Andy Merrifield pays tribute to John Berger, who passed away aged 90 on 2 January 2017.
John died yesterday. I’ll remember his voice, his laugh, his charm and generosity. His words. Stripped-down words, mystical and carefully chosen words, earthy words, fierce words. They’ll always grab us, make us think, feel and act, piss people off. To weep for John is to weep on the shoulder of life. Remember him, gazing up at Aesop, in front of Velázquez’s great canvas?
He’s intimidating, he has a kind of arrogance. A pause for thought. No, he’s not arrogant. But he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. The presence of Aesop refers to nothing except what he has felt and seen. Refers to no possessions, to no institutions, to no authority or protection. If you weep on his shoulder, you’ll weep on the shoulder of his life. If you caress his body, it will recall the tenderness it knew in childhood.
John didn’t suffer fools gladly, either.
"John Berger...is one of the world’s most vital corresponders" - Ali Smith
As leading radical writer on art John Berger celebrates his 90th birthday this week, he brings a lifetime's engagement with the ideas, artists, and thinkers that have shaped his thinking: Walter Benjamin, Rosa Luxemburg and Bertolt Brecht among them.
To celebrate this milestone we have 40% off all his books until November 9th. See also: our John Berger giveaway competition (with Zed Books and Penguin books) and John Berger at 90: The Verso podcast in collaboration with the London Review Bookshop.
Here we publish the text of a speech given by Ali Smith last year at the British Library, at an event to launch Portraits: John Berger on Art, in honour of his contribution to art and politics.