Berger responses

These are our responses to John Berger’s texts that we chose to discuss. They were made in preparation for the discussion, which took place on 16 February. Details of both texts and discussion can be found here.
Our responses to the texts


A Hen Cackling

A Hen Cackling



Text response to end of And Our Faces

Written response to the end of And Our Faces…

Morning Basin0001

Morning Basin


Jonelle : The time of the hare and the time of the tortoise
[This is a tracking of my thought process: an interspersing of quotes (in italics), observations, memories, associations. I found myself ruminating on the ‘event’ that Berger describes in Field, and applying to it the impact of time upon space explored in And Our Faces… ]

Often the first event which fixes your attention is more obvious than the subsequent ones. Having noticed the dog, you notice a butterfly. Having noticed the horses, you hear a woodpecker and then see it fly across the corner of the field. You watch a child walking and when [s]he has left the field deserted and eventless, you notice a cat jump down into it from the top of a wall. 

One of my strongest childhood memories is of a field near my house (the house that I lived in then, but which my father still lives in and I still think of as my house).

I can not recall my walk to or from the field (although I know intimately what the stretch of road looks like and I can easily journey it like a visual mapping).

Neither can I recall any accomplices (although I was often accompanied on my adventures by neighbouring friends, and can guess at who would have been with me).

The field lay long beside the road (the road used to be narrow, knarled and lumpy, and was made of canopied trees and the fresh zingy smell of horse shit. It has since been widened and a bypass runs above it, not far from the field).

a photograph taken from under the bypass

It sloped dramatically (was it really dramatic?) across the middle. I remember with particular gravity its perimeters; corrugated metal things would crop up along them, planting an unsettling awareness of the land’s purpose, its absent farmer and his animals (‘the farmer’ was always my enemy; he did not understand my adventures, because he did not understand the field).

As I wrote about this memory, a hierarchical formalism established itself: The bracketed descriptions are associational elaborations or thoughts about my memory, which I bring to it now. What I have not bracketed is the memory itself: This exists in me untouched, a capsule, as the visual equivalent of the texture of total freedom and happiness. It is what I own of things which cannot be touched.

You watch a child walking and when [s]he has left the field deserted and eventless, you notice a cat jump down into it from the top of a wall.

Both descriptions (Berger’s of the event of the field and mine of my memory of the field) are of parentheses of experience within the passing of time, which are exempt from interpretation by events outside of the parentheses.

His description reads almost like stage instructions, and he does liken the conditions of the field to those of a theatre-in-the-round. What he gives is a description of the event of a field and how the first punctum of this event makes a motion like a breast stroke forging an expanded awareness of the field. This punctum is activated when our conscious time meets and fills out the space of the field; when they occupy the same dimensions, as he describes it. Time fitting the space, the two conjoining.

Sight and light
race towards each other,
and from their embrace
is born the day,
eyes open
tall as a foal.

It is significant that there is a train running through the field that Berger describes.

I think of a train running through this field, the one that I remember.
I think then of all the fields that I have seen from trains.

And I think of things which cannot understand each other because they constitute different times.

The time of the hare and the time of the tortoise.

So how can we represent an experience in parentheses, which does not take place inside narrative time?

I’ve been reading Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, which features a musing on the difference between a literary, or more narrative type of telling a story, and a cinematic telling.

Literature is analysis after the event… To show a woman loving a man one should show her cooking a meal for him or opening a bottle of wine for the meal, while she waits for his ring at the door. Or waking in the morning before he does to see his face change from the calm of sleep into a smile of welcome. Yes. To be repeated a thousand times. But that isn’t literature. Probably better as a film. Yes, the physical quality of life, that’s living, and not the analysis afterwards, or the movements of discord or premonition. A shot in a film: Ella slowly peeling an orange, handing Paul yellow segments of the fruit, which he takes, one after another, thoughtfully, frowning: he is thinking of something else.

This kind of event cannot be fully represented in a literary way because it is not susceptible to the revisions that narrative time is. Because it is preverbal, so that words can only point to it. Berger suggests the type of writing that can approach such an experience when he talks about being most influenced, as a writer, by the cinema. He likes its type of editing and its way of just simply showing, of offering. It is more of an enactment of the forming of these experiences, of these repositories; it shows them filling up, conveying the circumstances which gave birth to it.

I remember Alfred Stieglitz’s Equivalents, and find in them expressions of the same type of event as Berger’s Field.

I think he thought of them as responsive gestures to this kind of convergence – of the time of consciousness filling its perceived space. Except that his site of inquiry, instead of being a field, was the sky, and its clouds.

04_Stieglitz_Equivalent_1925 image.ashx

The field that you are standing before appears to have the same proportions as your own life.


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