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The gaze of a dog, with its silent urgency, can interrogate in a profound way, indicating realities that escape human attention. A hare crossing a frontier, in front of border agents, reveals how arbitrary are the conventions that govern our daily life. Reflecting in the eyes of an orangutan is like traveling through time over millennia, and the glow emanating from a firefly can appear even more cold and remote than that of a star.
Animals have always occupied the center of the universe together with mankind: in ancient times they were used to populate the zodiac, and the Hindus imagined that the Earth was supported by an elephant, an elephant standing on the shell of a turtle. We have always looked at them, because they are sentient and mortal beings like us, yet radically different: by observing them we have learned to define what is human, and their gaze is still indispensable to us.
Today, animals inhabit the homes of millions of people, their photographs invade the web and the pages of newspapers: they are everywhere, yet they are disappearing, because the possibility of an encounter is increasingly rare, replaced by the spectacle of documentaries, cartoons and games for children. They are losing their role as messengers of a secret “beyond”, of the abyss that lies beyond language and speaks of our origin, of our solitude as a species.
John Berger analyses these themes through a kaleidoscope of languages and textual forms – from fable to memory, from critical essay to short story – always guided by a writing that argues clearly and lays bare the real with the delicate tools of empathy, illuminating the nature of a relationship that gave rise to painting and metaphors, and therefore to art and the true identity of men.
John Berger, Perché guardiamo gli animali?
il Saggiatore, 2016
19.2 x 13.8 cm