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Honors for Wendell Berry

On THURSDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2011 at 7 p.m, join PEN NEW ENGLAND and CAMBRIDGE FORUM to honor  poet, WENDELL BERRY, as he receives PEN NEW ENGLAND’s annual Howard Zinn “People Speak” Award.  WENDELL BERRY will discuss civil disobedience in defense of the environment and read from his poetry.  He will be joined by  environmental activist, BILL MCKIBBEN, to talk about their recent arrests: MCKIBBEN in D.C. protesting the proposed pipe line bringing Canadian tar sands oil to a refinery on the U.S. Gulf and BERRY protesting Kentucky mountain top removal.  Boston Globe op-ed columnist RENEE LOTH will moderate the public discussion that follows.


See HERE also.

Wendell Berry cited in op-ed on fracking in South Africa

The issues around hydraulic fracturing in the Karoo may be local, but, in environmental terms, the entire Earth is our locale. The voices of reason want to confine the debate to the car you and I drive (reliant on oil), the implied need for SA to be "energy independent" (vis-a-vis that natural gas is our saviour) and that shale gas will warm the homes of the poor. Good points. The real issues, which if dealt with appropriately, will resolve the concerns of the voices of reason are clear.

First is water. To quote Pugh: "We can survive without gas; we cannot live without water." The death of Andries Tatane is not an isolated incident of police violence?it is a glaring example of the inevitable conflict that results from the environmental degradation of a person's environment.

Second is the matter of human rights. As the environmentalist and writer Wendell Berry said: "The movement to preserve the environment will be seen to be, as I think it has to be, not a digression from the civil rights and peace movements, but the logical culmination of those movements..."

And finally, it is about developing our renewable energy resources. There is no reason to prospect for shale gas in the Karoo. It will not provide us with cheaper energy?energy prices are set by the energy companies, not by the people who use it. Look at Australia.


from "Wendell Berry and the Romanians"

In his Port William novels, Wendell Berry is doing something very similar to what those Romanian villagers were doing with their story of the jilted fairy. Berry writes of a forgotten little place, and in so doing demonstrates that there are vast things afoot—much more than meets the eye.

Certain religious traditions speak of “thin places”—places on earth where the veil between the seen and the unseen is particularly thin, where mortals are more likely to see the goings-on of the spirit world. Perhaps those Romanians viewed the fairy’s cliff as a thin place. The point of Wendell Berry’s whole project, it seems to me, is that every place, if you settle down and look at it, if you pay attention, is a thin place. After he finished his education in California, Wendell Berry moved back to the Kentucky County where both sides of his family had lived for five generations, and he said, “I’m going to keep looking at and listening to this place—this landscape, these voices, these folkways, these old stories—until it gives up its secrets.”


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Occupy Wall Street vis à vis Wendell Berry

But when people only follow their own interests, others inevitably suffer. The "greed is good" mentality doesn't take into consideration the whole, whether that's other human beings, or our environment.

And that's why we're at a tipping point now. Will we continue on this path of unrelenting self-interest, or will we convince the "one percent" to use their resources to foster a more equitable and fair future?

As a farmer, Berry holds the responsible use of land and a sense of place close to his heart. Exploitation of people and natural resources, he says, shows a lack of character and virtue. It's no coincidence that many corporations contribute massively to greenhouse gas emissions, the tons of waste that sit in our landfills, polluted water supplies and to the quality of life issues that the "99 percent" continue to face.


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New book relates Wendell Berry and others to "the Academy"

In the early years of the republic, Thomas Jefferson imagined the yeoman farmer as the backbone of a virtuous society. Those of us at the Yonder might still echo that sentiment, but there’s no denying that the number of Americans living on the land has dwindled. Monocropping and market economics have supplanted the diversified, self-sufficient farmstead, and while a certain mythos of rural virtue persists, the cultural consensus around broad-based land ownership has for the most part unraveled.

Since the 1970s, though, a group of writers known as the New Agrarians has been pushing back, none more forcefully than farmer, poet, and social critic Wendell Berry. Berry and others have argued that agrarian values are not just quaint holdovers from an earlier time but offer a powerful critique of contemporary materialism, rootlessness, and environmental degradation. With Grounded Vision, William H. Major puts Berry’s ideas (and those of fellow New Agrarians like Wes Jackson and Gene Logsdon) into dialogue with various critical traditions in the humanities. At the same time, Major considers the question of why academia has been slow to embrace new agrarianism, even as so many other -isms have come and gone like the seasons.


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from "A 'chat' with Wendell Berry"

For a time it felt crazy to live this way, crazy to believe in small economies, fellowship, and the type of news that is mostly shared by neighbors. It appeared foolish and wholly apart from the national enterprise but today these things are appearing ever more practical. Across the country there is a growing chorus of voices speaking up for the small things. We are beginning to notice our neighbors and offer fellowship and kindness. We are teaching each other how to grow and cook food. We are working to put food on the table at a price that might afford us and the good farmers a living. Such things are evident everywhere.


Blog Watch: a Wendell Berry heretic?

I might as well go all the way then. Reading Wendell Berry for two decades has given me the impression that it is not possible to find home cooking in the suburbs. Suburbanites don’t faithfully make love; they have affairs or wished they did. Suburbanites only leave their homes by backing their SUVs out of their garages so that they don’t risk having to talk with their neighbors. They leave their TVs running for their pets.

It is all true. The suburbs are filled with people living in sin and driving in gas-guzzlers and microwaving frozen foods. It’s just that there are people like that living in Port William, too.

I believe it is not Wendell Berry’s intention to create this impression, though I think he sometimes does. He sometimes gives you the sense that you will find a more honest and natural kind of person, if you will only abandon the suburbs and become an agrarian. Perhaps you will. Actually, I’m sure you will. But in doing so you will become the very kind of person Wendell Berry disdains the most. The kind of person who abandons community in search of something better.


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Of interest: "'Angle of Repose' stands test of time"

Do not look for the special 40th anniversary edition of Wallace Stegner's novel "Angle of Repose" in your local bookstore. It does not exist. The milestone will pass unacknowledged by publishers, literary critics and pretty much everyone save hardcore Stegner lovers.

Of which I am one.

I do not bemoan the slight, if you can even call it that. Stegner's seminal novel of the mid-19th century West – the real West, not the rootin'-tootin', shootin' Gold Rush Days re-enactment West – certainly has enjoyed its share of accolades, and endured its share of controversy, over the decades.

It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It was picked by the Modern Library as No. 82 on its list of the 100 Best English-Language Novels Ever, sandwiched between Saul Bellow's "The Adventures of Augie March" and V.S. Naipaul's "A Bend in the River." In 1999, San Francisco Chronicle readers voted it the best 20th century fiction written in or about the West, topping "The Grapes of Wrath" and "The Call of the Wild."


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