Un vero maestro
WB mentioned in article critical of ISI

Blog Watch: Pondering WB & us

The Ochlophobist: on fits, starts, and short reaches..

There is also the temptation, the very American temptation, of taking from Berry & Co. a moralist perfectionism. An all or nothing disposition which rots the soul, as it judges any effort which does not achieve a fast and secure perfection to be hell-fodder. There is a lack of pause with this sort of perfectionism, scarce disposition to cover the sins of others, few allowances, a poverty with regard to tenderness of heart. We have to live the life that we are given, and when we read Berry as moralist only, or moralist primarily, most of us end up under a load of impossible moral burdens. I will never get to the farm in KY. I have no way of getting there. I must concern myself with my own home, as Berry exhorts. In much of Berry's literature there is that call to be who you are where you are, in as human a manner possible, but the overt moralism in much of his work provides something of a contradiction in tone at times, and one is best to follow Andrea Elizabeth's reading and take this with a grain of salt. There is not going to be a Wendell Berry movement that changes America. You are not going to take part in some great motion of social change by getting your produce from a local farmer or growing one quarter of your caloric intake. This is not to say that such social movements do not exist and will not push and pull society in this and that way. It is to say that such an agenda betrays Berry and the whole notion of living an honest human life. READ MORE ...

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Reading more of this post, I can see what this person means. Yes, I have read Wendell Berry suggesting that what city people can do is to plant a tree and then gone to work and returned to see two or three city blocks of trees bulldozed in a single day. At those times such advice seems woefully inadequate. And I realize that I am reading the work of a farmer claiming that farmers are the most virtuous of citizens. Where does that leave the rest of us? Still, many of the points made in this post don't hold up. There will be no Wendell Berry movement that changes America? Who ever said there would be? Not Wendell Berry. He wrote an essay titled "In Distrust of Movements." I think that he would object to any movement in his name for many reasons, one being that he never claimed that his ideas were original to him. Nor does the failure of anyone's attempt to be a farmer invalidate his work. Again, I understand what the person is saying. It is clear that Wendell Berry has lived in a unique position, one that is not available to the vast majority of people. Reading his work, I have often sat back and said to myself, "that is easy for you to say." But his work is about so much more than farming, and it contains ideas that provide a useful counterpart to so much of the nonsense we hear from the powers that be in this society. What I most object to in this post is the notion that Wendell Berry's work is best understood as a eulogy. No, his work is not a tribute to a lost world. It has tremendous implications for the present and the future. Take Wendell Berry's work with a grain of salt? Of course you should. That is true of anyone.

Thanks for very apt comment, Robert. Berry's "unique position" has allowed him to see more clearly than most the nature of agri/cultural changes since WWII.

If his work is not a eulogy, I think it certainly contains very strong elements of elegy. He has a very marked sense of what has been lost ... and with this comes some sadness and anger ... and a desire to pay tribute to those in the past who have done good work.

Like you, I don't think this precludes the prophetic challenge or forward-looking influence of his writing. I guess that's why we've got such flexible necks ... we can look back (in gratefulness and sorrow) to see where we've been and look ahead (in hope and trepidation) to see at least a little way into the future.

Brother Tom,

I am so glad you put this site together. I am grateful for the opportunity to correspond with people who are familiar with Mr. Berry's work. I have very few opportunities to do that otherwise. One of my ambitions is to apply the ideas in Wendell Berry's books to my job as a teacher. Would you be open to my checking in from time to time with my thoughts along those lines?

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