‘The eternal,’ according to Spinoza, ‘is now’, and this book is John Berger writing to the moment. The ‘dispatches’ collected in it exemplify a rare, because brave, form of journalism. They are a way of taking history personally.
‘The present period of history is one of the Wall,’ he writes, for example. ‘When the Berlin one fell, the prepared plans to build walls everywhere were unrolled. Concrete, bureaucratic, surveillance, security, racist walls… The walls cross every sphere, from crop cultivation to healthcare. They exist in the richest metropolises in the world…’
Written between 2002 and 2006, there are notes on a visit to the Palestinian Territories and on the America that now offers the world ‘shock and awe’. The fiction of Andrei Platonov, still little known outside Russia, is explored, as are the work of the great Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet and the music of Dvorák. A film of Pasolini’s, never publicly shown, is reviewed 40 years after it was made.
‘[Berger] writes about what is important, not just interesting,’ Susan Sontag observes in the blurb and her distinction is, now more than ever, to the point. We ‘can choose within ourselves,’ he writes, ‘which side of the wall we are attuned to. It is not a wall between good and evil. Both exist on both sides. The choice is between self-respect and self-chaos.’
It is this unflinching internalization of the bigger picture which makes this kind of writing different. Read Berger attentively for how much more words can do.Horatio Morpurgo