Books · Political

Visions of Desire

Bento's SketchbookBento’s Sketchbook by John Berger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From book to book my progress is haphazard. Occasionally I look for a link, more often a contrast: fiction after feminist theory, poetry after history. Yet links unanticipated are made. After reading
The Lesbian Postmodern
I moved on to this, and Elizabeth’s Grosz’s lovely essay on refiguring desire as creative via Spinoza, gave me a silver thread, an eager intent, to follow into Berger’s quotations of the philosopher here, a book which takes off from the point of Spinoza’s lost sketchbook and floats freely hither and thither from there.

Berger’s drawings are so eloquent of the tension felt in drawing, the tension of space, object, substances interlocking, dynamic, relational. I like the fruits best: the hanging smoke-blue plums, the split fig. Another link: like Diego Rivera, quoted in Frida, Berger describes the act of drawing or impulse to draw as ‘something like a visceral function… independent of the conscious will’. Drawing comes before language, certainly before writing.

Sometimes I am uncomfortable about the power of Berger’s gaze. He describes the gaze steering a motorcycle and I am uncomfortably aware not of the rider’s vulnerability but that of the bodies Berger sees, describes, draws, exposes.

Some of the heterogenous reveries though have not only poetic grace notes, but the insistent melody of political conviction. My favourite is the one in the discount supermarket, which Berger describes as dedicated to theft, as opposed to a street market, which revolves around the promise of a bargain, an agreement between two people face to face for about what would meet the needs or desires of both (see! desire is productive! desire makes connections!) The forms of theft, the loci of theft in this place are multi and manifold: cameras watch, hours are stolen from workers. This place is dedicated to desire-as-lack, to the stuffing of emptiness. Without Grosz, I would not read this in Berger-Spinoza, and without Berger I would not carry this out of Grosz. Between them, they have changed my way of seeing.

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