Monday, June 23, 2008

What I'm Reading: "Hold Everything Dear" by John Berger

An interesting little tome I picked up off the Nashville Public Library "New Arrivals" shelf, its addition to my information diet has been refreshing--in a disturbing but satisfying way. It's Hold Everything Dear: Dispatches on Survival and Resistance by John Berger.

Berger is a globally prominent activist who is concerned with media, blind power, proletariat struggle, and the rift between the humanity of the haves and the have-nots. This collection of very brief essays, all written over the course of the past six years, attempts to make sense of topics like despair and the terrorism it spawns. Digesting this book, savoring its prose, I've read views I've rarely seen espoused in our culture, views which nonetheless strike chords of truth. I'm sure Berger would be among the first to encourage the reader to exercise skepticism, but his prose is seductive, his analogies convincing.

A sampling of essay titles might say more:

  • "War Against Terrorism or Terrorist War?"
  • "Let Us Think About Fear"
  • "The Chorus in Our Heads or Pier Paolo Pasolini"
  • "Flesh and Speeches"
  • and
  • "Ten Dispatches About Place"

These essays are not for the smug. They firmly encourage one to reflect outside the box that our omni-pervasive media wash us into in such unremitting ways. The thoughts therein may drive one to activism, in fact. I jokingly told my wife that if I disappear it's because the powers-that-be discovered I had checked out this book from the library. Here's a quick quote from "The Chorus in Our Heads..." that might offer a taste of Berger's perspectives. He lovingly describes the long-suppressed film, La Rabbia (Italian for "The Rage"), crafted by Pasolini from television footage and narrated by two voices that serve in roles like those of the classic Greek Chorus :

"The film lasts only an hour, an hour that was fashioned, measured, edited forty years ago. And it is in such contrast to the news commentaries we watch and the information fed to us now, that when the hour is over, you tell yourself that it is not only animal and plant species which are being destroyed or made extinct today, but also set after set of our human priorities. The latter are systematically sprayed not with pesticides, but with ethicides -- agents that kill ethics and therefore any notion of history and justice."

Berger, John. Hold Everything Dear: Dispatches on Survival and Resistance. 1. United States: Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc., 2007.

Yup, it's true, in some ways I'll be glad to have finished and returned this book to its shelf. But its messages, and in particular its balanced and concerned treatment of the underlying causes of terrorism--both state-enacted and personally-fomented--will stay with me, both steeling me against hatred in its many guises and reminding me of the humanity of those who commit the most heinous atrocities against others.


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