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Pig Earth: Book One of the Into Their Labours Trilogy Paperback – October 27, 1992
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The author of the famous "Ways of Seeing" and the novel "G" (winner of the 1972 Booker Prize) has now published a collection of short stories, poems and sketches about the life and culture of a French peasant community, its gossip, its memories and its relationship with the land.
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In recent times, in India, the lives of hundreds of thousands of peasants have been destroyed as their livlihoods have been taken from them due to the actions of farming corporations driving up their farming costs, consumming their region's water, and poisoning the land with chemical fertilizers and pesticides . . . land that India's peasants have farmed successfully, without their help and without the disastrous consequences, for millennia. The great agricultural devastion of the 1930's in our own country was caused by similar man-made practices. Today, still, in our country, more and more small-farm families are being forced to give up their livelihoods due to the same pressures caused by international megacorporations following the same practices. Our farmland, like so much else, is being taken over by them, driven by the lust of their executives and stockholders for more and more profit while poisoning the land with chemicals and destroying natural wildlife habitats through their monoculture farming. What will happen to our food supply when, within but a few decades, the enormous quantities of water and chemical fertilizers they require to produce it are no longer economically feasable?
Are the world's peasants the "canary in the coal mine"?
Of particular poignancy are the pieces describing the lives (sic) of Lucie Cabrol, known as the Cocadrille. Consider this excerpt:
"Again she said my name as she had said it forty years before and again it separated me, marked me out from all other men. In the mountains the past is never behind, it's always to the side. You come down from the forest at dusk and a dog is barking in a hamlet. A century ago in the same spot at the same time of day, a dog, when it heard a man coming down through the forest, was barking, and the interval between the two occasions is no more than a pause in the barking."
The reader should not skip the somewhat academic introduction, for it is here that Berger outlines his motivations for writing the book and his philosophy towards what he terms "peasant life." Although he does not gloss over its hardships, he does hold that such a life offers independence, autonomy, perspective, community, and pride in one's store of inherited knowledge. He does believe that the disappearance of this way of life, which he suggests is inevitable, will be a great loss to us all.
Such incites are scatted throughout the stories as well, for example:
"At home, in the village, it is you who do everything, and the way you do it gives you a certain authority. There are accidents and many things are beyond your control, but it is you who have to deal with the consequences even of these. When you arrive in the city, where so much is happening and so much is being done and shifted, you realize with astonishment that nothing is in your control. It is like being a bee against a window pane. You see the events, the colours, the lights, yet something, which you can't see, separates you. With the peasant it is the forced suspension of his habit of handling and doing. That's why his hands dangle out of his cuffs so stupidly."
This slim volume is well worth the effort, and if Berger has erred in any way, it is perhaps in his desperation to make us experience what he has experienced as he lives and farms on this land himself. It is reminiscent, in this way, of Agee's "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men."