“Love for our neighbors, being made of creative attention, is analogous to genius.” -Simone Weil
The story is from Bentoʼs Sketchbook, How Does the Impulse to Draw Something Begin? (John Berger, Pantheon Books, 2011 pp.120-131). It is a personal story, of how he gave away his Sho Japanese brush to a Cambodian woman, an artist and a refugee from the Vietnam War, the Khmer Rouge, and the American bombings. Berger met her at a swimming pool in Paris where they both regularly swim. The woman, L__, suffers from arthritis; her husband always helps her in and out of the pool. In return for the gift, she makes Berger a picture of a bird indigenous to Southeast Asia, a mésange bleue (blue tit).
In The Shape of a Pocket, Berger writes of the need to mount pockets of resistance against “the inhumanity of the new world economic order.” Walter Brueggemann calls it he script of “technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism that socializes us all. “...military consumerism cannot make us safe and it cannot make us happy. We may be the unhappiest society in the world” (Brueggemann, 19 theses). One of the means of resisting the script, for Berger, is the process of making art, a way of sorting through the overwhelming events and images of our time, “a series of exchanges [that] strengthen each of us in our conviction that what is happening to the world today is wrong, and that what is often said about it is a lie.”
The musicians in the film represent artists who act as receivers, who filter the pain, numbness, and joy of existence through the creative process. I was moved by the way these musicians, Karin Redekopp Edwards and Anne Monson, performed with such compassion, and grace. Their performance is a prayer, you can see it on their faces, and in their very being. In their bodies, they demonstrate the resistance that we are called to, that Berger continually points toward.
John Berger has been my favorite writer for a long time, over 25 years. For me, he possesses a unique voice. As a writer, a novelist, and an art historian, his prose is beautiful, poetic, and lyrical. He deeply appreciates the traditional project of art. He celebrates it's sensual aspects; he loves beauty and color. He redeems art as a gift as opposed to a commodity, or a spectacle. At the same time, he is relentless in his political advocacy, and in his quest for justice. And so he helps me know how to be.