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Early review of forthcoming Wendell Berry volume

As a novelist, essayist, and poet, Berry (Roots to the Earth, 2016, etc.) has been writing work that is all of a piece for more than half a century; reduced, if it must be, his aim is the old agrarian ideal of standing for what one stands on, defending one’s place on Earth. The author notes his wife’s observation that “my principal asset as a writer has been my knack for repeating myself,” a gentle jibe that is true, but necessarily so. There’s no end to threats to small farmers, or an economy of health, or “good work,” the opposite of which is “waste of fertility and of the land itself.”

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(Cover art via nlcaputo_design at Instagram)

See the complete (brief) review at Kirkus.


A critique of Wendell Berry's theology via Twitter

I don't think I've directly referenced Twitter here before, but today Steven Rodriguez posted a very long thread in which he lays out four objections to Mr. Berry's theological foundations. Those four objections are: 1) the idolization of the local; 2) the severance of Sabbath from soteriology; 3) a collapsed eschatology; and 4) the idolization of the past. Each of these is discussed in a series of tweets, beginning HERE.

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Again, see the complete thread HERE at Twitter.

Mr. Berry has commented on questions related to his theology in Sabbath poem VII from 2008:

Having written some pages in favor of Jesus,
I receive a solemn communication crediting me
with the possession of a "theology" by which
I acquire the strange dignity of being wrong
forever or forever right. Have I gauged exactly
enough the weights of sins? Have I found
too much of the Hereafter in the Here? Or
the other way around? Have I found too much
pleasure, too much beauty and goodness, in this
our unreturning world? O Lord, please forgive
any smidgen of such distinctions I may
have still in my mind. I meant to leave them
all behind a long time ago. If I'm a theologian
I am one to the extent I have learned to duck
when the small, haughty doctrines fly overhead,
dropping their loads of whitewash at random
on the faces of those who look toward Heaven.
Look down, look down, and save your soul
by honester dirt, that receives with a lordly
indifference this off-fall of the air. Christmas
night and Easter morning are this soil's only laws.
The depth and volume of the waters of baptism,
the true taxonomy of sins, the field marks
of those most surely saved, God's own only
interpretation of the Scripture: these would be
causes of eternal amusement, could we forget
how we have hated one another, how vilified
and hurt and killed one another, bloodying
the world, by means of such questions, wrongly
asked, never to be rightly answered, but asked and
wrongly answered, hour after hour, day after day,
year after year — such is my belief — in Hell.

(2008, VII)

 


Wendell Berry cited in New York Times Op-ed

The first ideal was the Steward. This is the small yeoman farmer and craftsman who lives close to the soil — self-reliant, upright, humble before creation and bonded to his local community.

“The name of our proper connection to the earth is ‘good work,’” Wendell Berry wrote, “for good work involves much giving of honor. It honors the source of its materials; it honors the place where it is done; it honors the art by which it is done; it honors the thing that it makes and the user of the made thing. Good work is always modestly scaled.”

Read the whole article by David Brooks at The New York Times.


Wendell Berry helps to open Sterling College Berry Center Farming Program

In "A Poem on Hope," Wendell Berry writes, "Because we have not made our lives to fit our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded, the streams polluted, the mountains overturned."

Words like those from the 83-year-old farmer, poet and essayist — whom environmental activist Bill McKibben calls "the prophet of responsibility" — have inspired many acolytes to turn to rural farming as the antidote to cultural and ecological destruction. Among them is Craftsbury native Tim Patterson, who recalled how, after many years abroad, he read Berry while in Thailand. In 2010, Patterson decided to return to his hometown and buy land.

Today, he's the director of admissions at Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, where he joined the crowd welcoming Berry for a brief appearance on Saturday. The self-styled "Mad Farmer" (the title of one of his poetry collections) had come to help announce a new partnership between the Berry Center, located in New Castle, Ky., and the Vermont college.

The Berry Farming Program at Sterling College represents a new iteration of the Berry Center's educational initiative. Through its collaboration with Sterling, the center will offer — in Kentucky — accredited undergraduate and continuing education courses in place-based ecology and farming, beginning in the fall of 2018. Specific curricula have yet to be released.

Read the whole article by Rachel Elizabeth Jones at Seven Days.


Reflections on a new study of Wendell Berry

Wiebe, who teaches religion and ecology at the University of Alberta, argues that Berry’s fiction, particularly the Port William stories, reveals that learning to belong to a place is a process that requires the work of imagination and affection. The goods of rural life, according to Wiebe, are good only insofar as they “participate in a healthy social imagination of the place in which they are performed.” Imagination, more than technique or tradition, is the formative capacity that most influences human action and communal life. More than advocating for a new system of local agricultural practice, Berry’s writing reveals his struggle to reckon with the inextricable link between land and people, particularly as that struggle is enacted through his family’s involvement in the legacy of racism.

For Wiebe, the ultimate value of Berry’s fiction is its poetics—its ability to re-form human life through the work of the imagination. “The work of imagination is a work of self-interrogation,” not a head-in-the-clouds escapism. Imagina­tion asks that we see a thing for what it is and, in so doing, acknowledge the claim the thing makes upon us. This work of self-interrogation begins, for Berry, in the return to his native Kentucky, which compels him to reckon with the ways he and his family violated the relationship of land, place, and people by the forcible removal of the Shawnee people and the enslavement of African Americans who worked the stolen land. “Berry’s racial concerns are central to his agrarianism.”

Read the whole article by Kathryn Bradford Heidelberger at The Christian Century.


The Berry Farming Program finds a new home

August 18, 2017 • Craftsbury Common, VT and New Castle, KY • At an event marking the start of a yearlong celebration of the 60th year since the founding of Sterling, the College announced a partnership with The Berry Center through which it plans to begin offering undergraduate and continuing education programs in Kentucky in rural, placed-based ecology and farming starting in the fall of 2018.

For generations, Sterling College faculty and students have been inspired by the work of Wendell Berry. Published in 1977, Berry’s book, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, launched a national conversation about the state of agriculture in our society. Berry is a novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer. President Obama awarded Berry with the National Humanities Medal in 2010, and he was inducted as a fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2013. The Berry Center in New Castle, Kentucky, was founded in 2011 to put Wendell Berry’s writing to work by advocating for farmers, land-conserving communities, and healthy regional economies.

This educational partnership recognizes the relationship between the environmental stewardship mission and curriculum of Sterling College and that of The Berry Center. The College’s curriculum and focus on the the working rural landscape inspired the organizations to work together. “We recognize the critical role that higher education should play, but has utterly failed to play, in preparing students to develop sound and just rural economies. Sterling stood out immediately, as a college with values and a curriculum we wanted to help promote,” said Mary Berry, Executive Director of the Berry Center.

See more at Sterling College.


Lawyer reflects on Wendell Berry and "The Age of Divorce"

It seems like nowadays all I hear about is how the country is heading in the wrong direction. Wendell Berry, a writer, philosopher, farmer and father of the locally grown food movement, has been saying this far before it became fashionable.  Since the 1970s Berry has written unceasingly about how an unhealthy culture is at the root of most of our world’s problems – everything from our growing isolation to global warming.  To Berry, a healthy culture is a sort of fabric that is connected by many threads made up of ideas and practices.  He sees that these connecting threads have been severed in the industrial and technological age. It is this breaking apart of the fabric of our culture that causes Berry to call this “the age of divorce”, where “things that belong together have been taken apart. And you can't put it all back together again.

Read the post by Sean Cleland at Cleland Collaborative Solutions.


Reading Wendell Berry's "Roots to the Earth"

I just read Roots to the Earth, a collection of Wendell Berry’s poetry and prose on American rural life. It is a meditation on living well.

The book first appeared a quarter century ago in a portfolio illustrated with Wesley Bates’ woodcuts. Three years ago, Larkspur Press released a limited edition of one hundred copies. Last year, Berkeley’s Counterpoint Press made the book available to the general public.

Even at one remove from a letterpress printing, this affordable volume is lavish. Bates’ illustrations recall the work of Rockwell Kent, Lynn Ward, and other midcentury traditionalists. However, while Kent and Ward foregrounded their figures against midnight-dark skies, Bates opens his to the light. That echoes the generosity of Berry’s poems and recalls as well some of the cheer found in children’s books, which may explain why Skylight Books displayed the copy I bought in the store’s kiddie section. I think that’s a mistake. True, there’s no reason that older children can’t read Roots to the Earth. Yet it’s adults who are likely most receptive to Berry’s themes of faith, frugality, steadfastness, dignity and humility. Adult experience often teaches something about the cost of abandoning traditional values.

Read the whole article at Left, Write & Centaur


Why We Need Wendell Berry

For a healthy discourse, voices from all across the country are needed. These distinctions occur not just along the lines of race and gender, but class and region as well. Much of literature and cultural taste, like the forces of political change and economics, are dictated by those in the cities, leaving behind those in rural and farming counties. One of the most important literary voices of rural America today, telling the stories and bringing to light the issues of a forgotten region, is Wendell Berry, an author of poetry, fiction, essays, and more.

What distinguishes Berry’s talented, over half-century-long career is his sincere commitment to activism. Since the late '60s, when Berry was a professor and incipient writer, he protested the war in Vietnam. Berry has put his opposition to nuclear power plants, and his support behind small farmers. Berry still lives in Port Royal, Kentucky, on a farm he moved to with his family in the '70s. His experience on the farm has given richness to his vision for a better future and has bestowed authority to his sympathetic calls for an America that stays in touch with the land and agrarian culture that is integral to its character.

As the country’s urban-rural divide has shown itself to have ever-growing and serious consequences, Berry has emerged as a sympathetic, assertive voice for the region. Berry is an especially necessary figure in the current American literary community, in a time when most of the author bios on recent hardcovers seem to contain the sentence “... lives in Brooklyn.”

Read the complete article by Matt Reimann at Books Tell You Why.

 


A Critique of Wendell Berry's Ideas about Gay Marriage

Wendell Berry’s influence has grown in recent years as many people, Christians or not, have found his agrarian vision a compelling corrective to various modern problems. However, Berry publicly took what we might call a “middle road” on gay marriage. This position surprised (and disappointed) many evangelicals that do not agree. But how does Berry’s position on gay marriage stand up to Berry’s own criticism? Does he agree with himself?


In Wendell Berry’s most recent collection of essays, Our Only World, he “risks” arguing that there should be no law either for or against homosexual marriage. This “risk” explains his feeling of being “caught in the middle” (as the essay’s title puts it) of the current political atmosphere. In other words, Berry’s “risk” is alienating both conservatives—who often appreciate his writing but would disagree on marriage—and liberals—who would find his statements not stretching far enough. Berry seems quite comfortable taking this “risk,” since he does not identify closely with either group.

But what else is at risk here? Is Berry not only “caught in the middle” of the typical sides of the debates, but also “caught in the middle” of his own arguments—or, perhaps more bluntly, does he actually risk contradicting himself? How does this position on gay marriage line up with his own earlier essays related to marriage and sexuality?

In this article I explore Berry’s “risk” in connection with specific arguments from his previous essays on marriage, family, and sexuality in order to provide the overall context necessary for making sense of his current position. Is Berry’s “risk” consistent with his other positions? Is it not only consistent but a logically necessary step? Looking behind simple statements to the broader arguments that undergird and support them will help us understand what to make of Berry’s statement as well as Berry’s continued relevance to evangelical discussions of marriage.

Read the entire article by Jacob Shatzer at Themelios.