Wendell Berry's Preface to the writings of Eric Gill

The manifest failure of the misdirected genius of industrialism, together with the consequently enlarged need for good work, defines newly and urgently the pertinence of the teachings of Eric Gill. Gill (1882-1940) was a Christian, a remarkably versatile artist, and a philosopher remarkable for his willingness to carry principles to the test of practicality. As a thinker, we might say, his genius was for applied culture. Or it may have consisted simply of his ability to see what was perfectly obvious: that the ways and values of the industrial world contradict at every point the traditionally prescribed ways of giving honor to God and Nature and Humankind.

Read all of "Eric Gill and the Integrity of Work" by Wendell Berry at The Progressive.


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.


"Darker and darker," concerning a Wendell Berry quote

When Advent arrives each year, we find a flurry of folks quoting and re-quoting this fine sentence, "It gets darker and darker, and then Jesus is born." This is often, but not always, attributed to Wendell Berry. And it is sometimes attributed to something Wendell Berry has written. Yet, to my knowledge, he has not actually used it in any of his works.

The source is, in fact, Wendell Berry via Anne Lamott, who used it in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (2006). Here is the relevant page:

From Plan B Further Thoughts on Faith By Anne Lamott 2006


On Wendell Berry, Counterfeit Meaning, Footwear, Grace, Etc.

Much of Berry’s fiction and essays can sound a bit like a Romans commentary. He writes with a true-to-life low anthropology that perfectly frames the miracle of grace. We see bits of this in a 2019 interview he did with the activist Tim DeChristopher, the transcript of which was recently published by Orion Magazine. In a terrific shot by Guy Mendes, provided with the article, we see the much younger DeChristopher sitting across from Berry in what look to be living room chairs pulled out onto the front porch of the Berrys’ home, a border collie stretched out between them. I think Wendell managed to pull off his bold sartorial choice of black socks and sandals with style. The two don’t waste much time on pleasantries, DeChristopher starting off the conversation with a light hors d’oeuvre of nihilism.
 
    DeChristopher: We’re not just blowing things apart; we’re changing our own DNA in a way that makes human existence meaningless.

    Berry: I don’t think humans have any power over meaning. Meaning is given to us. We can’t make meaning.

    DeChristopher: I don’t agree with that. We make meaning all the time.

    Berry: The ability of humans even to discover meaning is very limited. They counterfeit meaning all the time.

Read all of "Wendell Berry Wants to Shoot a Drone" by Josh Retterer at Mockingbird.


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.


On Wendell Berry and Gracy Olmstead

As a writer and farmer, Wendell Berry has plowed the same plot of Kentucky hillside for nearly sixty years. The themes he tenderly brings to life in his novels and short stories—all of which are set in and around the fictional village of Port William, Kentucky—are the same he explores with rigor and subtlety in his nonfiction and poetry. His focus across all literary forms is community built on fidelity to neighbor, creation, and Creator.

Recently, Gracy Olmstead, a friend of Strong Towns, wrote an excellent piece about re-reading Berry’s classic essay, “Health Is Membership,” in light of the COVID-19 crisis. She begins, as Berry does, by reminding us that the word “health” stems from the same root as the word “whole.” To be healthy is to be whole. Therefore, full health—“health as wholeness”—can’t be considered in isolation from the health of the “culture, community, and ecology. It rejects the separation of family from family, as well as the specialized view of the self that severs body from soul—or even parts of our body from other parts.”

Read all of "We Approach Our World like a Machine" by John Pattison at Strong Towns.


Wendell Berry's Burley Coulter and "Burley Coulter at the Bank"

A friend recently reminded me of a song that is somehow related to Wendell Berry’s fictional character Burley Coulter.

Back in early 2018, folk songwriter John McCutcheon released his 39th album, Ghost Light, which contains "Burley Coulter at the Bank". A review at the time describes the song as a "story of progress serving the few while draining the many of their meager fortunes. It's a story made all the more poignant because the young go-getter is a local who realizes too late that his duty to his job betrays his own neighbors." (Ed Whitelock, Pop Matters)

At his website (where the song is identified as "Burley Coulter in the Bank"), Mr. McCutcheon thanks Mr. Berry "for loaning me the name of one of his most memorable characters." And since there is no such bank incident in the Port William fiction, it's clear that the songwriter is paying homage to the novelist who has thought so intensely about the destruction of small farms and rural communities. It's also clear that the song's Burley is a sad homage to an older generation who have been ruined by brutal 20th century financial practices. 

 


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.


Podcast inspired by Wendell Berry's "Health is Membership"

The first episode of "Health is Membership: 25 Years Later" consists of "a conversation with Duke University professor, agrarian, and theologian Norman Wirzba on parenting, the erosion of attention, and relationships that cultivate the potential of every person."

Professor Wirzba has published several books, including The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age, Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight, Way of Love: Recovering the Heart of ChristianityFrom Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World, Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating (in its 2nd Edition), and (with Fred Bahnson) Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with Creation. He also has edited several books, including The Essential Agrarian Reader: The Future of Culture, Community, and the Land and The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry.

Listen to "Health is Membership: 25 Years Later."