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.


North Dakota educator learns with Wendell Berry

What is clear to me now in a way that was not before I found Wendell Berry is that the placelessness of modern industrial thinking has failed us—culturally and ecologically. And it has failed us educationally. When I began the doctoral program, I thought data analytics and greater efficiency would save higher education. By the time I completed my dissertation, I could see that what my students need is not big data. What they need are small gestures—gestures of kindness and encouragement, gestures of interest and individual care. Placeless, generic education does not serve. Like any human endeavor, education should be something more aligned with agrarianism and less with industrialism.
 
Moreover, in a time when our political rhetoric has become both divisive and derisive, when our differences are too easily defined and dismissed as a split between urban and rural—a divide of our very places—Berry’s thinking finds the connections through our shared humanity. In his analysis and portrayal of his place, he enables us to understand our own places in a fresh way. Just as each school or each classroom is made up of uniquely individual students, Berry’s writings remind us that even the large places of the world are made up of small places that need to be loved and defended. In this, we can find what connects us.

Read all of "Finding My Place by Finding Wendell Berry" by Jane M. Schreck at On Second Thought Magazine.


On Wendell Berry and bell hooks in place

Berry, a white agrarian-activist-author born in 1934, left his remote central Kentucky farm life to pursue education which ultimately led him to New York City where he was poised by his thirties for literary success as a professor at New York University. 

hooks was born in 1952 and her childhood roots were in Hopkinsville, Kentucky soil but transplanted to Southern California for college. She hoped, as an African American girl raised in racial segregation, to find a more accepting climate for community. Studying English at Stanford University, she garnered success as a writer and activist and, a couple of decades after Berry, found her feet planted in New York City with diverse community and career dreams. 

Berry and hooks are kindred although not kin. Their careers took them to the biggest apple from which an American can bite. Yet upon arrival they found it lacking sustenance. So, independently from each other, Berry, then hooks, made their way back to Kentucky. Berry’s Bluegrass State homecoming in 1965 planted him in Port Royal where he has farmed and written an impressive canon of essays, poetry, and novels. 

hooks, partly inspired by Berry’s agrarian essays, decided to depart New Yorck and make Berea, KY, a town begun by abolitionist pastor John Fee in 1850 as a place for blacks and whites to dwell in community, her home in 2004.

Read all of "Berry, hooks, and the Courage to Live Small" by Rusty Woods at Fathom.


Response to a recent review of Wendell Berry's essays

Instead of this Christian vision, Scialabba calls for “a pious paganism, a virtuous rationalism.” Berry’s early writing did espouse a kind of pious paganism, but Berry ultimately found that insufficient and returned to his Christian tradition and language. As Scialabba’s largely sympathetic review attests, however, Berry’s theological vision remains winsome, attractive even to those who don’t share it. Throughout his essays, Berry pairs his theological, moral arguments with ecological, pragmatic ones. This approach enables him to build common ground with people like Scialabba who don’t share his belief in God.

Read all of "Love Is its Own Justification: Wendell Berry and the Lure of Political Efficacy" by Jeffery Bilbro at Front Porch Republic.


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


A Lecture on Wendell Berry and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition

This lecture was given at the University of Texas at Austin on 24 October 2019.

Joshua Hochschild is the Monsignor Robert R. Kline Professor of Philosophy at Mount St. Mary’s University, where he also served six years as the inaugural Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. His primary research is in medieval logic, metaphysics, and ethics, with broad interest in liberal education and the continuing relevance of the Catholic intellectual tradition. He is the author of The Semantics of Analogy: Rereading Cajetan’s De Nominum Analogia (2010), translator of Claude Panaccio’s Mental Language: From Plato to William of Ockham (2017), and co-author of A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction (2017). His writing has appeared in First Things, Commonweal, Modern Age and the Wall Street Journal. For 2020-21 he’s been elected to serve as President of the American Catholic Philosophical Association.

Listen to "Wendell Berry, Political Philosophy, & the Catholic Intellectual Tradition" by Prof. Joshua Hochschild at Soundcloud


On Wendell Berry's work (especially the essays)

There is always movement in Wendell Berry’s sentences. He writes about what he has experienced, what he has learned, and always with humility for what he does not know. The natural world is his primary teacher: its rhythms, its largesse, its mysteries. And in the essays, the natural world often reflects how change in humans is also natural, inexplicable and possible. I think this is what many who love his writing appreciate most about Berry, whether they realize it or not. For his Christian readers, this becomes an expansion of what we understand as conversion.

Read all of "On the Road with Wendell Berry" by Jon M. Sweeney at America Magazine.