A city pastor finds common ground with Wendell Berry

While it may seem that a city lover and return to rural advocate have little in common, Berry has many themes that apply across many locations. A central theme for Berry is commitment to place and specifically commitment to places the modern economy says are not worth much. For Berry himself this is rural Kentucky. So, whether it be in poetry, essay, or short story form Berry is a tireless advocate for the place of the small farm in rural lands. The rural family farm is not only worth something, but in a strange way capable of providing a better life than the one our modern economy offers.

Read all of "Wendell Berry and a City Pastor" by David Kamphuis at The Fire Escape.


Italy meets Wendell Berry

Italy is famous for the excellence of its local products. It is renowned for wines that express the specificities of its territories, whose area sometimes covers only a few acres, and for microclimates that permit the production of widely different cured meats. Italy is famous for styles of painting and architecture, dialects and foods that change every few miles as one travels through the countryside. Why did Italy develop so many varieties, with such a deep intuition for the hidden possibilities in every territory? There is an American poet who can help us rediscover the roots of Italy’s greatness, and perhaps also help us find a good road for our common future. That poet is Wendell Berry. He is not yet well known in Italy. However, his works resonate so deeply with the spirit of Italy that it is probable that Berry will not only become well known, but even celebrated, as he has become over the last few decades in North America.

Read "From a Lookout in the Woods" by Jonah Lynch in L'Osservatore Romano.


Nick Offerman and Wendell Berry

I have often asserted that if my job were simply to broadcast the works of Wendell Berry to the world, I’d die a happy man. It turns out that Mary Berry is doing just that, with her work at the Berry Center, and so I do my best to support her efforts as best I can, because she knows what the hell she is talking about. They have a few programs supporting and educating small, local farming concerns, which is what our entire country if not the whole damn planet needs. The portions of Wendell’s writing and Mary’s hands-on nurturing that focus on rural, manageably sized economies are very inspiring to me, and it’s not just the two of them, of course. They have a lot of family involved, and neighbors into the bargain. I appreciate the example they set, which is why I try to be a good cheerleader for their efforts.

Read all of "Nick Offerman on the Essential Wisdom of Wendell Berry" at Lit Hub.


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.


On Wendell Berry and Thomas Merton

In 1965 Thomas Merton, after long waiting, moved into his hermitage on the grounds of Our Lady of Gethsemani monastery near Bardstown, Kentucky, where he had lived since 1942. A few months earlier and eighty miles north, Wendell Berry took apart a cabin that had belonged to his uncle and rebuilt it as his writing place, a kind of hermitage of his own, which James Baker Hall describes as “not just a quiet place, it was a place of quiet.”

Merton and Berry met, it seems, at least once— on December 10, 1967, exactly one year before Merton’s death. Wendell and his wife Tanya, poet Denise Levertov, the photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard, and his wife Madelyn all met at Gethsemani for lunch. The meeting seems to have been pleasant but exhausting for Merton, who wrote in his journal for that day “I am hoping this next week will be quiet — a time of fasting and retreat. Too many people here lately.”

Read all of "Work and Prayer: The Brief Friendship of Thomas Merton and Wendell Berry" by Dan Rattelle at Front Porch Republic.


An Appreciation of Wendell Berry

For me, Wendell Berry, like the simple shepherd in Jean Giono’s story, has persistently planted “over many years” his message about humankind and sustenance and nature and how we are inextricably bound to the health and rhythms of our natural world. As a poet, essayist, environmentalist, small town farmer, family man and scholar, Wendell Berry has humbly stood his ground and repeated his message for all to hear: we must take care of the earth; small scale farmers take care of the earth; small scale farming represent the glue that binds together communities; and we are running out of time. Berry has insisted that our market economy and monoculture farming are not only killing our natural world but devouring our communities and communal ties one-by-one.

Read all of "A Visible Mark Upon the Earth: Why Wendell Berry" by Tony Klemmer at The Aspen Institute.


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.


Silas House visits Wendell Berry

Wendell is showing me the land he loves on the day before his eighty-fourth birthday. Most people might imagine rolling pastures with neat swirls of hay and shining thoroughbreds. But this is the man who wrote the masterpiece “The Peace of Wild Things” and he has seen to it that his land offers concord to the untamed. We are on a gravel road where the air grows green with leaf-light. On my side of the truck there is a steep bank rising skyward. On Wendell’s side the land drops down toward the meandering stream called Cane Run, whose waters flow calmly against sandy banks but possess a music when they swirl about in the exposed roots of beech trees or stumble over small congregations of rocks. Most of the trees are thin, and when I notice this Wendell tells me that all of this land was once cleared to make way for tobacco fields in which he worked as a young man, just as I did as a child. “It’s a gone way of life,” he says as we remember the beauty and misery of setting the plants, staking them, hanging the tobacco in the stifling, fragrant heat of the barns. We both recall the cold depths of a swimming hole after working in the fields all day. The camaraderie. The aunts on the setters, chattering over the groan of the tractor. I was once a twelve-year-old boy, beaming with pride as I drove the truck across the fields. Wendell was once a man in his early thirties, fists on his hips as he looked out at the tobacco planted across the bottomlands.

Read all of this essay by Silas House at South Writ Large ... excerpted from Step into the Circle: Writers in Modern Appalachia.

 


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.