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February 2014
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April 2014

Reading Wendell Berry and "reading" other people

Kidd’s study, conducted with psychology professor Emanuele Castano, involved giving some subjects passages to read from novels by Don DeLillo and Wendell Berry, and others passages from Gone Girl and other popular fiction. Then, the subjects were asked to look at and interpret a range of facial expressions.

Kidd and Castano found that reading literature makes people more adept at assessing other individuals’ emotional states—it gives them a more developed “theory of mind (ToM),” which Kidd describes as the “capacity to infer the thoughts and emotions of others.” But this talent can be used for ill.

“Bullies have a very developed ToM,” Kidd said. “Which makes sense. If you want to manipulate or harass someone effectively, that requires a heightened sense of how their thoughts and emotions work.”

This is scary stuff: a Don DeLillo-prepped bully is a much, much more terrifying prospect than your standard-issue neighborhood thug, combining the ability to dole out, simultaneously, powerful noogies and close analysis of the “Pafko at the Wall” setpiece in Underworld.

Read more at Melville House


A review of "Wendell Berry and the Agrarian Tradition"

In Wendell Berry and the Agrarian Tradition:  A Common Grace, Kimberly K. Smith offers us a thoughtful roadmap to Wendell Berry’s environmental agrarianism.  If, in the 21st century, we assume an easy combination of these divergent DNA strands, it is because of Berry, as Smith notes, “If Berry’s ecological agrarianism doesn’t look particularly innovative to us, it is because he makes the marriage of agrarian and environmental though seem so natural that we assume agrarianism always implied ecological sensitivity – or that ecological sensitivity always implied support for family farming.”

Berry’s value as a philosopher lies not in the creation of a new environmental or rural ethic, but rather his skilled blending of the two schools, and Smith’s task throughout the book is to navigate between these poles and illustrate Berry’s creative and thoughtful combination. 

via Englewood Review of Books


More on the Wendell Berry opera at Bard College

In order to gain permission to perform an opera at the Bard College Conservatory of Music based on Berry’s short verse play, “Sonata at Payne Hollow,” Jaeger wrote a letter to Berry, who was initially reluctant to participate.

“I thought there was no way he’d be involved in the project,” says Jaeger, “but he wrote back and his letters were handwritten, which we don’t see much anymore. It was really fun to correspond with him in that way.” Encouraged but still pessimistic, Jaeger made “what felt like a pilgrimage” to the Berry homestead in Henry County, Kentucky. While sitting on Berry’s porch — adorned with bird feeders and overlooking the Kentucky River — the writer revealed to Jaeger that he had already adapted his work into a libretto, as requested.

via Modern Farmer

See also "Shawn Jaeger's Payne Hollow" (Prufrock's Dilemma)


Wendell Berry interview at environment360

In an interview with Yale Environment 360 editor Roger Cohn, Berry talked about his Kentucky farm and why he has remained there, why he would risk arrest to protest mountaintop removal mining, why the sustainable agriculture movement faces an uphill battle, and why strong rural communities are important. “A deep familiarity between a local community and a local landscape is a dear thing, just in human terms,” Berry said. “It’s also, down the line, money in the bank, because it helps you to preserve the working capital of the place.”  

Yale Environment 360: You’ve been writing about and practicing what is now known as sustainable agriculture since before that term was widely used. In recent years, there’s been a movement among some people toward sustainable agriculture. Do you feel sustainable agriculture is gainingground in a significant way that could slow the growth of industrial agriculture, or is it more of a boutique type of thing? 

 Wendell Berry: Well, we are a young country. By the time settlement reached Kentucky it was 1775, and the industrial revolution was already underway. So we’ve been 238 years in Kentucky, we Old World people. And what we have done there in that time has not been sustainable. In fact, it has been the opposite. There’s less now of everything in the way of natural gifts, less of everything than what was there when we came. Sometimes we have radically reduced the original gift. And so for Americans to talk about sustainability is a bit of a joke, because we haven’t sustained anything very long — and a lot of things we haven’t sustained at all.

Read more at environment360


A dissertation concerning Wendell Berry and Cormac McCarthy

Author Todd Edmondson writes:

This dissertation provides a reading of characters in the novels and short stories of two important contemporary American writers through the lens of spiritual theology. While spirituality has often been understood as necessitating a flight from the particular, the concrete, or the everyday, theologians such as Rowan Williams and Nicholas Lash have presented a more robust version of spirituality that understands the call to spirituality not as an invitation to flee from this world, but rather a vocation to a way of life that seeks reconciliation within this world, encountering and embracing God's presence within the contexts of such realities as corporeality, communities, and the created order as a whole. Such an understanding interrogates both ancient and modern forms of gnosticism that have often posed a threat to more orthodox forms of Christian spirituality. After constructing a theological framework rooted in the work of Williams, Lash, and others, I apply it to literature, arguing that the embodiment of these ideas, and therefore a demonstration of what Christian vocation might look like in the everyday, is present in the characters who populate the works of Wendell Berry, a Kentucky writer and farmer who has had a troubled relationship with Christianity, but nonetheless identifies himself as a Christian and takes seriously what the Bible has to say about the faithful life. In contrast, the primary influences that shape his characters' world views are gnostic in derivation. Thus, McCarthy's characters, in their pursuit of various goals, embody the opposite of Christian vocation in the ways that they relate to the flesh, to community, and to creation. Rather than humbly seeking and encountering God in these contexts, they strive always to transcend them, to overcome creaturely limitations, and to become, in the words of the serpent in the garden, "like God". By comparing these writers, the characters they create, and the worldviews that shape their narratives, I demonstrate, in ways that can be applied to other works and other characters, how the reading of fiction can inform the pursuit of the spiritual life.

via University of Louisville Digital Library


Why we read Wendell Berry

From this homestead, Berry writes brilliant poems and quiet novels and challenging essays. The place Berry describes is never romanticized but always deemed worthy of the investment it demands. His literary following may be small, but they are as ruthlessly devoted to him as he is to the hillsides and livestock in his care.

His writing happens in the margins between plowing fields, mending fences, and raking hay above the banks of the Kentucky River. But it isn’t the farm in Kentucky that appeals to his readers as much as the more general way he finds his purpose and fulfillment in that farm. He is famous for rants against industrialized farming and technological take-over.

But readers don’t read Berry to learn more about Kentucky (although more than a few have been known to take up bee keeping or plant a row of cherry tomatoes); they read Berry to learn about how to find a Kentucky of their own.

via Story Chicago


Blog Watch: On Wendell Berry and Problem-solving

The answers will come not from walking up to your farm and saying this is what I want and this is what I expect from you. You walk up and you say what do you need. And you commit yourself to say all right, I’m not going to do any extensive damage here until I know what it is that you are asking of me. And this can’t be hurried. This is the dreadful situation that young people are in. I think of them and I say well, the situation you’re in now is a situation that’s going to call for a lot of patience. And to be patient in an emergency is a terrible trial.

Being patient in an emergency is not only the trial faced by the small-scale farmer endeavoring to care for the health of a particular place, it’s also the trial of a teacher endeavoring to care for the health of one student.  When we see so many underprepared students it’s easy to be overwhelmed, to become worried about whether American students are falling behind their international peers or whether low-income students have the same opportunities as their wealthier neighbors.  But I’m not sure these big problems have big solutions.

Rather, the solution may be for teachers everywhere to begin asking of their students, “What do you need?”  This is the first step in the slow work of healing, a work that requires commitment and great patience.

via Christ & University