THE LOOK OF THINGS by John Berger

THE LOOK OF THINGS

KIRKUS REVIEW

Berger is a Marxist critic who so far eludes sectarian expectations that his writing seems closer in temper to the tradition of Ruskin and Pater -- that is to say, a tradition of fine writing suffused with self and appreciation. These essays -- on artists, genres, specific cases in many spheres of culture and the arts -- appear to have been produced over a fairly long period. One supposes anyway that his discussion, say, of Leger as epic-painter-of-means-of-production, would have preceded an extremely percipient piece on Walter Benjamin, a neglected, profoundly original writer whose ways of conceiving of art in history seem to have influenced Berger's own. Like Benjamin, Berger is never mechanically socio-historical; rather he focuses on the dimension of consciousness that is represented by style -- style as a fundamental, certainly legitimate element of communication, as in a brief, brilliant analysis of the Marxian rhetoric of the Eighteenth Brumaire; style as a personal achievement (as in a series of testaments to lives outside the capitalist fold) which alters qualitatively with acceptance and absorption into the cultural trust; stylistic possibility as a measure of general imaginative Lebensraum. Media and genres are treated correspondingly, e.g., the different contingencies of portraiture and photographs. Berger's own mobile, epigrammatically precise style is a proper vehicle for these forays beyond interpretation, though sometimes too it tempts him to make more than necessary of local errands ("At the Zoo"). Whether you see that as a failing depends on your point of view. Diversely rewarding.
Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1974
ISBN: 0670439878
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1974




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