Artists resonate with Wendell Berry's move to a rural place

47 years before them, the poet Wendell Berry also made a choice to move. He resigned from a teaching position at NYU to return home to rural Kentucky. Like Shane and Allison, he was born of, and ultimately returned to the South. His literary friends worried. “I received letters,” he wrote, “counseling me to remain broad-minded and intellectually aware, admonishing that I should be on the lookout for signs of decay in my work and in my mind.”

On the contrary, Shane and Allison’s city friends supported their move, contributing to Habitable Spaces’ fundraising efforts. But once the two settled in, the divide between rural and urban America became apparent in other ways. “There’s not a lot of money for nonprofits in rural areas, which is something we didn’t realize,” said Allison. “Our compatriots in New York and Austin have so much more funding. It’s been a challenge for us. ”

Read all of “'We’re All Rebels Here': Habitable Spaces’ Art & Agricultural Project in Kingsbury" at Glasstire.


Wendell Berry and Lay communities around Catholic universities

The choices of Nate, Hannah, and our community expose a tension for the Church’s lay university teachers between the necessity of remaining faithful to local culture and the need to follow the call of Catholic higher education. On the one hand, many (myself included) empathize with Berry’s point. Local communities in America are dying out, a process accelerated by two years of societal isolation. We have a responsibility to the places that formed us; we cannot simply leave them behind, or abandon the first community in which we participated, our parents’ families. Similarly, it seems impractical to suggest that you need to work at a Catholic university to find a good Catholic community and naïve to rely on a community centered around something as volatile as religious higher education.

On the other hand, if we take John Paul II’s argument in Ex Corde seriously that the “future of Catholic Universities depends to a great extent on the competent and dedicated service of lay Catholics,” it is almost impossible to remain in the community you were born in and pursue a life of service in Catholic higher education unless you grew up in a university town and are lucky enough to get a job there after graduate school. Which local culture, then, takes higher priority? The one that you were born into or the one that you find yourself in?

Read all of "The Work of a Catholic University in Local Culture" by John-Paul Heil at Dappled Things.


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.


Poetic Response to Wendell Berry's Mad Farmer

Jason Rodenbeck has begun a challenge to readers to compose poems as responses to Mr. Berry's "Mad Farmer." His poem begins like this:

I saw the Mad Farmer
outside the city
standing defiant
at the treeline;
I heard his voice
crying out for the wilderness

from the false security
of my sanitized room
I witnessed his
lonesome prophecy
and I felt myself then
for the first time hollow
as I always had been
chasing dreams of
greatness and
manufactured purpose,
empty distractions and
greedy comforts

I heard his voice calling me,
“Forget those! Know your smallness!
Inhabit your incompleteness!
Embrace your partiality, your
connections to this earth and
your neighbor!”

Read all of "for the Mad Farmer" by Jason Rodenbeck at his blog,  Thinking Peacefully.


Wirzba on Soil, Garden and Wendell Berry

Among contemporary writers, few have understood and articulated these insights as well as Wendell Berry. Whether in the form of poetry, story, or essay, Berry has argued that apart from a people’s commitment to repair and nurture particular places and communities, the world comes to ruin. His call to “return to the land” is not the expression of some romantic yearning to relocate urbanites within an agrarian arcadia that never existed. The issue is not relocation, but the development of the sympathies and skills that make for an enduring, responsible, and beautiful livelihood. One doesn’t need a farm to do that. All one needs is a place within which to learn to exercise care and commitment. He knows it won’t be easy, especially in cultures characterized by speed, rootlessness, and a spectator approach to life.

Read all of "The Ground of Hospitality" by Norman Wirzba at Plough.

 


On Wendell Berry and Limits

The idea that there’s always more deeply drives our way of life and informs the way we think of possessions, science, knowledge, and technology. To think otherwise is horrifying to many people. In his 2008 essay “Faustian Economics: Hell Hath No Limits,” Wendell Berry mourns the effects of the “doctrine of limitlessness” on our culture and calls for “the self-restraints implied in neighborliness, stewardship, thrift, temperance, generosity, care, kindness, friendship, loyalty, and love.” He continues, “There is now a growing perception…that we are entering a time of inescapable limits.” As the illusion of limitlessness fades, we will “come under pressure to understand ourselves as limited creatures in a limited world.”

Like Berry, we are grieved by the damaging consequences of the human race’s unrestrained actions on both personal and global levels. Becoming aware of our limits is sobering, but, in the end, results in the fulfillment of our better longings. According to Berry, there’s another way to think about constraints: “Our human and earthly limits, properly understood, are not confinements but rather inducements…to fullness of relationship and meaning.”

Read all of "The Quiet Work of Caring: Establishing Life-Giving Boundaries Within and Without" by Jenna Henderson and Kimberly Miller at The Englewood Review of Books.


Wrapping up the Digital Wendell Berry discussion

Matt Stewart responds to a range of responses to his original essay "Stop Talking about Wendell Berry on Twitter":

It is true that the glass is decidedly half-empty in this analysis and that I risk hyperbole. But if the readers of Wendell Berry do not speak forcefully and often about the costs of our digital world, who else will? Who else can be counted on to simply reject, at times, these new “necessities?” Who else will remind us that we have options beyond either a grim realism that just accepts the tools that we have at hand and a shallow techno-utopianism that awaits not a new tool but a talisman? Poor old Twitter ($7.41 billion in total assets as of 2017) and Facebook ($84.5 billion in total assets as of 2017) can defend themselves, and I do not think it irresponsible to indulge in some hostile interrogation of the influence of their products.

I urge my fellow localists to think of their Tweets and Facebooks as analogous to cigarettes or plastic grocery bags. One or two are not so bad and they can even be enjoyable and useful. But they are not designed for moderate use and in the quantities with which we pump them out, a severe reckoning is at hand. I think it is likely that future generations will not look on us kindly as they labor to clean up the digital equivalent of secondhand smoke and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Read all of "A Digital Relation to the Universe" by Matt Stewart at Front Porch Republic.

Find a list of all articles in this series HERE at Front Porch Republic and here on this site.


Sutterfield cites Wendell Berry in lecture about living in a time of death

On April 21, 2018, Ragan Sutterfield delivered the Tippy McMichael Lecture at St. Paul Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

He posed the questions: "What are we to do if we recognize the death of the earth and her ecosystems that have nurtured and sustained our lives? What do we do if we want to take this death seriously in search for a better way to live into whatever future life there will be on the the other side of chaos and mass extinction?" As the beginning of an answer he suggests, "Find a time and a place, and make them holy."

Sutterfield, author of Wendell Berry and the Given Life, has been deeply influenced by Mr. Berry's thought. In the following video he cites a brief passage from the early essay "A Native Hill."

Until we understand what the land is, we are at odds with everything we touch. And to come to that understanding it is necessary, even now, to leave the regions of our conquest—the cleared fields, the towns and cities, the highways—and re-enter the woods. For only there can a man encounter the silence and the darkness of his own absence. Only in the silence and darkness can he recover the sense of the world’s longevity, of its ability to thrive without him, of his inferiority to it and his dependence on it. Perhaps then, having heard that silence and seen that darkness, he will grow humble before the place and begin to take it in—to learn from it what it is.  


Fireflies, Memories, Mental Health and Wendell Berry

Earth Day is traditionally a day of gratitude for Mother Earth, a time for celebration. But this year, we are reading daily of assaults slowing undoing environmental protections.  Has anyone in this present administration ever read a poem or essay by the activist farmer from Kentucky, Wendell Berry?  He was a National Humanities Medalist in 2010.
 
Is this administration familiar with the American Psychiatric Association research on the benefits of a natural environment? It was on September 12, 2016, that the APA noted: 

"One area of substantial research is the benefit of natural environments or green spaces which can provide a calming atmosphere, evoke positive emotions and facilitate learning and alertness. Experiencing nature helps people recover from the mental fatigue of work. Some research has found that activity in natural outdoor settings can help reduce the symptoms of ADHD in children."    

Read "An Earth Day Lament: Fireflies, Memories, and Mental Health" by Rita Watson at Psychology Today.


Reflections on Wendell Berry's latest

People like Sir Thomas Howard, Aldo Leopold, and J.I. Rodale were among those sounding the alarm that things weren’t quite right with the increasingly chemically dependent agriculture of their times. Their alarms have continued into today through people like Wendell Berry. After 60 years of writing about such things, his recent collection of essays, The Art of Loading Brush, subtitled, New Agrarian Writings, released in 2017, is proof Mr. Berry has much more to say. The book is an argument for agrarianism as a model for restoring not only nature’s health by caring for it, but in turn, through that same process, restoring the health of rural communities. Care of land requires co-operation, not only with nature, but with each other. In the essay, The Thought of Limits in a Prodigal Age, he makes that argument like this:

As long as the diverse economy of our small farms lasted, our communities were filled with people who needed one another and knew that they did. They needed one another’s help in their work, and from that they needed one another’s companionship. Most essentially, the grownups and elders needed the help of the children, who thus learned the family’s and the community’s work and the entailed duties, pleasures, and loyalties. When that work disappears, when the parents leave farm and household for town jobs, when the upbringing of the young is left largely to the schools, then the children, like their parents, live as individuals, particles, loved perhaps, but not needed for any usefulness they may have or any help they might give. As the local influences weaken, outside influences grow stronger.

Read the whole piece by Josh Retterer at Mockingbird