Reading Wendell Berry in a Wendy's

I was reading Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America while eating my 4 for $4 meal in a Wendy’s. I had never experienced cognitive dissonance so extreme before that moment and I don’t reckon I ever will again.

That moment felt like waking up. With a maybe-chicken nugget sopping with honey mustard between my teeth, I realized just how disconnected from the earth I was. All of a sudden I understood that my relationship with the ground and its produce was mediated to me through layers and layers of abstractions and processes and people, a relationship that, if mapped on to that between two people, could not sustain anything like intimacy and would be doomed to bitterness and failure. So it was between me and the earth under my feet, this separation represented materially by layers of cloth, rubber, asphalt, and concrete. We had a disordered relationship and while it would be easy to lay the blame at the feet of the culture to which I belong, in the end I was an offending party. Whether all the fast food spots in the country closed their doors or continued to sell their genetically modified wares in perpetuity, I needed to say sorry and mean it.

Read all of "Gardening, Wendy’s, and Wendell Berry" by Nathaniel Marshall at The Blue Scholar.

Another review of The Need to Be Whole

In every facet of modern life, we are being exploited, fragmented and alienated from the reality of the world and our own human natures. For over 60 years, Wendell Berry, writing from his farm near Port Royal, Ky., has attempted to draw back into relationship things that human sin, always wrapped up in “our destruction of precious things that we did not and cannot make,” has made separate through pride and greed. He has attempted to heal the great divisions that afflict us: our estrangements from the place where we are, the soil that we stand on, the people that surround us and the call of the natural law within us.

Now nearing the end of his life, Berry has looked back over what he has done, the long labor of one who has “entered the way of love and taken up its work,” and attempted in a new book, The Need to Be Whole, to give a glimpse of the undivided foundation that underpins all he has ever tried to think and say. Perhaps by necessity, he is only partly successful.

Read all of "Review: Wendell Berry on healing our divisions" by John-Paul Heil at America: The Jesuit Review.

On Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter and the challenges of staying

One key fictional example of a “sticker” is Hannah Coulter, the eponymous narrator of Berry’s fourth novel. Near the end of a long life, Hannah reflects on her two marriages (one short, one long), the children she raised, and the investments she and her neighbors have made in their homes, their farms, and one another. She treasures the way her life has intertwined with both the community and the land. At the same time, she mourns her fading hope that her rooted way of life will be passed on to the next generation. She worries what will happen after her death to the farm she and her husband Nathan have tended: none of her children or grandchildren cares for it as she does. Watching the world change around her, she observes the emergence of a “boomer” sensibility and expresses her own “sticker” values: “Most people now are looking for ‘a better place,’ which means that a lot of them will end up in a worse one. … There is no ‘better place’ than this, not in this world. And it is by the place we’ve got, and our love for it and our keeping of it, that this world is joined to Heaven.”

Read all of "Hannah Coulter, the Green Lady, and Me" by Emily G. Wenneborg at Plough.

Another reader responds to Wendell Berry's The Need to Be Whole

Wendell Berry has a lot of liberal fans, for thoroughly misguided reasons.  His latest book. The Need To Be Whole, has, for once, attracted some real honest criticism.  The negative reviews in my opinion don’t go nearly far enough into condemning Berry’s thoroughly bigoted worldview.  They correctly condemn the Confederate apologia, but never acknowledge that this has been part of Berry’s work since the very beginning.

Berry, as the Slate review indicates, gets a lot of love from some liberals because they see his work as being anticapitalist.  He condemns factory farming and mountaintop removal mining, so they think he must also be in favor of the basic liberal project of increasing individual autonomy.  He absolutely is NOT.  His work falls within a long tradition of right wing anti-market writing, lamenting the fracturing of ‘communities’ and families by market forces.  He is a defender of old, rigid hierarchies and has little use for the idea of concrete, legally enforceable rights.  

Read all of "I Read Bad Books So You Don't Have To" by Karen Cox at Daily Kos. And more here.