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On Wendell Berry's Port William fiction

Given the vastness of Berry’s Port William fiction—eight novels and more than thirty short stories that range from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day—anything less than an actual book on the topic of technology and Port William would be something of an injustice. But absent that, Berry’s novel A Place on Earth makes for a good entry point. Published in 1967 by Harcourt, Brace and World, it is Berry’s second novel but the first of what might be regarded as his mature stage; he turned thirty-three in August of that year and had by then settled with his young family back in his native Henry County, Kentucky, after studying at Stanford, living abroad, and teaching at New York University. Berry later described the novel as “clumsy, overwritten, and wasteful,” and although this is an overly harsh judgment, it does seem as if Berry was trying to pour out the whole Port William story in one single book—when in fact there were many books, and many kinds of stories, still to be written about this place. In 1983 he published what he called a “revision” of the novel, about a third shorter than the original, a reduction achieved mainly through subtraction. But the original edition of A Place on Earth offers both a revealing glimpse of Berry as a maturing thinker and the most round single portrait available of Port William.

via The Cresset

Blog Watch: On Wendell Berry on "inescapable cruelty"

Around minute 30 of the interview, Berry talks about the gross mistreatment of and cruelty to animals that our industrial food system requires. He then pauses and acknowledges an "inescapable cruelty" to all human life, even for vegetarians. "We have to live at the expense of other creatures." The rule then, he says, is to use fellow creatures (plants and animals) - and the land upon which we all dwell - with the minimum of violence.

via Restorative Theology

Review of Wendell Berry poems performed by Dawn Upshaw

The cycle, setting poems by Jaeger’s fellow Kentuckian, the environmental activist, poet and farmer Wendell Berry, was accompanied by violin, mandolin, clarinet and double bass. It opened with harsh pizzicato notes on the violin — an overly familiar world of dissonance.

The most lyrical moment was accompanied by violin, mandolin and bass used as percussion instruments. Moments of Appalachian folk music, played on the mandolin, only emphasized the overall lack of melody.


Wendell Berry cited in Cronon/Pollan conversation

Michael Pollan and William Cronon briefly refer to Mr. Berry in a conversation published by Orion Magazine:

Michael:  Wendell Berry has this great line about distrusting people who love humanity. You can’t love an abstraction, he says. You can’t love a statistic. You can love the person near you, and your community, and your neighbors.

Bill:  Use abstractions as metaphors for humanity, but stay close to people.

Michael:  I think that’s true. Another very important lesson I’ve learned from Wendell Berry is about the danger of specialization, the fact that we’re now good at producing one thing and consuming everything else. The sense of dependence that follows from the division of labor makes us despair of ever changing the way we live; it encourages us to feel that change can only come from outside—from government, from disaster—because we can no longer do very much for ourselves. That partly explains the power of gardening, which offers a reminder that, in a pinch, we can provide for ourselves. That’s not a trivial thing. It makes us more receptive to imagining change.

via Orion Magazine

Wendell Berry and C. S. Lewis

The best narrative illustration of this characteristic of Lewis’s thought is That Hideous Strength. There is a strong anti-industrial bent to the novel, as there is in most of Lewis’s fiction, but the criticism Lewis is making turns less on technology itself and more on the understanding of technology’s place in creation. Lewis is rejecting the authoritative role that science is claiming for itself and the fruit of that authority. He is criticizing the fact that scientists refuse to understand their discipline as one performed by creatures.

This sort of thought and argumentation sets the table beautifully for Berry. Berry’s thought is similarly dependent upon the idea that man is a creature living within the healthy limitations set by a benevolent creator. Like Lewis, Berry sees the industrial project as being marked by man’s lust for a power he was never meant to possess. Accepting the limits inherent in creation is pivotal, because acknowledging our finite creatureliness allows us to most fully and healthily revel in the goodness of God’s world. This is the whole point Berry is making in his marvelous work Life is a Miracle. This book is Berry’s response to E.O. Wilson’s Consilience, a book in which Wilson argues that science ought to function as the unifying branch of knowledge under which all others are subsumed.


Wendell Berry and The Nation

In over two dozen poems, essays, and book reviews he has published in The Nation since 1961, Berry has connected America’s democratic health with its ecological health, the degradation of its discourse with the degradation of its soil, and has done so with a unique combination of elegance, clarity of language and purpose, and simple—though never simplistic—common sense. Berry is as adept detailing the mechanics of a mine-triggered landslide as he is at critiquing the dangerous combination of ideology and profit motive which caused it to occur.


Wendell Berry and the Four Freedoms Awards

Mr. Berry received The Roosevelt Institute's Freedom Medal last night, October 16, in New York City. Video of the whole event can be found at The Roosevelt Institute's website.

An appreciative overview of the ceremony and awards can be found at Moyers & Company, which quotes Mr. Berry,

“A lot of good things are happening in terms of farmers markets, community-supported farms and efforts at developing local economies, of which we have a very respectable effort going on in Louisville, Kentucky. But land use in general is getting worse. Vulnerable lands are being put to uses under which they are bound to erode and degrade. If my dream would come true, every inch of this world would be treated as sacred and cared for accordingly with great attention and skill. But standing in the way of that dream is the absence of people capable of doing that. We’ve reduced the farm population to almost zero. I think it is a rule that land in use by humans has to be carefully watched over and carefully and lovingly used. That is not happening.”

Blog Watch: Wendell Berry and Place

On the blog last week, I concluded with a short look at Wendell Berry’s use of the word sacrament to best describe the loving reverence with which we should approach our use of the land and its resources. I like this word, sacrament, because it demands a certain seriousness towards the necessity of death through which we have our life—a truth as physical as it is metaphysical. I also like its suggestion that there are not really sacred and unsacred places; rather, there are only sacred and desecrated places.

via The Cardus Daily

Blog Watch: Reflecting on Wendell Berry interview

There’s a way that a person from Kentucky will say to you, “I don’t know.” You can watch Berry do it a few times in this interview with Moyer. I love that. It’s not apologetic, as it would be if I said it. It points out that here is where things get interesting. Southern speech is slow. “G”s get dropped, although in a lovely, graceful way, not in the way that W dropped his “G”s to suck in a bunch of white crackers.

And, so, no surprise here, I love the language of the South, I love the way that it springs from my southern landbase. I love the way that the cadences of my landbase express the truths of the land so perfectly. Our music and our talk is full of the scent of magnolia, the savor of sweet tea, the humidity that makes all of us glow.

But Berry says, “The language is secondary, but it imposes an obligation. … I’ve lived in a place I’ve loved. I’ve been a friend and an ally with my brother all these years. Lived with a woman I’ve loved, love. . . . And then, I’ve had my children for neighbors, which is really unusual in our time, to have your children for neighbors. And then I’ve had a part in raising my grandchildren.”

via hecatedemeter

Wendell Berry's "A Place in Time" reviewed

Capturing the past, humor ensures the Port William tradition of telling stories over and over. In one of the funniest, Big Ellis, hoping to marry, with trouble keeping his pants up, gets suddenly exposed riding by his girlfriend to show off his new team of horses. For another, just watch the basketball game in “A New Day (1949),” or the man about to slide on a barn roof in “Burley Coulter’s Fortunate Fall (1934).”
You don’t have to live on a farm to appreciate how profoundly Berry’s stories invite us to re-examine the past in one place in America. Like Huck of Tom Sawyer, it hits us where we live. The psyches of Berry’s characters are deeper than they know, and we are invited to plumb their depths.