The Unforeseen Self in the Works of Wendell Berry

By Janet Goodrich | Go to book overview

5

The Neighbor

No discussion of Wendell Berry would be complete without acknowledging the neighborly voice in his autobiography. The rooted experience of his place recounted in the essays of The Long-Legged House (1969) underlies his perceptions of himself, his art, his farming, his prophetic vision, and his community vision. “[S]uch history as my family has is the history of its life here, ” Berry writes of his Port Royal, Kentucky, neighborhood in “A Native Hill.” “All that any of us may know of ourselves is to be known in relation to this place” (LLH, 171). His conception of himself is so closely tied to his experience of historical and geographical communities as to seem “inseparable from the history and the place” (LLH, 171). The integrity between his advocacy of a life thus responsibly “placed” and his long residence in Henry County enables him to speak most authoritatively and compellingly from the perspective of a neighbor.

Integral to Berry's working perception of a neighborhood is the bond of verbal exchange. One of Berry's first acts of arrival upon his return to Henry County to live is to listen “to the talk of [his] kinsmen and neighbors as [he] had never done, alert to their knowledge of the place, and to the qualities and energies of their speech” (LLH, 177). Asked in a 1973 interview for a definition of community, Berry replies, “You've got to have people who talk to each other a lot and who have experiences in common. In a settled farming community old friends . . . tell each other again the stories they already know. This is a complex community function.” 1. Twenty-three years later, Berry expands the boundaries of community speech to encompass literature—including his own: “The community needs to talk about itself, needs to

____________________
1.
Bruce Williamson, “The Plowboy Interview: Wendell Berry, ” 9.

-118-

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The Unforeseen Self in the Works of Wendell Berry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Unforeseen Self in the Works of Wendell Berry *
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Abbreviations xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Autobiographer 6
  • 2 - The Poet 24
  • 3 - The Farmer 54
  • 4 - The Prophet 88
  • 5 - The Neighbor 118
  • Bibliography 157
  • Index 165
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