What We're Reading: Wendell Berry09-17-2019
Jedediah Britton-Purdy chronicles the life and work of Wendell Berry in The Nation. Berry’s writing, which won him a National Humanities Medal in 2011, has now been gathered in two volumes. The focus of Berry’s writing which reflects his agricultural lifestyle, has always spoken to larger political issues like environmentalism, violence, and economic inequality. Berry is also a featured interlocutor in Daphne Miller’s book Farmacology. And Miller will be speaking at the Hannah Arendt Center Conference “Reimagining Human Health” on Thursday and Friday Sept. 19-20.
From the beginning, Berry has written the land’s history alongside the history of those who have worked it or been worked on it. When he returned to Kentucky in the mid-1960s, he was already reflecting on how much of the region’s—and his family’s—history was entangled with racial domination. In 1970, he concluded that “the crisis of racial awareness” that had broken into his consciousness was “fated to be the continuing crisis of my life” and that “the reflexes of racism…are embedded in my mind as deeply at least as the language I speak.” Berry argues that the mind could not be changed by will alone but only in relation to the world whose wrongs had distorted it. A writer must respond by engaging with “the destructive forces in his history,” by admitting and addressing the fact that “my people’s errors have become the features of my country.