catapult magazine

catapult magazine


Wendell Berry


Oct 13 2006
03:28 pm

Question: Are the main points of Wendell Berry’s philosophy compatible with Reformational thinking? I have not read anything by Berry, which is very unfortunate since many people at the *cino conference quoted him incessantly. My impression is that Berry has a very Amish perspective and might not like a lot of what we call neo-Calvinian thinking. What are people’s thoughts on this? Is Berry only applicable to agricultural activity or can/should he also be appled to things like advertising, urban development, film, rock’n’roll, politics etc.? I will be reading Berry at some point in my life, but for now I’d like to know what people are thinking concerning this topic.


Oct 13 2006
03:37 pm

From Publishers Weekly:

Called "the prophet of rural America" by the New York Times, Berry has spent the last 40 of his 71 years simultaneously farming a hillside in Kentucky and issuing a stream of poems, novels and essays (including The Gift of Good Land and The Long-Legged House) that are probably the most sustained contemporary articulation of America’s agrarian, Jeffersonian ideal. If the tone of the book’s mostly brief 19 essays is sometimes angry and despairing ("We are destroying our country," begins one essay), one can hardly blame Berry. The mere title of one of the essays, "Some Notes for the Kerry Campaign, If Wanted," brings the reader up short?memories of the last presidential campaign are receding so quickly into the past that Berry’s amorphous call for a return to "our traditional principles of politics and religion" is both quixotic and sad, a remnant from a vanished era. Many of the essays are taken from talks given to such organizations as the Crop Science Society of America and the Land Institute, and an air of preaching to the converted hangs over the book. The collection is not without its qualities, chief among them Berry’s always well-honed prose, but if the agenda he proposes is to ever reclaim its rightful place in the body politic, it will have to be reframed in much more forceful and contemporary terms. (Nov.)
[i:6298d7015f]Copyright ? Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. —This text refers to the Hardcover edition.[/i:6298d7015f]


Oct 14 2006
03:05 pm

I tend to think that Berry represents a sane, time-tested perspective whereas the world as we know it is insane and unsustainable. Berry only seems weird and unrealistic because we’ve come to think of our fossil fuel driven society as normal. If you think about our time as a dangerous 200 year deviation instead of as a natural step in the progress of man, Berry’s thinking will seem more reasonable. And If neo-Calvinian thinking is necessarily about keeping on the doomed path we’re taking as human beings, then perhaps one should consider a less suicidal way in which to interpret Calvin.

I know that’s harsh, but I do think the optimistic ‘progressist’ tendencies of neo-Calvinism need to be reassessed in light of our new reality. The path we’re going down as human beings seems to be leading us not to a heavenly utopia but to a dystopia of dramatic climate change and the cultural and environmental collapses/revolutions that inevitably accompany it. Berry’s suggestions for our collective future, if taken seriously, might still help to avert some of the tagedies that now seem inevitable. Human history is not simply the story of progessing from garden living to city living. Numerous agro-urban cultures have collapsed the way ours seems poised to do, and perhaps in a century or two, the several million human beings who have survived the post-fossil fuel holocaust will be back to hunting and gathering in the garden of Eden.

And I hate to say it, but without electricity there can be no rock’n’roll so let’s enjoy it while we have it.


Oct 15 2006
12:41 pm

link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues. [/b:2888415d37]

The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature.

Society Destroys Mind and Environment.[/b:2888415d37]

Subject : In a fast society slow emotions become extinct.
Subject : A thinking mind cannot feel.
Subject : Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys the planet.
Subject : Environment can never be saved as long as cities exist.

Emotion is what we experience during gaps in our thinking.

If there are no gaps there is no emotion.

Today people are thinking all the time and are mistaking thought (words/ language) for emotion.

When society switches-over from physical work (agriculture) to mental work (scientific/ industrial/ financial/ fast visuals/ fast words ) the speed of thinking keeps on accelerating and the gaps between thinking go on decreasing.

There comes a time when there are almost no gaps.

People become incapable of experiencing/ tolerating gaps.

Emotion ends.

Man becomes machine.

A society that speeds up mentally experiences every mental slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A ( travelling )society that speeds up physically experiences every physical slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A society that entertains itself daily experiences every non-entertaining moment as Depression / Anxiety.





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Oct 18 2006
05:05 pm

Of course I’m not suggesting all is hunky-dory (sp?) and we are constantly progressing toward a better future ruled by technology. And neo-Calvinism was never about that either. I think John Calvin would be appalled to hear someone suggest his work was meant to support a constant striving for new technologies and the progress of industrialism for its own sake. And don’t forget Calvin was also dipping into the time-tested wisdom of a very very old story, with themes as old, if not older, than some of the ones Berry recalls. I think it’s safe to say neo-Calvinists can agree in large part that there’s a problem, an idolatry in a Western Industrialist Society that must be dismantled. But Berry’s answer to the problem does not seem to accept the possibility of reformation within the structures that have been developed by that Western Industrialist System. I always perceived that the strength of neo-Calvinist thinking was in the revelation that God is powerful enough to take human mistakes and bring the whole train back on track in a new way without asking people to go back to some primitive garden state.


Oct 21 2006
12:24 pm

I just saw a report on Deutsche-Welle that the trend in Europe as well as across the world is toward increasing urbanization. More and more people are moving to big cities.
Does Wendell Berry think it’s possible to apply his principles in an urban context?
I hope so, because if this is where people are moving, then this is where we ought to be doing our work to find out how to be obedient to God’s norms for city-living.


Oct 21 2006
01:57 pm

I haven’t read Berry lately, but as I remember he always comes back to connections with the food you’re eating, like growing some of it yourself and having a relationship with farmers who grow your food. There are ways for urban people get at these things. There is plenty of land and potential land (roofs, parking lots) in cities that could be used to grow food, and there are existing ways for people to get food directly from farmers (community supported agriculture). I can’t tell you for sure, but I think Berry’s vision is realistic enough to include these types of things.

On the other hand, cities as we know them won’t work without fossil fuels. Currently almost all products we consume are moved by diesel-burning trucks and diesel-burning ships. Take away cheap transportation (based on cheap oil) and all except the very wealthiest will once again be forced to consume locally produced products. Our cities are not designed to deal with this eventuality and I think a lot of people will die as a result. Of course everybody keeps saying that we will find a clean, cheap alternative to oil when we need it. Well, we need it and I don’t see it. It has come to the point where Alberta oil companies are making billions extracting oil from oilsands in a process that consumes more energy (in the form of natural gas) than it yields. Half of the oil that ever existed on earth has now been burned. We’re living on borrowed time.


Oct 23 2006
11:08 am

some of you might think I’ve gone off topic with my "the end is neigh" prophecies, but it’s precisely this perspective that leads me to believe that Berry is important. He shows another way. One that doesn’t lead to destruction. You might believe that the current economic and social system can be reformed to make it sustainable, and I hope that’s true, but maybe what we really need is someone with the courage to say that free trade is more harmful than good, that the role of government is more than to create a good business climate, and that economic growth isn’t always worth the sacrifice. And other things like that. Somebody like "V" might come in handy.