Wanting Now: A Thought for Trafalgar Square

By John Berger

decoration-peter-kennard-1.jpgFrom Decoration, Peter Kennard

The world has changed. Information is being communicated differently. Misinformation is developing its techniques. On a world scale emigration has become the principal means of survival. The national state of those who had suffered the worst genocide in history has become, militarily speaking, fascist. National states in general have been politically downsized and reduced to the role of vassals serving the new world economic order. The visionary political vocabulary of three centuries has been garbaged. In short, the economic and military global tyranny of today has been established.

At the same time new methods of resistance to this tyranny are being discovered. Rebels now have to be, not so much obedient as self-reliant. Within the resistance centralised authority has been replaced by spontaneous co-operation. Long-term programmes have been replaced by urgent alliances over specific issues. Civil society is learning and beginning to practice the guerrilla tactics of political opposition.

decoration-peter-kennard-2.jpgFrom Decoration, Peter Kennard

Today the desire for justice is multitudinous.

That is to say that struggles against injustice, struggles for survival, for self-respect, for human rights, should never be considered merely in terms of their immediate demands, their organisations, or their historical consequences. They cannot be reduced to “movements”. A movement describes a mass of people collectively moving towards a definite goal, which they either achieve or fail to achieve. Yet such a description ignores, or does not take into account, the countless personal choices, encounters, illuminations, sacrifices, new desires, grieves and, finally, memories, which the movement brought about, but which are, in the strict sense, incidental to that movement. The promise of a movement is its future victory; whereas the promises of the incidental moments are instantaneous. Such moments include, life-enhancingly or tragically, experiences of freedom in action. (Freedom without actions does not exist.) Such moments – as no historical “outcome” can ever be – are transcendental, are what Spinoza would have termed eternal, and they are as multitudinous as the stars in an expanding universe.

decoration-peter-kennard-3.jpgFrom Decoration, Peter Kennard

A growing awareness throughout the world of this truth is changing the politics of protest. The infinite is beside the poor.

Not all desires lead to freedom, but freedom is the experience of a desire being acknowledged, chosen and pursued. Desire never concerns the mere possession of something but the changing of something. Desire is a wanting. A wanting now. Freedom does not constitute the fulfilment of that wanting, but the acknowledgement of its supremacy.

If this is true, it follows that artists, no less than those involved in civic and political struggles, can sometimes join without, as it were, a second thought, that wanting now –- and in so doing merge for a moment into a freedom which is eternal, and which bears no relation at all to the crap being spoken today by the new tyrants.


Writer John Berger won the Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. His latest fiction, Here, will be published in March 2005, launching a major London season Collaborations, devoted to his work and creative relationships in all media. His text overleaf is extracted from an essay written to accompany the latest exhibition (and its catalogue) by artist Peter Kennard, currently showing at the Gimpel Fils Gallery, London.

P.56: Jetzt im Kino
, by Matthew Noel-Tod, colour video, 12mins, 2003. Distributed by Lux. View online at www.tank.tv