01/21/2018 From A Seventh Man to King: A Street
——2001年，John Berger 75岁生日后不久，BBC Meridian栏目前往他家中做了一个采访，记者是Nick Rankin。并不是说这个采访有多好多全面，当中几乎没有提到关于他的艺术评论的方面，反之重点提及的两本书，更为贴近他彼时所处农村生活的图景以及书写方向：一本是关于移民劳工的A Seventh Man(1975)，另一本是关于流离失所人群的King: A Street story(1999)，当时John Berger刚写完后者，也谈了谈写作当中他所遇到的问题。
我好像是第一次看到比较完整的关于避居昆西的原因说明，也是第一次看到他说，他最自豪的书是A Seventh Man。他试图去填补上一个空白，这个空白存在于那些劳工移民和过去农村生活的缝隙当中。我们能看到他们在大城市的挣扎，但关于过去在农村的经历却是缺失的。2000年A Seventh Man再版时，序言里面，他说起这本书要outdated了，但是并不是说我们的问题都解决了，而是我们遇到了更多新的问题。 而且由于现实原因（工作场所较为私密等），他也没有办法采访到女性劳工。
“Before the poppy flowers, its green calyx is hard like the outer shell of an almond. One day this shell is split open. Three green shards fall to the earth. It is not an axe which splits it open, simply a screwed-up ball of membrane-thin folded petals like rags. As the rags unfold, their colour changes from neonate pink to the most brazen scarlet to be found in the fields. It is as if the force that split the calyx were the need of this red to become visible and to be seen.”(1)
The radical vision of John Berger is rooted in nature and impelled by history. Once upon a time, he was a famous English art critic who made a stimulating television serious called Ways of Seeing, which annoyed many rich people by suggesting that love of art was actually love of money. When John Berger won the Booker Prize nearly 30 years ago for his novel G., he caused some controversy at the prize ceremony in London by denouncing the Booker Company for exploiting the Caribbean(2), and announcing that he would give half of his prize money to the Black Panther movement and would spend the other half on writing a book about migrant workers in Europe. He had already left the city to settle in mountains of France, choosing to put down roots among peasants and shepherds. On the 5th Nov, 2001, John Berger celebrated his 75th birthday, and his publisher Bloomsbury brought out a fat 600 pages selection of his essays edited by Geoff Dyer. John Berger lives with his wife Beverly and his son Yves in a big roof wooden farm house, and I went to interview him there.
When he met me, white hair John Berger was wearing black leathers and carrying a helmet. And soon I was on the back of the rider’s 1100cc motorbike heading south into the mountains.
… -How did you come here? Why did you choose here?
-We came to this village 27 years ago. This house hadn’t been lived in for 20 years. And it belonged to, it still belongs to a peasant, who lives up there, called Louie. And he didn’t want to rent it, because peasants are suspicious of being occupied. But we were looking for a large house because Yves was born, a son. And after hesitating for quite a long while, Louie said yes okay, and rent it to us.
… “The shit slides out of the barrow when it’s upturned with a slurping dead weight. And the foul, sweet stench goads, nags teleologically. The smell of decay and from this—the smell of putrefaction, of corruption. The smell of mortality, for sure. But it has nothing to do—as puritanism, with its loathing for the body, has consistently taught—with shame or sin or evil. Its colours are burnished gold, dark brown, black: the colours of Rembrandt’s painting of Alexander the Great in his helmet.”(3)
… -You made a decision to settle here, and identified with and entered into peasant life. You chose that. You’re born in London, but now this is not a London life.
-When I first came here, I wasn’t thinking about writing a trilogy about peasant life(4). It emerged gradually from the fact that I was beginning to learn so much from the old people, especially the old peasants who lived here. And I became more and more involved in that learning process. After I wrote G., I wrote a book about migrant workers, which was a strange book unlike my many other books, because it’s very difficult to define it into any category. It’s not like stories, economic analysis, political arguments, implement, photograph…
In a strange way, if I was asked, which book of the many books i have written, which i am most proud of, I would say The Seventh Man. I am proud of that book, because it is about migrant workers and it reached them, or a number of them. They read it, and they adopted it. When I was writing that book, I was listening to and getting close to these men. I learned that most of them had come from villages. They were mostly the children of peasants, and they came from those villages because it was not possible to earn a living there. So they came to the metropolises of Western Europa, in order to try to earn a living for themselves and their families, all that have to left behind. I felt that I could understand, maybe articulate, some of their experiences when they arrived in the metropolises and culture shock of that.
But what I found more much difficult to imagine, was the experience that they have left behind in the villages before they left. This is crazy, here you are. You are ignorant about conditions, and not only conditions, but also about the way of experiencing. So I thought I should do something about that. I should try to feel that lacuna. So maybe that was one of the reasons why I said I would try living in the country, not like a tourist, but really live there.
… In my case, subjects choose me, rather than I choosing the subjects. On my last novel, King, which is about the homeless people who live in the streets, and the new poverty which is increasing everywhere.
If I really tries to understand something about mankind, firstly seems to come to terms is that so much about life is about suffering. The positive in life is the attempt to make sense of that suffering, to make not only personal but human sense of that suffering. It’s very very difficult to get close to it. But trying always to get closer and closer to it, I am not saying life is only suffering, but suffering is enormous part of it at all over the time.
One of the problem of that the subject has chosen you, is to find the voice to tell the story, everything depends on finding the right voice. With king, there are three things that have to be avoided about writing about these people who living in the streets. One was charitable pity. Two was to use them for apolitical economic argument. The third problem is to be absolutely not patronising, to write equal with them, and that also means to approach very very close, but not so close as to be prying. Because these people suffer a terrible situation. On one hand, they suffer solitude, and on the other hand, they are totally deprived of privacy. Night and day, they have not privacy. Become close to them, and not to invade their privacy. Many have dogs, they have dogs for several reasons. Because dogs accompany, because under certain circumstances dogs are kind of protection, especially when they are sleeping at night, … and dogs live on the street. So i found king.(5)
John Berger is an unsentimental realist who looks the world stoically. Like all other great artists, he’s never lost the fresh eye of a child and naivety to feel imaginatively for everything that lives. Always a man of left, he’s encouraged by the struggle of the Zapatista movement among the Indians of southern Mexico, and by that spokesman, Subcomandante Marco.(6) We listen to music by Pedro Guerra, and I asked John Berger if Zapatista gave them hope?
music: Chiapas lyric: y miren lo que son las cosas porque para que nos vieran nos tapamos el rostro, para que nos nombraran nos negamos el nombre. Apostamos el presente para tener futuro y para vivir morimos...
(1)选自“Once in Europa” (2)在布克奖的获奖感言中，他抨击了布克奖的赞助者累积财富的贸易方式，认为其贸易和剥削造成了加勒比海地区的贫困。 (3)选自“A load of shit”, “Keeping a Rendezvous” (4)关于欧洲农民劳力移动的三部曲Into Their Labours，包括Pig Earth, Once in Europa, Lilac and Flag。 (5)King的视角是一只狗，观察那些流浪汉的生活，亲近而不窥视。 (6)Zapatista Revolution, 墨西哥Chiapas的政治运动。