Literary Cultivation and Style

John Berger’s Here is Where We Meet is poignant and elegant. I had read little of Berger’s work but got drawn in by Geoff Dyer’s enthusiasm. This is Berger’s description of being cultivated by an early mentor:

Sometimes there were several, one on top of the other, so that I might chose George Orwell. Down and Out in Paris and London. Marcel Proust. Swann’s Way. Katherine Mansfield. The Garden Party. Lawrence Sterne. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy. Henry Miller. Tropic of Cancer. Neither of us, for different reasons, believed in literary explanations. I never once asked him about what I failed to understand. He never referred to what, given my age [11 years old] and experience, I might find difficult to grasp in these books. Sir Frederick Treves. The Elephant Man and other Reminisces. James Joyce. Ulysses. (An English edition published in Paris.) There was a tacit understanding between us that we learn – or try to learn – how to live partly from books. The learning begins with looking at our first illustrated alphabet, and goes on until we die. Oscar Wilde. De Profundis. St. John of the Cross.

Here is Where We Meet is a memoir, of sorts, and a good place to begin a wider reading of John Berger’s many books.

In a later passage, Berger describes the basis of a successful, for a time, relationship:

For different reasons, the two of us believed that style was indispensable for living with a little hope, and either you lived with hope or in despair. There was no middle way.

Style? A certain lightness. A sense of shame excluding certain actions and reactions. A certain proposition of elegance. The supposition that, despite everything, a melody can be looked for and sometimes found. Style is tenuous however. It comes from within. You can’t go out and acquire it. Style and fashion may share a dream, but they are created differently. Style is about an invisible promise. This is why it requires and encourages a talent for endurance and an ease with time. Style is very close to music.

2 thoughts on “Literary Cultivation and Style

  1. >Well, THAT sounds interesting. I've never read Berger, but I'm a big Dyer fan and if I read Dyer on Berger, I'm sure I'd catch some of the enthusiasm. I'll have to check out Here is Where We Meet.


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