John Berger RIP

January 3, 2017 at 12:23 am (Art and design, culture, literature, Marxism, modernism, posted by JD)

Image result for picture John Berger

From: Felix Stalder
Date: 2 January 2017
Subject: <nettime> John_Berger (5 November 1926 – 2 January 2017)

John Berger is dead. He died today, at the age of 90. Obits are surely
being written right now. However, Sally Potter’s birthday thoughts
from last November seem a more apt and personal way of remembering.
“Ways of Seeing was, together with Robert Hughes’ “Shock of the New”,
one of the first books about art I read as teenager. It stayed with me
ever since.

As if as a testament to his continued relevance, the LA Review of
Books published today a long article on his theory of art.

That theory evolved considerably between the 1950s and the 2010s.
Yet two threads hold it together with the tenacity of spider silk: a
critique of the political economy of art and a sophisticated account
of its human value, each rooted in a committed but elastic Marxism.

A Marxist art criticism of any real subtlety has to be elastic,
because it must deal with a problem Marx himself diagnosed but
failed to solve. Berger puts it like this:

A question which Marx posed but could not answer: If art in the last
analysis is a superstructure of an economic base, why does its power
to move us endure long after the base has been transformed? Why,
asked Marx, do we still look towards Greek art as an ideal? He began
to answer the question […] and then broke off the manuscript and
was far too occupied ever to return to the question.

H/t: Bruce R

1 Comment

  1. John Cunningham, said,

    Letter to the Guardian (unpublished):

    Dear Sir or Madam,

    John Berger deserves better than Michael McNay’s niggardly and mean-spirited obituary (Guardian, Wednesday, 4 January 2017). McNay seems unable to understand that one can be an artist and a Marxist at the same time and although the relationship between the two may, at times, be uneasy, they are hardly incompatible. He may disagree with Berger’s analysis of Franz Hals’s last two paintings but needs to offer more than a dismissive snipe about Berger’s supposed ‘fanciful account of a kind of class stand-off’ or the meaningless notion that the Marxist dialectic distorted his viewpoint. Overall, McNay seems to divide the artist into a bad Berger (the ‘dogmatic’ ‘Ways of Seeing’) and a ‘good’ Berger (everything post ‘G’) where he finally comes to understand that Marxism is not an ‘infallible cure for the world’s ills’, an idea which Berger never espoused, as any sensitive perusal of his ouevre will demonstrate. Finally, why no mention of Berger’s 2008 novel ‘From A to X: A Story in Letters’, in my humble opinion one of his very best pieces of writing?

    John Cunningham

    PS: here’s McNay’s piece:

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