Wendell Berry in conversation with Helena Norberg-Hodge

Wendell Berry: The issue there again, it seems to me, is the acceptance of a limit. Science that accepts limits would do no harm to an ecosystem or a human body. This is very different from the kind of science that too frequently turns out to be product development, without control of its application. The nuclear scientists who developed the atomic bomb are a very good example. But so are chemists who develop toxic substances for a limited use that they have in mind, but then turn it loose on the market and into the world. So you develop a chemical to control weeds in crops, and you ask only the question of whether or not the weeds are controlled; you don’t ask what happens when it runs off into the rivers.

Helena Norberg-Hodge: This is why there has to be the precautionary principle, as Rachel Carson reminded us. But the only entities really capable of enforcing the precautionary principle are governments—and trade treaties and the globalizing economy have given giant multinational companies more and more power over governments. We’ve seen these last thirty years the enormous damage that this power shift created. And then with the financial breakdown in 2008, it was so clear that we needed regulation; but it didn’t happen.

WB: The global economy is almost by definition not subject to regulation. And this simply means that corporations can pursue economic advantage without limit, wherever in the world those advantages are to be found. And as I’ve thought of it in the last several years, it has seemed to me that we’ve had a global economy for about five hundred years—ever since the time of Columbus. And this allowed us to think that if we don’t have some necessity of life here, we can get it from somewhere else. This is the most damaging idea that we’ve ever had. It’s still with us, still current, and it still excuses local plunder and theft and enslavement. It’s an extreme fantasy or unreality, the idea that if we don’t have it here, we can get it somewhere else—if we use it up here, we can get it somewhere else. It’s the stuff of fantasy.

Read all of "Caretaking," a conversation between Wendell Berry and Helena Norberg-Hodge at Orion.


On Wendell Berry's Christianity

It was in 1979 that Berry published his first essay on a biblical vision of stewardship, started writing his sabbath poems, and began drafting Remembering. At this time, he was also carrying on a remarkable correspondence with the Buddhist poet Gary Snyder in which he takes up, albeit uneasily, the defense of the biblical tradition. Berry’s revisions to his earlier work provide another window into his changing stance toward Christianity during these years; when he selects his poems for the 1985 Collected Poems, he omits several of his early poems that conveyed a kind of pagan, animist vision of creation.

What seems to underlie this shift is Berry’s growing sense that the Christian language of Creation was indispensable for rightly articulating the human place in the world. As he writes in his 1979 essay “The Gift of Good Land,” “the idea of the land as a gift—not a free or a deserved gift, but a gift given upon certain rigorous conditions” has far-reaching implications, and working out the implications of Creation-as-gift animates much of Berry’s later work.

Read  a section of Jeffrey Bilbro's "When Did Wendell Berry Start Talking Like a Christian?" at Christianity & Literature.


On Harlan Hubbard and Wendell Berry book covers

Have you ever wondered about the artwork that decorates the covers of so many of Wendell Berry’s books? I have, and so years ago I went digging to find out what I could about the pieces, and the man behind them. In doing so, I was introduced to one of those fascinating characters that hides behind the curtains of history.

Harlan Hubbard was born in 1900 in Bellevue, Kentucky. Although he would leave Kentucky several times in his life, first to live in New York and then to travel in a “shantyboat” down the Ohio River, Hubbard was as bound to farms and rivers of Northern Kentucky as a hobbit is bound to the Shire. He studied at the National Academy of Design in New York and later at the Cincinnati Art Academy. At the age of nineteen, however, he moved back to Kentucky with his mother, and he lived with her until he was married in 1943. 

Wendell Berry, in his book Harlan Hubbard: Life and Work, writes that Hubbard was an “odd young man” who, from very early on, viewed the world differently than most people. He was pretty much a failure in the world’s eyes. His art was not recognized, he earned his living as a day laborer, and he spent his spare time roaming the hills and riverways of Kentucky with his bicycle and painting tools.

Read all of "To Be Whole: A Call from the Fringe of Society" by Kevin Morse at The Rabbit Room.


Wendell Berry in conversation with Crystal Wilkinson

This year's KY Arts and Letters Day [November 10, 2018] at The Berry Center featured a very special keynote for our NEA Big Read: Agrarian Literary League of Henry County. Kentucky authors Wendell Berry and Crystal Wilkinson joined in conversation with moderator Debbie Barker to talk about their work, Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying, growing up in and writing about rural places, and the legacy of black agrarianism in the South. Visit berrycenter.org to subscribe to our newsletter and find us on Facebook and Instagram for more information about events and goings-on at the center. Filmed live on location in New Castle, Kentucky.

 


Conversation about the Wendell Berry/Gary Snyder correspondence

Paul Swanson in conversation with Chad Wriglesworth:

Chad Wriglesworth is a professor (at St. Jerome’s University), literary critic, book editor and writer. What most strikes me about Chad is his love of words. You will hear in our conversation how he lights up on the poetic turn of phrase, or a word that is precise enough to communicate exactly what is intended. Chad compiled and edited the letters for Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder. This book is riveting and I begged it not to end. The tone, tenor and rhythm of the letters are the manifestations from the lives of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder. If you are a fan of this podcast, you are no stranger to hearing about Wendell Berry; Kentucky agrarian, poet, novelist, essayist, to name just a few of his attributes. Gary Snyder is also a man of letters from the same generation and equally as counter-culture but from another slant. Snyder is a poet, Zen Buddhist, essayist and leans into a more hunter-gatherer philosophical stance.

To here the conversation, visit Contemplify.


Kentucky Arts & Letters Day to feature Wendell Berry in Conversation

The Berry Center is hosting the 4th Annual Kentucky Art & Letters Day on November 10.

This year, we are thrilled to be joined by beloved Kentucky authors: Maurice Manning, Mary Ann Taylor-Hall, Bobbie Ann Mason, Gray Zeitz, Leslie Shane, Rebecca Gayle Howell, Jonathan Greene, Maureen Morehead, and Ed McClanahan for our 4th annual Kentucky Arts & Letters Day. The keynote will feature Wendell Berry in conversation with Crystal Wilkinson, poet and author of "Birds of Opulence", "Blackberries, Blackberries", and "Water Street". This conversation also marks the finale of our Agrarian Literary League (ALL) program.


Our gallery will host talented wood engravers Carolyn Whitesel, Joanne Price, John Lackey, and Wesley Bates - all with deep connections to famed Kentucky letterpress, Larkspur Press.

For full information on this November 10th event, go HERE.


Reading Wendell Berry and Bernd Heinrich from an urban p.o.v.

The roots of the two writers’ differences are regional and occupational. Berry is a farmer in Kentucky; Heinrich is a scientist who lives in Maine. Accordingly, the former writes about cultivation and conservation while the latter writes about discovery, the process of going from question to answer. But centered in the work of both men is the value of practice, study, and devotion. Their essays demand that attention be paid to what is around and underfoot, what is all too easily taken for granted. Berry says this explicitly and often. Heinrich implies it. Each of their essays, by virtue of its attention and clarity, says, look at this, how could you not?

Though Berry’s essays are often knotty moral arguments and Heinrich’s educational, reading the collections side-by-side felt like a kind of escapism, if not in the way that word is usually applied. They are not, strictly speaking, relaxing. However, when so much of what I read, think, and talk about on a daily basis is directly wrapped up in whatever fresh crisis our president has precipitated, reading deeply considered work that is focused on the world as it grows from the ground is a genuine respite. Both Heinrich and Berry require my full attention long after I’ve finished reading; like the practices of cultivation and scientific study they write about, reading their essays is a slow process that rewards focus and patience.

Read all of "I Don't Spend Much Time in Nature, But I Love Reading About It" by Bradley Babendir at Literary Hub.


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.


New study of Wendell Berry due in January 2019

In Virtues of Renewal: Wendell Berry’s Sustainable Forms, Jeffrey Bilbro combines textual analysis and cultural criticism to explain how Berry’s literary forms encourage readers to practice virtues of renewal. While the written word alone cannot enact change, Bilbro asserts that Berry’s poetry, essays, and fiction can inspire people to, as Berry writes, “practice resurrection.” Bilbro examines the distinct, yet symbiotic, features of these three genres, demonstrating the importance of the humanities in supporting tenable economies. He uses Berry’s pieces to suggest the need for more robust language for discussing conservation, ecology, and the natural—and regenerative—process of death. Bilbro additionally translates Berry’s literature to a wider audience, putting him in conversation with philosophers and theologians such as Ivan Illich, Willie Jennings, Charles Taylor, and Augustine.

See complete information at The University Press of Kentucky.


Nick Offerman on Wendell Berry's new Library of America volume

Wendell Berry’s works are, perhaps, the literary equivalent of one of the farm tables from his own stories, laden with robust dishes of every stripe, from savory to sweet to salty, all to be washed down with spring water, lemonade and buttermilk, or perhaps a little firewater if our luck holds. And the analogy doesn’t end there, either, because that multi-plattered feast is surrounded by smells, by raucous laughter and talk, roosters and roof-drumming raindrops, or at other times by silence, solemn and gravid.

The gift of Mr. Berry’s yarn-spinning is in how his work delves deeper and deeper, proceeding to tell you about the origins of the table itself, complete with the details of its earnest maker, as well as which joints are sound, and which might eventually give out due not to any fault of the craftsperson but to an unseen pitch pocket hiding inside one of the large stretcher tenons, weakening the joint with a natural, hollow cavity. And he’s still not done because he will then proceed to delineate the history of the oak tree from which the table’s boards were hewn, decades ago, and what was going on in that particular corner of the woodlot the day that tree was felled.

The table linens get the same treatment, as does the salt cellar, and . . . well, I imagine I’ve made my point. Attempting to apprehend the scope of his vision leaves me literally slack-jawed, tuckered out, and dumb.

Read all of Mr. Offerman's thoughts at Library of America.