(2007).Somebody enquires: are you still a Marxist? Never beforehas the devastation caused by the pursuit of prot, asdened by capitalism, been more extensive than today. Almost everybody knows this. How then is it possible notto heed Marx who prophesied and analysed thedevastation...? Yes, I'm still amongst other things aMarxist.
In 1972, he won the Booker Prize for his fourth novel, 'G.' He usedthe platform to castigate Booker-McConnell for the sources of itswealth in the Caribbean sugar trade and gave half his prize money tothe Black Panthers as an act of reparation. (The Panther activist whoaccompanied Berger to the award ceremony was alarmed by hisintensity. ‘Keep it cool, man,’ he whispered, ‘keep it cool.’)The same year, he made a television series which turned that samearticulate anger on establishment narratives of art history.
Ways of Seeing
was an attack on Kenneth Clark's
(1969), alsoproduced by the BBC. Clark had offered a grand tour of the Westerntradition, introduced from the study of his country house,interspersed with globe-trotting location sequences which would
4John Berger, 'Ten Dispatches About Place' in
Hold Everything Dear: Dispatches onSurvival and Resistance
become the template for big-budget documentary series. By contrast,Berger stands against a blue-screen in a studio, and this is used not totransport him to any pre-lmed backdrop, but to place the mechanicsof television in shot, questioning the ways in which it can be used tolead an audience.His subject is the mystication of art, the ‘meaninglessgeneralisations’ by which professional critics deect attention from thecontent of a painting and the questions it might open up about theworld. His delivery is intense, but also playful, driven by curiosity. Youhave the sense of witnessing thought in progress, rather than thepresentation of a completed worldview. He ends the rst episode bywarning the viewer to treat his arguments, too, with scepticism.The series was repeated twice that year on BBC2 and theaccompanying book became required reading for a generation of artschool undergraduates. In an age when there were three channels tochoose between, its presenter had become, if not a household name,at least a recognisable face for a signicant part of the viewing public.So the Berger who settled in the Haute Savoie was a public gure,an acclaimed and controversial writer, an intellectual of the rst rank –- in as much as such statements can ever be meaningful. When sucha gure leaves the city for life in a remote village, this invitesquestions. What is he going in search of? Or trying to escape from?