Thursday, March 26, 2015

John Berger

I've written before on this blog about John Berger. But it's been a while since I last expressed my admiration. So let me do that again now, having just finished his masterful set of essays, The Sense of Sight.

I should start by saying that Berger's About Looking is one of the most impressive collections of essays I've read - and that's largely because, even when I don't agree with Berger, he pushes me to think, to consider. His essays are always novel in their method, memorable in their style. 

And while The Sense of Sight is not, perhaps, as bold or clairvoyant as About Looking, it is, in the end, a tremendous accumulation of pensees, of meditations on life, art, and memory.

As I say, one of the elements of Berger's world that I admire most is his style: he writes with such confidence, such a penetrating gaze. And yet, his conclusions are rarely overwrought. Sometimes, it's true, he reaches for too much (particularly when discussing politics), but that's, I think, out of a sense of love, of wanting to do justice to it all, to everything. He has a prose style all his own. 

For me, Berger's essay on Modigliani was the most memorable here: he associates lines in Modigliani's work with emotion, with sensuality. And by elongating those lines, Modigliani, he argues, stretched finite emotion as far as he could, as far as it would reasonably go. The result is a sense of the "infinite," an endlessness treading along the contours of the body. That endlessness, of course, is love.

Let me close, then, with an enthusiastic endorsement of The Sense of Sight: here's a book - part poetry, part history, part criticism and politics - that defies definition, but which, in its diversity of thought and subject matter, identifies what it is to interact with art in all of its forms, quirks, and manifestations. 

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