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Wendell Berry’s Lifelong Dissent  | The Nation
“At a time when political conflict runs deep and erects high walls, the Kentucky essayist, novelist, and poet Wendell Berry maintains an arresting mix of admirers. Barack Obama awarded him the National Humanities Medal in 2011. The following year, the socialist-feminist writer and editor Sarah Leonard published a friendly interview with him in Dissent. Yet he also gets respectful attention in the pages of The American Conservative and First Things, a right-leaning, traditionalist Christian journal.

More recently, The New Yorker ran an introduction to Berry’s thought distilled from a series of conversations, stretching over several years, with the critic Amanda Petrusich. In these conversations, Berry patiently explains why he doesn’t call himself a socialist or a conservative and recounts the mostly unchanged creed underlying his nearly six decades of writing and activism. Over the years, he has called himself an agrarian, a pacifist, and a Christian—albeit of an eccentric kind. He has written against all forms of violence and destruction—of land, communities, and human beings—and argued that the modern American way of life is a skein of violence. He is an anti-capitalist moralist and a writer of praise for what he admires: the quiet, mostly uncelebrated labor and affection that keep the world whole and might still redeem it. He is also an acerbic critic of what he dislikes, particularly modern individualism, and his emphasis on family and marriage and his ambivalence toward abortion mark him as an outsider to the left.

Berry’s writing is hard to imagine separated from his life as a farmer in a determinedly traditional style, who works the land where his family has lived for many generations using draft horses and hand labor instead of tractors and mechanical harvesters. But the life, like the ideas, crisscrosses worlds without belonging neatly to any of them. Born in 1934 in Henry County, Kentucky, Berry was but the son of a prominent local lawyer and farmer. He spent much of his childhood in the company of people from an older generation who worked the soil: his grandfather, a landowner, and the laborers who worked the family land. His early adulthood was relatively cosmopolitan. After graduating from the University of Kentucky with literary ambitions, he went to Stanford to study under the novelist Wallace Stegner at a time when Ken Kesey, Robert Stone, and Larry McMurtry were also students there. Berry went to Italy and France on a Guggenheim fellowship, then lived in New York, teaching at NYU’s Bronx campus. As he entered his 30s, he returned to Kentucky, setting up a farm in 1965 at Lane’s Landing on the Kentucky River. Although he was a member of the University of Kentucky’s faculty for nearly 20 years over two stints, ending in 1993, his identity has been indelibly that of a writer-farmer dug into his place, someone who has become nationally famous for being local, and developed the image of a timeless sage while joining, sometimes fiercely, in fights against the Vietnam War and the coal industry’s domination of his region.

Now the essays and polemics in which Berry has made his arguments clearest over the last five decades are gathered in two volumes from the Library of America, totaling 1,700 tightly set pages. Seeing his arc in one place highlights both his complexity and his consistency: The voice and preoccupations really do not change, even as the world around him does. But he is also the product of a specific historical moment, the triple disenchantment of liberal white Americans in the 1960s over the country’s racism, militarism, and ecological devastation. In the 50 years since, Berry has sifted and resifted his memory and attachment to the land, looking for resources to support an alternative America—”to affirm,” as he wrote in 1981, “my own life as a thing decent in possibility.” He has concluded that this self-affirmation is not possible in isolation or even on the scale of one’s lifetime, and he has therefore made his writing a vehicle for a reckoning with history and an ethics of social and ecological interdependence.”



“Throughout his work, Berry likes to iron out paradoxes in favor of building a unified vision, but he is himself a bundle of paradoxes, some more generative than others. A defender of community and tradition, he has been an idiosyncratic outsider his whole life, a sharp critic of both the mainstream of power and wealth and the self-styled traditionalists of the religious and cultural right. A stylist with an air of timelessness, he is in essential ways a product of the late 1960s and early ’70s, with their blend of political radicalism and ecological holism. An advocate of the commonplace against aesthetic and academic conceits, he has led his life as a richly memorialized and deeply literary adventure. Like Thoreau, Berry invites dismissive misreading as a sentimentalist, an egotist, or a scold. Like Thoreau, he is interested in the integrity of language, the quality of experience—what are the ways that one can know a place, encounter a terrain?—and above all, the question of how much scrutiny an American life can take.

”All of Berry’s essays serve as documents of the bewildering destruction in which our everyday lives involve us and as a testament to those qualities in people and traditions that resist the destruction. As the economic order becomes more harrying and abstract, a politics of place is emerging in response, much of it a genuine effort to understand the ecological and historical legacies of regions in the ways that Berry has recommended. This politics is present from Durham, North Carolina, where you can study the legacy of tobacco and slavery on the Piedmont soils and stand where locals took down a Confederate statue in a guerrilla action in 2017, to New York City, where activists have built up community land trusts for affordable housing and scientists have reconstructed the deep environmental history of the country’s most densely developed region. But few of the activists and scholars involved in this politics would think of themselves as turning away from the international or the global. They are more likely to see climate change, migration, and technology as stitching together the local and global in ways that must be part of the rebuilding and enriching of community.

The global hypercapitalism that Berry denounces has involved life—human and otherwise—in a world-historical gamble concerning the effects of indefinite growth, innovation, and competition. Most of us are not the gamblers; we are the stakes. He reminds us that this gamble repeats an old pattern of mistakes and crimes: hubris and conquest, the idea that the world is here for human convenience, and the willingness of the powerful to take as much as they can. For most of his life, Berry has written as a kind of elegist, detailing the tragic path that we have taken and recalling other paths now mostly fading. In various ways, young agrarians, socialists, and other radicals now sound his themes, denouncing extractive capitalism and calling for new and renewed ways of honoring work—our own and what the writer Alyssa Battistoni calls the “work of nature.” They also insist on the need to engage political power to shape a future, not just with local work but on national and global scales. They dare to demand what he has tended to relinquish. If these strands of resistance and reconstruction persist, even prevail, Wendell Berry’s lifelong dissent—stubborn, sometimes maddening, not quite like anything else of its era—will deserve a place in our memory.”
wendellberry  2019  jedediahbritton-purdy  dissent  climate  climatechange  agriculture  farming  kentucky  amandapetrusich  activism  writing  christianity  violence  land  communities  community  anticapitalism  individualism  left  humanism  morality  life  living  howwelive  environment  environmentalism  interconnectedness  us  ecology  economics  labor  ronaldreagan  inequality  growth  globalization  finance  financialization  politics  storytelling  mining  stripmining  pacifism  collectivism  collectiveaction  organizing  resistance  mobility  culture  popefrancis  wholeness  morethanhuman  multispecies  amish  localism  skepticism  radicalism  radicals  jedediahpurdy  innovation  competition  hypercapitalism 
2 days ago by robertogreco
Generation Anthropocene: How humans have altered the planet for ever | Books | The Guardian
"We are living in the Anthropocene age, in which human influence on the planet is so profound – and terrifying – it will leave its legacy for millennia. Politicians and scientists have had their say, but how are writers and artists responding to this crisis?"



"Warren’s exhibit makes Bateley’s crackly recording available, and her accompanying text unfolds the complexities of its sonic strata. It is, as Warren puts it, “a soundtrack of the sacred voices of extinct birds echoing in that of a dead man echoing out of a machine echoing through the world today”. The intellectual elegance of her work – and its exemplary quality as an Anthropocene-aware artefact – lies in its subtle tracing of the technological and imperial histories involved in a single extinction event and its residue."



"Perhaps the greatest challenge posed to our imagination by the Anthropocene is its inhuman organisation as an event. If the Anthropocene can be said to “take place”, it does so across huge scales of space and vast spans of time, from nanometers to planets, and from picoseconds to aeons. It involves millions of different teleconnected agents, from methane molecules to rare earth metals to magnetic fields to smartphones to mosquitoes. Its energies are interactive, its properties emergent and its structures withdrawn.

In 2010 Timothy Morton adopted the term hyperobject to denote some of the characteristic entities of the Anthropocene. Hyperobjects are “so massively distributed in time, space and dimensionality” that they defy our perception, let alone our comprehension. Among the examples Morton gives of hyperobjects are climate change, mass species extinction and radioactive plutonium. “In one sense [hyperobjects] are abstractions,” he notes, “in another they are ferociously, catastrophically real.”

Creative non-fiction, and especially reportage, has adapted most quickly to this “distributed” aspect of the Anthropocene. Episodic in assembly and dispersed in geography, some outstanding recent non-fiction has proved able to map intricate patterns of environmental cause and effect, and in this way draw hyperobjects into at least partial visibility. Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (2014) and her Field Notes from a Catastrophe (2006) are landmarks here, as is Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate (2014). In 2015 Gaia Vince published Adventures in the Anthropocene, perhaps the best book so far to trace the epoch’s impacts on the world’s poor, and the slow violence that climate change metes out to them.

Last year also saw the publication of The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, by the American anthropologist Anna Tsing. Tsing takes as her subject one of the “strangest commodity chains of our times”: that of the matsutake, supposedly the most valuable fungus in the world, which grows best in “human-disturbed forests”. Written in what she calls “a riot of short chapters, like the flushes of mushrooms that come up after rain”, Tsing’s book describes a contemporary “nature” that is hybrid and multiply interbound. Her ecosystems stretch from wood-wide webs of mycelia, through earthworms and pine roots, to logging trucks and hedge funds – as well as down into the flora of our own multispecies guts. Tsing’s account of nature thus overcomes what Jacques Rancière has called the “partition of the sensible”, by which he means the traditional division of matter into “life” and “not-life”. Like Skelton in his recent Beyond the Fell Wall (2015), and the poet Sean Borodale, Tsing is interested in a vibrant materialism that acknowledges the agency of stones, ores and atmospheres, as well as humans and other organisms.

Tsing is also concerned with the possibility of what she calls “collaborative survival” in the Anthropocene-to-come. As Evans Calder Williams notes, the Anthropocene imagination “crawls with narratives of survival”, in which varying conditions of resource scarcity exist, and varying kinds of salvage are practised. Our contemporary appetite for environmental breakdown is colossal, tending to grotesque: from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) – now almost an Anthropocene ur-text – through films such as The Survivalist and the Mad Max franchise, to The Walking Dead and the Fallout video game series.

The worst of this collapse culture is artistically crude and politically crass. The best is vigilant and provocative: Simon Ings’ Wolves (2014), for instance, James Bradley’s strange and gripping Clade (2015), or Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake (2014), a post-apocalyptic novel set in the “blaec”, “brok” landscape of 11th-century England, that warns us not to defer our present crisis. I think also of Clare Vaye Watkins’s glittering Gold Fame Citrus (2015), which occurs in a drought-scorched American southwest and includes a field-guide to the neo-fauna of this dunescape: the “ouroboros rattlesnake”, the “Mojave ghost crab”.

Such scarcity narratives unsettle what we might call the Holocene delusion on which growth economics is founded: of the Earth as an infinite body of matter, there for the incredible ultra-machine of capitalism to process, exploit and discard without heed of limit. Meanwhile, however, speculative novelists – Andy Weir in The Martian, Kim Stanley Robinson in Red Mars – foresee how we will overcome terrestrial shortages by turning to asteroid mining or the terra-forming of Mars. To misquote Fredric Jameson, it is easier to imagine the extraction of off-planet resources than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.

The novel is the cultural form to which the Anthropocene arguably presents most difficulties, and most opportunities. Historically, the novel has been celebrated for its ability to represent human interiority: the skull-to-skull skip of free indirect style, or the vivid flow of stream-of-consciousness. But what use are such skills when addressing the enormity of this new epoch? Any Anthropocene-aware novel finds itself haunted by impersonal structures, and intimidated by the limits of individual agency. China Miéville’s 2011 short story “Covehithe” cleverly probes and parodies these anxieties. In a near-future Suffolk, animate oil rigs haul themselves out of the sea, before drilling down into the coastal strata to lay dozens of rig eggs. These techno-zombies prove impervious to military interventions: at last, all that humans can do is become spectators, snapping photos of the rigs and watching live feeds from remote cameras as they give birth – an Anthropocene Springwatch.

Most memorable to me is Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel, Annihilation. It describes an expedition into an apparently poisoned region known as Area X, in which relic human structures have been not just reclaimed but wilfully redesigned by a mutated nature. A specialist team is sent to survey the zone. They discover archive caches and topographically anomalous buildings including a “Tower” that descends into the earth rather than jutting from it. The Tower’s steps are covered in golden slime, and on its walls crawls a “rich greenlike moss” that inscribes letters and words on the masonry – before entering and authoring the bodies of the explorers themselves. It gradually becomes apparent that Area X, in all its weird wildness, is actively transforming the members of the expedition who have been sent to subdue it with science. As such, VanderMeer’s novel brilliantly reverses the hubris of the Anthropocene: instead of us leaving the world post-natural, it suggests, the world will leave us post-human.



As the idea of the Anthropocene has surged in power, so its critics have grown in number and strength. Cultural and literary studies currently abound with Anthropocene titles: most from the left, and often bitingly critical of their subject. The last 12 months have seen the publication of Jedediah Purdy’s After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene, McKenzie Wark’s provocative Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene and the environmental historian Jason W Moore’s important Capitalism in the Web of Life. Last July the “revolutionary arts and letters quarterly” Salvage launched with an issue that included Daniel Hartley’s essay “Against the Anthropocene” and Miéville, superbly, on despair and environmental justice in the new epoch.

Across these texts and others, three main objections recur: that the idea of the Anthropocene is arrogant, universalist and capitalist-technocratic. Arrogant, because the designation of the Anthropocene – the “New Age of Humans” – is our crowning act of self-mythologisation (we are the super-species, we the Prometheans, we have ended nature), and as such only embeds the narcissist delusions that have produced the current crisis.

Universalist, because the Anthropocene assumes a generalised anthropos, whereby all humans are equally implicated and all equally affected. As Purdy, Miéville and Moore point out, “we” are not all in the Anthropocene together – the poor and the dispossessed are far more in it than others. “Wealthy countries,” writes Purdy, “create a global landscape of inequality in which the wealthy find their advantages multiplied … In this neoliberal Anthropocene, free contract within a global market launders inequality through voluntariness.”

And capitalist-technocratic, because the dominant narrative of the Anthropocene has technology as its driver: recent Earth history reduced to a succession of inventions (fire, the combustion engine, the synthesis of plastic, nuclear weaponry). The monolithic concept bulk of this scientific Anthropocene can crush the subtleties out of both past and future, disregarding the roles of ideology, empire and political economy. Such a technocratic narrative will also tend to encourage technocratic solutions: geoengineering as a quick-fix for climate … [more]
environment  geology  literature  anthropocene  speculativefiction  fiction  novels  juliannelutzwarren  extinction  2016  robertmacfarlane  posthumanism  capitalism  economics  systems  systemthinking  technology  sustainability  technocracy  capitalocene  deforestation  chinamiéville  jedediahpurdy  mckenziewark  jasonmoore  danielhartley  jeffcandermeer  tomothymorton  hyperobjects  naomiklein  elizabethkolbert  gaiavince  annatsing  seanborodale  richardskelton  autumnrichardson  rorygibb  memory  holocene  earth  salvation  philiplarkin  plastic  plasticene  stratigraphy  eugenestoemer  paulcrutzen  history  apex-guilt  shadowtime  stieg  raymondwilliams  fredricjameson  glennalbrecht  johnclare  solastalgia  inequality  annalowenhaupttsing  jedediahbritton-purdy 
april 2016 by robertogreco
More-Than-Human Lab. » Design Ethnography in the Anthropocene
"It’s the second week of winter trimester, and I’m teaching my second-year undergraduate course in Design Ethnography. The theme this year is the Anthropocene, or how design relates to people’s relationships with animals, plants, the Earth’s elements, and “natural” materials in an era defined by humanity’s impact on the planet.

In this course, students learn about some of the main ecological challenges facing the world today and how different cultures around the world understand the relationship between nature and culture. And we focus on developing critical and creative skills in observation, interviews, interpretation, representation, and reflection so that design can play a more sustainable role in our shared future.

Anthropocene Fever by Jedediah Purdy

The Anthropocene debate: Why is such a useful concept starting to fall apart? by Aaron Vansintjan

Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin (pdf) by Donna Haraway

Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet

Tomorrow we delve into what ethnography means and how we do it. I like this lecture because I get to share one of my favourite descriptions of ethnography, from Bronislaw Malinowski’s 1922 Argonauts of the Western Pacific :
“Ethnography has a goal, of which an Ethnographer should never lose sight. This goal is, briefly, to grasp the native’s point of view, his relation to life, to realise his vision of his world. We have to study man, and we must study what concerns him most intimately, that is, the hold life has on him. In each culture, the values are slightly different; people aspire after different aims, follow different impulses, yearn after a different form of happiness . . . In each culture, we find different institutions in which man pursues his life-interest, different customs by which he satisfies his aspirations, different codes of law and morality which reward his virtues or punish his defections. To study the institutions, customs, and codes or to study the behaviour and mentality without the subjective desire of feeling by what these people live, of realising the substance of their happiness—is, in my opinion, to miss the greatest reward which we can hope to obtain from the study of man.”

Ignore the outdated language and, almost one hundred years later, I think it is still an unusually eloquent statement on the beauty of our field of research. And if ethnography is committed to sharing stories about what it means to be human, then we can also count amongst its rewards a greater understanding of ourselves.

The first assignment is to conduct several hours of participant observation, doing something that can help us better understand people’s everyday understandings of, and interactions with, “nature”. I haven’t defined nature for them, and I can’t wait to see what they do!

I’ve also started doing something new this trimester: Each class begins with 10 minutes of sustained consideration of a photograph. Spending ten full minutes looking at one image is incredibly challenging but, I hope, also rewarding. The longer we spend looking at something, the more we stand to see. Our minds are given time to move away from–and perhaps more importantly, return to–what’s right in front of us. The activity, especially when done regularly, sharpens attention and increases awareness. It teaches students the foundational skill of all ethnographic research: engaged observation. The activity ends with answering one question: “What matters here?” and, of course, there is no right answer. The goal is simply to get better at seeing–at recognising–the larger context(s) which lend any image its resonance or power."
annegalloway  morethanhumanlab  anthropocene  photography  ethnography  designethnography  2015  jedediahpurdy  aaroncanistian  fonnaharaway  bronislawmalinowski  looking  noticing  observation  understanding  slow  classideas  multispecies  nature  culture  reflection  context  behavior  jedediahbritton-purdy 
july 2015 by robertogreco
On Smarm
"It is also no accident that David Eggers is full of shit."

"Smarm should be understood as a type of bullshit, then. It is a kind of moral and ethical misdirection."

"The old systems of prestige are rickety and insecure. Everyone has a publishing platform and no one has a career."

"What carries contemporary American political campaigns along is a thick flow of opaque smarm."

"Romney clambered up to a new higher ground, deploring the divisiveness of dwelling on his divisiveness."

"Through smarm, the "centrists" have cut themselves off from the language of actual dispute. In smarm is power."

"A civilization that speaks in smarm is a civilization that has lost its ability to talk about purposes at all."

"Joe Lieberman! If you would know smarm, look to Joe Lieberman."

"The plutocrats are haunted, as all smarmers are haunted, by a lack of respect. On Twitter, the only answer to "Do you know who I am?" is "One more person with 140 characters to use.""

"To actually say a plain and direct word like "corrupt" is more outlandish, in smarm's outlook, than even swearing."

"Anger is upsetting to smarm. But so is humor and confidence."

"Immense fortunes have bloomed in Silicon Valley on the most ephemeral and stupid windborne seeds of concepts. What's wrong with you, that you didn't get a piece of it?"
criticism  culture  smarm  snark  daveeggers  malcolmgladwell  2013  tomscocca  buzzfeed  heidijulavits  isaacfitzgerald  daviddenby  bambi  arifleischer  lannydavis  leesiegel  cynicism  negativity  tone  politics  writing  critique  mittromney  barackobama  michaelbloomberg  ianfrazier  centrists  power  redistribution  rebeccablank  civilization  dialog  conversation  purpose  jedediahpurdy  irony  joelieberman  marshallsella  billclinton  mainstream  georgewbush  maureendowd  rudeness  meanness  plutocrats  wealth  publishing  media  respect  niallferguson  alexpareene  mariabartiromo  gawker  choiresicha  anger  confidence  humor  spikelee  upworthy  adammordecai  juliachild  success  successfulness  niceness  tompeters  bullshit  morality  ethics  misdirection  insecurity  prestige  audience  dialogue  jedediahbritton-purdy 
december 2013 by robertogreco
The World’s 15 Most Extraordinary Homeschoolers
"But as our list of the world’s 15 most extraordinary homeschoolers shows, the homeschooling population is extraordinarily diverse, defying every attempt to shoehorn them into a single mold. The homeschoolers on this list are geniuses and jocks, conservatives and progressives, fundamentalists and hippies, scientists and artists. They are rural and urban, American and international, abled and disabled, black, white, Asian and multiracial."<br />
<br />
1. Julian Assange 2. Margaret Atwood 3. Francis Collins 4. Erik Demaine 5. Blake Griffin 6. The Jonas Brothers 7. Akiane Kramarik 8. Jonathan Krohn 9. Joey Logano 10. Jedediah Purdy 11. Condoleezza Rice 12. Astra Taylor 13. Sunaura Taylor 14. timtebow 15. Sho Yano
julianassange  margaretatwood  franciscollins  erikdemaine  blakegriffin  jonasbrothers  akianekramarik  jonathankrohn  joeylogano  jedediahpurdy  condoleezzarice  astrataylor  sunaurataylor  timtebow  shoyano  unschooling  homeschool  education  jedediahbritton-purdy 
december 2010 by robertogreco

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