Monday, February 21, 2005

"There Is No Happiness Without A Longing For Justice"

Over at Charlotte Street, Mark points us to a recent essay by John Berger at OpenDemocracy's debate on "Visions and Reflections". As nearly always with Berger's writing he pens a meditation of terrible beauty. Ostensibly it's an essay on the poor and their lives hidden from view by the walls of the rich. He intersperses his own words with quotations from the
Russian writer, Andrei Platonov. This is how Berger begins:
The poor have no residence. They have homes because they remember mothers or grandfathers or an aunt who brought them up. A residence is a fortress, not a story; it keeps the wild at bay. A residence needs walls. Nearly everyone among the poor dreams of a small residence, like dreaming of rest. However great the congestion, the poor live in the open, where they improvise, not residences, but places for themselves. These places are as much protagonists as their occupants; the places have their own lives to live and do not, like residences, wait on others. The poor live with the wind, with dampness, flying dust, silence, unbearable noise (sometimes with both; yes, that’s possible!) with ants, with large animals, with smells coming from the earth, rats, smoke, rain, vibrations from elsewhere, rumours, nightfall, and with each other. Between the inhabitants and these presences there are no clear marking lines. Inextricably confounded, they together make up the place’s life.
But more than merely a catalogue of the deprivations suffered by poor people, Berger offers a deeply moral warning against the nihilism of "human cowardice" in the face of poverty. And as a form of everyday resistance he celebrates the worth of storytelling amongst the poor:

The secret of storytelling amongst the poor is the conviction that stories are told so that they may be listened to elsewhere, where somebody, or perhaps a legion of people, know better than the storyteller or the story’s protagonists, what life means. The powerful can’t tell stories: boasts are the opposite of stories, and any story however mild has to be fearless and the powerful today live nervously.

A story refers life to an alternative and more final judge who is far away. Maybe the judge is located in the future, or in the past that is still attentive, or maybe somewhere over the hill, where the day’s luck has changed (the poor have to refer often to bad or good luck) so that the last have become first.

Story-time (the time within a story) is not linear. The living and the dead meet as listeners and judges within this time, and the greater the number of listeners felt to be there, the more intimate the story becomes to each listener. Stories are one way of sharing the belief that justice is imminent. And for such a belief, children, women and men will fight at a given moment with astounding ferocity. This is why tyrants fear storytelling: all stories somehow refer to the story of their fall.

Read the rest.


Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Yes, this is good - I thought so too.

8:15 pm  

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