Even if Wendell Berry’s projections of the precariousness of mechanized, industrial agriculture are inaccurate in the long run, his observations about the cultural role of agriculture elicit serious reflection about history and values. Like many of his contemporaries, Berry challenges conventional assumptions about the means and the ends of industrial society; to a degree that sets him apart, however, he does it more from a position of personal experience and observation than of academic authority.
Coming to maturity as a writer in the 1960’s, Berry was of the generation that witnessed and in many ways benefited from post-World War II economic prosperity, but he was among those who found it more appropriate to criticize than to celebrate the direction that American society was taking. As with his friends Wes and Dana Jackson, who are the subjects of his essay “New Roots for Agricultural Research,” the 1960’s were for Berry a period of intense questioning of the manifold problems of political, social, and ecological deterioration, and these issues have continued to occupy him in both his poetry and his essays.
Berry held a Wallace Stegner Writing Fellowship at Stanford University from 1958 to 1969; like his older colleague, Wallace Stegner, he is devoted to the study of the spiritual bond between man and the environment as well as being a proponent of the values of regionalist expression. Berry, again like Stegner, has continually...
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