A family genealogy will not persist for long separated from the place where it was loved into being. This assertion permeates the thought of Wendell Berry, the Kentucky-based philosopher-farmer whose writings affirm the necessary connection of human beings with the soil supporting them. Over the course of dozens of novels and short stories written over the last several decades, Berry explores the interconnected lives of the families and residents of his fictional town of Port William, Kentucky, tracing the town’s history from its first days in the mid-1800s to the community’s decline in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Many of Berry’s stories deal with the theme of modernity’s growing alienation from the earth and human communities, but his 2004 novel Hannah Coulter explicitly addresses this problem through the lens of genealogy. In the eponymous character’s recitation of her own life’s story, uneventful by the world’s standards, Berry proposes that the cure for the woes afflicting our modern lives—especially the constant search for a “better place” away from where we are now—is to return to the place where our families have come from. For Berry, place and genealogy are inseparable. Reconnecting ourselves to our past requires reconnecting ourselves to the soil that sustained our genealogy, which contains the stories of our past and the eschatological hope of our future, of a new earth where we will be reunited with all those who have gone before us.
Read all of "Wendell Berry's Genealogy of Place" by John-Paul Heil at Genealogies of Modernity.