Notes on Confabulations

I recently picked up a book by John Berger, Confabulations — a collection of short, informal essays (almost vignettes). It’s a quick read, and I enjoyed it — I’ve read Berger before, but nothing more recent than 1980 (About Looking), so it was interesting to see what he’s been thinking about lately. Several of the essays were effectively eulogies for friends, the uniqueness and color of which I appreciated:

What Sven was politically has not yet been named — maybe it will be in the next twenty years, when the world transformations taking place today are better understood. For want of a better term, he was content to be called an anarchist. Had he been labelled a terrorist, he would have shrugged his shoulders.

It wasn’t all eulogies, of course. In a different vein, I also appreciated this imagery:

All the town’s trades are connected with water, and the isolation which this implies perhaps explains the physique of its inhabitants. The women and men of Comacchio are recognizably different from their neighbours. Stocky, broad-shouldered, weather-tanned, big-handed, used to bending down, used to pulling on ropes and bailing out, accustomed to waiting, patient. Instead of calling them down-to-earth, we could invent the term: down-to-water.

I like this image, because it reminds me of people I know, and it fits well.

A recurring theme was the state of the world. A particular disdain for corporatist bullshit, which, again, I appreciate. His essay about Rosa Luxemburg had some great quotes, which I think are worth remembering today, when things are tense and shitty:

‘To be a human being’, you say, ‘is the main thing above all else. And that means to be firm and clear and cheerful, yes, cheerful in spite of everything and anything, because howling is the business of the weak. To be a human being means to joyfully toss your entire life in the giant scales of fate if it must be so, and at the same time to rejoice in the brightness of every day and the beauty of every cloud.’

That quote is from one of Rosa’s letters from prison — Berger intersperses the essay with quotes from her, while the structure is itself written as a letter to her. I think it’s a good message, and one worth repeating.

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