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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
How Adam Curtis' film "Bitter Lake" will change everything you believe about news - Boing Boing
"The acclaimed British documentary filmmaker has released his latest film in unusual, forward-thinking circumstances."



"A new type of understanding emerges as a result of the form itself, an emotional, existential sensation of being present in the effects of the West's foreign affairs. There are also jokes, and audacious music choices, history underscored by Nine Inch Nails, Kanye West, Burial, and droning synth film scores by Clint Mansell. The implications are astonishing, the effect verges on the surreal: vivid, banal, beautiful, and constantly giving rise to elusive new connections in your mind between sound and image. Although any history book can give you some of the same information that’s not the point. What I came away with watching the film was a haunted sensation, a novelistic reality, one in which I couldn’t forget its images, in which suddenly I saw an aspect to war that is often obscured in news; an emotional dimension.

We do little examination of the filmmaking techniques and formalism that constitutes television news, one of the dominant global experiences for nearly a century. Media examination of how news is made tends to focus on institutions and individuals, as the Brian Williams and Bill O'Reilly scandals demonstrate. The focus of analysis is personality, celebrity, and memory; which isn’t all that different from a network anchor’s stated role.


But this means we never engage in discourse about the expectations of the aesthetics and form taken of how we watch news. The editing techniques embraced by news corporations are themselves a kind of power structure that prioritizes inattention. We prioritize the celebrity of Williams or O'Reilly instead of the collective failures of corporate news media, whose compliance with lies planted by the Bush administration contributed to our involvement in Iraq.

While it’s common knowledge that television news prioritizes soundbites, this same editorial process also reduces footage into optical bites. An image must be watched at length to be understood, but the very form of TV news requires it's cut down to its most reductive. As a result, the montage that dominates the cliched, internationally adopted television news format maximalizes the most shocking images of conflict and drama. It’s the geopolitical equivalent of reality tv producers getting their performers drunk and letting the cameras roll, more Real World: Road Rules than The March of Time.

What ends up on the cutting room floor (or at least deleted from the digital bin) is understanding and narrative. Explaining in this great interview, Curtis offers the idea that “…television is really one long construction of a giant story out of fragments of recorded reality from all over the world that is constantly added to every day.”"



"Curtis’ work is often criticized on the basis of how reductive his history is or how he’s retreading conspiracy theories. As can be seen in the interactions on his exceptional blog, conspiracy theorists comprise a segment of his viewership, but tend to be infatuated with correcting his histories and informing him of what he left out.

But conspiracies do not govern his theses. If anything Curtis’ work is about how unreckoned our relationship with power is. It’s an overarching history of the 20th century giving birth to new systems to disseminate and control power. Since we have no working narrative or politics to concede with power, unintended consequences prevail. The stories of his films are almost always a history of how those in power create plans to change the world, and those plans go completely awry."



"Curtis’ work may not be infallible, but it often asks why we have become stagnant and regressive, why we are running out of visions for the future. At the very least, his films have provided a new vision: of how we still have work to do in the form of filmmaking that will help us understand our world. I hope BITTER LAKE most of all raises questions of how news organizations appropriate the imagery that is shot, often at great cost to the lives of journalists, in a way that has narrowed the possible dimensionality of its truth. Even more troublesome, the exploitation of footage created by terrorists has resulted in a horrifying feedback loop where corporate news entities earn profits off of their existence.

In the far future, the real impact of BITTER LAKE will most likely be the filmmakers inspired by it. They may not need to wait for a collection of discarded videotapes, for lurking out there on the Internet is a nearly infinite archive of footage. Over 100,000 hours are uploaded to YouTube each day. It is just out there waiting for artists, journalists and storytellers to help us make sense of it all."
aaronstewart-ahn  adamcurtis  media  film  documentary  culture  aesthetics  news  emotions  afghanistan  iraq  war  filmmaking  brianwilliams  billo'reilly  power  editing  celebrity  soundbites  understanding  narrative  archives  youtube  journalism  storytelling  bbc  bitterlake 
march 2015 by robertogreco
Subject, Theory, Practice: An Architecture of Creative Engagement on Vimeo
“Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.” José Ortega y Gasset

A 'manifesto' for the curious architect/designer/artist in search of depth, but in love with plenty, in the saturated world of the 21st Century.

"In a world where grazing is the norm, in which the bitesize is the ideal that conflates ease of consumption with value, where yoghurts are increased in sales price by being reduced in size and packaged like medicines, downed in one gulp; in a world where choice is a democratic obligation that obliterates enjoyment, forced on consumers through the constant tasting, buying and trying of ever more gadgets; a world in which thoughts, concepts -entire lives- are fragmented into the instantaneous nothings of tweets and profile updates; it is in this world, where students of architecture graze Dezeen dot com and ArchDaily, hoovering up images in random succession with no method of differentiation or judgement, where architects -like everyone else- follow the dictum ‘what does not fit on the screen, won’t be seen’, where attentions rarely span longer than a minute, and architectural theory online has found the same formula as Danone’s Actimel (concepts downed in one gulp, delivered in no longer than 300 words!), conflating relevance with ease of consumption; it is in this world of exponentially multiplying inputs that we find ourselves looking at our work and asking ‘what is theory, and what is practice?’, and finding that whilst we yearn for the Modernist certainties of a body of work, of a lifelong ‘project’ in the context of a broader epoch-long ‘shared project’ on the one hand, and the ideas against which these projects can be critically tested on the other; we are actually embedded in an era in which any such oppositions, any such certainties have collapsed, and in which it is our duty –without nostalgia, but with bright eyes and bushy tails untainted by irony- to look for new relationships that can generate meaning, in a substantial manner, over the course of a professional life.

This film is a short section through this process from May 2012."

This montage film is based on a lecture delivered by Madam Studio in May of 2012 at Gent Sint-Lucas Hogeschool Voor Wetenschap & Kunst.

A Madam Studio Production by Adam Nathaniel Furman and Marco Ginex

[via: https://twitter.com/a_small_lab/status/310914404038348800 ]
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march 2013 by robertogreco

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