Monday, April 04, 2005

A Radical Returns

It seems appropriate to round off the serialisation of John Berger's essay "That Have Not been Asked" with this
profile of him in yesterday's Observer. It is written in anticipation of the celebration of his work - "Here Is Where We Meet" - which begins in London next week. I really hope to make the long journey to catch some of the events.

Sean O'Hagan's profile is warm and appreciative and does offer a real sense of the formative influence on John Berger. In it, Berger reflects on defining moments in his life: his schooling in the "monstrous institutions" of the British boarding school system; "the first time I wrote publicly" when penning letters for working-class soldiers in Northern Ireland; his famous tirade against Booker McConnell after winning their prize for G; and, of course, his decision to decamp to rural France. In sharing some of his experience of living between worlds, I understood fully his reasoning for the move and have tried, perhaps with only partial success, to learn from his example:
For me, it was a choice. I have never had any of the homesickness or suffering that goes with exile, not even an echo of that experience.... I went there to learn and to listen in order to write, not to speak on their behalf. I wanted to touch something that had a relevance way beyond the French Alps. I was homing in on a point that touched a nerve bud about a very important development in contamporary world history.
I like that phrase, "homing in". It is something that appeals to me - to allow experience and thought to immerse themselves somewhere deep inside. As Berger eloquently says, that journey is the beginning of the possibility of solidarity with others.


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