Wednesday, January 04, 2017

John Berger and Susan Sontag / To Tell A Story (1983)

The power of stories, as modes of representation, as ways to understand ourselves and that which we experience as reality, including other people, is discussed in this highly engaging meeting between John Berger and Susan Sontag. Both of these thinkers and writers are now sadly no longer with us on this plain of reality. John Berger died two days ago, and Susan Sontag died in 2004. This discussion between them inspired so many thoughts in me, having found it on the wonderful Open Culture blog, I uploaded it here. Just so I know where it is if I ever need it...and I probably will from time to time.

One thing that struck me personally from this conversation is that the first stories I remember were told to me orally, about members of my family that I never met. Soldiers, farmers and explorers. It then occurred to me that my mother came from an oral storytelling culture - she did not go to school until she was 13, her mother did not go to school at all. They lived on a huge cattle property in central Queensland in Australia that had been in the family for over 100 years. My father on the other hand grew up in nearest big town, (5 hours drive on the sealed roads that had been created by the time I was a child, when they were kids it took a lot longer), which was becoming a city as he came of age. He lived in books and our house was literally a library. I once packed up my father's library to move him, and it came in at 300 banana boxes. That is a lot of books. But my maternal grandmother told me the stories of the bush, and the world that she remembered from the 1920s as a child.

Photograph taken the year before my maternal grandmother was born (1911) in Taroom, the nearest settlement to where she grew up. It was an oral storytelling culture, even when she was a young adult, although they read and wrote, the spoken story was the more common vehicle.

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