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The Achievement of Wendell Berry

The Achievement of Wendell Berry: The Hard History of Love

Fritz Oehlschlaeger
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Achievement of Wendell Berry
    Book Description:

    Arguably one of the most important American writers working today, Wendell Berry is the author of more than fifty books, including novels and collections of poems, short stories, and essays. A prominent spokesman for agrarian values, Berry frequently defends such practices and ideas as sustainable agriculture, healthy rural communities, connection to place, the pleasures of work, and the interconnectedness of life.

    In The Achievement of Wendell Berry: The Hard History of Love, Fritz Oehlschlaeger provides a sweeping engagement with Berry's entire corpus. The book introduces the reader to Berry's general philosophy and aesthetic through careful consideration of his essays. Oehlschlaeger pays particular attention to Berry as an agrarian, citizen, and patriot, and also examines the influence of Christianity on Berry's writings. Much of the book is devoted to lively close readings of Berry's short stories, novels, and poetry. The Achievement of Wendell Berry is a comprehensive introduction to the philosophical and creative world of Wendell Berry, one that offers new critical insights into the writing of this celebrated Kentucky author.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3009-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    To attempt a work of literary criticism devoted to the writings of Wendell Berry might seem foolhardy. After all, Jayber Crow has warned critics off in no uncertain terms in the “Notice” posted “BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR” at the beginning of the novel bearing his name: “Persons attempting to find a ‘text’ in this book will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a ‘subtext’ in it will be banished; persons attempting to explain, interpret, explicate, analyze, deconstruct, or otherwise ‘understand’ it will be exiled to a desert island in the company only of other explainers.”¹ At least the critic...

  6. Chapter 1 Practices, Particulars, and Virtues: What Mules Taught Wendell Berry
    (pp. 9-42)

    Wendell Berry remarks in “A Native Hill” that he was born in “the nick of time.” If he had been born only five years later, he “would have begun in a different world, and would no doubt have become a different man.” Born in 1934 in Kentucky, where the Depression and later World War II “delayed the mechanization” process, Berry became “less a child of [his] time” than his contemporaries born in cities or in areas of the country where machine farming was closer to being the norm. He received the paradoxical grace of anachronism, grounded in memory of earlier...

  7. Chapter 2 Toward a Peaceable Economy for a Beloved Country: Berry as Agrarian, Citizen, and Patriot
    (pp. 43-76)

    I want to begin this chapter with the improbable proposition that the Mad Farmer of Wendell Berry’s poetry and his character Burley Coulter have something to contribute to the salvation of political life in America. In “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” Berry’s Mad Farmer urges us to “every day / do something that won’t compute”:

    Love the Lord.

    Love the world. Work for nothing.

    Take all that you have and be poor.

    Love someone who does not deserve it.

    Denounce the government and embrace

    the flag. Hope to live in that free

    republic for which it stands.¹

    The alternative...

  8. Chapter 3 Against the Church, For the Church: Berry and Christianity
    (pp. 77-116)

    Some years ago a student of mine asked in a seminar on Wendell Berry whether Berry’s ideas depended on Christianity or at least on a religious view of the world. I remember answering with considerable equivocation, first because I wanted to avoid saying anything that would encourage my non-Christian students to write off Berry’s ideas, but also because I was myself uncertain. I remember saying I saw no reason why one might not reach, from a purely secular point of view, the same kinds of conclusions as Berry about a whole variety of matters: the need to conserve topsoil, the...

  9. Chapter 4 Port William’s “Hard History of Love”: The Short Stories
    (pp. 117-150)

    In the closing story ofThat Distant Land,Wendell Berry’s collected short fiction, fifty-four-year-old Danny Branch accompanies eighty-six-year-old Wheeler Catlett on a day trip to Louisville, where Wheeler is selling some of his calves. As Danny listens to the always voluble Wheeler, who seems to be “swaying on the edge of the world as if he might at any moment disappear,” he sees the older man “not just with his own eyes but with the eyes of several of his elders to whom Wheeler had been a friend.” “There could be nothing single-sighted in Danny’s regard for Wheeler,” Berry remarks,...

  10. Chapter 5 Remembering the Names: Andy Catlett, Nathan Coulter, A World Lost, Remembering, and The Memory of Old Jack
    (pp. 151-194)

    During his visit to his Catlett grandparents shortly after Christmas in 1943, nine-year-old Andy Catlett spends part of a day with the men working in the tobacco barn. Gathered there are his grandfather Marce, now aged beyond most work; Dick Watson, the family’s African American hand; the Brightleaf brothers, Jess and Rufus, tenant farmers working on shares; and another man, “officially” named Hackman but called behind his back “Old Man Hawk.” All except this last man acknowledge Andy when he enters; all except Hawk participate in the banter and storytelling that is part of the work. With “a reputation for...

  11. Chapter 6 Imagining the Practice of Peace in a Century of War: A Place on Earth, Hannah Coulter, and Jayber Crow
    (pp. 195-236)

    A Place on Earth.Wendell Berry’s novel offers rich possibilities for meditation on its title. The novel is about a particular place, Port William, Kentucky, during a time, World War II, in which the life of that place has come under the influence—perhaps the tyranny—of places far distant on earth, unknown to those in Port William except through the thin details of radio broadcasts. As those in Port William live through the war, they experience the increasing necessity of connection to their place on earth and its human membership. Some lose their place on earth. Tom Coulter is...

  12. Chapter 7 The “Art of Being Here”: The Poetry
    (pp. 237-268)

    Wendell Berry has repeatedly posted his poetry with signs saying, “NO EXPLAINING.” In “Stay Home,” the opening poem ofA Part,he gives a turn to the well-known invitation, “You come too,” of Frost’s “The Pasture”:

    In the labor of the fields

    longer than a man’s life

    I am at home. Don’t come with me.

    You stay home too.¹

    One is reminded here of Thoreau’s insistence that he was not looking for followers, but for those who would discover their own homes, their own ways to live, the dimensions of their own fields—if only to jump over the fences.²...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 269-302)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 303-312)
  15. Index
    (pp. 313-322)