Through Wendell Berry’s Looking Glass

Berryphoto via

Laura Dunn’s new documentary of Wendell Berry lets us meet a true American original. Produced by Robert Redford and Nick Offerman (Parks and Rec), The Seer introduces viewers to the work and thought of Berry, whose writing grapples with the question of how we can remain human in an increasingly flattened, urbanized, and technological world.

From a review by Gracy Olmstead:

Berry is a Kentucky-born farmer and philosopher, essayist and poet, environmental activist and localist. He’s written fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and has been the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, the National Humanities Medal, and the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award. Those familiar with Berry’s work know that he is an outspoken advocate for “flyover country”—for towns and communities, farmers and farms neglected or even maltreated by modern politics and culture. His nonfiction work lauds a loyalty to place, to family, and to community that we’ve largely forgotten. His poetry exudes a reverence for the created world, for the glory of quotidian rituals and objects. His novels combine both these things in characters that love their towns and land. Through this immense body of work, Berry has appealed to a wide range of readers, transcending political and personal biases.

What makes Wendell Berry so refreshingly different as a social critic is that his starting point is not some pre-packaged, other-worldly ideology. Instead, Berry lives and writes within a close-knit community of people making their living on family farms. As Olmstead points out, Berry’s independent point of view has “angered people on both left and right—but it’s also enabled him to bridge ideological barriers and appeal to a large set of people. He’s tapped into a yearning that lies in the heart of so many: a love of home, of place, of traditions that are worth preserving and communities that are worth celebrating.”

We live in an artificial world where the use of anti-depressants is “skyrocketing.” Wendell Berry’s battle cry for reclaiming human connections may be just what we need.

15 thoughts on “Through Wendell Berry’s Looking Glass”

  1. Thank you for the introduction, Mike. I really want to check out his work and the documentary now. And your statement on anti-depressants really resonated with me… begs the question as to why our mental health crisis keeps growing when so many meds are prescribed… could it be possible that they are not the answer?!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Chemical escape certainly is NOT the answer. At best, these only treat the symptoms of alienation. Sadly, we are told over and over that to be free, we must break our ties with others, because only the liberated individual is authentic. That’s what’s driving our spiritual crisis.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I question whether or not a psych diagnosis does more harm than good to a person, to be honest, because of stigma. I know mental illness is real, but to my knowledge, it cannot be falsified by any scientific biomarkers… so who really has the authority to diagnose someone in that way? It’s so complex with so many additional forces at play in a person’s life that must be examined.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Nurse Kelly,


    I think the big thing wrong with psychiatry (and maybe our social policies!) is that the “experts” assume a perfect human being, and measure people by that standard. Intervention in its many forms is applied to try to mold and hammer real people into that model.

    No wonder we’re so screwed up.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. navasolanature,

      My wife and I are members of the Charlotte Film Society, and are trying to get this documentary shown here.

      And yes, Wendell Berry is a national treasure.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I remember reading through a few of his books and essays during a summer living on a socialist-minded farm. What struck me was the contrast between Berry’s admiration for real people vs. the contempt my socialist farmer friend had for everyone who didn’t first go to Yale before becoming a farmer.

    Liked by 1 person

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