Its been a Berry-filled week, in the aftermath of his Jefferson Lecture last Monday, which Ive yet to read in full. For one, there was an affectionate puff piece in the NYT , a fine introduction to the man, and of course on Tuesday I drove over the hill for my bi-monthly fill of Lynchburgs Wendell Berry book club. Maybe more on that club, and why I like it despite some inevitable disagreements, some other time . . .
This week also saw an introduction in The American Conservative by Glen Arbery to a new book of essays about Berry by various academics and journalists, edited by Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, great guys broadly sympathetic to Lawlers work. What sounds particularly exciting, at least to my two-cheers-for-Berry pomocon spirit, is some of the more critical engagements by scholars otherwise sympathetic to Berry:
A few of the contributors have serious issues with some of Berrys positions. D.G. Hart takes issue with him for his rejection of organized religion. Several others point to Berrys lack of attention to the good of politics, especially what co-editor Nathan Schlueter calls formal mediating institutions, and Schlueter himself comes closer than anyone to an outright rebuke of Berry for his disregard of the original sin narrative, with all that it implies in his pacifism.
Berry’s presentation of himself as some sort of Christian is a topic that will have to be explored more as his influence grows, and so these sound like promising essays.
Theres also a bit of discussion of Berrys novella Remembering , which I read this Spring with the book-club and highly recommendstarts a bit slow, but develops into a truly—oh, what the heck memorable reading experience. One of the better literary witnesses against the lure of indeterminacy I’ve encountered, culminating in a breathtaking and mysterious envisioning of the heavenly/earthly life to come.
And alas, yes, theres also mention of things like this:
The damnable fire of modernity has led the world into great peril. Perhaps it will not be necessary in our lifetimes to take what Rod Dreher in his provocative closing essay calls the Benedict option of starting small, independent communities that will outlast the dark times to come. But perhaps it will.
Now, I havent read Rods essay yet, but by that description, oh, boy! If it seriously calls for communities that will (in spirit or in law) secede from their doomed modern democracies, so as to outlast them in the catastrophic times to come, well, then it is written by man who needs to be forced at gunpoint to read Solzhenitsyn, Nemirovsky, etc., so as to face what actually happens when modern societies break down, and then some Thucydides and Xenophon also. Not sure where well find such a patient gunman . . .
But I cant end on a note like that! All in all, it sounds like a worthy collection. And as the NYT guy says, its pretty hard to actively dislike Wendell and what he stands for. I am pleased by his deserved triumph in being awarded the Jefferson Lecture, and offer sincere congratulations.
We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.
Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on firstthings.com.
Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.
Will you give today?