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 files suit to prevent removal of UK mural

The University of Kentucky should halt the removal of a controversial 1930s-era mural that has been at the center of years of race-related, on-campus debate, a national group against censorship and a contemporary Black artist said in a letter to the university.

The National Coalition Against Censorship and Karyn Olivier — the artist who created a 2018 piece meant to contextualize the mural — say that the university shouldn’t take down the Ann Rice O’Hanlon piece that depicts Black workers, possibly slaves, because the mural’s removal would mute Olivier’s accompanying piece “Witness.”

Additionally, a complaint has been filed by renowned Kentucky poet and novelist Wendell Berry and his wife, Tanya, in Franklin County Circuit Court against the University of Kentucky and UK President Eli Capilouto, according to an attorney in the case. The complaint includes a request for an injunction to halt the removal or damage of the O’Hanlon Mural or the “Witness” installation by Olivier.

Read all of "Wendell Berry lawsuit, Black artist try to protect University of Kentucky mural" by Rick Childress and Morgan Eads at Lexington Herald-Leader.

See also: "Removing an offensive mural from the University of Kentucky isn’t ‘racial justice’" by Karyn Olivier at The Washington Post.
 
 
See also: "Students’ Calls to Remove a Mural Were Answered. Now Comes a Lawsuit" by Julia Jacobs at The New York Times.
 
 
 
 
 

Wendell Berry, Health, and Pandemic

In his essay “Health Is Membership,” Kentucky essayist, farmer, and philosopher Wendell Berry suggests that individual health cannot ever be divorced from one’s larger membership with the earth and its various communities. Therefore, as we remind ourselves of the curse and its implications, we must not just turn inward—but also toward each other, toward community. Health, Berry suggests, requires re-membering: resisting a culture that “isolates us and parcels us out.”

But how does this apply to our current moment, in which we are all, in fact, physically isolated and segregated from each other? How do we begin to deal with the spiritual, physical, economic, and communal devastation caused by the COVID-19 virus? What ought we to remind ourselves of, and what ought we to remember in a more communal sense, going forward?

Berry wrote “Health Is Membership” approximately twenty-six years ago. But its prescriptions and condemnations are well suited to our own complex, troubling moment.

Read all of "Wendell Berry's Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic" by Gracy Olmstead at Breaking Ground.


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.


Wendell Berry listed among conservative thinkers

Gracy Olmstead has composed a brief but evocative essay on key figures in conservative thought. Here she speaks of Wendell Berry:

An additional thought might be added here from Wendell Berry, an invaluable thinker who does not see himself as “conservative” but who avoids the name for reasons I think Kirk would approve of. Berry is too particular and too prudential to give a political label to his thought. The term does not “help him,” he once told me, because it does little to advance or enliven his work—and means very little in his local context.

I have found myself agreeing with Berry more and more over time. I am loath, in fact, to embrace the label “conservative” myself—in part because of the ways most people define it, and in part because I am unsure whether any political label fully defines my beliefs. But it could be that the very impetus to abandon labels, to forsake party and creed to more fully embrace one’s principles and one’s place, might itself be a “conservative” sentiment—at least according to Kirk’s view.

Read all of "How to Identify Today's Conservative Thinkers" at ISI.


Wendell Berry comments on UK fresco controversy

Of a controversial fresco at the University of Kentucky, Mr. Berry writes,

If the O’Hanlon fresco at the University of Kentucky depicts historical events that actually happened, then it can be understood to be teaching what is true. It is not possible to justify a student’s objection to learning what is true. If, on the contrary, the fresco falsifies history, that is a lesson of another kind that a student also should learn. 

The only intellectually responsible question raised by the students’ objection to the fresco is that of its truth to history. 

If the university still has a history department, then a further question is why President Capilouto would conduct a long discussion about the fresco without calling in at least a couple of history professors to deal with the relevant historical questions. Would not that have been educational? 

The most important case that the objecting students have made, perhaps unintentionally, is for a course in Kentucky history to be mandatory for all students.

Read all of  "Wendell Berry: At UK, truth, history, law — and what ‘cannot be forgiven’" at the Lexington Herald-Leader.

See also: "UK protestors end hunger strike ..." at the Herald-Leader.


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.


A suggestion to follow Wendell Berry's path of humility

Limiting ourselves to the sphere of present work requires a modesty that acknowledges we don’t have all the answers (despite our IQs or fancy data) and cannot predict the future. In this globalized era, characterized by a pervasive Internet and endless information, it seems harder than ever to take a humble approach to life’s problems. With so much information and connection at our fingertips, surely we can make the world better. Surely we can solve life’s problems.

But Berry tears away the illusion of power that so often accompanies our increased connectivity. Quantity does not equal quality. No matter what, we are still finite human beings, full of error and hubris. As Berry puts it in his essay “The Presence of Nature in the Natural World,” “Once we acknowledge, once we permit our language to acknowledge, the immense miracle of the existence of this living world, in place of nothing, then we confront again that world and our existence in it, forever more mysterious than known.”

Berry asks us to be more humble and particular in addressing problems we face—not just global problems (such as environmental and political crises, or humanitarian conflicts) but local and even personal dilemmas, too. The conservative approach to “fixing” things should be measured and humble, cognizant of our lack of control. That’s an attitude that does not describe either political party in Washington these days; neither does it generally describe our daily attitudes when tackling life’s problems. Do we really believe that life and its workings lie beyond our control? If so, will we react in fear and denial—or will we embrace our lowly and limited place in the world? 

Instead of seeking to predict, Berry suggests we should seek to “provide”: to take up humbly and thoughtfully limited actions that will best enable us to serve our families and communities in the near (not distant) future. Provision might involve eliminating debt, living within one’s means, providing food and shelter for those we love, and otherwise seeking to steward our possessions in a virtuous manner.

Read "What Wendell Berry Can Show Zuckerberg Types about Making a Better World" by Gracy Olmstead at Intercollegiate Review.


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.

 


Iowa Eliminates Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

On April 19, 2017, the Iowa state legislature voted to completely defund The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Founded in 1987, the Center "helps to identify and develop new ways to farm profitably while conserving natural resources."

Bryce Oates reports in The Daily Yonder:

“Yep. It’s true. After 30 years we’re dead,” [Mark] Rasmussen [director of the Leopold Center] said. “It looks like we’re closing up shop on July 1st We just learned about the possibility a week ago. It passed the Senate, and just passed the House around midnight this morning (Wednesday).”

All that remains to make the closure final for Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (R) to sign the legislation into law. Rasmussen said he’s sure Branstad will sign the bill this week.

The Leopold Center is funded through the state’s Groundwater Protection Fund, created in 1987 from a fee on nitrogen fertilizer and pesticide sales. The center also maintains an annual appropriation from Iowa State University (ISU) and has a $5 million endowment. The Leopold Center uses the state funds to pay the center’s staff and to support a grants to farmers to document sustainable-agriculture research.

Rasmussen said there is no way to stop the closure. “It’s right there in the text of the bill. ‘Elimination of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.’ I guess I thought we had a little bit more pride than that in Iowa. I thought we cared a little bit more.”

Larry Koehrsen writes of this "shame" in the Boone News-Republican:

Over the past 30 years, the Leopold Center has been a leader in making over 500 competitive grants to further the cause of sustainable agriculture and resource conservation. Information and data resulting from these projects have been widely distributed to researchers, educators, the agricultural community, and the general public.

We owe much to the leadership of Leopold and the continuation of his legacy through the work of the Leopold Center. Iowa is a better place because of what has been accomplished. And yet, there is so much more to do. We continue to lose topsoil to wind and water erosion. Our rivers and lakes are impaired for recreation and water supply uses. Our agricultural model is not sustainable for the long term.

The destructive legislation was pushed through on a partisan basis with no advance notice. There was minimal opportunity for input from the general and agricultural community.

This was a shameful display of political arrogance. Shameful because so little is being done elsewhere by the legislature to cope with water quality and resource conservation. Shameful because this degrades the memory and heritage of one of the Iowa pioneers of land stewardship. Shameful because the image of Iowa conveyed to the nation and the world has been tainted. Shame on us if we let this action go unchallenged.

 It appears that the legislature's action has yet to be signed by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. See one Iowan's plea HERE.

"The Loss of the Leopold Center is a Loss for All of Us" (Land Stewardship Project, 4/20/17)

"Leopold Center is honored by farmers, academics around the world" (The Des Moines Register, 4/25/17)

"Where's Aldo? Budget Kills the Leopold Center" (The Daily Iowan, 5/8/17)