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Posts Tagged ‘John Berger’

John Berger on ‘Bento’s Sketchbook’

November 22, 2011 | by

Photograph by Jean Mohr.

The British author and artist John Berger (G., To the Wedding, Here Is Where We Meet, Ways of Seeing, Another Way of Telling) has for decades been writing books that are one of a kind: impassioned, big-hearted, politically engaged meditations on art and history, creativity and experience. Fluidly moving between fiction and essay, art criticism and memoir, Berger has emerged as a sort of Zen master of the written word. “Those who read or listen to our stories see everything as through a lens. This lens is the secret of narration, and it is ground anew in every story, ground between the temporal and the timeless,” he writes. “In our brief mortal lives, we are grinders of these lenses.” His new book, Bento’s Sketchbook, takes the life and work of the seventeeth-century philosopher Benedict “Bento” Spinoza—who earned his living, coincidentally, as a lens-grinder in Holland—as the inspiration for reflections on subjects ranging from ripe quetsch plums to Japanese Shoh paintbrushes and his Honda CBR 1100 motorcycle. I recently spoke to Berger by phone in France. Read More »

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From the Cloakroom, at the Booker

October 20, 2011 | by

Julian Barnes by Ross MacGibbon.

For the real action at this year’s Man Booker Prize, you had to hit the cloakroom. For much of the evening, along with correspondents from all the major newspapers, I was sequestered in a large room in the palatial spread of the Guildhall. It was only when I ventured downstairs that recognizable faces attached to tuxedos and evening gowns began to drift in from the dinner. I ran across one former winner, dreamily improvising at an invisible keyboard while explaining how relieved he was to belong to what he called the great continuity of the prize; a well-known literary editor roamed the corridors, warily peering from right to left in the manner of a displaced meerkat; and Anne Robinson, host of The Weakest Link, was huddled against a wall, unusually hushed by the seashell allure of her cellphone. Read More »

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Staff Picks: Papa, Pig Earth

July 30, 2010 | by

What we’ve been reading this week.

  • I wrapped up A Farewell to Arms just in time to enjoy the Hemingway look-alikes at Sloppy Joe’s in Key West, Florida. Kudos to Charles Bicht, Papa 2010. —Stephen Andrew Hiltner
  • First published in 1935—but set in the 1880s—A House and Its Head is a late, obsidian instance of Victorian Survivor Literature. It concerns a tyrannical father, his idle grown children, and the young second wife he brings home to them. Imagine The Way of All Flesh written by a woman under the influence of Oscar Wilde. What I and everyone else especially like about Ivy Compton-Burnett is her dialogue. Her characters make asides, they soliloquize, they turn epigrams, and yet the effect isn't exactly stagey. (As Oscar liked to say, “Art doesn’t imitate life; life imitates Shakespeare, as best it can.”) —Lorin Stein

  • I visited Cuba for the first time in January. On Revolution Day, July 26, I read about Fidel Castro’s surprise appearance in public and the rest of the coverage of the holiday I could find. Unsatisfied, I found and read “Cuba—A Way Forward,” the riveting, deeply distressing report from Daniel Wilkinson, Deputy Director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch and Nik Steinberg, a researcher there, in the New York Review of Books. It makes me desperately sad to think about the amazing people I met in Havana that have almost no chance of reading Yoani Sánchez’s incredible blog, even though they live in Havana, as she does. Wilkinson and Steinberg are forceful and eloquent on the reality of the political situation in Cuba: “It is hard to think of a US policy with a longer track record of failure. The embargo has caused much hardship to the Cuban people but done nothing to loosen the Castros’ hold on power. Instead it has provided the Cuban government an excuse for the country’s problems.” —Caitlin Roper

  • I’ve been following the debate surrounding Odyssey, Andrew Wylie’s latest venture in publishing e-books with Amazon. As an observer, I find it upsetting that the publishing world is squabbling over backlist e-book rights. But do I blame them? The pie is shrinking for everyone. Except Amazon. —Thessaly La Force

  • I’ve been reading Pig Earth, John Berger’s cycle of stories, essays, and poems about peasant life in the Savoyard village where Berger settled with his family in the mid-seventies. This cycle is also a study in oral tradition, and of life in a place where nobody has any secrets. It is also—according to Wikipedia—a novel. But I’ll keep you posted. —L. S.

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