“He couldn’t make an ugly job of work to save his life.”
July 15, 2019 4:03 PM   Subscribe

Going home with Wendell Berry The integration of the various animals and crops into a relatively small acreage becomes a formal problem that is just as interesting and just as demanding as the arrangement of the parts of a novel. You’ve got to decide what comes first, and then you work your way to the revelation of what comes last. But the parts also have to be ordered. And if they’re ordered properly on a farm, something even more miraculous than most art happens: you have sustainability. Each thing supports the whole thing.

Later in the interview: there’s this thing I wrote, “Eating Is an Agricultural Act,” I’m so sorry about.
posted by mecran01 (10 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
"A good farmer is one who brings competent knowledge, work wisdom, and a locally adapted agrarian culture to a particular farm that has been lovingly studied and learned over a number of years. We are not talking here about “job training” but rather about the lifelong education of an artist, the wisdom that come from unceasing attention and practice."

I needed to hear this tonight. Thank you.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:43 PM on July 15, 2019 [6 favorites]

There are three phases to my relationship with Wendell Berry:

College: "I love everything he writes. I'm going to live on a farm with my hippy wife!"

Midlife: "My hippy girlfriend is on her second marriage and does SEO for a living. All I care about right now is making my back not hurt, sleep, and waiting for my kids to leave the house. Also, none of this utopianism crap will ever work"

Now: "I can't believe how practical and insightful Berry is."
posted by mecran01 at 6:04 PM on July 15, 2019 [10 favorites]

mecran01, I’m with you to a point. In college, Berry was a revelation to me, and I was amazed by him, and leapt at a chance to see him speak. Many of his ideas resonate with me, and I do believe in his ideas about the importance of the work, of knowing the work.

As I’ve gotten older, though, what sticks out more and more to me is his dismissal of things, of his comfort with deciding what is, and isn’t good, or necessary, in the article posted, he talks about attending church because, living where they do, one can’t really be a part of things without it, and that’s, for me, and for my own life, a giant flag letting me know I likely wouldn’t be welcome in this town that Berry very clearly feels is how things should be.

He has fantastic, necessary ideas that would be good to have a wider audience that takes the time to read, to consume and internalize, yet there’s a paternal insistence on the the whole of his vision being valid for all, rather than valid for only him.

I say this in this way because I have a lot of respect for him, and his writing, and acknowledge that some of his writing was formative for me as a college student. However, having gone back to some of his writing in the last year or so, the flaws stand out more than the strength. He understands a great deal, and of the things he understands, his is a voice to listen to. However, it feels like he himself is unaware of how far his understanding reaches, but feels that the authority he possesses from the things he understands should extend to things he has neither the experience with, or the interest to learn about.

Tl/dr: Berry is a great voice on the disastrous effects of the decline of small scale agriculture has had on the environment and the fabric of rural community, and by extension the larger society, and is a valuable resource regarding those things.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:15 PM on July 15, 2019 [11 favorites]

"...yet there’s a paternal insistence on the the whole of his vision being valid for all, rather than valid for only him. "

I'd be interested what in particular you find paternal about it; my read is he is merely advocating holism, which by its very definition is valid for all.
posted by Perko at 4:14 AM on July 16, 2019

"What Are People For?" Wendell Berry
posted by DJZouke at 5:32 AM on July 16, 2019

That passage sounds very much in harmony with John Seymour (author of "The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency (1976). London: Faber & Faber."
posted by coppertop at 5:38 AM on July 16, 2019

Perko, there’s hints of it in the article, but he’s always seemed exasperated by people who aren’t, essentially, white and Christian. Christianity is part and parcel of who he is, and you can’t really have Berry without his feelings on religion.

In the interview, though, where he tries to claim that Trump’s sexuality, which honestly I couldn’t tell you what Berry is talking about, is it his repeated divorces? Is it his bragging about sexual assault? His promiscuity? No idea, but Berry tries to claim that it’s the result of liberal lifestyles, going so far as to say Trump is a liberal socially and a conservative fiscally, which is so far off base that I don’t know what to think.

To me, it’s sounds like, and this is after having read a good number of his essays, that he’s not all that comfortable with non-cis anything, and seems, in that passage, to be claiming that Trump’s rapaciousness has something to do with liberalism, which is pretty ugly to me.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:03 AM on July 16, 2019

He has fantastic, necessary ideas that would be good to have a wider audience that takes the time to read, to consume and internalize, yet there’s a paternal insistence on the the whole of his vision being valid for all, rather than valid for only him.

I share this view a lot. Berry was a revelation to me right after college and there are things he's written which are basically central to my own conception of what I want to see in the world. I live in a rural location, though one that is more liberal than where Berry is. And I appreciate what he says about hose sorts of traditional values and their place in a just world. But.

But when I read his response to (deserved) criticism of being the first well publicized example of the "typing wife" phenomenon (berry mentions Muir's wife in the article, ever heard of her?), I realized that being Berry only works if you have a type of support afforded to men like him and often not afforded to people not like him. I have the same feelings about Helen and Scott Nearing who spent a lot of time espousing The Good Life but then weren't entirely above board about the sources of their livelihood while trying to put forth the idea that anyone could do what they did.

He's sneering about ADHD. He's weird about gender. His vision of the world doesn't feel inclusive to me. I appreciate what he says and that there's someone saying it, especially the central notion of sustainability and how that ordered simplicity can work on a farm (Berry has a farm, but doesn't have to rely on a farm, his community needs that in the same way that he needs the cachet of farming) but I'm super curious about how his vision can include all of America and not just his America.
posted by jessamyn at 7:48 AM on July 16, 2019 [13 favorites]

But Mr. Berry DOES Wendell.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:12 AM on July 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I feel like I have to really pick and choose with Wendell Berry, but the stuff I do hold onto is pretty interesting. I had forgotten how often he likes to tell people what they can't do.

Here's his take on cold hearted Christians and gay marriage

and more here

“The oddest of the strategies to condemn and isolate homosexuals is to propose that homosexual marriage is opposed to and a threat to heterosexual marriage, as if the marriage market is about to be cornered and monopolized by homosexuals,” Berry said. “If this is not industrial capitalist paranoia, it at least follows the pattern of industrial capitalist competitiveness. We must destroy the competition. If somebody else wants what you’ve got, from money to marriage, you must not hesitate to use the government – small of course – to keep them from getting it.”

It's like he literally cares about one issue, and one issue only, the destruction of the land, and everything else is framed (or ignored) by that context. As someone with ADHD, I wish I had that kind of focus, but there's an epistemological price to be paid.
posted by mecran01 at 9:21 AM on July 19, 2019

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