Virtues of RenewalWendell Berry's Sustainable Forms

Virtues of RenewalWendell Berry's Sustainable Forms

Jeffrey Bilbro

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9780813176406

Publisher: University Press of Kentucky

Abstract

Over the past fifty years, Wendell Berry has been arguing that our most pressing ecological and cultural need is a renewed formal intelligence. Such an intelligence does not look for big, one-size-fits-all solutions. Rather, it discerns and fosters patterns of health. When W. H. Auden famously declared that “poetry makes nothing happen,” he was correct that poetry, like the other arts, doesn’t coerce matter in the way that a tractor or an oil rig or a bomb does. Yet poetry is “a way of happening,” its beauty shaping readers’ imaginations to better perceive and understand formal patterns. Such formative work fosters the deep, lasting change needed to cultivate a more sustainable culture and economy. In particular, Berry’s literary forms embody and cultivate virtues of renewal. Though our contemporary culture fears and shuns death, natural ecosystems provide a model in which death feeds new life and healthy human communities follow an analogous order. Cultures maintain such a sustainable order by practicing virtues of renewal, virtues that stand in sharp contrast to the techniques of control preferred by our industrial culture. Combining literary analysis with cultural criticism, this book argues that Berry’s literary forms shape his readers to desire and practice these virtues of renewal. Poetry can’t magically create a healthy economy, but Berry’s poetry, essays, and fiction cultivate the kind of imaginative, virtuous people who can, as he puts it, “practice resurrection.”