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.
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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