A small dialogue on John Berger
With the wildest serendipity a few weeks ago, a wonderful woman named Wah-Ming Chang interrupted a jolly conversation I was having on the Brooklyn-bound N train for what turned out to be an interview in a fantastic series about encountering strangers for the Open City online magazine, of the Asian American Writer’s Workshop.
The published interview turned into a long correspondence and conversation, rather than a call and response. Wah-Ming’s first question to me didn’t make the final cut of the interview, but had to do with my post on John Berger + Jean Mohr. As gifted wordsmith, Wah-Ming doesn’t write questions so much as unfurls trains of thought and leaves the threads hanging to be picked up. I thought her prompt and my response might be interesting to post here.
Read her fiction and her other written compositions. Read another snippet of our conversation, of me trying to talk her into reading Haruki Murakami.
WMC: I always read Berger’s work through a prism of nonlinear narrative—that is how I read everything—and because I find his curatorial sense to be so intuitive and generous, I can’t help but love his words as much as what the words represent or present. How do you as an art critic read Berger the art critic?
SQ: Really, I came to John Berger before I was ready to fathom him and the expanse of his multiple vocabularies. It might have been because his shorter critical essays were my first point of contact, and there was a near-ferocity in his conviction and thinking that humbled me. I can’t speak to his entire body of work by any means, but I think that there is an astounding clarity beneath his playfulness and experimentation. He exercises this awe-inspiringly adaptable visual sensitivity, and offers it as a standing invitation to join him at his vantage point. There is a faith in the interval between the eye and the mind that I think art criticism should always have, and that I certainly hope to endear in my own work.