John Berger, politics, and language

The Marxist critic John Berger has some interesting thoughts on the language used by the media and the political class to present and classify the world. Just a few short quotes here, but I am reminded of them each time I read or watch the news.

He writes of contemporary political language:

‘It is very close to the jargon and logic of management experts. It quantifies everything and seldom refers to substance or quality. It deals with percentages, shifts in opinion-polls, unemployment figures, growth rates, mounting debts, estimates of carbon dioxide, et cetera, et cetera. It is a voice at home with digits but not with living or suffering bodies. It does not speak of regrets or hopes. And so what is being publicly said and the way it is being said promotes a kind of civic and historical amnesia. Experience is being wiped out.’ (Confabulations, London: Penguin, 2016, p. 139.)

Further, he contends: ‘Our leaders and media commentators speak of what we are living through in a gobbledygook, which is not the voice of a turkey but that of High Finance.’ (Confabulations, London: Penguin, p. 112.)

Berger also describes watching a televised press conference given by François Hollande and realising that his discourse was ‘algebraic’; ‘That’s to say logical and consequential, but with scarcely any reference to a tangible reality or to lived experience.’ (Confabulations, London: Penguin, 2016, p. 111.) Berger’s explanation for the vacuousness of his speech is that ‘he has forsaken any sense of history, and therefore has no long-term political vision. Historically speaking, he lives from hand to mouth’ (Confabulations, London: Penguin, p. 112).

There is a disconnect between the world and the political classes’ understanding of it that is so drastic it expresses itself through their language. It seems they are describing what Blake called ‘something Else besides Human Life’.