John Berger On Race & Class
Following on from the post below celebrating the thirtieth birthday of Race & Class, the current issue carries a "little text" by John Berger, one of the journal's finest contributors and a member of its editorial working committee. He calls the piece "A mouth speaks out alone"; it's a birthday offering. Here's an extract:
Yes it's my mouth. Alone on the white page. Outside it's snowing. My two lips and, in the night between, a tongue. You can see it? You lip-read? You are so young. But you do lip-read.
The snow is falling everywhere. On lies and on what is true. The flakes make no distinction, they land gently on both. Did you notice I said 'on what is true', not 'on the truth'. The single truth is also a lie. This is something I have learnt since it began to snow.
The blizzards were forecast, but, like any winter, they took us by surprise. The President of the Republic addressed the nation. Don't ask me which nation, for, if I tell you, the paper on which I am drawn may be torn up. Here I only have the status of an emigrant. Perhaps you can see that by my lower lip. You can see a little home-sickness? The President told the people they were living through a period of transition and that in his heart he was with every one of them. A transition towards what? one might ask. Perhaps a period of eternal snow? He didn't say. He himself was lost in a drift. He smiled and went on and on; the one thing which became clearer and clearer was that he was lying. At the end he was even able to turn words which mean nothing at all - words like development and modernisation - at the end, he was even able to transform these into lies. He was on the telly, immediately following the latest reports about the snow.
Whilst he was speaking, I watched his mouth. I don't claim to be an expert but a mouth is all I am, albeit a foreign mouth, so I watched with a certain interest. His is like a bladder-wrack blister. I refer to his mouth. This is the effect of thirty years of using words, speaking them, to distract attention from what is happening behind his listeners' backs. Most stooges, decoys and stool pigeons get bladder-wrack. It comes from the indifference of the lips to what they're pronouncing. Also called Pop-weed, belonging to the kelp family, in the class of Phaephyceae! Did you see the tongue touching the back of the top teeth to make the c? Examine mouths carefully. Bladder-wrack comes from a contempt for words.
For example, the President of the Republic argued that if we all consumed more, there would be fewer unemployed. When I heard this I thought of my old friend, the Arse, and I made one of his noises. The snow flakes now are as large as goose feathers. You can't see across the road. In Europe there are 30 million unemployed. I, too, taste their bitterness. Each of them speaks and not one is heard. They speak to their fear in the night. To each I'd like to whisper in the dark: may I kiss you? And then do it.