4. Hold Everything Dear by John Berger

This collection of essays from John Berger subtitled, ‘Dispatches on Survival and Resistance’, mostly focuses on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the war on terror, and other recent acts of violence and destruction, like Hurricane Katrina. Berger is often described as a cultural theorist, and I previously read his book Ways of Seeing in a college course – we used Berger’s description of women as objects and the ‘internalization of the patriarchal male gaze’ as a framework for reading Flaubert and looking at 19th century French painting. On the whole, Berger’s writing is a lot like that – you have to be in the right frame of mind to take him seriously, and he packs a lot of thought into each sentence. You might not agree with a single word he says, or believe that he takes his analysis waaaaaay too far, but Berger’s writing raises important questions – about patriarchy, dominance, resistance and humanity.

I read this on the beach, which I wouldn’t quite recommend. Berger is not light summer reading, but it is good for reading in short spurts. Each chapter is a different short essay, written at a different time and place, and the topic usually changes from chapter to chapter.

I particularly liked Wanting Now, the opening chapter, which talks about revolution and the desire for change and resistance to tyranny. I thought it was a great way to open the book, and this chapter definitely gives a preview of what came after.

“Civil society is learning and beginning to practice the guerrilla tactics of political resistance…struggles against injustice, struggles for survival, for self-respect, for human rights, should never be considered merely in terms of their immediate demands, their organizations, or their historical consequences. They cannot be reduced to ‘movements’. A movement describes a mass of people collectively moving towards a definite goal, which they either achieve or fail to achieve. Yet such a description ignores, or does not take into account, the countless personal choices, encounters, illuminations, sacrifices, new desires, griefs and, finally, memories, which the movement brought about, but which are, in the strict sense, incidental to that movement. The promise of a movement is its future victory; whereas the promises of the incidental moments are instantaneous.”

I couldn’t help but read this in light of the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa which have taken a new turn in Egypt in the past few days. I don’t live in Egypt, but here, we talk a lot about the movement (here, in Egypt, and elsewhere), and what brought people together, the impact of their protests, and how they can continue to rally for change. The difficulties of creating lasting social change are multitudinous, and not frequently addressed in the media – people calling what’s currently going on in Egypt a ‘coup’ are mistaken (and also somewhat right – the Egyptian constitution did not have a process to remove the president without parliament) – the process of political resistance and change is long, and making a transition from an autocracy to a democracy isn’t easy, nor is it quick. (It frequently involves lots of missteps). But what I loved about this opening chapter, just 2 pages long, was how much was packed in there – he spoke about desire and freedom, and these short words really opened up the book for his treatment of America’s positioning as a global super power, abuses of power in the war on terror, guerrilla warfare, and his very strong ideas about Israel and Palestine.

I think it’s important to note that if you don’t agree with his viewpoint – that Palestine is oppressed, violently and bitterly, by Israel, you’ll have a hard time reading a large portion of this book. Many of Berger’s eloquent thoughts about desire, wanting, and human triumph are couched in discourse about Palestine, and I think a lot of people would have a hard time separating that from personal opinion on the matter. However, his chapters on desire, particularly Another Side of Desire, which talks about desire as a radical plot, a conspiracy of two to shield one another from the pain of the world, are extremely thought provoking, and although potentially cheesy, still interesting.

I wasn’t a big fan of most of the essays: only five of the sixteen chapters really spoke to me, but I still very much enjoyed the book as a whole. I borrowed this from a friend, and in speaking about it beforehand, he warned me that both he and another friend had both only enjoyed five or six of the essays, saying that most of the others were not worth giving too much attention. I would agree, but even in the essays that didn’t particularly grab my attention, Berger still made interesting points about hegemony, terrorism, love, desire, the media, and social connectivity.

Pages: 140/1310


~ by lefaquin on July 4, 2013.

One Response to “4. Hold Everything Dear by John Berger”

  1. […] I couldn’t help but read this in light of the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa which have taken a new turn in Egypt in the past few days. If you want to hear more about that, and find out why I still gave this book four stars, even though I only liked five of the sixteen essays, check out the rest on my blog! […]

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