Berger

John Berger is a person who has set himself the task of seeing what is true: of bearing witness to and bearing forward these truths. All of his work is an expression of this effort, and takes the form of an attentiveness to life – every facet of life that shows itself to him.
 

Discussion Took place Saturday 16 February

[Texts discussed]
And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos
‘Field’, the closing essay of About Looking

See here for the transcript of our discussion.

 

Our responses to the texts

 Sue

A Hen Cackling

A Hen Cackling

Field

Field

Text response to end of And Our Faces

Written response to the end of And Our Faces…

Morning Basin0001

Morning Basin

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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).

tumblr_mempl6D46S1qk0m6zo1_500
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.

The experience of 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 them.

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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Work resulting from discussion

 

Jonelle:

Our discussion on John Berger culminated on the topic of the nature of a certain type of convergence – that which sets up the conditions for the experience of what he calls an ‘event’. (See our transcript)

The following is the result of my rumination on this.

Sat in an armchair at my open front door in the sun, early afternoon.

A place usually witness only to passing activity, when lingered on, becomes like a stage set, a segmented sample of street, a cross section of horizontals of tarmac, bricks, sky, the rhythmic distribution of chimneys. Above my head electricity wires slice through blue, divvying it up triangularly like a cake. Things make passing appearances: clouds, birds (the collective whip around ffp ffp ffp of wings: a sound pocketed in the quiet), a popcorn wrapper scratching around on the footpath that my socked feet can feel; they rest on a crack which moves out from them and away to the right.

There is a thick curving corner of red brick to my right (my house, the facade of my house – what is this the threshold of? – the face of something which doesn’t resemble it’s face at all; the face bears more resemblance to what it sees than what it contains). The curving corner of brick was the same temperature as my hand when I first touched it; now it is slightly warmer. It is terra cotta and feels rough and bulbous as if lava cooled to make it. 

All of the windows directly opposite me have their blinds shut, but in one of them I see the woman who is going into her house – right beside me to my left – reflected; the woman right beside me is reflected in a window whose blinds are shut across the street.

Birds, collectively, are like clouds in their presence. I want this to be translatable, to describe every moment and movement of their presence in the scene, but can say nothing about it. 

Clouds (like birds) create an experience which is very private but also very other: private because they act as if I alone have glimpsed precisely this formation; we are engaged in an intimate relationship of showing and seeing, and because of the distance covered by or contained in this relationship, which acts like a secret. But then there is the dispersal, the moving on, with which the cloud takes itself off and is now showing something different to somebody else.

A gull punctures the world with its sound.

Another bird – I can’t remember what kind of bird, only its movement – launches from the ground – grabbed by a bend and spring, its slow stride is interrupted, and it is flung into a smoother and more rapid ownership of space, a swifter consumption.

A van pulls up; the woman in the house to my left (who I had seen in the window) comes back out and walks in front of me. There is some trouble with her car and a man gets out of the van, leaving it running as he helps her (a lazy sound that dissolves into the sunshine). She walks back into my vision and says ‘hi’, apologizes for the noise. I can just about see to my right the back of her body as she touches her hand to her head, this stance making a base for her intermittent gestures of frustration. Their words drift in the other direction. The sun on the street, or some other quality – a texture detectable only through its objects – blankets the scene with inevitability which makes it a comfort, like a nuisance one is fond of. It has laid itself down with the simplicity of a sheet.

The van’s open window is right in front of me and the pierce of a harmonica melody comes from it, its tune and the music playing in my kitchen drift-reach for each other, and they mingle here above the tarmac.

2 
 
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One thought on “Berger

  1. Pingback: ArtHub » Field: an investigation into the nature of our engagement with spaces, by means of artistic documentation

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