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The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry Paperback – August 5, 2003
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About the Author
- Publisher : Counterpoint; 1st edition (August 5, 2003)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1593760078
- ISBN-13 : 978-1593760076
- Item Weight : 1.07 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.02 x 1.01 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #78,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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After reading the collection, it can be said that reading one essay is like reading them all. Not because he is repetitious, for he is never that, but because he is holistic, writing from a unified perspective. (In some cases, he’s speaking, for several of the essays are speeches.) You might disagree with what he says, but he always makes his points with consistency, politeness, and insight into the human character as well as the wiles and strategies of the modern culture.
The essays, written from the 1960s to the 1990s, cover a diverse array of subjects, all related to Berry’s agrarian philosophy. These include what he calls “the unsettling of America,” feminism, racism, marriage, health, land, community, conservation, pleasure, the idea of a local economy, energy, eating, and the role of Christianity. His Christian faith informs and infuses his agrarian ideas; he might say there is no difference between his Christian faith and agrarianism.
Berry paints a stark contrast between industrialism, technology, and progress with agrarianism. “Whereas industrialism is a way of though based on monetary capital and technology,” he says, “agrarianism is a way of thought based on land. Agrarianism, furthermore, is a culture at the same time it is an economy. Industrialism is an economy before it is a culture.”
What’s fascinating is how Berry ties our understanding of the land into a host of related areas, like the division of roles in marriage, racism, technology and technological progress, and the mentality of exploitation. And he says that the purpose of technological progress is not love of God, family, or country, but money and ease. And right there he pits himself against not only Big Agriculture but also Big Government with its hordes of experts.
Berry is an important figure in agriculture and America, and the essays in “The Art of the Commonplace” go far in explaining why. It’s a solid collection, assembled and organized well, and represent the man’s broad thinking on agriculture, land, and people.
Berry is the first person I have ever conversed with (and because of the way this man writes it feels like I did converse with him) who could explain traditional religious ideals in terms of their actual practical application. As a student of literature, despite my societal and technologically ingrained commitment to specialization and fragmentation and fracture, I at least recognize that there is something to a story, something that is difficult, right now, to explain in terms of a series of chemical reactions in the reader's mind. Don't misunderstand me: I am an atheist and a materialist still, but that's exactly the point. Berry, despite his protestantism, explains everything in the most rational and sequential way possible. He is the first person who's been able to explain why marriage matters in a way my mind can grasp, why fidelity matters, why restraint matters. Amazing. These are things I've always felt mattered, but had suspected it was merely the product of my upbringing and culture. Berry absolutely undermined my sense that the humanities and higher education and "critical thinking" ought to be the way to go. I'm still just blown away by how radically my perceptions have been altered.
Perhaps for folks who grew up on farms, this all is nothing new. This collection is critical for those land and food starved folks like me, those trained in critical thinking who have that nagging sense in the back of their mind that they are missing something.
I've already ordered two of these to ship to friends and family, and I can't wait for spring, where I can at least be part of a community supported agriculture project, a shared venture for fresh food, something to reconnect me to the cycle, because that's what it is -- and I'd never once considered that. We humans, we don't have to be a disease.
There is a lot of repetition in this book, because it's a collection of essays spanning, I don't know, 40 years. But repetition is perhaps what people like me need before we can even begin to begin to begin to GET IT. Also, while I skipped several essays, as the reading was on assignment for a literature course, whatever you do, get your hands on this and read the essay "The Body and the Earth."