Distant Cousins

Boring or beguiling, Berger’s writing invites reaction. Like his protege, Geoff Dyer, Berger is always discursive, roaming where inspiration takes him. Bento’s Sketchbook is a delightful indulgence (a folly in the original sense of the word), inspired by Spinoza’s sketchbook, an imaginary object, Berger uses it as a vehicle to meditate on art, people and politics.

I am struck with how succinctly the following excerpt captures the ‘why’ of book blogging (for me, at least), not that this is Berger’s intention. A little context: the narrator is unable to borrow The Brothers Karamazov from the municipal library as both copies are out.

I wonder who’s reading The Brothers Karamazov here today. Do the two of them know each other? Unlikely. Are they both reading the book for the first time? Or has one of them read it and, like myself, wants to reread it?

Then I find myself asking an odd question: if either of those readers and myself passed one another – in the suburban market on Sunday, coming out of the metro, on a pedestrian crossing, buying bread – might we perhaps exchange glances that we’d both find slightly puzzling? Might we, without recognising it, recognise one another?

When we are impressed and moved by a story, it engenders something that becomes, or may become, an essential part of us, and this part, whether it be small or extensive, is, as it were, the story’s descendant or offspring.

What I’m trying to define is more idiosyncratic and personal than a mere cultural inheritance; it is as if the bloodstream of the read story joins the bloodstream of one’s life story. It contributes to our becoming what we become and will continue to become.

Without any of the complications and conflicts of family ties, these stories that shape us are our coincidental, as distinct from biological, ancestors.

Somebody in this Paris suburb, perhaps sitting tonight in a chair and reading The Brothers Karamazov, may already, in this sense, be a distant cousin.

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