Imagination in Place
Heitman, Danny, The Christian Science Monitor
Berry's latest collection of essays celebrates the power of place.
In 50 books of poetry, essays, and fiction, Wendell Berry has argued
for the value of small-scale farming and against unbridled
development. As the local-foods movement grows and skepticism about
suburban sprawl increases, Berry's long-held ideas ring with
renewed urgency. Even so, readers might wonder what sustained
Berry's singular vision in all those years when he was writing
against the tide.
In Imagination in Place, his latest collection of essays, Berry
points to two major sources of inspiration for his literary work: the
family farm he's tended for many years in his native Kentucky and a
circle of other writers across the country who share his attachment
For Berry, farming and writing are mutually enriching enterprises
that both depend on a grasp of complexity, an eye for instructive
detail, and an insistence on the particular and concrete, not the
abstract and ephemeral.
Berry bristles at any suggestion of farming as a pastoral embrace of
simplicity because, as he sees it, there's nothing at all simple
about a farm: "It is the complexity of the life of a place
uncompromisingly itself, which is at the same time the life of the
world, of all Creation. One meets not only the weather and the
wildness of the world, but also the limitations of one's knowledge,
intelligence, character, and bodily strength. To do this, of course,
is to accept the place as an influence."
Berry's point is not that everyone should become farmers, but that
we should all learn to live more intimately and knowledgeably within
local landscapes. "If that ground is not in a great cultural
center, but only in a New Jersey suburb, so be it," Berry writes.
"Imagination is as urgently necessary in Rutherford, New Jersey, or
in Knott County, Kentucky, or in Point Coupee Parish, Louisiana, as
it is in San Francisco or New York."
In living more attentively in local places, we can come to
appreciate their unique gifts, which is the "power that can save us
from the prevailing insinuation that our place, our house, our
spouse, and our automobile are not good enough," he adds.
The title of "Imagination in Place" carries a double meaning,
celebrating the life of the mind within local terrains, as well as
the value of thinking deeply while standing in place and looking
Berry knows that an exhortation to stay put runs contrary to the
contemporary culture, which favors mobility. …