Saturday, January 07, 2017

Always, John: In Memoriam John Berger 1926-2017

Photo: The Guardian 
“A presence, a visible presence, is sometimes most eloquently conveyed by a disappearance.”— John Berger 

In the spring of 2015, by the good graces of mutual friends, a small parcel traveled from my home in Portland, Oregon to John Berger’s home in France. Included in the parcel was a brief letter:

“Because I have read, admired, and drawn immense inspiration from your work for many years now, I feel I have simply too much to say to you — and hardly know where to start — so I will let the enclosed book do the saying, mostly. … There are some few glistening gossamer threads linking this work to yours. Without those strong fibers, I’m not sure the book would ever have been imagined.”

That book was Partisans, a philosophical novel in which Janos Lavin, the main character from John’s own debut novel A Painter of Our Time (1959), is referenced as a real artist. But that’s just one point of connection. John’s body of work inspires Partisans throughout and I wanted him to know this. Since I’d published Partisans myself in samizdat fashion — there would be no promotion and no reviews — he would only know if I told him.

At first I wasn’t sure how to address my letter. We’d never met, but “Mr. Berger” wasn’t right, nor was “Dear John.” After much thought, I settled on “Dear John Berger.” It felt most natural, finally, to rely on the name’s printed incarnation, the name as it appeared in all those books I’d been reading for so long.

John’s reply arrived a few weeks later, a handwritten note in a small white envelope. He’d signed himself “Always, John.” That’s how I think of him now, so that’s how I write of him here.

Continue Reading "Aways, John" HERE