FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Johnny B.: a Brief Reflection on John Berger

by

Athens.

I read John Berger―no. I read over John Berger. No, not even that, not quite. I slowly scan through the pages and investigate his words, returning to favorite passages and devouring new ones. I try to find what it is that makes these such a pleasure to read. I come to realize it is not the use of words alone―aberrant, disconcertingly, urgent and mute. No, it is not the use of the beautiful words. For all the joy I derive from encountering these, there is something in the mastery of their use, something in the way in which they have been moulded, crafted, slowly taken over. There is something in these words that radiates, in glaring lucidity, how they have travelled from afar to land onto the page, and how they have done so slowly. Slow: this great, unreachable luxury of a time that devours and diminishes; a time of so much action yet so little interaction where, from skimming through a text to skirmishing with the police, there is never the depth, never quite the prolonged quality that will turn the fleetingness of an ever-nonsensical moment into the substance of a coherent present.

Against the electric-like shock and violence of the current, Berger was the grounding: a serene reminder to stop if we are to ferociously act in any meaningful way. I pause. I find myself unable to put together any further thoughts. I listen to one of the last recordings, I suspect perhaps even the last one; an audio-recorded interview with a frail John Berger calling in from a Parisian suburb somewhere. A broken voice that pauses longer than the usual. I quickly travel back to a long Greek summer evening, back home, when I had the pleasure of taking a similar call myself. A request for a written interview turned down in the most humble of ways. “In transcribing an interview”, you tell me, “there is so much that is lost”. Pause. “There are the gestures”. Another pause. “There is the significance of the pauses, of the silences”. The sturdiness of a sonorous voice wrapped in a fleeting French accent: “Do you see?” I do see. A text, then? A text it will be.

A text that was―as always―not like most. I read it over. There is something in these seemingly fragmented notes that brings together the hard-to-remove packaging of modern-day commodities, the calculated rigidity of modern work, the Goulag, undocumented Mexicans in the States, and a young girl learning how to swim in a municipal indoor swimming pool. The images are jotted down in a stream of consciousness; separate but not fragmented, they come together to sketch out the great mystery of experiencing freedom in our prison-like world. Their prose, weaving fragments into a constant, has the serenity of playing punk music and the viciousness of painting a portrait. Their energy smells nothing of an auditorium. It reminds me of the scent of a favourite basement, where friends come together every now and then to enjoy the rawness of an improvised gig.

Friends tell me a sense of loss is near-irrational for someone your age. Of this I am not sure. I have now stood enough on this planet as it orbits around the sun to have witnessed what might very well be, statistically speaking (if this is even a fathomable quality), my fair share of loss. From the utterly unexpected―the loss of a dear childhood friend―to what would, I imagine, count as the “expected”: the departure of those up in the genealogical line. What is rational, anticipated or logical in the timing of our loss? There is of course the calculation of biology, the linearity of life, its trajectory, the timing of its end. But what remains of life when you break these linearities and trajectories apart? The timing becomes irrelevant. It would never be too soon or too late to say goodbye. Still, there is something deeply poetic in losing you at this moment of utter absence of meaning, when time whizzes so agonizingly fast, leaving us struck, frozen.

In the days passed since your passing, Athens has descended into a paralyzing cold; vehicles coming to near-halt on its roads, passers-by evaporating from its pavements. Our freezing city might be trying to freeze time. I think it might even be trying to say goodbye.

Punk painter of words, prophet of the present: so long, so beautifully long, Johnny B.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Pauline Murphy
Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Franklin Lamb
Update from Madaya
Dan Bacher
Federal Scientists Find Delta Tunnels Plan Will Devastate Salmon
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Louis Proyect
What Caused the Holodomor?
Max Mastellone
Seeking Left Unity Through a Definition of Progressivism
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
David Yearsley
Ear of Darkness: the Soundtracks of Steve Bannon’s Films
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail