Reviews

Hold Everything Dear

Michael Hayward

For some reason the personal essay has fallen out of fashion, even though sales for non-fiction continue to rise. But long-form non-fiction frequently has “authoritative” and “definitive” as its goal—The Complete Book of Earwigs; Everything You Wanted To Know About Rhinoplasty, And Then Some—often to the detriment of its readability and our enjoyment. An essay collection, on the other hand, allows an author to range in tone from the lyrical to the polemical, while focusing our attention on one small thing at a time. Even at age eighty-one, John Berger has lost none of his fire, which smoulders and flares in the seventeen “Dispatches on Survival and Resistance” in Hold Everything Dear (Pantheon). Berger has an innate empathy for the disadvantaged and the disenfranchised, those most vulnerable to the economic steamrollers of the “new world order.” To his credit he does not conceal his own position here but states it plain: in response to the query “Are you still a Marxist?” Berger answers that “the devastation caused by the pursuit of profit, as defined by capitalism, [has never] been more extensive than it is today,” before concluding that yes, he is “still amongst other things a Marxist.” These essays span the years between 1994 and 2006, a period in which the effects of unprecedented social, economic and environmental changes have been felt in every corner of the globe. During that time Berger has continued to speak out against “the dehumanization of society by capitalism,” expressing his views with a quiet persistence that is difficult to ignore. Susan Sontag described John Berger as the first writer since D. H. Lawrence to combine “attentiveness to the sensual world with responsiveness to the imperatives of conscience”; in Hold Everything Dear Berger says, in effect, to all thoughtful and attentive readers: “once you see these things through the eyes of others, how can you not feel compelled to speak out too?”

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