Where there are no words, knowledge comes through physical acts and through the space through which those acts are made.

berger-575.jpgPhotograph via Flickr by UggBoy♥UggGirl

Around her is a block. The block is invisible because it is totally transparent. Nor does the block restrict her movements. Is the block what separates Being from Becoming? I don’t know for this is happening where there are no words.

Normally, we face words frontally and so can read them, speak them, or think them. This was happening somewhere to the side of language. Any frontal view of language was impossible there. From the side I could see how language was paper-thin, and all its words were foreshortened to become a single vertical stroke—I—like a single post in a vast landscape.

The task was to dismantle the block—to take it apart, and lift it off piece by piece. She allowed this to happen—No! Active and Passive have merged together—let us say: She happened this to herself with the utmost ease. I was with her in what she (we) were doing.

We began with her head and worked downwards towards the feet. When freed of the block, the part of her body disclosed did not change in appearance. Yet it changed. It disarmed all comment. It precluded any response except that of acceptance. Or, to put it another way: faster than any possible response, the part of her body which was disclosed, claimed its own acceptance.

Although everything was done with ease, the task was tiring, at least for me. Between the removal of each portion of the block, I returned to my own body in my own bed, glad to take a rest for a moment, until the next removal, or the next part of the dream. Was the act of dreaming synonymous with the act of dismantling the block?

I knew all the answers then. Where there are no words, knowledge comes through physical acts and through the space through which those acts are made; by permitting each act the space conferred meaning upon it and no further meaning was necessary.

Each time I felt tired I embraced her.

I don’t know how many pieces the block was divided into. The task took all night.

One thing I do remember: Each new part of her body disclosed by the removal of another piece of the block was equal to the preceding one. Not necessarily equal in size but in significance.

She was now the center of what surrounded her. All that was not her made space for her.

Writing now I suspect the sequence these words suggest is too simple: first head, then shoulders, then belly, then feet. We did not proceed like this.

The word dismantle which I have used, aware of its apparent inappropriateness, may help us here. A block or a cast enclosing another form is not usually dismantled but rather “broken away” or “split open.” This block, however, had not been made in one go, and so it could not be opened in one go. It had to be taken to pieces, and the pieces did not always correspond in size, in area, to the newly disclosed part of her body. Perhaps each piece of the block was unwound like a cloth from her whole body? All I know is that the process proceeded by stages and that each stage meant there was less block left. Eventually there was none.

She was there whole, looking exactly as she had at the beginning, capable of the same actions and no more, having the same name, the same habits, the same history. Yet, freed from the block, the relations between her and everything which was not her, had changed. An absolute yet invisible change. She was now the center of what surrounded her. All that was not her made space for her.

Something similar happens when a word is truly used in a new way. The meaning of every other word in the language shifts to make space for the new usage. Except that where we were, that long night, there were no words.

Could it be like this that Venus was born from the sea?

The painter, dramatist, and novelist John Berger is probably best known for his art criticism. Ways of Seeing (1972) examined how we look at art in the age of mechanical reproduction. Other books include A Seventh Man, a study of migrant workers, and Another Way of Telling, which looks at photography. When he was awarded the Booker Prize in 1972, Berger gave half of the prize money to the Black Panther movement in protest at the sponsors’ colonialist policies in the West Indies.

At Guernica, we’ve spent the last 15 years producing uncompromising journalism.

More than 80% of our finances come from readers like you. And we’re constantly working to produce a magazine that deserves you—a magazine that is a platform for ideas fostering justice, equality, and civic action.

If you value Guernica’s role in this era of obfuscation, please donate.

Help us stay in the fight by giving here.