Table of Contents Introduction

The Nature of Storytelling and Environmental Narratives: Walter Benjamin, Arran Gare, Paul Carter

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2.1 The Nature of Storytelling and Environmental Narratives: Walter Benjamin, Arran Gare, Paul Carter

The communication of experience was the aim of a number of Berger’s earlier written works, a few examples of which were discussed in the previous chapter. However, to mediate an “immersion” in the peasant life in Pig Earth, Berger puts himself into the role of a storyteller striving to recount the experience of the peasantry. As a sort of Gramscian organic intellectual, he becomes “a clerk” of the peasants’ records. In his essay “The Storyteller”, Berger says:

Whatever the motives, political or personal, which have led me to undertake to write something, the writing becomes, as soon as I begin, a struggle to give meaning to experience. […] The act of writing is nothing except the act of approaching the experience written about; just as, hopefully, the act of reading the written text is a comparable act of approach. To approach experience, however, is not like approaching a house. Experience is indivisible and continuous, at least within a single lifetime and perhaps over many lifetimes. (336)

Berger’s inspiration to become a storyteller in the sense of communicating continuous experience is largely drawn from Walter Benjamin’s essay of the same title. According to Benjamin, “the storyteller takes what he tells from experience—his own or that reported by others. And he in turn makes it the experience of those who are listening to his tale” (“Storyteller” 87). Further on, Benjamin comments on the decline of the ability to recount experience that he was observing in the 30s and traces its roots in the events and practices of the modern society (“Storyteller” 87-8). The essay goes on to analyse the nature of storytelling that is centred in the act of communicating experience. In order to understand it properly, it is useful to look more closely at what Benjamin actually means by experience.

In the essay “On some Motifs in Baudelaire”, Benjamin classifies two kinds of experience: one isolated in the present that he calls “Erlebnis”, that is an experience, and another one characterised by its long-time duration called “Erfahrung” (163), that is experience. The way Benjamin deals with this concept is, at times, and perhaps inevitably, rather obscure, making the concept difficult to grasp with linguistic accuracy. Nevertheless, one can see that whereas an experience is temporary as it is limited by and isolated in its short duration, experience is linked to cultural history: “Where there is experience in the strict sense of the word, certain contents of the individual past combine with material of the collective past” (Benjamin, “Baudelaire” 159). In a nutshell, while the content of experience accumulates in the course of time of one’s individual and social life, an experience is momentary. Both notions can be more precisely illustrated by the categories of “studying” and “learning” that Benjamin introduces in his essay “The Return of the Flâneur” – in fact a review of Franz Hessel’s work Spazieren in Berlin. Here Benjamin juxtaposes natives of cities and a “flâneur” (“Flâneur” 263). Natives are unavoidably lured by their memories of many a moment spent in their city and tend to immerse themselves in its past when striving to express their attitude to and recount their experience of the city. By contrast, the flâneur, a kind of idle though curious modern stroller only sees what looks at him in the present moment and is thus hopelessly, because primarily, exposed to what is mediated to him through his visual perception. Benjamin argues that while flâneur and the like “study” the city, natives “learn” to know it and further on specifies this differentiation: “Anyone can study, but learning is something you can only do if you are there for the duration. […] There is a kind of experience that craves the unique, the sensational, and another kind that seeks out eternal sameness” (Benjamin, “Flâneur” 266). By the experience “seeking out eternal sameness” Benjamin quite obviously refers to experience and the notion of “learning” links it to dwelling in the city, i.e. to historical time again.

Apparently, for Benjamin, as a critic of modernism, experience is necessary for an adequate engagement with the present of modernity because it is linked to history. It is precisely experience that Benjamin’s storyteller is able to communicate to his listeners or readers. He also points out in the essay that the ability to communicate experience is decreasing and it is a part of the symptomatic nature of modernity that it has removed storytelling from everyday life. Consequently, we do not have “counsel” (Benjamin, “Storyteller” 86) either for ourselves or for others. Counsel, as Benjamin explains, is an element that every real story has and it is more a proposal of the story’s continuation than an answer to a question as every real story demands an active interpretation. According to Benjamin, the counsels of stories can enable people to conceive of themselves as products of their culture since they enable them to perceive historical time. And since “the lore of the past […] best reveals itself to natives of a place” (Benjamin, “Storyteller” 85, italics mine), the sense of historical time is conditioned by spatial awareness.

Thus, according to Benjamin, the communication of experience creates awareness of history. This can help one to better understand some of the manipulative techniques of the modern culture and can perhaps also help one to realize one’s historical role. This will be related to Berger’s stories in Pig Earth most of which, rather than giving an enclosed account by an “isolated novelist” (“Storyteller” 87) give an open-ended portrayal of the process of the present of the peasant life coexisting with its history and possible future. Benjamin’s notion of an experience and its ephemeral nature will also be related to how the last story in the volume deals with the experience of a city that is closely related to the question of the commodification of the senses.
Another theorist to look at here is the cultural and environmental critic Arran Gare, since he is interested in the importance of narrative and its potential to place an individual into a broader life context which he also extends to ecological concerns. Some of his ideas may be linked to Berger’s endeavour as a storyteller in Pig Earth and will enable us to shift the analysis of the stories to a more “green” politico-aesthetics which is something Berger himself has not done. In his Nihilism Incorporated, Gare strives to find alternative approaches to the environmental crisis that Western culture fails to handle in a satisfactory way. In the first couple of chapters he maps the extent of the ecological crisis. Later on, he continues by showing how Western nihilistic thinking failed to adequately respond to it because it did not fully appreciated the nature of human civilization from its roots in Ancient Greece to the present. Gare traces the rise of mechanistic materialism and technocratic thinking that finally led to an ignorant and nihilistic approach to the Earth. Similar to Guattari in Three Ecologies, he is also concerned with the nature of global capitalism and is interested in the social, political and psychological level of an adequate response to the ecological crisis. However, his main concern is the development of an adequate way or, rather, ways of thinking and it is in his later work called Postmodernism and the Environmental Crisis that he in fact proposes some alternative approaches. These consist of his ideas about a new grand narrative.

In the latter of the above mentioned works, Gare gives an overarching perspective of the environmental crisis, mapping the nature of postmodern culture and the development in philosophical thinking. His main argument is that to solve any environmental crisis, a new image of the future should be developed that would “enable individuals to construct narratives which can relate their own lives to a new grand narrative, the global struggle for an environmentally sustainable civilization” (Gare, Postmodernism 160). This new grand narrative would replace the dominant grand narrative of economic progress. Gare’s work begins with a Marxist analysis of the present postmodern society characterised by the rise of a new bourgeoisie that is basically “a modern, refined version of the mechanical world-view and of Darwinism” and tend to devalue “everything which does not serve as an instrument of the international economy” (Postmodernism 17). He says that narratives, by which people “define themselves because they are embodied as orientation” (Gare, Postmodernism 19) in the present related to past and future have been undermined in the contemporary medialised culture. He points out that one’s self-definition is then divorced from any values and goals objectively defined as more valuable than others.

Going back to Vico as the first opponent of philosophical materialism established by Descartes, Gare traces the origins of the philosophy of process starting with Bergson and Whitehead, going to Nietzsche, post-structuralists and a number of other philosophers and cultural theorists. In very basic terms, he combines a Marxist approach with the one of post-structuralism to criticise the Western cultural system and its values and to come out with his proposal of the new grand narrative. The narrative is then based on the philosophy of process that understands the human being as a constant process of becoming. This philosophy of becoming is, among others, combined with theories of narrative. In this respect, Gare mentions Paul Ricoeur who is particularly relevant to our discussion here. Coming from a poststructuralist milieu, Ricoeur understands “life as a text” and people’s lives as “lived stories” (Gare, Postmodernism 64). According to Ricoeur, as Gare further says, “life is an inchoate narrative” that provides people with “the means to think about the way they live and appropriate the new structure to organize their own actions and lives” (Gare, Postmodernism 64). The new grand narrative around which people could “organize their own actions and lives” would than be, according to Gare’s proposal, based on a philosophy of process, conceiving humans as having the potential to develop a mind that is not a substance, but something achieved. The narrative would provide a means of orientation for people on both a local and a global level. It would be an “on-going dialogue” (Gare, Postmodernism 152) for people to become critical participants in creating stories of the place in which they live and relating them to global issues. The attention is thus paid to one’s local place, but also to its relation to other places on a global scale.10
The last theoretical work that we are looking at is Paul Carter’s The Lie of the Land, in which he articulates in a politically grounded poetics, an approach to place. Carter’s comments on devastating movements of the dominant cultures and his stress on a recreation rather than a representation of the natural environment in literary works can namely be linked to some thematic as well as formal aspects of the stories in Pig Earth. Carter’s work opens with an introductory essay, in which he comments on the insensitive Western colonization practices which are based on a dominating movement of clearing the ground and wiping out its culture in order to replace it by a new one. This process is illustrated by the unequal relationship of Crusoe’s mastery over Friday. Carter proposes a politics of dialogue that would acknowledge the indigenous culture of place when he asks:

What would have happened if Robinson Crusoe had found another footprint? Then he would have found another and another, and a pattern would have emerged, a track. A system of memorialization would have come into focus, a different way of regarding the ground. He would not have needed to invent an explanation: traces, not signs, the footprints would have ceased to be enigmatic. He might have grasped that the ground he stood on vibrated to the passage of other feet, and constituted an open network of social communication. (12)

Further on, Carter relates the Western politics of domination to semiotics, the science of signs, that erases the natural histories of a place as it creates concepts and inevitably fails to recognize “a deceptive present” (12) of the world beyond. Carter stresses the importance of a movement of walking when he says that our cultural disposition is “to fly over the earth rather than to walk with it” (2, italics mine). The movement of walking, which in fact is not detached from the ground, is able to recognize the environment not “as a surface but as manifold surfaces, their different amplitudes composing an environment that was uniquely local, which could not be transported” (15). For Carter, the movement of walking is in a direct, physical connection with the land and enables us to perceive it as a form of life to enter in a dialogue with, not as a petrified, because abstractly conceptualized, object.

In the following four chapters of his book, Carter concentrates on some figures of Western culture that, though part of the dominating colonizing politics, were able to establish a sort of dialogue with the colonised land that he advocates in the introduction. Because of the limited space of this thesis, our attention will be further on mainly paid to the third chapter on William Light as it, among others, deals with the question of narrative representation of place. The founder and designer of the city of Adelaide, a British military officer William Light is given a different biographical account by Carter challenging the one of dominant Western narratives that is a “hypothesis of imperial history” (Carter 211). Making references to Light’s journals, Carter presents him as a person extremely sensitive to weather and the natural surroundings:

The ‘I’ of the Last Diary is the predicate of its surroundings, and is continuously reconstituted by the changes in the weather. It does not represent a fixed position, […] simply a sequence of textual ‘dots’ which, linked to one another by a pattern of breathing, add up to a kind of printout of Light’s physical condition. The Last Diary may not represent any significant idea, but it can be said to mimic a life going on. (216)

Light is presented as sensitive to the “changes in the weather”, to the constant movement and chaos of his surroundings. His diary entries are then linked to the notion of methexis that Carter actually deals with in detail in the first chapter focusing on the life and work of an anthropologist T. G. H. Strehlow. Suffice to say here, that whereas the narrative of mimesis basically creates a closed representation of reality and thus a kind of “asexual reproduction” (Carter 235) of it, methexis is based on what Carter calls a “reverent miming” (Carter 26) which only follows lines and trajectories of the moving and changing character of reality and works as “a gradual process of coasting rather than as a decisive but idealized coastline drawn on a chart” (Carter 230, italics mine). Carter then points out that from the perspective of representation such a portrait of reality “may mean that it looks ‘unfinished’, insufficiently framed, lacking a stably picturesque ground” (245-6). However, from the point of view of reverent miming, “it accurately evokes a state of becoming” and avoids the imperialist “enclosure” (Carter 246).

The depiction of the reality of place as a process links Carter to Gare and his grand narrative based on a metaphysics of the human and non-human parts of the environment seen in a constant state of becoming. Carter’s Lie of the Land will be related to Berger’s portrayal of the peasant life with respect to the narrative form. Carter’s discussion of the wiping out forces of an insensitive approach to a place and his stress on a non-detached relation to the earth will also be linked to Pig Earth and its depiction of the peasant’s relation to the land.

2.2 The Sensual World of the Peasantry

Rather than, as Benjamin would say, “studying” the peasant environment and trying to convey any happening in it per se, Berger strives to embed it into his stories and give meaning to the peasant experience which is inextricably linked to a place and to the past, present and possible future of the peasant community. The stories are an amalgamation of what the storyteller heard from other storytellers and from his own experiential fragments that he adds. As Berger comments in the already mentioned essay “The Storyteller”, “the function of these stories, which are, in fact, close, oral, daily history, is to allow the village to define itself” (367). The village thus creates “a living portrait of itself […] and it is a continuous portrait; work on it never stops” (Berger, “Storyteller” 367). Being aware of this continuity at the base of storytelling, Berger creates a special kind of storytelling in the stories of Pig Earth.

With the exception of the very last story in the volume called “The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol”, all other stories in Pig Earth either do not pursue a plot line with a traditional climactic development or such a kind of plot development is highly limited. Rather, the stories follow the peasants’ everyday practices and give an account of their multiple spatial and temporal surroundings. Geoff Dyer comments on this quality of the work while saying: “In Pig Earth instead of revelation there is steadily growing familiarity; instead of the resolution of uncertainties and contradictions, there is an abiding in them” (Ways 123). Through often detailed description of the peasant practices and events in their lives, and through establishing a sort of “familiarity” with the peasant life, all the stories in Pig Earth evoke a deep sense of place and that of history, since for the peasant, history is inextricably linked to place, from which it in fact derives.

One of the recurrent features of the stories is their focus on the tradition of the peasant work as a meaningful way of survival and its transparently direct relation to the physical environment. As in “The Question of Place”, there are a number of passages in other stories concentrating in detail on the efficiency of the peasants’ working of the land. This is for example apparent in a story called “The Wind Howls Too”. Told from the perspective of a small schoolboy, the story gives an account of a pig slaughter which is depicted as a communal event. The peasants work together and afterwards a small feast takes place: “Every year, when the pig was killed, all the neighbours and Monsienur le Curé and the schoolmaster were invited to eat” (PE 46). The story not only celebrates the cooperative nature of the work but also its long-established tradition functioning as a way of preserving knowledge and reviving historical continuity. This is also apparent when, having drunk some of the heady cider offered at the feast, the small boy’s grandfather proudly contemplates the long-established work procedures going back to deep history: “That is what I would like to know if I was a crow on a tree watching! […] All the mistakes which had to be made! And step by step, slowly, the progress!” (PE 48) The peasant work practices are throughout the book depicted as results of a slow and gradual accumulation of knowledge and are thus shown as a sort of craftsmanship.

In “The Storyteller”, Benjamin speaks about story as a product of an accumulation of a “long chain of causes” and points out that “modern man no longer works at what cannot be abbreviated” (94). Storytelling is for Benjamin a product of “sustained, sacrificing effort” that, as he observes, is vanishing (94). For Benjamin, storytelling is vanishing in the modern culture of an ephemeral experience and distraction. This can be linked to Gare and his point about the contemporary medialised culture undermining the importance of narrative that can place an individual into a broader life context. The way the stories in Pig Earth depict the peasant work appeals not only to a sense of historical time. It also implicitly underlines the importance of long-time endurance on the way to an achievement. This is in stark contrast to how Gare describes the common culture of consumerism that is mainly concerned with “how to spend and enjoy” instead of “how to work and achieve” (Postmodernism 15). By depicting the self-sufficient nature of the peasant world and creating stories with a restricted plot development, Berger is challenging the commercialization of the market that degrades literature to mere entertainment.

The meaningfulness of the peasant work is at some points juxtaposed with the estrangement of work that is based on the commodification of products. In “The Value of Money”, for example, when the old peasant Marcel is confronted with his son who works as a cheap-jack, Marcel comments: “Selling things all day, or working forty-five hours a week in a factory is no life for a man—jobs like that lead to ignorance” (PE 67). For the old man, work is not only a means of survival but is also linked to his essential being as he partially understands himself as a product of natural environment and cultural history. In the eyes of his children, he is seen as backward and pig-headed, but the story stresses his despising of an alienated work and his defence of an important tradition of social and productive experience:

Working is a way of preserving the knowledge my sons are losing. I dig the holes, wait for the tender moon and plant out these saplings to give an example to my sons if they are interested, and, if not, to show my father and his father that the knowledge they handed down has not yet been abandoned. Without that knowledge, I am nothing. (PE 67)

For Marcel, work is a way of affirming himself and, later on in the story, this kind of relationship to work is juxtaposed with the more abstract world of money. Caught by two inspectors while illegally distilling gnôle, Marcel, in revenge, locks the two men in a confined granary with a couple of sheep. The story takes on even more of a somewhat grotesque atmosphere when the two men start to offer him money so that he releases them, assuring him that they have “more experience” than him “of the vale of money” (PE 90). From the very beginning of the conflict, Marcel’s “revenge” is obviously futile because of the incommensurability of the two clashing worlds and he is finally made to confide in his ally, an old horse called Gui-Gui: “It ends in defeat because you can only take revenge on those who are your own. Those two up there [the inspectors] belong to another time. They are our prisoners and yet no revenge is possible. They would never know what we were avenging” (PE 91).

In Pig Earth, alienated work means not only an alienation from one’s own body but also from the natural environment mediated through the senses. At one point in the story, Marcel is wondering at the nature of the new social system that is based on the mechanics of commodification: “The world has left the earth behind it” (PE 77). Throughout all the stories in Pig Earth, the earth – the whole of the natural environment, constantly plays an important role, no matter whether one speaks about its animate or inanimate constituents.

The characters of the stories display an understanding of animals to which they often (though not always) have a respectful attitude and, at times, are compared with. The stories demonstrate the proximity between humans and animals and often include anthropomorphic metaphors. In “Addressed to Survivors”, a peasant woman Martine vainly tries to safe her maddened cow that, while on heat, tried to find a bull on her own and was fatally injured in the mountains on her return home. The story, both lyrical and sad in tone, motivates sympathy with the animal and shows the woman’s respectful approach to it. This relationship is juxtaposed with the less respectful attitude of two workers who, at the end of the story, take Rousa to the abattoir:

Martine stepped into the lorry and stuffed an armful of straw between Rousa’s flank and the sharp metal housing round the back wheel. […] she did not want the animal, who could not move, to suffer by her skin being chafed against the metal.

“She is a cow,” one of the man said, when the back doors of the lorry were shut.

“A poor beast,” said another. (PE 63)

The story is far from depicting the animal as “a poor beast” in the derogative sense of the words as used by the workers. Rousa is portrayed as having some “human” qualities such as confidence and sagacity and resembles humans in her instinctive impulses and ability to fear and suffer.

Another story examining the relationship between humans and animals is “A Calf Remembered”. It depicts the process of a calf being born and the importance of human assistance in it. Again, there is something very “human” about the process, pointing to the resemblance of humans and animals that is, again, portrayed in Berger’s sensual realism: “Mucus is a protection, a kind of love. The calf lay there exhausted, like a leaf when it first comes out. Her hair was matted with mucus. Faintly she had the smell which once preceded—for all of us—the first smell of air” (PE 12). The story shows the mutual dependence between the animals and the peasants and at times, the distinction between the human and the animal seems to be blurred. The sensual realism of Berger’s method lends dignity to even the most creatural processes: “He sat on a milking stool in the dark. With his head in his hands, his breathing was indistinguishable from that of the cow. The stable itself was like the inside of an animal. Breath, water, cud were entering it; wind, piss, shit were leaving” (PE 13). In the second part of the trilogy, animals are gradually disappearing from the scene and no such closeness between humans and animals as depicted in Pig Earth is to be found in the final part.

In his essay “Why Look at Animals”, Berger speaks about “the human capacity for symbolic thought” (262) which distinguishes humans from animals and therefore precludes any possibility of an animal confirming what human existence is. At the same time, however, he points out that animals do bare resemblances to humans and their lives run parallel to those of humans. The capitalist social system tends to deal with animals in two extremes. In the first one, animals are commodified and consequently dealt with without any respect for their physical and mental constitution. In the second one, they are ascribed human qualities which they do not and cannot have and become objects of human projections. In both cases, they are, as Berger says in the essay, “being marginalized” (“Animals” 265). Further on, he explains that what has been historically lost is the “companionship” offered by animals “to the loneliness of man as a species” (Berger, “Animals” 261)11. Both the essay and the depiction of the relationship between humans and animals in Pig Earth may dangerously lead to a nostalgic and fruitless contemplation of things past and irretrievable. Nevertheless, the portrayal of the close relationship between animals and humans in Pig Earth can motivate to a reassessment of the relationships to animals commonly held in today’s society.

The peasant’s relationship to the inanimate parts of the natural environment also plays an important role in the stories. Bodies and landscape are interrelated and merge in some of the metaphors in Pig Earth:

Four times the birth had released a flow of milk into her immense udder which was like a full moon coming up behind the hill. (PE 52)

The sky was clear, the Milky Way like a vast misty white goose pecking the cow’s four legs. (PE 61)

The leaf-buds on the apple trees were opening, the tiny leaves so young that they were almost colourless, and wrinkled from being folded, like all new-born skin. (PE 71)

The peasants seem to be physically connected to the natural environment. The characters of Pig Earth intimately know their surroundings and orientate themselves according to various landmarks: “The path down to the village followed a stream and near the bottom was a lilac tree. When the lilac was in flower, you could smell the tree thirty meters away” (PE 100). The narrative shows the body and land to be in an intimate tactile relationship, the natural environment sometimes even motivates one to touch it: “[…] the tree roots and the soil itself were all covered with a thick green moss. Whatever you touched there was like the fur of an animal” (PE 45). This kind of relationship highlights the transparency of the peasant’s dependence on the natural surroundings. The metaphors, in which bodies merge with the inanimate parts of nature, are also present in the poems that follow each story in Pig Earth.12

The sensuality and physicality of the peasant relationship to the land in the stories of Pig Earth implies a mistrust of distant relationships which do not consist in a tangible connection or a precise knowledge of an area. This is evident when in “The Value of Money” Marcel looks into his wife’s eyes and thinks about their innocence despite all the harsh events that her eyes have been exposed to in her life. For Marcel, the eyes’ innocence stems from the fact that they had never “seen men poring over a map and drawing up a plan,” for the job of such men is to “wipe” the peasants “out” (PE 70). The peasant’s bodily relationship to the land and detailed knowledge of the surroundings leading to a mistrust of distant planning can be linked to Carter’s Lie of the Land and the eradicating and devastating movements of the detached dominant cultures. “The Value of Money” is the first story of the collection that speculatively points to the nature of the new social system that is beginning to permeate the life of the community. This is later on elaborated in “The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol”, the final story of the collection.

Berger creates a sense of the peasant’s closeness to the sensual world as he often pays attention to a number of visual as well as auditory details from peasant life. Geoff Dyer speaks about this quality of Pig Earth while saying: “The main body of the book is uncharacteristically self-effacing, untypically free of the sense of Berger’s dominating creative personality” (Ways 121). This can, again, be related to Carter and the method of reverent miming. Rather than giving an enclosed portrait of a place, Berger’s language functions as if by following the movement of a peasant walking in the land and perceiving the world around. This is also an aspect of the stories that creates their associative nature. The depiction of the peasant environment in Pig Earth is closely linked to sensuality and can evoke one’s own memories of sensual perception of the natural environment. Perhaps especially memories from childhood when the senses are particularly acute. Thus, the stories may appeal to one’s spatial awareness.

However, for the peasant, the attachment to place does not only exist on a spatial level. Place is also a source of historical time entailing a sense of continuity. As I have pointed out in the previous chapter, the introduction to Pig Earth explicitly despises of the dominant western culture of progress that cynically tends to concentrate on short-term sensations. The stories in Pig Earth offer an alternative perception of time. In “The Great Whiteness”, the storyteller digresses from the present of the story about an old peasant woman walking with her goat in the mountains to a story of a boulder that killed a woman in the mountains a long time ago (PE 21). The story shows the coexistence of the past and present and this element can also be traced in other stories such as, for example, “The Wind Howls Too”. It opens with a short tale about a stone sabot that is placed in a courtyard by a father, before his death, as a token of forgiveness to his son who, without approval, had taken his father’s boots when leaving for the city. Having come back to the village, the son, now a father himself, explains the sabot’s symbolical meaning to his son: “Nobody can take the stone sabot. […] It’s fixed to the rock. It’ll outlast the house. And that is what is important. The boots I took were unimportant. He wanted me to know that” (PE 3). The permanence of the stone sabot stands for eternity but, at the same time, the sabot reminds one of the previous generations and their existence in and influence on the present.

The sense of history and eternity seem to be inextricably connected in Pig Earth. The stories show the importance of eternity against which the peasants perceive the limited time of their lives. This is grounded in their cyclic view of time confirmed especially by the peasant’s closeness to the cycle of birth and death. Almost each story in Pig Earth is concerned with birth, death or both and the stories often have an existential atmosphere. This is, for example, apparent towards the end of “The Wind Howls Too”. As the boy gets a bit drunk from cider, the depiction of the feast at the table gradually takes on the form of an overwhelming medley of the satiated and cheerful villagers’ voices, his own observations and the grandfather’s contemplation of historical tradition. Finishing with the death of the boy’s grandfather, the story gains a somewhat mystical and existential atmosphere.

Dealing with existence and often referring to death or birth are also the poems inserted between the stories in Pig Earth. In, for example, a poem called “Village Maternity”, Berger deals with the moment of birth when the moments of daybreak are assimilated to a mother giving birth:

The mother puts

the new born day

to her breast


like skulls

are heaped

house high

before the blood has been washed

from the legs of the sky

(PE 51)

The poem’s reference to “skulls” reminds one of death and the time of eternity against which the daybreak and the birth are set. The natural environment is merging with the female body which, again, highlights the peasant’s tangible connection to and dependence on the land that nourishes the body. Since the poem is preceded by the story “The Wind Howls Too” that finishes with the death of the main protagonist’s grandfather, its thematic concern with birth thus highlights the collection’s concern with the cyclic view of time. Generally, through their sensual metaphors, the poems intensify the tendency of the stories to poeticise their existential concern in Berger’s sensual realism.

The stories accumulate various temporalities of place and illustrate their coexistence in the present. The narrative digressions into the past and the characters’ references to their previous generations show how the peasant’s perception of history is derived from the sense of place. It enables the characters to be grounded between the temporal and the timeless and establishes a sense of orientation as well as that of continuity. And, as the introduction to Pig Earth explains, since the peasant lives in an unjust world of “surpluses”, history is also a means for a moral judgment of the present. For the peasant, to face history is to face the tragic. And it is exactly this sense of history through which Berger imparts his stories with an ethical element. This aspect of the stories will be among others discussed in the following subchapter.

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