A small dialogue on John Berger

June 27, 2012

So says sweet Serena:

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 (conducted mostly virtually) 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.

WM: 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.

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