The Unforeseen Self in the Works of Wendell Berry

By Janet Goodrich | Go to book overview
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The Farmer

“I am done with apologies, the Mad Farmer declares from the pages of Farming: A Hand Book (1970). “If contrariness is my inheritance and destiny, so be it” (44). His defiance echoes Berry's own. The Mad Farmer's blunt self-assurance exaggerates the personal conviction Berry himself must have felt when, in the defining act of his life as a writer, he interrupted his professional trajectory by leaving New York in 1964 after only two years. As Berry tells the story in “A Native Hill” (1969), his departure drew protest from a faculty member at New York University, who warned him that he could not “go home again.” The advice, to Berry, “bore a self-dramatizing sentimentality that was absurd” (LLH, 174).

Since his decision to return home, recognizing the absurdity in fashionable dogma has been key to Berry's sense of himself as a farmer. But it was much earlier, during his childhood in the Depression years, that Berry learned farming from his grandfather, Pryor Thomas Berry, a member of the last generation to use draft animals. Thus, although Berry himself demurs from the distinction, farming precedes writing in the formation of his identity. 1. Influenced as well both by his lawyer father, John Berry, and neighboring Henry County farmer Owen Flood, Berry remembers his early experience with farming as “a kind

Asked in a 1974 interview “whether he views himself as a farmer who writes, or a writer who farms, Berry looks at the floor and says, `I'm not interested in the distinction. But farming is what I came to first'” (Douglas Bauer, “We Saved Our Land, 62). He echoes this resistance to such self-analysis in another interview in 1983; asked whether he is “the same person writing poetry as [he is], say, when plowing, Berry replies, “If I am one person, then I must be the same person, whatever I do, and I have always proceeded on the assumption that I am one person” (Gregory McNamee and James Hepworth, “The Art of Living Right: An Interview With Wendell Berry, 22).


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