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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
John Berger | The Essay Prize
"THE TEN GREATEST ESSAYS, EVER
JOHN BERGER

Italo Calvino, “Exactitude”
(from Six Memos for the Next Millenium, Harvard University Press, 1988)

Rebecca Solnit, “After Ideology”
(from Hope in the Dark, 2005)

Simone Weil, “Evil”
(from Gravity and Grace, 2002)

Arundhati Roy, “The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire”
(from The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, 2004)

Iona Heath, “Ways of Dying”
(from Matters of Life and Death, 2007)

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind”
(from The Primacy of Perception, 1964)

Walter Benjamin, “On Language as Such and On the Language of Man”
(from One-Way Street, 1928)

D.H. Lawrence, “The Dance of the Sprouting Corn”
(from Mornings in Mexico, 1927)

George Orwell, “The Art of Donald McGill”
(from Collected Essays, 1941)

Soren Kierkegard, “The Immediate State of the Erotic”
(from Either/Or, 1843)"

[via:
"Nilanjana Roy calls this a "'How to be Human' Playlist," and I agree: John Berger's ten favorite essays"
https://twitter.com/tejucole/status/366912570600333312 ]
lists  readinglists  toread  johnberger  italocalvino  rebeccasolnit  canon  simoneweil  arundhatiroy  ionaheath  mauricemerleau-ponty  walterbanjamin  dhlawrence  georgeorwell  kierkegaard  nilanjanaroy  tejucole 
january 2017 by robertogreco
I Believe in the After-Life — Medium
"Those of you who have followed my writing over the past few years will know that I’ve moved outside of an orthodox, theist idea of faith that embraces what some have called ‘the death of God.’

One thing has bugged me about that though: the idea of resurrection is central to Christianity, so in a radical, a-theist reading of faith do we simply abandon resurrection and the idea of an afterlife?

In the face of death it is a bold move to make to refuse the platitudes that we’ll be together again at some future point. That was a very very hard conversation to have, and one that marked the extraordinary theological courage of a man who wasn’t about to compromise on the hard thinking that he had done.

Being Let Down

A few days ago I had the privilege of recording an interview with Simon Critchley, as part of a BBC Radio 4 piece I’m doing that will be aired on 23rd November. I began by asking him about his idea that all philosophy begins in disappointment — which sparked this post ‘on being let down.’

If disappointment is the beginning of philosophy, then its end is perhaps contained in Montaigne’s maxim that ‘to philosophise is to learn how to die.’ In other words, philosophy begins with a let down, and ends by preparing us for the final, greatest let down — that where we are lowered into the ground and buried.

Decreation

When I pressed him on what this philosophical lesson in death might mean, Critchley turned to Simone Weil and her idea of ‘decreation.’ He described this process thus:

The self is a thing that we have — a kind of carapace that we assume over time because of language, culture, circumstances, and we have to tear that down. We have to undo what is creaturely in us, what is given in us, in order to love.

There’s something a little bit masculine, a bit selfish about the idea of the philosophical death, which I think love challenges. Love is that counter-movement to selfishness which demands a huge amount of us.

Weil’s most famous work is called Gravity and Grace, and it struck me that this was perhaps instructive. Gravity is the acceptance of our inevitable descent into the earth, the tearing down of the selfish creature in us that will do anything to resist our finitude. Grace is what happens beyond that death of the self; it is the life that comes after gravity has done its work.

“I Believe in the Afterlife”

At this point in the interview I abandoned my careful notes. This was personal. There was something here I wanted to know. Was this perhaps a way that we could reclaim the idea of resurrection, that after this death we are somehow lifted again?

I’m still processing Critchley’s reply. I’m wary of valourising him, a man whose books have been very important in the development of my own thinking, a man who turned out to be generous in his time and thinking, generous in his self when we met. But, as I think about Nic’s death two years ago, about the family and friends who remain — and as I continue to try to work through and understand this life-after-God— I think there’s something very profound, true and helpful in his answer:

“I believe in the after-life, in so far as I believe in the life of those that come after. And those that come after most closely — kids, those you love or have been close to — you want them to go on.

“I believe in an after-life, not in the sense of a soul’s immortality, but an after-life of those who will continue and go on, and hopefully go on without entirely forgetting us.”

—Simon Critchley

This, for me, is the true after-life. We live in order that when we are gone others are equipped to go on, and to do so without forgetting us. What funds that? Love. The love that has accepted the gravity of our existence, the fact that life will end in let-down, but carries on giving.

‘Some things cannot be stolen,’ Nic painted in bold strokes of paint on one of the last pieces he created.

Our bodies are taken, our looks and sharp minds are looted, our friends, our parents — sometimes even our children.

But as all of this is wrenched away and inevitably falls to the earth, one thing cannot be taken from us, not by gravity nor any force in the universe.

Against the dust of planet love endures into the after-life, still takes the wing and lifts us, perhaps even beyond death.

Perhaps."
death  belief  afterlife  2014  kesterbrewin  simoncritchley  nichughes  grace  self  simoneweil  decreation  love  mortality  resurrection  memory  existence 
october 2014 by robertogreco
Creaturely Poetics
"Simone Weil once wrote that “the vulnerability of precious things is beautiful because vulnerability is a mark of existence,” establishing a relationship between vulnerability, beauty, and existence transcending the separation of species. Her conception of a radical ethics and aesthetics could be characterized as a new poetics of species, forcing a rethinking of the body’s significance, both human and animal. Exploring the “logic of flesh” and the use of the body to mark species identity, Anat Pick reimagines a poetics that begins with the vulnerability of bodies, not the omnipotence of thought. Pick proposes a “creaturely” approach based on the shared embodiedness of humans and animals and a postsecular perspective on human-animal relations. She turns to literature, film, and other cultural texts, challenging the familiar inventory of the human: consciousness, language, morality, and dignity. Reintroducing Weil’s elaboration of such themes as witnessing, commemoration, and collective memory, Pick identifies the animal within all humans, emphasizing the corporeal and its issues of power and freedom. In her poetics of the creaturely, powerlessness is the point at which aesthetic and ethical thinking must begin."
books  animals  animalstudies  via:anne  anatpick  vulnerability  film  literature  toread  poetics  identity  speciesidentity  simoneweil  existence  power  freedom  humans  ethics  aesthetics  powerlessness 
december 2013 by robertogreco
How Not to Be Alone - NYTimes.com
"Everyone wants his parent’s, or friend’s, or partner’s undivided attention — even if many of us, especially children, are getting used to far less. Simone Weil wrote, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” By this definition, our relationships to the world, and to one another, and to ourselves, are becoming increasingly miserly."



"We often use technology to save time, but increasingly, it either takes the saved time along with it, or makes the saved time less present, intimate and rich. I worry that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts. It’s not an either/or — being “anti-technology” is perhaps the only thing more foolish than being unquestioningly “pro-technology” — but a question of balance that our lives hang upon.

Most of the time, most people are not crying in public, but everyone is always in need of something that another person can give, be it undivided attention, a kind word or deep empathy. There is no better use of a life than to be attentive to such needs. There are as many ways to do this as there are kinds of loneliness, but all of them require attentiveness, all of them require the hard work of emotional computation and corporeal compassion. All of them require the human processing of the only animal who risks “getting it wrong” and whose dreams provide shelters and vaccines and words to crying strangers.

We live in a world made up more of story than stuff. We are creatures of memory more than reminders, of love more than likes. Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be messy, and painful, and almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die."
simoneweil  attention  technology  loneliness  2013  jonathansafranfoer  empathy  messiness  life  living  attentiveness  compassion  human  humans  relationships  cv 
june 2013 by robertogreco
Aporia. Writing and lesser things by Mills Baker. Friendship.
"1. Before real friendship comes lucid self-awareness…

2. But we do not deserve the consolations of friendship if they are based on misrepresented or misunderstood expressions of selfhood…[or] secret needs…

3. Know yourself or know none, know nothing, disappear…high school as I remember it was mostly the exchange of blinded and unarticulated selves for approximations of friendship…

4. …it is necessary to be mercilessly ‘objective,’…with oneself: do not admit into evidence subjectively sympathetic excuses, do not contextualize one’s own actions with justificatory narratives…be endlessly ‘subjective,’ again so to speak, with others: imagine anything and everything one can to excuse them, explain them, understand and love them…

5. When I have been lonely, I have thought of myself subjectively and others objectively. This is the only real means to the self-pity which defines loneliness: to think of oneself as the world…

6. Friendship is something one exercises, like compassion; it is a solitary choice, requiring the approval or affection of no one at all. Every desire which seeks a psychological state as its result should be suspected of superficiality at least, but in the case of those who seek friendship as an antidote to loneliness, it is not merely a vice but a countermanding of what’s sought. One is not a friend, of course, when one’s friends are means to an end: means to escape solitude, tools rather than accomplices.

(To consider: “Friendship should be a gratuitous joy like those afforded by art or life.” What sort of joys are those? What does it mean that they’re gratuitous?)."
listening  understanding  grace  simoneweil  2012  wisdom  happiness  relationships  selflessness  love  highschool  loneliness  friendship  millsbaker 
june 2012 by robertogreco

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