by Giles Fraser
Thursday, 18
July 2019
08:32

Going Home with Wendell Berry

I have such a full-on man-crush on Wendell Berry that I pounce on anything written about him. This article in the New Yorker, titled “Going Home with Wendell Berry” was indeed a pleasure to read – yet coming out in the wake of those disgraceful Trump “go home” tweets – I felt an unusual bat-squeak of discomfort at Berry’s characteristic celebration of place.

The conversation goes as follows, the interviewer first:

A lot of people now come of age in places that feel like no place—a kind of vague American landscape, sculpted in part by corporations—which occasionally makes me wonder if homesickness, as a human experience, is itself on the verge of extinction.Well, part of manners used to be to say to somebody you just met, “Where you from?” And I quit asking it because so many people say they’re from everywhere or nowhere.
- Amanda Petrusich and Wendell Berry

The interview ranges over a range of subjects: the importance of limit, the contrast between those who think the purpose of life is self-realisation and those who think it is self-forgetfulness, and Berry’s admiration of the Amish. All great stuff.

But it was his high doctrine of place that bothered me more than usual. How do we stay loyal to the ground on which we live and those people we live amongst whilst not disparaging the experience of those for whom home is no longer understood in terms of a specific geographical rootedness? The same question stalks the debate between Freddie Sayers and Matthew Parris elsewhere on this site. It bothers me greatly that a sense of place and home are being wiped away – but when “place’ and “home” are weaponised against immigrants, then I flee into arms of the anywheres.