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Imagination in Place

June 8, 2011

Imagination in Place is a collection of mini biographies wherein Wendell Berry reflects on the people and places that have made impressions upon his own life. Berry steadily draws attention to how the land has uniquely shaped each person he presents, and how each person has in turn shaped him. In a sense, the people about whom Berry writes become places. This shaping work is the product of imagination. Berry shows how the material feeding the imagination is something given—grounded in one’s place. Yet the material produced from the imagination is also something given, or rather, made. It is by means of the imagination that we continue to make. In one essay, Berry compares Milton’s creation to Gary Snyder’s poem “Mountains and Rivers Without End.” The poem, according to Berry, is about the “poiesis of topography.” And this is really what Imagination in Place is about. It is about the “continuous making of the world.” The dilemma, as most poignantly presented in the essays “Some Interim Thoughts about Mountains and Rivers Without End” and “Against the Nihil of the Age,” is the contrary makings produced by the human imagination. While there are human makings that honor the human condition, the imaginative shaping of the Industrial age has yielded human makings that rebel against man’s natural condition.

The most fundamental of these desecrations has been the reduction of the human image, . . . From the desecration of that image, the desecration of the world and all its places and creatures inexorably follows.

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