Ways of Seeing was on the syllabus. I hardly approved. My university was a place to read works from well before the twentieth century and I felt an ignorant dull pain at the thought of people like John Berger and Marshall McLuhan being taken seriously. I resisted reading Ken Kesey and Kurt Vonnegut and I thought that art criticism had ended quite nicely with Ruskin and Pater, thank you very much.
But John Berger never went away for me because he said things too brilliant for me to ignore. Just as assortment of his thoughts should be the best tribute to him. He died 5 days ago at age 90. He was always a presence–that rarity, a “public intellectual” who was also heart-breakingly perceptive. I’ve accumulated the quotations below in a lazy way: from http://www.goodread.com.
The final quotation has absorbed and provoked and comforted and angered me on many occasions. It is the one that gets me more than any other.
― John Berger,
I know too that the powerful fear art, whatever its form, when it does this, and that amongst the people such art sometimes runs like a rumour and a legend because it makes sense of what life’s brutalities cannot, a sense that unites us, for it is inseparable from a justice at last. Art, when it functions like this, becomes a meeting-place of the invisible, the irreducible, the enduring, guts and honour.”
― John Berger
“What reconciles me to my own death more than anything else is the image of a place: a place where your bones and mine are buried, thrown, uncovered, together. They are strewn there pell-mell. One of your ribs leans against my skull. A metacarpal of my left hand lies inside your pelvis. (Against my broken ribs your breast like a flower.) The hundred bones of our feet are scattered like gravel. It is strange that this image of our proximity, concerning as it does mere phosphate of calcium, should bestow a sense of peace. Yet it does. With you I can imagine a place where to be phosphate of calcium is enough.”
― John Berger
And this place, of which Berger writes, can be totally invisible and incorporeal and yet remain a place.