Today I remember John Berger – one of the Greatest of the Great.
To read in my newspaper that he ‘produced artistic concepts emphatically founded in Marxism’ is embarrassing. Berger, who just died, was an uomo universale who could not be pressed in a pigeon hole, and certainly could not be caught in any hole.
From his masterly novel G – a book that taught me what it is to write and also made of me a critical feminist – to the lyrical Here is where we meet, he has proved himself to be a class apart.
His art analysis could not completely convince me, but the arguments in Ways of Seeing require a thorough refutation. After all, you need not be a fan of abstract art to appreciate the thoughts of a lover of abstract art.
Someone who was able to take the mickey out of all sorts and conditions of men, people with the most varied political backgrounds, was obviously a committed man, not only trying to test the façade of his own opinions, but also their backside.
Someone who spends half his life in France and has seen farmers become industrial producers of electricity, equipped with machinery which should be treated with respect, can understand Berger when he considers the disappearance of the peasantry as ‘perhaps the final stage of the elimination of history itself’.
John Berger did not suffer from any kind of peasant mysticism, but tried to understand what it was that made Europe once and how this is now fading.
He may also have known that the time of the uomo universale is over.