FROM THE GUARDIAN
In praise of … John Berger
John Berger’s most tangible influences were that tiny band of intellectuals who combined fine-art criticism with a social conscience: John Ruskin; Oscar Wilde; Walter Benjamin. Great writers all, and 82-year-old Berger is their equal. Indeed, that was true as early as 1972, when he published Ways of Seeing, the classic work of art criticism that became a founding text of cultural studies and still has a huge influence on art teachers and their students. What is most gratifying about the report we publish today is that Berger still holds to the humane, generous values set down in that book, rather than make that long, cliched voyage to being a reactionary with a dessicated heart. The archive of one of the greatest thinkers in postwar Britain – a Booker-winning novelist, an artist, a critic – would have fetched a usefully-high price from any number of American universities, but Berger has given it for free to the British Library. All he wants is for the BL’s representative to help him with some farmwork. That is a typically bit of puckishness from a man who, when he claimed the Booker for his novel G, delivered a tirade of an acceptance speech against the event’s corporate sponsors and promptly handed over half his prize money to the Black Panthers. Gestures like that distracted (how could they not?) attention from his aphorisms such as “Nobody had ever sworn in paint before Picasso”. A sharp, bold statement – but it is also generous, helping the reader see the work under discussion. Those same qualities are true of its author.
To read more about John Berger donating his archive to the British Museum click here
John Berger is the author of the Booker longlisted From A to X: A Story in Letters out now in paperback. Click here to read more about the book from the Verso website.