John Berger, "Against the Great Defeat of the World" (foreward to the essay collection World Bank Literature, ed. Amitava Kumar; University of Minnesota Press 2003)
Berger begins his essay by invoking the famous 16th painting by Hieronymus Bosch, Millennium Triptych. Berger uses the painting and its three panels depicting Adam and Eve, the Garden of Earthly Delights, and Hell synechdochically to discuss contemporary Western society, and more specifically the repression, unequal distribution of wealth, and terror that have come to influence global society as a result.
"What the painting by Bosch does is to remind us -- if prophecies can be called reminders -- that the first step toward building an alternative world has to be a refusal of the world picture implanted in our minds" (xv). Berger calls for a refusal of acceptance of this presented world order, one that leaves room for "hope" and a return to what it means to be human.
This theme of returning to what it means to be human links directly to issues raised by the Mary Louise White Symposium. Issues of terrorism and repression are not limited to articles, books and the nightly news: they are a reality of our lives. "What is terrorizing us now?" Berger asks. This is a legitimate question, but before we can answer it we need to look further than our local news channel.
John Berger is an art critic, novelist, painter, and author. His work continually seeks to connect culture with current world issues. Born in England in 1926, Berger currently resides in France.
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