set. For example, there are sly echoes ofKerouac in Running, which is set at the end ofthe 1950s, just on the verge ofthat explosive decade that follows throughout the rest ofthe quartet. Maillard's work, both in the Raysburg novels generally and Difficulty in particular, is far more than a remarkably skilled literary transposition of social history, although it is unquestionably that. The situationists, alluded to in Looking Good, always insisted that the big social and historical questions could not be addressed without an explicit and continual reference to everyday life. One of the most significant achievements of Maillard's writing is his ability to realize that insight and communicate it. It is surprising that Maillard has so far not found a large audience, not in his native Appalachia, not even in Canada where he has taught and been published for decades. There's a common joke in West Virginia that everything happens here that happens elsewhere, only its always about ten years later. In the case of appreciating Keith Maillard's fiction, here's our chance to get out ahead of the curve. Wendell Berry. The Way ofIgnorance and Other Essays. Emeryville, California: Avalon Publishing Group, 2005. 180 pages. Trade paperback. $15.00. REVIEWED BY MaRY McMlLLAN TeRRY Wendell Berry is known as an articulate thinker, a celebrated writer with poignant insight into this age and humankind. But Berry is also a farmer and a neighbor, and from these working roles has evolved his compelling love of place and of people. This love is the underlying momentum for the recent collection ofhis essays, The Way ofIgnorance. In these esszys, Berry's love drives his exhortations to his readers not to live andworkout ofignorance, essentially, to not ignore, but, instead, to notice and to take care: ofone's place, one's neighbors, one's own values. From Berry's place—Henry County, Kentucky—and from the values he has learned there, he writes to move his readers to action. But this can be tricky. "We as humans," Berry writes in an essay entitled "The Burden of the Gospels," "have repeatedly been surprised by what we will or won't do under pressure" (129). In order to motivate 105 his readers, Berry focuses on specific living things, both animal and vegetable, specifics, in fact, of his place. A recent study of Paul Slovic, professor ofpsychology at the University ofOregon, demonstrates the validity of Berry's approach: "When it comes to eliciting compassion [and thus action] the identified individual victim, with a face and a name, has no peer." Berry's specificity is the strength ofhis essays, their tending, in fact, toward becoming stories, ones about neighbors and family, about trees and rivers. Stories about the living earth and its living inhabitants. His call in this collection is for us—likewise, living inhabitants of our places—to remember our living neighbors and to consider them. We are here, together, sharing this place, and, though many times we choose not to remember, Berry urges us to do so. So we meet Lily, Berry's aged friend who "faced her death fully aware and responsible and with what seemed ... a completed grace" (82). She lived a small life, one could say, in a small house with no children. But here Berry notes the importance of form over quantity; Lily lived her life well. Because, on the other hand, most people (readers will agree) frequently try to do too much, tasks are done poorly. And poor work, careless work, leads to destruction. "We are destroying our country—I mean our country itself, our land," Berry says (21). "[And] the more there is at stake," writes Daniel Kemmis (former Speaker ofthe Montana House ofRepresentatives, in a letter included in the book), "the more sense it makes to go back to the beginning ofthings" (152). Thus, Berry goes back to the foundational reality ofpeople's lives, the state ofthe land, and ethical ideas in order to address issues of violence, pollution, and infringement on personal rights. By referring to the foundational American document, the Constitution, for example, Berry reminds us that people's rights are "not granted [bygovernment] but affirmed [byit]" (3); thus, it is criminal for...
Many of the ideas we prize are dangerous and self-destructive; many of the values we profess to cherish we do not practice.
Prolific septuagenarian poet, novelist and essayist Berry (Citizenship Papers, 2003, etc.) returns with another collection of essays, most published (or delivered as speeches) in 2004. The astonishing thing about these pieces is not their lucidity and grace, not their plain profundity, but the variety of his subjects, the dimensions of his knowledge, experience, interest, passion. This is not to say that there are no common denominators. Respect for the land, for one another, for God—these appear on virtually every page in some form—as well as essays that focus on politics. Berry does not like what the Republicans are doing, but he chides Democrats for arrogance (behaving as if religious folks are ignorant and stupid), for allowing “values” issues like gay marriage to dominate the discussion, for caring more about winning than about crafting and promulgating a sensible agenda. There are other essays that focus on agriculture and its enemies: arrogance and ignorance and agribusiness. We believe, says Berry, that we can defeat Nature, that there are no deleterious consequences when we lift the lid of a mountain to extract what’s inside, that the social consequences of agribusiness (lost farms, decimated towns) are inconsequential. There are essays that focus on spirituality, perhaps none better than “The Burden of the Gospels.” Berry asks there: Would we have followed Jesus had we heard him during his lifetime? Are we strong enough to follow his most difficult teachings? There are times when Berry comes across as a bit sanguine, even romantic, about our ancestors’ husbandry of their resources (consult, for comparison, Jared Diamond’s Collapse), but he is fiercely loyal to his region, to his agrarian roots. “We need to quit thinking of rural America as a colony,” he declares. Berry appends two forgettable pieces by others.
Provocative, pellucid prose from a master.