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The Place of Imagination
Wendell Berry and the Poetics of Community, Affection, and Identity
Wendell Berry teaches us to love our places—to pay careful attention to where we are, to look beyond and within, and to live in ways that are not captive to the mastery of cultural, social, or economic assumptions about our life in these places. Creation has its own integrity and demands that we confront it.
In The Place of Imagination, Joseph R. Wiebe argues that this confrontation is precisely what shapes our moral capacity to respond to people and to places. Wiebe contends that Berry manifests this moral imagination most acutely in his fiction. Berry’s fiction, however, does not portray an average community or even an ideal one. Instead, he depicts broken communities in broken places—sites and relations scarred by the routines of racial wounds and ecological harm. Yet, in the tracing of Berry’s characters with place-based identities, Wiebe demonstrates the way in which Berry’s fiction comes to embody Berry’s own moral imagination. By joining these ambassadors of Berry’s moral imagination in their fictive journeys, readers, too, can allow imagination to transform their affection, thereby restoring place as a facilitator of identity as well as hope for healed and whole communities. Loving place translates into loving people, which in turn transforms broken human narratives into restored lives rooted and ordered by their places.
PART I. Moral Imagination and Community
1. Imagination: The Poetics of Local Adaptation
2. Affection: Community, Race, and Place
3. Style: Berry’s Fictional Technique
PART II. Biographies of Belonging
4. Jack’s Mind: Regret and the Virtue of Knowing
5. Jayber’s Soul: The Psychology of Magnanimous Despair
6. Hannah’s Body: Grief and the Space of Hopeless Patience
"Wendell Berry is our finest living writer, and so it is always good to see people working out the meanings of his various writings. His fiction seems particularly powerful right now—The Place of Imagination is a very timely volume."
—Bill McKibben, editor of American Earth: Nature Writing Since Thoreau
"This superbly researched book not only depicts the moral landscape of Wendell Berry’s fiction. It also interprets why that world bears such wide cultural significance. In sharp conversation with critics and admirers of Berry, Wiebe explains how the sort of moral imagination cultivated by Berry matters for everyone thinking about community, land, and identity."
—Willis Jenkins, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Director of Graduate Studies, University of Virginia
Joseph R. Wiebe is Assistant Professor of Religion and Ecology at the University of Alberta, Augustana.