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The Shape of a Pocket Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 276 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 11, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375718885
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375718885
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.2 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #232,471 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This volume collects more recent essays that first appeared in a variety of languages in publications in Zurich, Madrid, Stockholm, Frankfurt, Helsinki and London. Since very few readers, even Berger fanatics, will have the linguistic skills to have experienced these texts in their original translated versions, it is useful to have them collected and available here in English. The 24 essays include impressions of artists such as Rembrandt, Degas, Michelangelo, Kahlo and Brancusi. There are the familiar farmyard observations from Berger as the rural dweller in the French Alps. Others, like the one titled "The Chauvet Cave" after a French site of prehistoric art, seem diffuse and free-form rather than focusing on a single subject. On Rembrandt, Berger is in his element, as if speaking about someone he knew personally: "obstinate, dogmatic, cunning, capable of a kind of brutality. Do not let us turn him into a saint." Some of the essays integrate the author's now-shaky memory, as when he writes, "I have the impression, that just after Brancusi's death in 1957, I visited his studio...." And he manages to get off yet another shot against his pet peeve Francis Bacon, in whose art, according to Berger, "pain is watched through a screen, like soiled linen being watched through the round window of a washing machine." Such overstrenuous attacks on a demonstrably major painter are tedious, but most of the present book, integrating the author's own aging and physical decay, rings as true as the rest of his much-appreciated work. (Dec. 28) Forecast: This book is a sure thing for Berger's regular readers and for larger campus art collections. For an extra $8.50, though, casual readers may prefer to pick up the above Selected, revealing the writer in his fierce prime and providing more than twice as much material.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

For some fifty years, the reclusive British writer John Berger has thought a great deal about art and artists, and this collection of essays includes a moving tribute to Frida Kahlo and a brilliant meditation on the achievement of the Italian painter Giorgio Morandi. But everything Berger has written—essays, novels, criticism, screenplays—has been filled with his passionate concern for what used to be called the state of man. That preoccupation is on every page here, whether he is recalling the patience of Antonio Gramsci or discussing Degas's nudes. When Berger was young, his urgent left-wing politics sometimes thrust him into the role of provocateur. Now he is no less committed to making the hidden visible, but his sensibility has widened and deepened; his exegesis of the significance for us of the Fayum portraits, discovered in Egypt in the late eighteen-hundreds, is especially piercing. Berger is one of the few writers who answer questions we don't know to ask.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

More About the Author

John Berger was born in London in 1926. He is well known for his novels and stories as well as for his works of nonfiction, including several volumes of art criticism. His first novel, A Painter of Our Time, was published in 1958, and since then his books have included the novel G., which won the Booker Prize in 1972. In 1962 he left Britain permanently, and he lives in a small village in the French Alps.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By D. Darrow on April 1, 2008
Format: Paperback
David Mamet wrote "Three Uses of a Knife: The Nature and Purpose of Drama." This Book should be called "The shape of a Pocket: The Nature and Purpose of Art." Because they are dialogues, or letters, written to artists who are long gone, these essays have far more weight than a simple analysis of Van Gogh or Yves Klein. I would say that the one problem, if there were to be a problem, would be Berger's emotional investment. Some of the essays get lost in admiration - causing the reader to question why the essay was written in the first place - But overall, this is a riveting collection, and a must for anyone interested in contemporary art and its societal role.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Stephanie S on February 13, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is one of the most extraordinary books I've ever read. All of Berger's writing is provocative, but this collection is particularly marvelous. I find myself picking this book up to read and reread the essays, over the years. It is a book that fills the heart, engages the mind, and changes one's way of seeing.
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18 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Philippe Vandenbroeck VINE VOICE on December 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
"The Shape of a Pocket" is perfect bedside reading: the essays are short, meditative and carefully crafted. Berger's prose is pure and airy, and only occasionally he trespasses into the contrived and nearly bombastic. That's irritating but understandable as Berger is constantly trying to get to the deeper layers of what it means to make sense of the world through the 'act' of painting. I suppose Berger, on reading these lines, would remark that conceptualising 'to paint' as an 'act' is completely besides the point. Indeed, what he tries to get across is the 'receiving' nature of being-in-the-world as a painter. Being a real artist is a balancing act: it's a state of dynamic equilibrium between 'self' and 'world', between banality and madness. I believe Berger; his writing breathes integrity and wisdom. He has seen things that many mortals only have faint intimations of. That being said I am less sure about the appropriateness of his insights spilling over into the political realm. The complexity of globalisation is, perhaps, of a different nature than the complexity of a brush stroke. I think it shows, in Berger's language: suddenly the delicacy - holographic in its suggestion of colour, depth and texture - evaporates and we are left with the dull taste of cliche and ideology.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Sanone on September 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book is prose, poetry and the most personal, intelegent and non linear art writing I have read so far- I also recommend John Berger's Sense of Sight.
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