~~John Berger died today. It is a sad evening for those of us who loved his writing, his presence, his humanity; who loved the weave of art and life that was his way; who loved his mix of curiosity, knowledge, and wisdom.
A few years ago I wrote a little essay about John Berger, which I am re-posting below. There will be many words, may tributes to this great international treasure who touched so many of us in such a profound way. Here are mine, from the past when Berger was alive.
Today, the world is a little less without him, a little diminished. A sad day, indeed.~~
It’s always like this with John Berger’s writing–you turn to it, in moments of intensity. It almost does not make a difference which book you pick off your shelf. You pick one, open it at any page, and start reading. And as you read, your heart is gripped by the words as though you were in the presence of a dear old friend, an old love, who was at once familiar and utterly new.
You turn to the writing. You read on, follow the path of Berger’s digressions and returns. You read on for a page or two, if you will. Or more. It really does not make a difference because you know that you will return to it or some other work at a later time. You know, the writing is always at the reach of your fingertips, there on your shelf, when you are most in need.
In a few minutes, a few pages, Berger has opened a way, offered you sustenance and solace. And for this reason, there is no other living writer like Berger, no other writer to whom you can turn this way, with this kind of abandon. He is for you, and for the generations. Home.
~~From And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos by John Berger~~
Originally home meant the center of the world–not in a geographical, but in an ontological sense. Mircea Eliade has demonstrated how home was a place from which the world could be founded. A home was established, as he says, “at the heart of the real.” In traditional societies, everything that made sense of the world was real; the surrounding choas existed and was threatening, but it was threatening because it was unreal. Without a home at the center of the real, one was not only shelterless, but also lost in non-being, in unreality. Without a home everything was fragmentation.
Home was the center of the world because it was the place where a vertical line crossed with a horizontal one. The vertical line was a path leading upwards to the sky and downwards to the underworld. The horizontal line represented the traffic of the world, all the possible roads leading across the earth to other places. Thus, at home, one was nearest to the gods in the sky and to the dead in the underworld. This nearness promised access to both. And at the same time, one was at the starting point and, hopefully, the returning point of all terrestial journeys.
Emigration does not only invole leaving behind, crossing water, living amogst strangers, but also, undoing the very meaning of the world and–at its most extreme–abandoning oneself to the unreal which is the absurd.
Emigration, when it is not enforced at gunpoint, may of course be prompted by hope as well as desperation…But to emigrate is always to dismantle the center of the world, and so to move into a lost, disoriented one of fragments.