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.
Reviews and Endorsements
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
If the cultivation of ‘place-based identity’ and ‘locally adapted communities’ is the heartbeat of Berry’s work, Joseph Wiebe in The Place of Imagination: Wendell Berry and the Poetics of Community, Affection, and Identity establishes the irreducible role of the imagination as the sine qua non of such moral formation and explores the fictional characters of Berry’s own imagine place of Port William, Kentucky as essential companions in this formation.
~Elizabeth R. Powell, Anglican Theological Review
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
Wiebe masterfully demonstrates the transformative imagination that Berry embodies…
~Kathryn Bradford Heidelberger, The Christian Century
A needed contribution for both the casual and scholarly reader of Wendell Berry.
~D. Dixon Sutherland, Reading Religion
Wiebe provides readers with a way to faithfully and honestly engage Berry’s Port William stories.
~Josh Skinner, Christianity and Literature