Tag Archives: John Berger

REAR VIEW MIRROR #2

“All this is what makes them marginal. The space which they inhabit is artificial. Hence their tendency to bundle towards the edge of it. (Beyond its edges there may be real space.) In some cages the light is equally artificial. In all cases the environment is illusory. Nothing surrounds them except their own lethargy or hyperactivity. They have nothing to act upon.” So says John Berger about the creatures in a zoo in his influential essay, “Why Look at Animals?”  30 years after its publication, he might as well be talking about us.  What happened?  Stateside, Berger was — and still is — a seldom discussed intellectual.  In his native England, he is known for his BBC television series “Ways of Seeing” which combined close-readings of canonical art with cultural critique.  But Berger has also authored thirteen novels, among them the 1972 Booker Prize winning “G” and the 2008 Booker nominated “From A to X.”   His “Into Their Labours” trilogy documents the lives of peasants in the small Alps village of Quincy, where Berger relocated after leaving Britain in 1962.  Berger is a rarity, the critic who creates — well.  His lefty humanism is singular: a mashup of Georg Lukacs’ theory, Emile Zola’s realism and the high-low restlessness of poet John Ashbery — and seems, to me at least, to contain some antidote to the post-modern blues.  Here, in this essay, the writer Michael Powers discusses T-Mobile’s “Home for the Holidays” advertisement campaign, Cary Foulkes, Jesus toast, Jorie Graham, David Foster Wallace and the “promise of total semiotic freedom” as he searches to find a place for Berger’s fiction in the age of now. . . . —Andrew Zornoza Ways of Singing: Belonging to No Place.  Voice and Context in John Berger’s “Into Their Labours” Trilogy. By Michael Powers           In a recent television commercial for T-Mobile, pegged to the 2011 holiday shopping season, a young woman, blonde, very pretty in one of the conventional ways, rides up an escalator in a suburban shopping mall. She is wearing a satin or satin-esque dress—short, sleeveless, seasonally out-of-place—the specific pink of which is the only clue thus far as to what is being sold here. She is singing—softly, contemplatively, as if to herself—Robert Allen and Al Stillman’s secular Christmas classic, “Home for the Holidays.”  In a moment she is passed by a cluster of four more women on the down escalator, all of the same approximate age, wearing the same dress, all very pretty in other conventional ways, singing harmony. At this point the game is up. We know—as do the mall shoppers, whose delighted, anticipatory faces the camera keeps showing us—that some highly orchestrated spectacle has been prepared for us, and is about to unfold. When girl number one reaches the top of the escalator, she is suddenly joined by dozens of women running in double rows from side alleys. They are of all sizes and colors, some of them not pretty in any of the conventional ways. They are all wearing the same vaguely luminescent pink dress, and they are all singing, so that what began with one slightly melancholy voice has swelled to a rousing and joyful chorus. Now the camera pans up to the mall’s top level, where a large black woman begins to belt out a gospel solo that both transcends and transforms the familiar song. She is very good. Her voice is a force totally separate from everything else that’s happened here. It rises to the height of the mall’s glass ceiling, and now everyone is clapping and…

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