On a critique of Wendell Berry by George Scialabba

What good, though, is a changed life in an unchanged world? It is true that Berry, albeit always an urgent and sometimes an angry writer, does not hitch his prescriptions to the prospects of success. He is something of a hopeful pessimist. And so his “advice,” as Scialabba calls it, though not a strategy for winning, can be described as offering a vision for living with integrity whether or not one wins. Which means, to put the matter more sharply, it is a portrait of how to live without despair when losing is likely. For the likelihood of loss is unbearable only if value—the goodness of a neighborly deed, the beauty of a creek at sunset—arises from consequences, not from things as they are in themselves.

For half a century, Berry’s poetry and prose have bristled with irritation, outrage and indignation. But it has always lacked what Scialabba, I think, wishes he found in it: desperation. The absence of desperation is not, from Berry’s perspective, a failure to recognize the gravity of the situation. Nor does he recommend private virtue as a solution. His posture, rather, is a conscious decision rooted at once in a way of apprehending the world—as a gift that precedes and encompasses us, what Marilynne Robinson calls “the givenness of things”—and a corresponding response that accepts one’s place in it. Such a stance of humility and gratitude is not one among other viable options. The world calls it forth in us. Without it, we are lost.

Read all of "When Losing is Likely" by Brad East in The Point Magazine.


On Wendell Berry's 'The Hidden Wound'

Perhaps the most significant thing in this extended essay, which I felt stands well on its own without the Afterword, is Berry’s courageous acknowledgement of the wound of racism on our national body. It is a wound caused by whites, but one from which whites suffer as well as Blacks. A strength of this work is that he owns his own complicity and his own learning with no “yes, buts.” It is vintage Berry, utterly consistent with other works of his on the dignity of manual work, of knowledge of the land, of caring for place, and of membership in community. What is striking is that Berry here offers a generous vision of community and membership that includes Black and white and the value in the humanity of each person. While Berry downplays systemic issues and may be faulted for this, his integration of issues of race into the larger themes of his work makes this more than merely a writing of place by a rural agriculturalist. It is an essay that discerns the fabric of society we are weaving, the rents in that fabric, and the crucial threads needed for a durable and useful garment.

Read all of "Review: The Hidden Wound" by Bob Trube at Bob on Books.


On Wendell Berry's 'Hannah Coulter'

A family genealogy will not persist for long separated from the place where it was loved into being. This assertion permeates the thought of Wendell Berry, the Kentucky-based philosopher-farmer whose writings affirm the necessary connection of human beings with the soil supporting them. Over the course of dozens of novels and short stories written over the last several decades, Berry explores the interconnected lives of the families and residents of his fictional town of Port William, Kentucky, tracing the town’s history from its first days in the mid-1800s to the community’s decline in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Many of Berry’s stories deal with the theme of modernity’s growing alienation from the earth and human communities, but his 2004 novel Hannah Coulter explicitly addresses this problem through the lens of genealogy. In the eponymous character’s recitation of her own life’s story, uneventful by the world’s standards, Berry proposes that the cure for the woes afflicting our modern lives—especially the constant search for a “better place” away from where we are now—is to return to the place where our families have come from. For Berry, place and genealogy are inseparable. Reconnecting ourselves to our past requires reconnecting ourselves to the soil that sustained our genealogy, which contains the stories of our past and the eschatological hope of our future, of a new earth where we will be reunited with all those who have gone before us.

Read all of "Wendell Berry's Genealogy of Place" by John-Paul Heil at Genealogies of Modernity.


On Wendell Berry and Conservatism

Farmer and author Wendell Berry describes such giving in his novel Hannah Coulter — describing the dynamic of the story’s Kentuckian community: 

“Work was freely given in exchange for work freely given. There was no bookkeeping, no accounting, no settling up. What you owed was considered paid when you had done what needed doing. Every account was paid in full by the understanding that when we were needed we would go, and when we had need the others, or enough of them, would come.”
 
In the small Kentucky village of Berry’s novel, we see the essence of a conservative solution: a care outside of oneself, a giving and edification of one’s family, community, and place. It exemplifies the epitomé of building something beautiful — the manifestation of conservatism well done. More explicitly, we might call this giving the virtue of charity, synonymous with love. Aquinas calls charity a type of friendship, ultimately “the friendship of man for God” (ST II-II, 23, I), but so too a sharing in life with others, a joint pursuit of the good.

Charity, and thus human flourishing, is contingent upon our relationships with others, of preserving and edifying those bonds and institutions that give life meaning. As Wendell Berry states: “A human community, then, if it is to last long, must exert a sort of centripetal force, holding local soil and local memory in place.”

Read all of "Wendell Berry, Beauty, and the Future of Conservatism" by Samul Samson at The Texas Horn.


A Critique of Wendell Berry's "The Pleasures of Eating"

At the end of the essay, Berry juxtaposes the emptiness of industrial eating with what he calls “extensive pleasure.” This is the pleasure that is not wedded to the sensual, tactile, or gustatory—what Berry terms the pleasure of the “mere gourmet”—but emerges from “one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes.” The pleasure of eating for Berry is not intrinsic to the experience of eating, but extrinsic to it, deriving instead from the knowledge of the food’s journey from life to plate. Which is to say that, he is not, in fact, talking about the pleasure of eating in any sort of conventional, literal, or phenomenological sense. Rather what we have here is a repackaging of the pleasure of work: you can only take real satisfaction from the memory of the labor and care you invested in whatever it is you are munching on. This becomes all the more apparent when we read Berry’s program for how the “industrial eater” can obtain extensive pleasure, which Berry dubiously asserts “is pretty fully available to the urban consumer who will make the necessary effort.” Want pleasure? Get to work! Berry’s suggestions are a familiar list of foodie chores: 1) “Participate in food production to the extent that you can.” 2) “Prepare your own food.” 3) “Learn the origins of the food you buy, and buy the food that is produced closest to your home.” 4) “Whenever possible, deal directly with a local farmer, gardener, or orchardist.” 5) “Learn, in self-defense, as much as you can of the economy and technology of industrial food production.” 6) “Learn what is involved in the best farming and gardening.” 7) “Learn as much as you can, by direct observation and experience if possible, of the life histories of the food species.”

Read all of "Sexuality Studies for Foodies" by Gabriel Rosenberg at The Strong Paw of Reason.


On Wendell Berry, Good Work, and Hope

The Kentucky farmer and essayist Wendell Berry seeks a third way, the way of hope. For Berry, good work is worth doing regardless of whether it will fix our global problems. By grounding ultimate hope in a given redemption, he is freed to do good work without having the impossible pressure of fixing global problems. So while some of the many technological and political ideas bandied about are worth pursuing, such solutions are a poor foundation for hope because they will inevitably disappoint us: no technology can make us live forever, and no political system can make us live in harmony with one another. If global efficacy is the standard of our work, then most of us have no good work to do. As Berry writes in regard to environmental challenges, “If we think the future damage of climate change to the environment is a big problem only solvable by a big solution, then thinking or doing something in particular becomes more difficult, perhaps impossible.”

Read all of  "Labours of Love" by Jeffrey Bilbro at Comment Magazine.

 


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.