A Bit of John Berger

I am with friends, those ones who have become family, when I realize that the book on the marble table is John Berger’s and our faces, my heart, brief as photos. A small white book whose particular existence, out in the world and in this room, I have been unaware of. It lies there, beside the glass plate of oiled, peppered roast plantain sprinkled with utazi, in danger of being stained by oil as we eat and talk. Minutes ago, the book is open in my hands, the sentences filling my eyes:

Paintings are static. The uniqueness of the experience of looking at a painting repeatedly—over a period of days or years—is that, in the midst of flux, the image remains changeless.

But to emigrate is always to dismantle the center of the world, and so to move into a lost, disoriented one of fragments.

I have known his name for years, mostly as the author of G. who donated half of that novel’s Booker Prize winning money to the Black Panther Party in the U.K., but it was when Teju Cole, if I recall rightly, mentioned him last year, following his passing, that I became interested in his work. I still haven’t read him, not one full book, but it would be impossible to not acknowledge Berger’s meditative mastery of time and space after just a handful of sentences—in my case, just one:

The sexual thrust to reproduce and to fill the future is a thrust against the current of time which is flowing ceaselessly towards the past.

In the book before me, my friend has underlined many lines, a poet-friend whose philosophical awareness I trust, so I simply read the lines:

And the naming of the intolerable is itself hope.

A waterfall is a waterfall is a waterfall.

But what these lines bring back to me is an urge I first felt a week ago, a prod to perform language in my own work, to be able to locate meaning and musicality and untie it to progression:

How then can poetry so perform language that, instead of simply communicating information, it listens and promises and fulfils the role of a god?

 

 

Image from NearSt. 

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