Stories

04Apr10

Berger, John. ‘Stories’ Another Way of Telling by John Berger and Jean Mohr (Cambridge: Granta Books, 1982) 277-289

p.280

A photograph is simpler than most memories, its range more limited. Yet with the invention of photography we acquired a new means of expression more closely associated with memory than any other.

Both the photograph and the remembered depend upon and equally oppose the passing of time. Both present memories, and propose their own form of simultaneity, in which all their images can coexist. Both stimulate, and are stimulated by, the interconnectedness of events. Both seek instants of revelation, for it is only such instants which give full reason to their own capacity to withstand the flow of time.

p.285

The essential tension in a story lies elsewhere. [than in the end] Not so much in the mystery of its destination as in the mystery of the spaces between its steps towards that destination.

All stories are discontinuous and are based on a tacit agreement about what is not said, about what connects the discontinuities.

[discusses the agreement between teller and listener]

Yet neither teller nor listener is at the centre of the story: they are at its periphery. Those whom the story is about are at the centre.

The discontinuities of the story and the tacit agreement underlying them fuse teller, listener and protagonists into an amalgam. An amalgam which I would call the story’s reflecting subject. The story narrates on behalf of this subject, appeals to it and speaks in its voice.

p.286

[on the experience of being told a story] You were listening. You were in the story. You were in the words of the story-teller. You were no longer your single self; you were, thanks to the story, everyone it concerned.

A story is not simply an exercise in empathy. Nor is it merely a meeting place for the protagonists, the listener and the teller. A story being told is a unique process which fuses these three categories into one. And ultimately what fuses them, within the process, are the discontinuities, the silent connections, agreed upon in common.

[on an arrangement of photographs] The discontinuities within the arrangement will be far more evident than those in a verbal story. Every single image will be more or less discontinuous with the next.

On the face of it there will be no story. And yet in story-telling, as I have tried to show above, it is precisely an agreement about discontinuities which allows the listener to “enter the narration” and become part of its reflecting subject.

p.286-287

The essential relation between teller, listener (spectator) and protagonist(s) may still be possible with an arrangement of photographs. It is I believe, only their roles, relative to one another, which are modified, not their essential relationship.

p.287

The spectator (listener) becomes more active because the assumptions behind the discontinuities (the unspoken which bridges them) are more far-reaching. The teller becomes less present, less insistent for he no longer employs words of his own; he speaks only through quotations, through his choice and placing of the photographs.

Every kind of narrative situates its reflecting subject differently. […] The photographic narrative form places it before the task of memory: the task of continually resuming a life being lived in the world.

Such a form is not concerned with events as facts – such as is always claimed for photography; it is concerned with their assimilation, their gathering and their transformation into experience.

p.288

[regarding Eisenstein’s “montage of attractions”] In a sequence of still photographs, however, the energy of attraction, either side of a cut, does remain equal, two-way and mutual. Such an energy then closely resembles the stimulus by which one memory triggers another, irrespective of any hierarchy, chronology or duration.

In fact the energy of the montage of attractions in a sequence of still photographs destroys the very notion of sequences […] The sequence has become a field of coexistence like the field of memory.

p.289

Photographs so placed are restored to a living context: not of course to the original temporal context from which they were taken – that is impossible – but to a context of experience.

And there, their ambiguity at last becomes true. It allows what they show to be appropriated by reflection. The world they reveal, frozen, becomes tractable. The information they contain becomes permeated by feeling. Appearances become the language of a lived life.

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