Blackbirds, Motorbikes & Berger

On John Berger:

Blackbirds are in fact solitary creatures by nature, and they prefer woodland and heaths as habitats, near to open ground. They have a fine lyrical repertoire, and sing richly and clearly with a mellow voice, rather like the dulcet tones of a flute. Furthermore, while the color black has connotations with death and darkness, with mystery and evil, Berger sees it also as the color of sex, of black truffles, of making out in the bare earth of a forest under an oak tree. I can visualize Berger in his kitchen, not far from an oak tree, anointing his sexy black Blackbird with pleasure and tenderness. I can see him lovingly checking the brake fluid, the cooling liquid, the oil, the tire pressure, gripping the chain with his left forefinger to test whether it’s tight enough. Turning on the ignition, he’ll watch the dials light up red and then he’ll examine the two headlights and hear the purr of his flute. Methodical gestures: careful and gentle, done as if the bike’s a living organism, done in the kitchen in front of the stove at night.

In front of Berger’s stove, in his kitchen, is the warmest spot at his chalet in winter. It’s a cozy corner that all visitors remember. Apparently, Berger’s house is pretty beat up inside; he likes it like that. I imagine there are all sorts of bike parts and gear spread about everywhere, amidst stacks of books, loose papers, scythes and work boots. I remember reading a few years ago in the conservative British newspaper the Daily Telegraph a surprisingly affectionate article on Berger, “Portrait of the Artist as a Wild Old Man,” which spoke about his “bashed-up home” and his curious affinity with the American polemicist Andrea Dworkin. “She emerges as an intolerant castrating feminist,” says Berger, “but in her fiction you can see that she is incredibly open, sensuous and tender. There’s a strange relationship between fury and devastating tenderness.” Just like a motorbike, I guess; just like Berger himself: pissed off and furious with the state of the world, with the Dark Age we now inhabit, yet full of devastating tenderness, too. In one of his essays on Rembrandt in The Shape of a Pocket, Berger cites Dworkin saying: “I have no patience with the untorn, anyone who hasn’t weathered rough weather, fallen apart, been ripped to pieces, put herself back together, big stitches, jagged cuts, nothing nice. Then something shines out. But the ones all shined up on the outside, the ass wigglers, I’ll be honest, I don’t like them. Not at all.”

I doubt I’ll ever understand how “the strange relationship between fury and and devastating tenderness” is like a motorbike, but I’m impressed that Berger likes Dworkin.  Though I should have known.

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