Recently Rediscovered: Undergraduate Interview with Wendell Berry

April 20, 2017

 When I was in college, in January of 2009, I got the opportunity to take a class on documentary filmmaking as a vehicle for social change with a visiting scholar. My group chose to make a film about agriculture in Kentucky and had the ultimate honor of interviewing poet, novelist, activist, and farmer Wendell Berry for the project. He, at the time, did not do filmed interviews, so we instead sat around his kitchen table with an audio recorder and had a thought provoking hour-long conversation about farming, justice, generosity, and many other topics. Just today I stumbled upon the transcript file from this interview and am happy to again be able to read through the record of that morning.


The video above was my group's final product. The quotes below are some that stand out to me from the interview.


"Well, lets try the lump of coal for another symbol. A very curious commodity because it has no value except when its burning to realize any value from it at all you have to destroy it. That’s a very curious kind of commodity, if you buy food and you have an authentic economy that goes through you and back to the land. People over time have been very responsible about it so the fertility cycle’s kept in tact.  Nothing is destroyed, nothing is wasted. But coal you only have it by destroying it. To get it you have to destroy a mountain. So you have destruction in order to have production. And then to have production you have to have a further destruction. That is Pollution. So you got another curious symbol it can only happen in a perverse sort of anti-economy." 


"I’ve always tried to keep defining for myself some kind of ground for hope because despair is just a mistake. It’s the easy way out; for one thing it’s a disgrace. People say there’s nothing they can do, there’s something they can do, whether its effective or not that’s of secondary importance. If there’s something they can do they ought to do it and they ought to enjoy doing it. Ought to have a good time doing it. Have as much fun as you can. There are authentic pleasures in this world and you ought to know ‘em and appreciate ‘em and feel ‘em. That’s a part of your duty. Authentic, decent pleasures."


"It starts with the ground. These people, the financial people think it starts with consumption. That’s why they try to stimulate spending. Spending isn’t an economic virtue. Thrift is an economic virtue, saving is an economic virtue, not wasting, miserliness isn’t. Generosity is, if you take care of things then you can be generous. I’m arguing that imagination probably is because that’s where you get compassion. You imagine how it is with somebody else. Good work is an economic virtue, caretaking, stewardship, those things."


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