A critical review of "Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry"

Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry has a bit of a misleading title. While the documentary frames its discussion through the author’s philosophical lens, the focus is actually on the struggles of small farmers to stay afloat in an age of industrial agricultural. Even this description might lead one to think Look & See works as a straightforward piece of long-form journalism, an investigation that turns up answers, but that would be a mistake. This is a film about feelings and philosophy, about a moral and spiritual shift Mr. Berry has seen in American culture over the last fifty years. Rather than encourage discussion or provide a nuanced picture for viewers to puzzle over after the credits roll, this approach quickly settles into subdued pontificating, eschewing enlightenment for preaching.

Read the whole article by Jacquelin Hipes at Red Carpet Crash.

 


A brief review of Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry

LOOK & SEE: A PORTRAIT OF WENDELL BERRY is a tough nut to sell. Far from being a bad film , it's pacing and low key way of doing things is going to cause some people to nod off. On the other hand the films magnificent marriage of words and image will delight many others, especially those who see this on the big screen.

Berry was a well known writer who in 1965 took family away from the big city to live in rural Kentucky. He found success in writing about the land and life he loved turning ot novels, stories, gardening books, poems, essays and pieces championing environmentalism. The film is full of friends and relatives speaking about the man and his work, as well as the man himself reading his words.

Read the whole review by Steve Kopian at Unseen Films.

 


On "Look & See" and Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry has been born again! (Cinematically speaking.) Not that he appears to us in the revamped documentary Look and See. We see the people and place that made Berry into America’s preeminent scribe of rural life, but we never see him, except in archival footage. Berry is famously anti-screen, and he made staying off-screen a condition of this big-screen adaptation of his work. Fortunately, though, we hear his words, spoken by the man himself. And Berry’s words are worth seeing.

Laura Dunn and Jef Sewell’s film first debuted as The Seer, and around this time last year I offered a positive review of that beautifully shot look through Berry’s eyes. An infusion of funding then allowed the filmmakers to tinker with their work and respond to the subject’s request for a title change. Berry has never been comfortable with his reputation as a prophet, and so The Seer became Look and See.

Read the complete article by John Murdock at First Things.


Review of "Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry"

Much of the documentary depicts Henry County, where Berry was born in 1934 and returned to in 1965, buying a farm in the land of his birth. Indeed, this Kentucky farmland becomes a recurring character in Look & See, just as on the urban flipside, say, New York is in Woody Allen’s 1979 Manhattan. Henry County provides the documentary with a sense of place, where Wendell’s philosophy is deeply rooted — and where, over the years, the seasonal rhythms of family farming and an agrarian way of life are being eroded and upended.

At the heart of Look & See, and what makes it important viewing for environmentally minded moviegoers, are Berry’s trenchant, urgent arguments against the industrialization of agriculture and in favor of family farms. Berry blurs the distinction between art and life as he critiques the consolidation of American farming in the pursuit of greater efficiency, productivity and profits, at the expense of the spiritual aspects of humans being planted in and connected to the land. In news footage Berry is seen debating President Richard Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, an  acolyte of maximizing profit through assembly line-type, increasingly technological methods of mass farming.

In his poetry and activism, which often intersect, Wendell advances a profound critique of corporate capitalism that ravages the tillers of the earth. The Kentuckian argues that industrialization and the mechanization of agriculture replaces traditional rural values with urbanism. In Look & See the poet/activist comes across as the champion of the common man and woman, advocating for a contemporary Jeffersonian democracy, with the family farmer at the heart of liberty.

Read the whole article by Ed Rampell at Earth Island Journal.


On the Letters and Friendship of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder

Say the names Wendell Berry or Gary Snyder in some circles and you will elicit everything from abject worship to ennui. I belatedly came to awareness of both of them in the late Seventies and early Eighties—Berry for his finely wrought essays and stories (I did not have the maturity to appreciate his poetry then) and Snyder for his poems that were so authentically rooted, many of them, in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada. And though I appreciated both writers, and regarded both as exemplars of environmentally conscious writing, it never once occurred to me that they might be friends.

I pictured Berry plowing with mules on his Kentucky farm, and I pictured Snyder in the Sierra, running the ridges like a wolf. I thought of Berry as a student of the Scriptures, working out a biblically based land ethic, and I thought of Snyder as a Beat practitioner of Zen. But in spite of these differences they have been friends for almost half a century, first brought together in correspondence by their mutual publisher, Jack Shoemaker, and kept together all these years through mutual admiration—and sometimes by mutual consternation.

In Distant Neighbors, Chad Wriglesworth has done us the service of collecting and selecting forty years of their correspondence, from 1973 to 2013. In the fall of 2015, I was asked to introduce and interview Gary Snyder at a reading, and I told him before we went on stage that I was halfway through this book. “Wendell and I argued about two things for forty years,” Snyder declared: “Buddhism vs. Christianity, and wilderness vs. agriculture.”

That pretty much sums it up.

Read the whole article by Paul Willis at Education & Culture.


Reading Sutterfield's "Wendell Berry and the Given Life"

Sutterfield synthesizes Wendell Berry’s writings and his vision that our world and our life are gifts to be lived in and through a moral compass focused on ‘the other’, our neighbor. Much of the book fitted neatly with my Benedictine experience of living a virtuous life in a world often neglectful of those spiritual principles.

There is the humility of our creatureliness that comes through a reflective wisdom of interdependence, as Berry says “…that is born from soil…and home.” As Sutterfield’s essays highlight, Berry emphasizes the importance of stability and community of place.

We have come, as Elizabeth Scalia has written, to a generation of strange gods, where ‘virtual community’ is only one step away from imaginary. Sutterfield’s book reminds us of Wendell Berry’s conviction that we are designed to reach out—in our place, whether city dweller or along farm lanes—and touch our neighbor, our land, and embrace our Lord within the creation we were given.

Read the whole review by Margaret Realy at Morning Rose Prayer Gardens.


A Review of "Wendell Berry and the Given Life"

If I could, I would thrust a copy of Wendell Berry and the Given Life by Ragan Sutterfield into the hands of everyone I know. Here’s why:

Sutterfield’s book is a terrific introduction to an esteemed man of letters. Wendell Berry is a poet, novelist, essayist, conservation activist, and pioneering agrarian who advocates for sustainable agriculture. Thus Berry is a man whose legacy is equally remarkable for his literary writings as well as for his pioneering work and continuing leadership in the field of responsible agrarianism. If you patronize local farmer’s markets, or if your default setting inside grocery stores is to choose local organic produce, then you have Wendell Berry to thank.

Sutterfield maintains that Berry’s work is important because it speaks to our moral integrity at the same time as it addresses our mortal future. You might say that Berry is Rachel Carson 2.0. Berry brings science, generations of farming history, startling literary brilliance, and a deeply Christian point of view all to bear on discussions of the conservation crisis. On one level, it is crucial for more people to hear Berry’s clarion call to rewind our culture, to back away from industrialism, purely in the interests of survival. On another level, Berry speaks to our moral culpability in the ruination of families, communities, and the planet as a result of our failure to obey the most basic of God’s directives to love thy neighbor.

Sutterfield argues that Berry is a sage, a lamenting prophet who connects the dots between how we live and the state of our souls. Was this what God intended when he handed over his creation to us? Is this the role we were meant to play as caretakers? Sutterfield distills a diverse body of work published over the course of nearly sixty years; in so doing, he performs the invaluable service of making the ideas of a great Christian thinker more accessible to a wider audience.

Read the whole review by Maura Zagrans at The Catholic Book Blogger.


A Review of UK Wendell Berry Essay Collection

For more than 50 years, Wendell Berry has invited people to think more intelligently about the suicidal stupidity of progress defined by limitless growth. He powerfully reminds us that this is the root cause of today’s environmental crisis, and that the manifold efforts being made today to tweak that model of progress or mitigate its increasingly destructive externalities are almost certainly doomed to failure.

One of the most critical of these externalities is the loss of soil. Paul Kingsnorth says in his excellent Introduction:

“Again and again, Berry worries away at the question of topsoil. This is both a writer’s metaphor and a farmer’s reality, and for Wendell Berry, metaphors always come second to reality. ‘No use talking about getting enlightened or saving your soul,’ he wrote to his friend, the poet Gary Snyder, in 1980, ‘if you can’t keep the topsoil from washing away.’ Over the last century, by some estimates, over half the world’s topsoil has been washed away by the war on nature that we call industrial farming.”

Berry’s credo is simple: “What I stand for is what I stand on.” Everything starts and ends there, on the small farm in Kentucky that he’s looked after since 1964, in the power of the local economy and culture, in the twin imperatives of “neighborhood and subsistence”.

Read the whole article by Jonathon Porritt at Resurgence.


Review of "Wendell Berry and Higher Education"

Two literary critics take the writings and speeches of Wendell Berry as a touchstone for a critique of higher education. Each chapter follows a tight structure: an analysis of Berry’s fiction; discussion of how the themes of his fiction apply to higher-education reform; practical suggestions for students, instructors, and administrators; and an excerpt from Berry’s poetry that brings each chapter to a close. The book’s first three chapters, which together encompass the book’s first part, titled “Rooting Universities,” possess both charm and utility. They describe a new vision for higher education, one in which imagination and context trump specialization and fragmentation, attention is given to logical language that eschews jargon and is inclusive of all types of people and ideas, and the benefits of physical work contribute to intellectual development.

Read the complete review at Publishers Weekly.


A Review of "Wendell Berry and the Given Life"

Here then, are my thoughts on Wendell Berry and the Given Life by Ragan Sutterfield. 

This attractive and unintimidatingly light volume lives up to the description I was given. It is, indeed, a book interested in drawing out the spiritual themes and ideas strewn throughout the work of a long and productive lifetime. Sutterfield has done his research, and excerpts from Berry’s writings liberally pepper the pages of this book, which is itself divided up into thematic chapters addressing different aspects of Berry’s thought: Givenness, Humility, Love, Work, Membership, and so on. There are so many wonderfully expressive and thought-provoking Berry quotes in each chapter that my reading was drastically slowed by the repeated compulsion to set Sutterfield’s writing about Berry down to hunt down the cited essays and works and read the quotes passages in their original contexts.

Read the whole review by Kate Cousino at Peace and Pekoe.