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John Berger quotes (showing 1-30 of 94)

“When we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the book are like a roof and four walls. What is to happen next will take place within the four walls of the story. And this is possible because the story's voice makes everything its own.”
John Berger, Keeping a Rendezvous
“Autobiography begins with a sense of being alone. It is an orphan form.”
John Berger
“Every city has a sex and an age which have nothing to do with demography. Rome is feminine. So is Odessa. London is a teenager, an urchin, and in this hasn’t changed since the time of Dickens. Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman.”
John Berger
“You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting “Vanity,” thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for you own pleasure.”
John Berger, Ways of Seeing
“When we suffer anguish we return to early childhood because that is the period in which we first learnt to suffer the experience of total loss. It was more than that. It was the period in which we suffered more total losses than in all the rest of our life put together.”
John Berger
“My heart born naked
was swaddled in lullabies.
Later alone it wore
poems for clothes.
Like a shirt
I carried on my back
the poetry I had read.

So I lived for half a century
until wordlessly we met.

From my shirt on the back of the chair
I learn tonight
how many years
of learning by heart
I waited for you.”
John Berger, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos
“To be born a woman has to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men. The social presence of women is developed as a result of their ingenuity in living under such tutelage within such a limited space. But this has been at the cost of a woman's self being split into two. A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another....One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object -- and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.”
John Berger, Ways of Seeing
“The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.”
John Berger, Ways of Seeing
“To be desired is perhaps the closest anybody in this life can reach to feeling immortal.”
John Berger
“Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.”
John Berger
“A man's presence suggests what he is capable of doing to you or for you. By contrast, a woman's presence . . . defines what can and cannot be done to her.”
John Berger, Ways Of Seeing
“The past is the one thing we are not prisoners of. We can do with the past exactly what we wish. What we can't do is to change its consequences.”
John Berger
“Your lips, beloved, are like a honeycomb: honey and milk are under the tongue. And the smell of your clothes is like the smell of my home.”
John Berger
“The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied...but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which as beggar is a reminder of nothing.”
John Berger
“If every event which occurred could be given a name, there would be no need for stories.”
John Berger, Once In Europa
“What any true painting touches is an absence - an absence of which without the painting, we might be unaware. And that would be our loss.”
John Berger, The Shape of a Pocket
“Never again shall a single story be told as though it were the only one.”
John Berger
“Whenever the intensity of looking reaches a certain degree, one becomes aware of an equally intense energy coming towards one through the appearance of whatever it is one is scrutinizing.”
John Berger
“Glamour cannot exist without personal social envy being a common and widespread emotion.”
John Berger
“Everything in life, is a question of drawing a life, John, and you have to decide for yourself where to draw it. You cant draw it for others. You can try, of course, but it doesn't work. People obeying rules laid down my somebody else is not the same thing as respecting life. And if you want to respect life, you have to draw a line.”
John Berger, Here Is Where We Meet: A Fiction
“What reconciles me to my own death more than anything else is the image of a place: a place where your bones and mine are buried, thrown, uncovered, together. They are strewn there pell-mell. One of your ribs leans against my skull. A metacarpal of my left hand lies inside your pelvis. (Against my broken ribs your breast like a flower.) The hundred bones of our feet are scattered like gravel. It is strange that this image of our proximity, concerning as it does mere phosphate of calcium, should bestow a sense of peace. Yet it does. With you I can imagine a place where to be phosphate of calcium is enough.”
John Berger
“When he painted a road, the roadmakers were there in his imagination, when he painted the turned earth of a ploughed field, the gesture of the blade turning the earth was included in his own act. Whenever he looked he saw the labour of existence; and this labour, recognised as such, was what constituted reality for him. (On Vincent Van Gogh)”
John Berger
“To be naked is to be oneself.
To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognised for oneself.”
John Berger, Ways of Seeing
“History always constitutes the relation between a present and its past. Consequently fear of the present leads to mystification of the past”
John Berger, Ways of Seeing
“The impulse to paint comes neither from observation nor from the soul (which is probably blind) but from an encounter: the encounter between painter and model: even if the model is a mountain or a shelf of empty medicine bottles.”
John Berger, The Shape of a Pocket
“The publicity image steals her love of herself as she is, and offers it back to her for the price of the product.”
John Berger
“So time doesn't count, and place does?' I said this to tease her. When I was a man, I liked teasing her and she went along with it, consenting, for it reminded us both of a sadness that had passed.”
John Berger, Here Is Where We Meet: A Fiction
“Oil painting did to appearances what capital did to social relations. It reduced everything to the equality of objects. Everything became exchangeable because everything became a commodity.”
John Berger, Ways of Seeing
“To remain innocent may also be. to remain ignorant.”
John Berger, Ways of Seeing

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