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On Wendell Berry at Hall of Fame Induction

At the third annual induction ceremony, Berry became the first living author to be welcomed into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame, a recent initiative of the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, in Lexington, Ky., to honor the diverse and lasting contributions Kentucky writers have made to the literary landscape.

After turning his back on New York, Berry returned to Kentucky, to find, not a state bereft of literary talent, but a cadre of influential writers, such as James Still, Harlan Hubbard, Eugene Meatyard, and Thomas Merton, ready to embrace the Henry County native.

“My point is, in 1964, for a young writer in Kentucky, and in need of sustenance, sustenance was here,” Berry said.

Read more and view video of the complete ceremony at KET

Wendell Berry Influences Doctoral Dissertation

Eric J. Kregel has made available his D. Min. dissertation, "Of Time and River Flowing: A Narrative Approach to Post-Christian Ministry in a Rural, Canadian Parish," in which the thought of Wendell Berry figures prominently. Here is a small sample:

For Berry, the American farm is a metaphor for life. In Postmodernity, there is a movement to reduce our neighborhoods into mere real estate, the human mind into a consumer, people into numbers, ideas into information, and vocation into employment. Yes, exploitation happens on the farm in northern Canada, but it also occurs in the suburbs of California, if we follow the farm metaphor to our present “post-everything” age. 

In The Unsettling of America Berry explains exploitation as something more of a belief, of an attitude than just an ecological practice:

The first principle of the exploitative mind is to divide and conquer. And surely there has never been a people more ominously and painfully divided than we are- both against each other and within ourselves. Once the revolution of exploitation is under way, statesmanship and craftsmanship are gradually replaced by salesmanship (The craft of persuading people to buy what they do not need, and do not want, for more than it is worth.) Its stock in trade in politics is to sell despotism and avarice as freedom and democracy. In business it sells sham and frustration as luxury and satisfaction.”

Berry further argues that when we seek to exploit the land (whether in agriculture, business, or in ministry), we divide the soul from the body and praise just what our body, our physical selves can enjoy. This idea of exploitation, if sold properly, robs individuals of work: the very thing that ties one to the land, to the setting. The rewards are labor- saving measures devoid of humanity. 

To read and/or download Dr. Kregel's full dissertation, please go HERE.

Early Wendell Berry Essay at The Nation

To celebrate its 150th year of publication, The Nation has published an anniversary edition containing work from across that span of time. A selection from Mr. Berry's "The Landscaping of Hell" (found in his first essay collection, The Long-Legged House) is included:

The mining companies have made it clear that they will destroy anything, they will stop at nothing, so long as the result can be inked in black on their accounting sheets. They have been abetted by the mischief and greed of local officials, by public indifference, by state paralysis, by federal cross-purposes and confusion. Against them there has been only a local organization of small landowners.

If there is to remain any hope at all for the region, strip mining will have to be stopped. Otherwise, all the federal dollars devoted to the region’s poor will have the same effect as rain pouring on an uprooted plant. To recover good hope and economic health the people need to have their land whole under their feet. And much of their land has already been destroyed.

To destroy a forest or an ecology or a species is an act of greater seriousness than we have yet grasped, and it is perhaps of graver consequence. But these destructions will mend. The forest will grow back, the natural balances will be restored, the ecological gap left by the destroyed species will be filled by another species. But to destroy the earth itself is to destroy all the possibilities of the earth, among them the possibility of recovery. The land destroyed by strip mining is destroyed forever; it will never again be what it was, it will never be what it would have become if let alone. Such destruction makes man a parasite upon the source of his life; it implicates him in the death of the earth, the destruction of his meanings. Those men who send the bulldozer blades into the mountainsides bear the awesome burden of responsibility for an act that no one can fully comprehend, much less justify.

To read more of this and an appreciative essay by Wen Stephenson, go to The Nation.

Wendell Berry on the Value of Local Economies

As often before, my thoughts begin with the modern history of rural Kentucky, which in all of its regions has been deplorable. In my county, Henry County, for example, as recently as the middle of the last century, every town was a thriving economic and social center. Now all of them are either dying or dead. If there is any concern about this in any of the state’s institutions, I have yet to hear about it. The people in these towns and their tributary landscapes once were supported by their usefulness to one another. Now that mutual usefulness has been removed, and the people relate to one another increasingly as random particles.

To help in understanding this, I want to quote a few sentences of a letter written on June 22, 2013, by Anne Caudill. Anne is the widow of Harry Caudill. For many years she was involved in Harry’s study of conditions in Eastern Kentucky and in his advocacy for that region. Since Harry’s death, she has maintained on her own the long interest and devotion she once shared with Harry, and she is always worth listening to. She wrote:

The Lexington Herald Leader last Sunday ... published a major piece on the effects of the current downturn in the coal industry ... Perhaps the most telling statement quoted came from Karin Slone of Knott County whose husband lost his job in the mines ... finally found a job in Alabama and the family had to leave their home. Karin said, “There should have been greater efforts to diversify the economy earlier.” [Fifty] years ago and more Harry tried ... everything he could think of to encourage diversity. My heart goes out to those families who yet again are being battered by a major slump in available jobs. ... Again they are not being exploited, but discarded.

This is a concise and useful description of what Anne rightly calls a tragedy, and “tragedy” rightly applies, not just to the present condition of Eastern Kentucky, but to the present condition of just about every part of rural Kentucky. The tragedy of Eastern Kentucky is the most dramatic and obvious because that region was so extensively and rapidly industrialized so early. The industrialization of other regions (mine, for example) began with the accelerated industrialization of agriculture after World War II, and it has accelerated increasingly ever since. The story of industrialization is the same story everywhere, and everywhere the result is ruin. Though it has developed at different rates of speed in different areas, that story is now pretty fully developed in all parts of our state.

To know clearly what industrialization is and means, we need to consider carefully some of the language of Anne Caudill’s letter. We see first of all that she is speaking of a region whose economy is dependent upon “jobs.” This word, as we now use it in political clichés such as “job creation,” entirely dissociates the idea of work from any idea of calling or vocation or vocational choice. A “job” exists without reference to anybody in particular or any place in particular. If a person loses a “job” in Eastern Kentucky and finds a “job” in Alabama, then he has ceased to be “unemployed” and has become “employed,” it does not matter who the person is or what or where the “job” is. “Employment” in a “job” completely satisfies the social aim of the industrial economy and its industrial government.

 Read more by Wendell Berry at In These Times

A Review of Wendell Berry's "New Collected Poems"

As the contents show, the collection consists of a banquet of books beginning with The Broken Ground in 1964 and continuing through the 2010 book, Leavings. Reading the poems along this timeline can be especially instructive if you’re a poet in search of a mentor, which the poetry itself can be.

Wendell Berry, however, won’t be likely to read the poems with you. As the opening poem, “The Country of Déjà vu,” explains: “My old poems – I like them all/ well enough when they were new,” but now “I have no need to go back to” them. This doesn’t seem to express dissatisfaction but rather declares no particular need for living in or revisiting the past. 

Although written as a tribute to a fellow poet and Kentuckian, “A Man Walking and Singing” shows “His singing becomes conglomerate/ of all he sees,/ leaving the street behind him/ runged as a ladder/ or the staff of a song.” And then in “The Design of the House,” we see “the flower/ forgets its growing,” which the very timeline in a collection of memorable poems might be less inclined to let a poet do.

Read more by Mary Harwell Sayler at Poetry Editor & Poetry

Concerning Wendell Berry's "Our Only World"

Our Only World, like Berry’s other essay collections, covers an impressive array of subjects: poetics, the Boston marathon bombing, sustainable forestry, abortion, gay marriage, Edward Snowden and the U.S. secret surveillance programs, strip mining, water quality and the 2014 chemical spill in West Virginia, species loss. Berry draws these disparate topics together to provide an authentic general criticism, a kind of thought not often practiced in an intellectual culture infected by industrial specialization: “We have good technical or specialized criticism: a given thing is either a good specimen of its kind or it is not. A valid general criticism would measure work against its context. The health of the context — the body, the community, the ecosystem — would reveal the health of the work” (14).

Read the complete essay by Jeffrey Bilbro at Front Porch Republic

On Wendell Berry as Prophet

I am done with apologies. If contrariness is my inheritance and destiny, so be it. If it is my mission to go in at exits and come out at entrances, so be it.  “The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer

 One thing I am passionate about is reducing my carbon footprint in the world, and I want not only other individuals to reduce their footprints, but I also want our society to change its course before we irreparably harm the earth. Many voices are urging us to do so. One voice in particular belongs to Wendell Berry, whom Bill McKibben and others have called a prophet. In a 2013 interview, Bill Moyers named Berry a visionary, who is “calling for immediate action to end industrial farming and return to the sustainable farming methods of years past.” But more than this, Berry audaciously tells us we need to return to an agrarian society, not only for environmental reasons, but also for social, moral, and spiritual reasons. I am with him on this.

Read more by Rebecca Spears at Relief

Dreher cites Wendell Berry on unfairness toward traditionalists

Wendell Berry, on “tolerance and multiculturalism,” from his essay “The Joy of Sales Resistantce”:

Quit talking bad about women, homosexuals, and preferred social minorities, and you can say anything you want about people who haven’t been to college, manual workers, country people, peasants, religious people, unmodern people, old people, and so on.

He is being sarcastic, of course. But this came to mind when thinking about the wisdom of Wal-mart (and other big corporations) joining the crusade for gay rights even above religious liberty. I will give the corporate leaders credit for being sincere, but it’s a terrific business move. Join the crusade for gay rights, and you can do whatever you like on the business front without much complaint from progressives. [edit]

Wendell Berry, let me make clear, came out a few years ago in favor of same-sex marriage, which startled many of his fans, including me. I want to make that clear before I say what I’m going to say here, which is this: one of the most striking aspects of the whole gay rights public argument, one that is in full display in the Indiana pageantry, and that I find so chilling, is the degree to which the voices of the overculture — big media, big corporations, national Democratic politicians — speak of their fellow Americans who hold traditional religious convictions as if they were freaks and threats to the common good. Yes, this discourse is heard on the right too, but not at the same level. You see it on more or less the fringes of the right, but there is nobody at the same level of influence and of the same elite status on the right speaking in the same way as legions of people do on the left — people with very loud voices and very large bullhorns.

Read more by Rod Dreher at The American Conservative

See also "The Prejudice Against Country People"