Thursday, April 26, 2012

More Wendell Berry and the significance of place

I wrote yesterday of Bittman's post about Wendell Berry.  Today, I offer this excerpt from Berry's 2012 National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lecture, delivered Monday, April 23, 2012.  That lecture is titled, "It All Turns on Affection."  The Jefferson lecture is the most prestigious honor the U.S. government bestows for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities."

This excerpt from the lecture follows on two stories from the lives of Berry's grandfather and father, both farmers in Port Royal, Kentucky, where Berry and his brother still farm:  
It is not beside the point, or off the my subject, to notice that these stories and their meanings, have survived because of my family's continuing connection to its home place.  Like my grandfather, my father grew up on that place and served as its caretaker.  It has now belonged to my brother for many years, and he in turn has been its caretaker.  He and I have lived as neighbors, allies, and friends.  Our long conversation has often taken its themes from the two stories I have told, because we have been continually reminded of them by our home neighborhood and topography.  If we had not lived there to be reminded and to remember, nobody would have remembered.  If either of us had lived elsewhere, both of us would have known less.  If both of us, like most of our generation, had moved away, the place with its memories would have been lost to us and we to it--and certainly my thoughts about agriculture, if I had thought of it at all, would have been much more approximate than they have been.  
Because I have never separated myself from my home neighborhood, I cannot identity myself to myself apart from it.  I am literally flesh of its flesh.  It is present in me, and to me, wherever I go.  
Later in the lecture, Berry says:
The cultural cycle is an unending conversation between old people and young people, assuring the survival of local memory, which has, as long as it remains local, the greatest practical urgency and value.  That is what is meant, and it is all that is meant, by "sustainability."  The fertility cycle turns by the law of nature.  The cultural cycle turns on affection.
I believe Berry is telling us that this affection is for both people and place and that, for him, they are integrally linked.  Read the full lecture here.  Read coverage by The Art of the Rural here.