The great John Berger passed away just a few days ago on the 2nd of January. He was a wonderfully prolific writer who made art history, the way we see the lives of artists and their productions, come alive. He was a playwright and a novelist.
On a personal level, though, three of his “poetic essays” affected me most: And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief As Photos (1992); The Shape of A Pocket (2003); and Hold Everything Dear (2008). I don’t know what else to call these three works because Berger does much more than, in the original sense of the word, “assay” or “essay” his topics.
Berger had an extraordinary ability to shatter boundaries: the frameworks we choose to render invisible and apolitical to ourselves and others. He was an iconoclast who shattered the boundaries of genre, refusing to accept the usual, framed ways of seeing literary (and painterly) forms.
These three “poetic essays” are prose meditations that distill at points into love poems, intimate and public, that reflect on eros as well as agape, the ethics that bind us to one another. What I will miss most is his ability to depict the fragility and sturdiness of life—that and his reminders about the darkness of the age in which we live.
Here are two obits: