When I was young, I used to love John Berger. Then I went off to college in the Big City and quickly learnt that he was out-of-date: a crusty old humanist in the cold universe of infinitely deferred closure and inaccessible meaning (and all that). So I put his books up on a high shelf and tried to get on with the unloveable Red Brigade of deconstructivists and post-structuralists I was supposed to identify with now. It didn’t really work (I did my best) and, twenty years on, the old Bolshevist has conspicuously and happily outlived the ‘theory’ nihilists. In London this month, there’s a celebration of the man’s life & work.
Sean O’Hagan wrote a lovely piece about him for The Observer last week and here are a couple of emotional pieces by the man himself from The Guardian: one about his old friend Cartier-Bresson (another sad old humanist) and one about Fahrenheit 9/11.
When I was about eighteen my Dad, who used to visit a village in the Haute Savoie close to Berger’s, walked the couple of miles up the mountain to Berger’s fantastically remote house – no electricity and no running water at the time – to ask him to sign my copy of Another Way of Telling. Berger was out but his wife promised he’d sign and return the book by post so my Dad left the book behind. When he told me he’d troubled the great man in his mountain hide-out I was mortified but, after a couple of weeks, it turned up, politely and tidily inscribed. I’m looking at it now.