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October 2010
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Blog Watch: On reading Wendell Berry's fiction

When you read all of Berry’s work, an attitude of thanksgiving is present throughout. In his fiction, this attitude is expressed most clearly in the themes of hospitality and gift in the community of Port William. The community exists in many layers, and Berry explores how these various layers work together through hospitality—gifts given and received by both insiders and outsiders to the community.  Because this theme is so prevalent throughout his body of work, it may be best to look at just one of his short stories for an example of this, though if you read the books (which I always recommend!), the theme will make itself fairly evident.


Wendell Berry cited on 'modern work'

One aspect of good work, then, seems to include the opportunity to attend to the whole. It is the difference between integration and dis-integration. Yet even when our work is not simple and repetitive motions in a long line of production, we can still reduce the scope of our attention so our work lacks any larger context and thus remains dis-integrated. According to Wendell Berry, “much modern work is done in academic or professional or industrial or electronic enclosures. The work is thus enclosed in order to achieve a space of separation between workers and the effects of their work….Nevertheless, their work will have a precise and practical influence, first on the place where it is being done, and then on every place where its products are used, on every place where its attitude toward its products is felt, on every place to which its by-products are carried.” This forces us to consider our work in the context of the places we live and the lives we lead. Part of responsible—and therefore truly satisfying—work is knowing that what we produce with our hands and minds is good in the broadest sense. As Berry puts it, “the name of our proper connection to the earth is ‘good work.’”


Sutterfield reviews Logsdon's "Holy Shit"

Shit.  The word carries a certain sense, a sort of incredulity, skepticism, disdain.  It comes in different shapes and sizes—there can be loads of it, tons of it, piles of it, bags of it, people can even be full of it.  But Gene Logsdon wants us to rethink all of that and to see it as holy, set apart, a special gift that will play a key role in saving humus-kind.


Blog Watch: On Wendell Berry's hope

"But one's real duty to the future is to do as you should do now. Make the best choices, do the best work, fulfill your obligations in the best way you can, and work on a scale that's appropriately small. Make plans that are appropriately small. If you do those things, then the future will take care of itself. But if you don't do those things, then you build up a debt against the future, which is what we're doing now."

In a difficult year -- and all years are beset with their own challenges -- the Thanksgiving season offers a chance to gather our wits if we are lucky, although expectations of the season are likely to outstrip the realities of over-indulgence and laziness. In America it seems as though holiday-sanctioned laziness is about the only form of rest we allow ourselves. Wendell Berry, that Kentucky philosopher/poet whose quiet poems are a strong antidote to American restlessness these days, made his statement about the future and our obligations back in 1993, or what is increasingly looking like the good old days.



Of interest: On Larkspur Press

In an age when books themselves seem threatened with extinction by virtual type on digital screens, Zeitz's Larkspur Press uses antique methods to publish elegant volumes of poetry and short fiction by Kentucky authors.

Larkspur Press will have its annual open house Nov. 27 and 28, unless too much rain falls on this corner of Owen County. The business is in a timber-frame shop on Gray and Jean Zeitz's 60-acre farm. A downpour can send Cedar Creek out of its banks and across their precarious gravel driveway.


Thomas Turner on Wendell Berry's Mad Farmer (part 1)

The Mad Farmer is a reoccurring character in Berry’s poems. The Mad Farmer serves as Berry’s poetic response to the changing cultural and agricultural times he conveys in his expose of modern agriculture, The Unsettling of America.

Since World War II America has made astonishing changes to the way food is planted, grown, harvested, and consumed by its citizens. The industrialization of agriculture, starting as a convenient way for companies and the government to convert chemical and industrial supplies left over from the war effort, has become the de facto means of food production within our country. An undercurrent of peaceable revolution has rippled across this country following the wake of industrial agriculture, and the sentiments of this revolution are expressed poetically in Wendell Berry’s Mad Farmer poems.


Blog Watch: Reading WB's "Life is a Miracle"

'Life is a Miracle, an essay against modern superstition' by Wendell Berry and I come to the sixth chapter.
This is a library book, but someone has been here before me, underlying very faintly Berry's comments on Science and Art in which he observes that these disciplines are neither fundamental nor immutable, but are instead the  'cultural tools' of our society.

'Science cannot replace art or religion for the same reason that you cannot loosen a nut with a saw or cut a board in two with a wrench.'


Blog Watch: WB cited on Education

Not that all teachers take up authoritarian and mechanical like order in the classroom, but the education system is designed to leave free play and democratically local governing of schools by students, parents, and teachers, at a dead last. I do not for a second rule out truly inspiring teachers that have a deep appreciation for children and allow a generous amount of time alloted to free play, but schools generally as a social institution has failed to portray a democratic model for students that promotes more free play. Wendell Berry author, farmer, and activist suggests that the industrial age of schooling be simply replaced with this next politically coined age of information, but one that takes on a different meaning.

The complexity of our present trouble suggests as never before that we need to change our present concept of education. Education is not primarily an industry and its proper use is not to serve industries, either by job-training or by industry-subsidized research. Its proper use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, socially, and culturally responsible. This cannot be done by gathering or “accessing” what we now call “information” – which is to say facts without context and therefore without priority. A proper education enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing what things are more important than other things; it means first things first (Berry, 2002).


Wendell Berry appearing in Lexington, KY

LEXINGTON, KY (wuky) - A concert event this weekend at the University of Kentucky will mark the return of renowned author, poet and environmental activist Wendell Berry, who pulled his papers from the school in a dispute over its relationship with the coal industry. "Artists for a Sustainable Future, Which Side Are You On?" will feature Appalachian writers and folk musicians who are opposed to mountain top removal coal mining. Ron Pen, the director of UK's John Jacob Niles Center, which is hosting the concert, says having Wendell Berry appear sends a strong message.