Reflections on Wendell Berry's The Art of Loading Brush

Despite at times feeling as though my entire life is a casualty of modernity’s ills while reading Berry, “The Art of Loading Brush” is a fantastic book. With an authority and complexity that only comes from experience, Berry’s writing on farming, local communities and human connection to the land is beautifully instructive. The book is a collection of essays, short stories and poems that explore much of what Berry has spent his entire life writing about — considerations of ethics and aesthetics, individual and cultural, in the context of politics, economics and community living.  

Read "My Introduction to Agrarianism" by Sharon Spaulding at The Daily Campus.

And follow it with "An agrarian vocabulary" also by Sharon Spaulding.


Wendell Berry's Preface to the writings of Eric Gill

The manifest failure of the misdirected genius of industrialism, together with the consequently enlarged need for good work, defines newly and urgently the pertinence of the teachings of Eric Gill. Gill (1882-1940) was a Christian, a remarkably versatile artist, and a philosopher remarkable for his willingness to carry principles to the test of practicality. As a thinker, we might say, his genius was for applied culture. Or it may have consisted simply of his ability to see what was perfectly obvious: that the ways and values of the industrial world contradict at every point the traditionally prescribed ways of giving honor to God and Nature and Humankind.

Read all of "Eric Gill and the Integrity of Work" by Wendell Berry at The Progressive.


On Reading Wendell Berry's Fiction

The characters in Port William know each other and know each other’s stories. Sometimes this takes the form of town gossip, but more often than not it exists because the people genuinely know and care about each other. They speak of each other’s families, burdens, and businesses. This knowledge generates a community of mutual respect and concern as well as helping each other see potential areas where they can trip up. For example, Jayber Crow watches with horror as Troy Chatham mishandles his father-in-law’s farm and life’s work. Nathan and Hannah Coulter spot the deficiencies in their daughter’s marriage from a distance before disaster strikes in the form of her husband’s infidelity.

Read all of "What I Learned from Reading Wendell Berry" by Scott Slayton at One Degree to Another.


On the 50th anniversary of Wendell Berry's book on racism

Berry begins The Hidden Wound by reflecting on personal experience, including stories shared in childhood. Learning about his great-grandfather selling an “unmanageable” slave brought home to him the inescapable brutality, the “innate violence,” of slavery. The violence was systemic, and every slave owner complicit. Even a master who did not want to use cruelty had to exercise at least the cruelty of abandonment: selling the slave into cruelty somewhere else.

As Berry notes, many accounts of Southern culture were unable to face this. The oddly nostalgic bookKentucky Cavaliers in Dixie used “a poeticized, romanticized, ornamental gentlemanly speech, so inflated with false sentiment as to sail lightly over all discrepancies in logic or in fact, shrugging off what it cannot accommodate, blandly affirming what it cannot shrug off.” Looking for models of honest treatment of race, Berry even found much Christian preaching evasive, and much Christian practice hypocritical.

Berry saw racism as something constructed to protect a sensitivity. He compares racism to Puritanism; the two “have meshed so perfectly in the United States” because both are contrived to insulate uncomfortable lies from being exposed by the uninhibited honesty of childlike candor. They deny something in human nature in order to enforce an oppressive code of behavior.

Read all of "Race & Anti-fragility" by Joshua P. Hochschild at Commonweal Magazine.


Wendell Berry and Zoom

Coming to terms with the limits of his prosthesis enables Andy [in the novel Remembering (1988)] to be patient with himself and others and to openly acknowledge his dependence on the help of his neighbors and family. Even as his missing hand divides him from his community, it makes him more dependent on their help than ever. A similar dynamic, I think, takes place when our conversations are filtered through the digital ether; we need to be patient with the technical glitches, the loss of meaning, the dog barking in someone’s house. The success of a class is more dependent than ever on the efforts of others to attend and contribute to our discussion.

Even as Andy becomes more adept with his replacement hand, he remains uncomfortable with it. This discomfort reminds him of what is wrong both in his society and in his soul. As the narrator explains, Andy has come to see his various prosthetic devices as symbolizing the “inescapable dependence of the life of the country and his neighborhood upon mechanical devices.”

Read all of "Wendell Berry and Zoom" by Jeffrey Bilbro at Front Porch Republic.


Thoughts on Wendell Berry's The Memory of Old Jack

At the book's opening, it is September, 1952, and Jack Beechum -- Old Jack -- is 92 years old and has begun to worry his loved ones. He lives at the hotel turned nursing home in town, forced to give up his beloved farm when it became clear he could not manage it on his own. He still rises before the sun, spending the bulk of his day lost in his own memories. So, too, do we. The shifting tenses of that opening paragraph are not a mistake, not evidence of sloppy editing. They are part of the story; they are the story.

Though the book is relatively short, it takes its time. Not at all unlike an elderly family member navigating the journey from the living room to the bedroom, the narrative moves carefully, thoughtfully, and with no unnecessary haste. Through Jack's memory, we trace with him the changes over the years: in farm and town, culture and family. We learn of his pride and ambition and failings; we learn of his heartbreaks and passions and devotion to the land. We see him through the eyes of the loved ones in the present; we learn from his mentors in the past. And we begin to understand what Berry was doing in the opening paragraph.

Read all of "On Invitation and Wendell Berry's The Memory of Old Jack" by Sarah Beth West.


On Wendell Berry and Antimodernism

Wendell Berry is probably the best-known and most influential antimodernist alive today, at least in the English-speaking world. Besides being a prolific essayist, novelist, story writer, and poet, Berry is a farmer in the Kentucky River Valley, an experience that has provided him with his material, his message, and his pulpit. He did not come to farming in midlife, as a novelty or a pastoral retreat. He grew up where he now farms, and his family has been farming in the area for many generations. Farming is the deepest layer of his mind; writing—learned at the University of Kentucky and then at Stanford in a famous seminar with Wallace Stegner—is the upper layer. That upper layer itself is divided: the fiction (a selection was issued last year by the Library of America) and poetry are slow-moving and deep-gauged, beautifully observed and full of interior incident, never loud or didactic. The essays, by contrast, though full of elegantly phrased and powerfully rhythmic sentences, are intensely earnest, aiming not to entertain or even to instruct but to convince and move. It’s been a feat, writing eight or so novels, several books of stories, several more of poems, and hundreds of lengthy essays and occasional pieces, all while managing a 117-acre farm, with only his wife and (occasionally) his children to help him. It’s an equal feat, traversing registers: the droll, meditative equanimity of his fiction, and the ardor, sometimes anger, of his nonfiction.

Read all of "Back to the Land: Wendell Berry in the Path of Modernity" by George Scialabba at The Baffler.


Season Two of The Membership: A Wendell Berry Podcast

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It’s good to see that the conversation continues at The Membership Podcast.

Hosted by Jason Hardy, John Pattison, and Tim Wasem since November 2018 and intending to discuss all of Mr. Berry's work in a mostly chronological order, the project has moved into its second season, with Episode Three posted just this past week.

The three collaborators offer both congenial chatter and well-focused insights around the works at hand and Mr. Berry in general. They occasionally break the routine with "interviews with farmers, makers, artists, writers, activists, and folks of all stripes who are responding to Berry’s writings in their own places."

Highly recommended. Check it out.

The Membership: A Wendell Berry Podcast


Wendell Berry's 1993 reprinted collection reviewed

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Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community is a departure from reality in that it is hopeful and romantic, and reality is bureaucratic and corporate. In an age when gnostic spirituality and transhumanism are valorized, however, we are quick to call the modest philosophy of people like Wendell Berry untenable. With the lofty promises every sterling new gadget gives us, it’s reflective that it seems impossible to return to a place that had already existed, while achieving eternal youth is likely a work in progress in a California lab. But in creating a fantasy world of the past in the present, the reader must face the prospect of a future that isn’t much different than the physically and spiritually polluted one that Berry pathologized.

Read all of "Poets of Brutality and Redemption" by Marlo Safi at The University Bookman