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John Berger remembered – by Geoff Dyer, Olivia Laing, Ali Smith and Simon McBurney | Books | The Guardian
"Ali Smith

I heard John Berger speaking at the end of 2015 in London at the British Library. Someone in the audience talked about A Seventh Man, his 1975 book about mass migrancy in which he says: “To try to understand the experience of another it is necessary to dismantle the world as seen from one’s own place within it and to reassemble it as seen from his.”

The questioner asked what Berger thought about the huge movement of people across the world. He put his head in his hands and sat and thought; he didn’t say anything at all for what felt like a long time, a thinking space that cancelled any notion of soundbite. When he answered, what he spoke about ostensibly seemed off on a tangent. He said: “I have been thinking about the storyteller’s responsibility to be hospitable.”

As he went on, it became clear how revolutionary, hopeful and astute his thinking was. The act of hospitality, he suggested, is ancient and contemporary and at the core of every story we’ve ever told or listened to about ourselves – deny it, and you deny all human worth. He talked about the art act’s deep relationship with this, and with inclusion. Then he gave us a definition of fascism: one set of human beings believing it has the right to cordon off and decide about another set of human beings.

A few minutes with Berger and a better world, a better outcome, wasn’t fantasy or imaginary, it was impetus – possible, feasible, urgent and clear. It wasn’t that another world was possible; it was that this world, if we looked differently, and responded differently, was differently possible.

His readers are the inheritors, across all the decades of his work, of a legacy that will always reapprehend the possibilities. We inherit his routing of the “power-shit” of everyday corporate hierarchy and consumerism, his determined communality, his ethos of unselfishness in a solipsistic world, his procreative questioning of the given shape of things, his articulate compassion, the relief of that articulacy. We inherit writing that won’t ever stop giving. A reader coming anywhere near his work encounters life-force, thought-force – and the force, too, of the love all through it.

It’s not just hard, it’s impossible, to think about what he’s given us over the years in any past tense. Everything about this great thinker, one of the great art writers, the greatest responders, is vital – and response and responsibility in Berger’s work always make for a fusion of thought and art as a force for the understanding, the seeing more clearly and the making better of the world we’re all citizens of. But John Berger gone? In the dark times, what’ll we do without him? Try to live up to him, to pay what Simone Weil called (as he notes in his essay about her) “creative attention”. The full Weil quote goes: “Love for our neighbour, being made of creative attention, is analogous to genius.”

Berger’s genius is its own fertile continuum – radical, brilliant, gentle, uncompromising – in the paying of an attention that shines with the fierce intelligence, the loving clarity of the visionary he was, is, and always will be.

***

Geoff Dyer

There is a long and distinguished tradition of aspiring writers meeting the writer they most revere only to discover that he or she has feet of clay. Sometimes it doesn’t stop at the feet – it can be legs, chest and head too – so that the disillusionment taints one’s feelings about the work, even about the trade itself. I count it one of my life’s blessings that the first great writer I ever met – the writer I admired above all others – turned out to be an exemplary human being. Nothing that has happened in the 30-odd years since then has diminished my love of the books or of the man who wrote them.

It was 1984. John Berger, who had radically altered and enlarged my ideas of what a book could be, was in London for the publication of And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos. I interviewed him for Marxism Today. He was 58, the age I am now. The interview went well but he seemed relieved when it was over – because, he said, now we could go to a pub and talk properly.

It was the highpoint of my life. My contemporaries had jobs, careers – some even owned houses – but I was in a pub with John Berger. He urged me to send him things I’d written – not the interview, he didn’t care about that, he wanted to read my own stuff. He wrote back enthusiastically. He was always encouraging. A relationship cannot be sustained on the basis of reverence and we soon settled into being friends.

The success and acclaim he enjoyed as a writer allowed him to be free of petty vanities, to concentrate on what he was always so impatient to achieve: relationships of equality. That’s why he was such a willing collaborator – and such a good friend to so many people, from all walks of life, from all over the world. There was no limit to his generosity, to his capacity to give. This did more than keep him young; it combined with a kind of negative pessimism to enable him to withstand the setbacks dished out by history. In an essay on Leopardi he proposed “that we are not living in a world in which it is possible to construct something approaching heaven-on-earth, but, on the contrary, are living in a world whose nature is far closer to that of hell; what difference would this make to any single one of our political or moral choices? We would be obliged to accept the same obligations and participate in the same struggle as we are already engaged in; perhaps even our sense of solidarity with the exploited and suffering would be more single-minded. All that would have changed would be the enormity of our hopes and finally the bitterness of our disappointments.”

While his work was influential and admired, its range – in both subject matter and form – makes it difficult to assess adequately. Ways of Seeing is his equivalent of Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert: a bravura performance that sometimes ends up as a substitute for or distraction from the larger body of work to which it serves as an introduction. In 1969 he put forward Art and Revolution “as the best example I have achieved of what I consider to be the critical method”, but it is in the numerous shorter pieces that he was at his best as a writer on art. (These diverse pieces have been assembled by Tom Overton in Portraits to form a chronological history of art.)

No one has ever matched Berger’s ability to help us look at paintings or photographs “more seeingly”, as Rilke put it in a letter about Cézanne. Think of the essay “Turner and the Barber’s Shop” in which he invites us to consider some of the late paintings in light of things the young boy saw in his dad’s barber shop: “water, froth, steam, gleaming metal, clouded mirrors, white bowls or basins in which soapy liquid is agitated by the barber’s brush and detritus deposited”.

Berger brought immense erudition to his writing but, as with DH Lawrence, everything had to be verified by appeal to his senses. He did not need a university education – he once spoke scathingly of a thinker who, when he wanted to find something out, took down a book from a shelf – but he was reliant, to the end, on his art school discipline of drawing. If he looked long and hard enough at anything it would either yield its secrets or, failing that, enable him to articulate why the withheld mystery constituted its essence. This holds true not just for the writings on art but also the documentary studies (of a country doctor in A Fortunate Man and of migrant labour in A Seventh Man), the novels, the peasant trilogy Into Their Labours, and the numerous books that refuse categorisation. Whatever their form or subject the books are jam-packed with observations so precise and delicate that they double as ideas – and vice versa. “The moment at which a piece of music begins provides a clue to the nature of all art,” he writes in “The Moment of Cubism”. In Here Is Where We Meet he imagines “travelling alone between Kalisz and Kielce a hundred and fifty years ago. Between the two names there would always have been a third – the name of your horse.”

The last time we met was a few days before Christmas 2015, in London. There were five of us: my wife and I, John (then 89), the writer Nella Bielski (in her late 70s) and the painter Yvonne Barlow (91), who had been his girlfriend when they were still teenagers. Jokingly, I asked, “So, what was John like when he was 17?” “He was exactly like he is now,” she replied, as though it were yesterday. “He was always so kind.” All that interested him about his own life, he once wrote, were the things he had in common with other people. He was a brilliant writer and thinker; but it was his lifelong kindness that she emphasised.

The film Walk Me Home which he co- wrote and acted in was, in his opinion, “a balls-up” but in it Berger utters a line that I think of constantly – and quote from memory – now: “When I die I want to be buried in land that no one owns.” In land, that is, that belongs to us all.

***

Olivia Laing

The only time I saw John Berger speak was at the 2015 British Library event. He clambered on to the stage, short, stocky, shy, his extraordinary hewn face topped with snowy curls. After each question he paused for a long time, tugging on his hair and writhing in his seat, physically wrestling with the demands of speech. It struck me then how rare it is to see a writer on stage actually thinking, and how glib and polished most speakers are. For Berger, thought was work, as taxing and rewarding as physical labour, a bringing of something real into the world. You have to strive and sweat; the act is urgent but might also fail.

He talked that evening about the need for hospitality. It was such a Bergerish notion. Hospitality: the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers, a word that … [more]
johnberger  2017  geoffdyer  olivialaing  alismith  simonmcburney  marxism  capitalism  migration  soundbites  hospitality  storytelling  hope  hopefulness  utopia  hierarchy  consumerism  compassion  unselfishness  questioning  skepticism  simoneweil  creativeattention  attention  goldenrule  humanism  encouragement  relationships  friendship  equality  giving  generosity  solidarity  suffering  seeing  noticing  looking  observation  senses  kindness  commonality  belonging  ownership  thinking  howwethink  care  caring  blackpanthers  blackpantherparty  clarity  money  communalism  narrowness  alls  difference  openness  crosspollination  hosting  hosts  guests  strangers  enemies  listening  canon  payingattention  audience  audiencesofone  laughter  resistance  existence  howtolive  living  life  howwelive  refuge  writing  certainty  tenderness 
january 2017 by robertogreco
Chapel Hill Shooting Victims Were 'Radiant,' Teacher Says : NPR
"Growing up in America has been such a blessing, and you know, although in some ways I do stand out, such as the hijab I wear on my head, the head covering," Abu-Salha said, "there's still so many ways that I feel so embedded in the fabric that is, you know, our culture. And that's the beautiful thing here, is that it doesn't matter where you come from. There's so many different people from so many different places of different backgrounds and religions, but here we're all one, one culture."

Jabeen says she remembers when Abu-Salha was in third grade, "she had this sense of giving that really makes her different from other children."

"I still remember, in third grade, when we asked for something, you used to say, 'Don't put your hand like this,' " Abu-Salha recalled in May. "And you would have your hand facing downward as if you're taking something from someone."

"Oh, my God," Jabeen said. "You still remember?"

"And then you'd flip your hand over, and you'd open your hand upward as, you know, a giving gesture," Abu-Salha said. "You know, be giving, open, compassionate."
yusorabu-salha  mussarutjabeen  teaching  teachers  2015  storycorps  us  generosity  compassion  giving  howweteach 
february 2015 by robertogreco
Throwing cold water on the phenomenon — The Message — Medium
"Lou Gehrig’s Disease is horrible; on this everyone agrees. And anything that might hasten the development of treatments or even a cure is inarguably worth supporting. But.

That damned ice bucket challenge. Celebrities, athletes, business executives, that annoying self-promotional person in your Facebook network —they’ve all embraced the charity campaign, becoming particularly inescapable in the last month. And it’s worked, with the ALS Association reporting a more-than-tenfold increase in donations since the campaign took off, yielding over $30 million in proceeds. [Update: Felix Salmon makes a credible case for donations reaching $100 million.]

It’s extraordinarily rare to see many people publicly criticizing a charity campaign, given the risks of being seen as heartless or obnoxious. That’s especially true given the record-breaking success of the ice bucket challenge. Yet many reasonable, caring people have voiced some skepticism or concern about the particulars of this charity effort. Something about the way the ice bucket challenge has taken off rubbed many of us the wrong way, even as we’ve been pleased by its success.

In the interest of understanding how even an undeniably meritorious effort could grate on the sensibilities of good people, I solicited specific reasons that the ice bucket challenge was annoying. Dozens of people replied, offering complaints that fit neatly into a few different (presumably not ice-filled) buckets. They are presented here, sorted from least legitimate to most legitimate.

It’s getting out of giving

At least in its most common incarnations, the premise of the ice bucket challenge was that the participants were dumping ice on their heads to avoid donating to the cause. Now, the majority of extremely wealthy people who have done the challenge have chosen both to dump ice on their heads and to donate to the cause. But the setup being anti-charity stuck in many people’s minds as a fairly offensive premise. This objection seems a bit more dubious, given that nobody is actually using the challenge as an excuse not to give to the cause, but it certainly helped color the conversation for those who were already skeptical.

[examples]

Charity Ought Not Be Public
That thine alms may be in secret: and
thy Father which seeth in secret
himself shall reward thee openly.

That exhortation to give in private was courtesy of Aaron Williamson, epitomizing this class of objections.

[examples]

Annoyance at the Participants

The rich are, of course, constant and often worthy targets of our scorn. And when they do anything to advertise themselves as being paragons of virtue, that’s a quick road to opprobrium. Even worse is when we combine that with egotistical celebrities nakedly expressing self-regard, thanking themselves for their own generosity. Rising naturally from the earlier objections to any public charity are even more strident objections to hyper-public charity.

[examples]

Objecting to the Manipulation

When a friend or colleague publicly asks one to participate in a charity effort, it’s of course a deeply coercive action. There’s no suitable response other than yes, unless one is willing to look insensitive or cruel in public.

[examples]

The Insensitivity of Mirth

Because ALS is a brutal, exhausting disease that ravages both those who are afflicted as well as their families and loved ones, the lighthearted tone of many videos from the challenge seemed tone-deaf. This becomes doubly true when so many on social media this week have been focused on profoundly troubling events around the world, from Missouri to Syria.

[examples]

No real focus on ALS

One of the most pervasive threads of criticism is that the participants seemed largely disconnected from harsh reality of ALS, saying almost nothing about the disease, the Association dedicated to helping those with the disease, or even where people watching the video could choose to donate themselves.

[examples]

Fundamental Funding Problems Are More Important

The most compelling, inarguable justification for objecting to the ice bucket challenge is that it shouldn’t be necessary in the first place. As many have pointed out, many elected officials who were willing to perform the stunt in ostensible solidarity with people who have ALS were also willing to cut funding to fight the disease.

[examples]

Surprisingly, this wasn’t one of the most popularly-articulated reasons for objecting to this viral campaign. But it is clearly the one which bears the most mention, and it’s well worth reckoning with the serious issue of how our society will fund basic research on enormously devastating diseases.

How to address ALS

This final focus on the funding and research about the disease is the point most often overlooked in extremely viral online campaigns — because it leads to the sort of complexity that isn’t very much fun to share on Facebook.

But many charities that have been fortunate enough to experience a surge of online donations have also struggled with the after-effects. Like the lottery winners who, unaccustomed to managing wealth, find themselves broke a few years later, very few small non-profits have the skill to manage an onrush of funding that is both unexpected and unrepeatable. In the best case, they might be able to create an endowment that will yield a modest but significant annual return in the future. Those aren’t the kind of results that will get celebrities posting on YouTube, meaningful though they may be.

And for those of us not directly impacted by ALS, participating in these sorts of campaigns, rather than voting for broader medical research or supporting more substantive funding, can lead to an even more serious issue. Online campaigns are very effective in encouraging moral licensing, that phenomenon where we feel we’ve “scratched our itch” in regard to charity, and then give ourselves permission to be less charitable overall.

The most fundamental issue raised by the success of the ice bucket challenge is that ALS is an incredibly difficult disease to live with, and one that has seen few significant advances in its treatment. There is no cure. These realities are not going to change without an ongoing, extended, significant engagement by professionals who are dedicated to making progress through research.

We should never give in to cynicism, and we shouldn’t be afraid to participate in campaigns that are for a good cause. But it’s just as important we listen to the skeptics and the critics over the long run. Because ALS will be with us for a long time, but the gimmick in these videos is never going to work again."
als  charity  philanthropy  charitableindustrialcomplex  2014  icebucketchallenge  stunts  anildash  viral  lougehrig'sdisease  giving  virtue  funding  fundraising  criticism  manipulation  morallicensing  skepticism  nonprofit  charities  philanthropicindustrialcomplex  nonprofits  capitalism  power  control 
august 2014 by robertogreco
Morals Without God? - NYTimes.com
"Over the past few years, we have gotten used to a strident atheism arguing that God is not great (Christopher Hitchens) or a delusion (Richard Dawkins). The new atheists call themselves “brights,” thus hinting that believers are not so bright. They urge trust in science, and want to root ethics in a naturalistic worldview.

While I do consider religious institutions and their representatives — popes, bishops, mega-preachers, ayatollahs, and rabbis — fair game for criticism, what good could come from insulting individuals who find value in religion? And more pertinently, what alternative does science have to offer? Science is not in the business of spelling out the meaning of life and even less in telling us how to live our lives. We, scientists, are good at finding out why things are the way they are, or how things work, and I do believe that biology can help us understand what kind of animals we are and why our morality looks the way it does. But to go from there to offering moral guidance seems a stretch.

Even the staunchest atheist growing up in Western society cannot avoid having absorbed the basic tenets of Christian morality. Our societies are steeped in it: everything we have accomplished over the centuries, even science, developed either hand in hand with or in opposition to religion, but never separately. It is impossible to know what morality would look like without religion. It would require a visit to a human culture that is not now and never was religious. That such cultures do not exist should give us pause."

[See also: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mind-reviews-bonobo-and-atheist/ ]
animals  atheism  ethics  philosophy  religion  belief  fransdewaal  via:anne  sciene  evolution  morality  primates  relationships  giving  brain  denbosch  hieronymusbosch  life  living  darwin  altruism  empathy  pleasure  charity  inequity  inequityaversion  dogs  2010  charlesdarwin 
february 2014 by robertogreco
Letters of Note: I know what love is
"Love is a seeking for a way of life; the way that cannot be followed alone; the resonance of all spiritual and physical things. Children are not only of flesh & blood—children may be ideas, thoughts, emotions. The person of the one who is loved is a form composed of a myriad mirrors reflecting and illuminating the powers and thoughts & the emotions that are w/in you, & flashing another kind of light from within. No words or deeds may encompass it.

Friendship is another form of love—more passive perhaps, but full of the transmitting & acceptance of things like thunderclouds & grass & the clean granite of reality.

Art is both love & friendship, & understanding; the desire to give. It is not charity, which is the giving of Things, it is more than kindness which is the giving of self. It is both the taking & giving of beauty, the turning out to the light the inner folds of the awareness of the spirit. It is the recreation on another plane of the realities of the of the world; the…"
glvo  1937  california  yosemite  1936  cedricwright  gifts  giving  love  art  anseladams 
january 2012 by robertogreco

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