John Berger was a revolutionary writer. His most well-known work is perhaps Ways of Seeing, a criticism of western cultural aesthetics which redefined the way people looked at art, but he also won the 1972 Booker Prize for his novel G. and donated half his prize money to the radical African-American movement, the Black Panthers.
Here, we remember the influential writer through his own words:
“When we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the book are a like a roof and four walls. What is to happen next will take place within the four walls of the story. And this is possible because the story’s voice makes everything its own.”
“Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.”
“The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.”
“We only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice.”
“The past is one thing we are not prisoners of. We can do with the past exactly what we wish. What we can’t do is to change its consequences.”
“The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich.”
“You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting Vanity, thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure.”
“To be desired is perhaps the closest anybody in this life can reach to feeling immortal.”
“The camera relieves us of the burden of memory. It surveys us like God, and it surveys for us. Yet no other god has been so cynical, for the camera records in order to forget.
“Every city has a sex and an age which have nothing to do with demography. Rome is feminine. So is Odessa. London is a teenager, an urchin, and in this hasn’t changed since the time of Dickens. Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman.”
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