you can do great things. It is not possible to be a good co-worker, spouse or friend if you are a narcissist.

via America Magazine


Wendell Berry cited on Marriage and Sexual Ethics

This broader capitalist rape culture benefits greatly from both the fantasy that sexual urges are completely uncontrollable except in the cases where someone says “no” and the vestiges of pseudo-Christian morality that assigns as much blame as possible to the victims of sexual aggression. Ross Douthat has observed that a libertarian vision of a perfectly transparent free market is as unrealistic as an libertine vision of perfectly free decision-making. Sex and the representation of hypersexualized bodies becomes a chaotic mess of people using sex for whatever power it gives them over others. Wendell Berry takes this apart quite skillfully in his essay Sex, Economy, Freedom, & Community:

"If you depreciate the sanctity and solemnity of marriage, not just as a bond between two people but as a bond between those two people and their forebears, their children, and their neighbors, then you have prepared the way for an epidemic of divorce, child neglect, community ruin, and loneliness. If you destroy the economies of household and community, then you destroy the bonds of mutual usefulness and practical dependence without which the other bonds will not hold."

via Mere Orthodoxy