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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Ways of Seeing

I happend to catch the 3rd part of John Berger's Ways of Seeing on BBC4 last night. It's a repeat from the early 1970s. I was too young to be interested in Marxist art history when it was first shown, but I read the book that accompanied the series when I was an undergraduate. It was recommended by the class teacher of my Sociology 101 course, the cheroot smoking, leather safari jacket wearing, Bally booted Alan Dawe. He was a taciturn, enigmatic man who hinted of radical chic and whose reading suggestions were extraordinary - things like Cobbett's Rural Rides or Agee and Evan's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men - in fact mostly things that appeared to have nothing very obvious to do with the course we were taking. Once he came into class with a cassette player and played us a recording of himself reading a lecture. He muttered something about how it gave him a new angle on things and then went and sat at the back of the class. Chutzpah! On another occasion he amazed me by giving an apparently impromptu 30 minute lecture on Hegel - complete with diagrams - in response to a vague question about influences on the thought of Karl Marx.
I read Ways of Seeing several times - it isn't very long - and probably feigned some understanding of it which I certainly didn't have. The extrordinary thing about seeing Berger on TV is the earnest didacticism of his presentation - face to camera, impassioned quasi Shakespearian delivery - think Olivier as Richard III. It looks like he really cares about what he is talking about. No post-modern irony here, he is the intellectual proletarian at the coal face who needs us to understand that 500 years of oil painting is really all about commodity fetishism. Today it seems both artfully mannered and ridiculously oversimplistic - a cross between Open University parody and agit-prop. It could almost be a Harry Enfield sketch - 1970s cultural studies lecturer, big hair and appalling taste in shirts. And yet there is an intellectual seriousness about Berger that seems to have disappeared from some of the modern day equivalents. Nowadays in place of head to camera we have arch, knowing scripts and plenty of decorative location shots. Something of value has got lost along the way.

1 comment:

James J. Chriss said...

Where is Alan Dawe these days? Does anyone know?