(My) Selected Fragments on John Berger and Susan Sontag
To Tell A Story 1983 aired on Channel 4’s Voices,
“about story telling, photography and ethics”
-For me the people come out of the language
-And for me the language comes out of the people
S.S. I am really loyal to certain modernist assumptions about art and about literature which I think you have come to question, and abandon the practice... because if I think about early work of fiction of yours like your novel G, you were doing then something that is closer to what I continued to do as a fiction writer, but the stories that you have been writing recently about peasant life (…) are on a very different mode or a very different model
J.B. Because the subject is different I think, is true...
S.S. But haven't you changed? You yourself changed
J.B. I don't know, I had to re-learn to write, that's true. Because the experience of the underprivileged or of peasants is very different from the experience of the privilege and G is a book about them
S.S. But do you consider yourself as a reporter of your experience? I don't feel that I am reporting on my experience at all
J.B. No, no I don't because I believe, I believe absolutely in experience being sharable, I believe the imagination is precisely that. It begins very early in childhood, it begins with the identification of a child, with a toy or with an animal. That capacity of empathy is, it seems to me, the first foot of that social creation which is imagination and in general today there is a kind of failure of nerve in fiction, what do I mean by that? I mean that …
S.S.. Yes, what do you mean by that?
J.B. I mean that most novels probably are really now disguised autobiographies and on the other hand people say, how do you have the right to write about peasants? You are not a peasant... how do you have the right, for you, to write about men? You are not a man, or vice versa. And these questions are very current and the crisis of nerve, a failure of nerve, is that is it not possible to write about what one has not lived or what one has not seen, but don't believe that...
S.S. you think that's why there are so many novels about professors ... or about writers
J.B. yes of course, yes
J.B. I think the novelist is someone who says come and I am going to show you what is happening inside that private house mmm that private heart and it is finally the novel, which is a very small period of the millennia of storytelling, that is about the private and the privilege, which there is not reason when I say there is a great novel, but I think is at the heart of its form, and actually whats happens there is not longer that important in the world anymore
S.S. I couldn't disagree with you more. I mean firstable all the traditions of nineteen century novel writing
J.B. It was important then, very important
S.S. But I think it is important now, I mean I don 't think Zola, or Balzac or Dickens are saying come, I will show you the private as opposed to the public. I think it is precisely that they thought that the private were interrelated in the sense...
J.B. and they were there
S.S. I think they still are
I mean human nature hasn't changed
J.B. No, but the capacity of choices has changed. Novels are about choices. Stories are often about been up against it, when there is almost no choice except how would you react to that... with courage, with cunning, with caution, those sort of choices …. but those big choices and their consequences which is the theme of so so much in novels, those choices are no longer open to most people
S.S. I never believe that, I would never thought that I would come out as a great defender of the modern age, but I don't believe people have fewer choices now, I think in many senses they have much larger choices, one could say that the sense of choice has been devalued , precisely by been so expanded, as perhaps our sense of art has been devalued by the very multiplicity of art products that we are surrounded with through various means of reproduction and dissemination and diffusion of art, but I don't think we have fewer choices, I think we are precisely suffering from a kind of a crisis of imagination or or crises of nerve but I don´t think is because we are more unfree now than we were or we don't make choices about our lives.
J.B. Who is we there? That is the important question (...)