The Story of Looking
In the 1970s, John (Berger) overtook John (the Evangelist) and put the gaze before the Word. A half-century later, we are living a time of absolute visual supremacy, and many already perceive fury and fatigue in our sight. But amid all the whining, the past years have heard voices that see the act of looking as something good, and rather than blindfolding ourselves, what we ought to do is train our eyes so that we harness their true potential. This is the idea developed by the Northern Irish writer and filmmaker who, after the documentary The Story of Film, freturns with an account of human observation, bringing it to the screen as well.
He begins his adventure in Africa 200,000 years ago, with the first blurry peeks of a newborn babe. In the course of the thick book he plays guide in a voyage through civilizations, freely going from painting to cinema with stops in architecture, science, the city. After a dissection of the passage from Homo sapiens to Homo ludens, the expedition ends in the now of screens and smartphones, with an optimistic invitation to never cease looking.
Tedium would be understandable in yet another attempt to reconstruct history through pictures, but the book gives perspective amid so much visual frenzy. It is the story of the sui generis gaze where with his cool style, far from academicisms, Cousins traces the evolution of the species with the spontaneity of a photo album. Here is an author we know to be more at ease with the camera than with the pen, and who by his own admission expresses himself better with images than with words.