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January 2015
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Wendell Berry interviewed, 17 February 2015

The entirety of Berry’s work, despite its breadth, is focused on the relationship men and women have to the earth and to their townships—to the communities that are integral to human flourishing. TAC senior editor Rod Dreher once wrote that Berry’s “unshakable devotion to the land, to localism, and to the dignity of traditional life makes him both a great American and, to the disgrace of our age, a prophet without honor in his native land.” Yet Berry’s fame is growing as more people come to appreciate the role he has played in our national conversation—not as a prophet of conservatism or of liberalism, but as a vital thinker for our culture and country as a whole.

Gracy Olmstead: Jayber Crow is deeply rooted in his community. He’s opposed to war and much of the so-called “progress” that goes on around him. Would you call Jayber Crow a conservative?

Wendell Berry: It never occurred to me to think of Jayber as a “conservative.” I don’t think that would have helped, though he is instinctively and in principle a conserver. His membership is not in a party or a public movement, but in Port William. He is a man of unsteady faith in love with a place, a perishing little town, a community, a woman—with all that is redemptive and good—struggling to be worthy. I didn’t (and don’t) think of him as a “liberal” either.

Read it all at The American Conservative

Wendell Berry's "Our Only World" Considered

When readers of Wendell Berry see that he has a new book coming out, we tend to read it on reflex. The themes are seldom new; that’s part of the appeal. We read because it means immersing ourselves once again in a particular mind and set of values, expressed with clarity and conviction.

In that sense, this book met expectations. It travels familiar ground: farming well, ecological responsibility, neighborliness, love for one’s place and community, and everywhere a desire to think through even complicated issues systematically, with hope.

Yet I felt a sadness too. There is a pervasive sense of loss in this book — of a culture impoverished of important knowledge, of ties to locality, of vital connections with one another, of basic virtues that once informed our care of “our only world.”

Read more at Across the Page

Wendell Berry's "Our Only World" Reviewed

Berry persuasively argues that a healthy environment ultimately requires healthy communities filled with spiritually healthy people. Whether the issue is global warming, good jobs for young people, or good marriages, Berry writes that "If we want to save the land, we must save the people who belong to the land. If we want to save the people, we must save the land the people belong to."

In one sense Berry is the voice of a rural agrarian tradition that stretches from rural Kentucky back to the origins of human civilization. But his insights are universal because "Our Only World" is filled with beautiful, compassionate writing and careful, profound thinking.

Read more at ABC News

On Wendell Berry on Snow

Spending a lot of time indoors watching the snow and outdoors in the midst of it has reminded me of one of my favorite poems about snow. The entire book Leavings by Wendell Berry is beautiful but one of my favorites is the three line verse entitled, “Like Snow.”

Suppose we did our work

Like the snow, quietly, quietly.

Leaving nothing out.

Read more at Almost Home: Farming, Food and Faith

Wendell Berry on the Photography of Ralph Eugene Meatyard

This is the “Note” by Wendell Berry found in Ralph Eugene Meatyard (1970):

Association for several years with the work of Gene Meatyard has become one of my crucial experiences. It has kept me involved — and willing to be involved — in a sort of fundamental disturbance like an earthquake, unsettling, for sure, but at the same time giving evidence that something lively is going on in the world. Looking at his pictures, I am aware that my basic assumptions about reality are being tampered with. I am being nudged, forcibly and a bit gleefully, by the possibility that what we have taken to be reality is a mere social convention, going out of date. I turn from the photographs to my surroundings, feeling that what I see is not all that is there.

More than that of any other artist I know, this work alerts me to the fact that we have arrived here at this moment by ways that are mostly unknown to us. The configuration of the images in many of these pictures has clearly been produced by a plot as elaborate as that of any novel, but the plot is not in evidence. It is not withheld deliberately; we are not dealing with a trick of “suspense,” but with real mystery. The plot is not given because the photographer does not know what it is any more than we do. I think that he is able to produce such vivid images of how our experience is because he accedes so absolutely to the mystery of why.

 Read more at Unreal Nature

Wendell Berry's Remarks at The Carnegie Center, 28 January 2015

The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning has posted Mr. Berry's remarks on the occasion of his induction into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame. It begins like this:

In the spring of 1964,Tanya and I and our children had been living in New York for two years. When my work in the city ended that spring, we loaded ourselves and our belongings into a Volkswagon beetle with a luggage rack on top and took the New Jersey Turnpike south. We were returning to Kentucky — to settle, as it turned out, permanently in my home country in Henry County. On my part, this homecoming cost a good deal of worry. Just about every one of my literary friends had told me that I was ruining myself, and I was unable entirely to disbelieve them. Why would a young writer leave a good job in New York, where all the best artistic life and talent had gathered, to go to Kentucky?

There are no uncontrolled plots” in a person’s life. I have no proof that I would not have done better to stay in New York. But I see that in retrospect my story has gained the brightening of a certain comedy. When I turned my back supposedly on the best of artistic life and talent in New York and came to Kentucky, half believing in my predicted ruin, who was here? Well, among many dear and indispensable others: James Still, Harlan Hubbard, Harry Caudill, Guy Davenport, and Gene Meatyard. All of them I came to know and, I hope, to be influenced by. In 1964 also Thomas Merton was living in Kentucky. I can’t say that I knew him as I knew the others, but I had read The Sign of Jonas when it was published in 1953. Tanya and I, by courtesy of Gene Meatyard, visited Merton twice at Gethsemani and to live here was to feel his presence and his influence. I met Harriet Arnow in, I think, 1955 when I first encountered Mr. Still, at the only writer’s conference I ever attended. Many years later I met her again, spoke to her and shook her hand, remembering from then on her eyes and the testing look she gave meNo book more confirms my native agrarianism than The Dollmaker.

My point is that in 1964, for a young writer in Kentucky and in need of sustenance, sustenance was here. In the fifty years that have followed, the gathering in Kentucky of Kentucky writers has grown much larger. It would take me a while just to call their names: old friends, allies, influences, members, permitting me to be a member, of an unending, enlightening, entertaining, comforting, indispensable conversation. Hy further point is that in 2015, for an old writer in Kentucky and in need of sustenance, sustenance is here. [sic]

Of literary or writerly life in Kentucky I have no worries. It seems lively, various, and dispersed enough to continue, which is all I can presume to ask.

My worries begin when I think of the literary life of Kentucky in the context of the state of Kentucky: a commonwealth enriched by a diversity of regions, but gravely and lastingly fragmented by divisions that are economic, social, cultural, and institutional. These divisions have given us a burdening history of abuse — of land abuse but also and inevitably of the abuse of people, for people and land cannot be destroyed or conserved except together. We all know our history of social and cultural division, from the Indian wars of the 18th Century to legal discrimination against homosexuals in the 21st. And we know how our many divisions, beginning in the lives of persons, become fixed in public and institutional life.

Continue reading at The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning

See also at Appalachian Heritage

On Wendell Berry's marriage stories

From Jake Meador's "Wendell Berry's 'Room of Love'" at Fare Forward

Near the end of The Gift of Good Land, Wendell Berry writes, “To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.” This quote, perhaps more than any other quotation from his work, gets to the heart of Berry’s vision and the purpose of his writing. Berry’s project for over 50 years has been to argue for the goodness of reverent breaking and to demonstrate its possibility.

But as Berry’s phrasing suggests, reverent breaking is not just about discrete actions, but about the kind of people we are. Most of us who exploit the world, after all, are not so vicious that we willingly do things to desecrate God’s creation. Rather, we do it through our carelessness, laziness, or ignorance, failing to recognize the connection between our actions and the health of creation. And so the real question with Berry isn’t so much how we can break creation reverently, but how we can become the sort of people capable of breaking creation reverently. And this is why Berry’s novels are so vital to understanding his work. For it is in his novels that he shows us how we can go about becoming the sort of person capable of such a relationship to the created order.

One of the particularly powerful images Berry uses to capture this reverent relationship to creation is marriage. The stories of Port William are stories of marriages—Ptol Proudfoot and his wife Miss Minnie in the early 20th century all the way to the faithful stewards Danny and Lyda Branch of Berry’s later stories. Throughout Berry’s body of work, marriage functions as a means of learning how to live in creation, how to break it with reverence and in such a way that, in time, it will actually flourish. There are three marriages in particular that can offer a powerful picture of how Berry thinks we can break creation honorably and how we can become the sorts of people capable of such things.

 Red much more at Fare Forward

Wendell Berry's Old Jack and Memory

It so happens that The Memory of Old Jack is a book about remembering. Its story spans decades, and unfolds in the span of a single day. Old Jack—in solitude even while in a crowd; on the last day of his life, and seeming very much to suspect it, if not to know it for sure—loses himself in reverie, rolling the movie of his life inside of his head.

But here is the miraculous thing of Wendell Berry’s slim, tender novel: Despite whatever tinge of sepia is suggested by the book’s title or its synopsis, The Memory of Old Jack is not a nostalgic book. Old Jack’s memories tumble onto the pages not yet preserved in amber, their edges not yet rounded by sentimentality or by posthumous narrative. The events recalled are still jagged enough to sting, messy enough to defy easy moralizing.

Read more at Cahoots