Cover image for The shape of a pocket
The shape of a pocket
Berger, John.
Personal Author:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Pantheon Books, [2001]

Physical Description:
264 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
Originally published: London : Bloomsbury, 2001.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
N7560 .B47 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



The pocket in question is a small pocket of resistance. A pocket is formed when two or more people come together in agreement. The resistance is against the inhumanity of the new world economic order. The people coming together are the reader, me and those the essays are about -- Rembrandt, Palaeolithic cave painters, a Romanian peasant, ancient Egyptians, an expert in the loneliness of certain hotel bedrooms, dogs at dusk, a man in a radio station. And unexpectedly, our exchanges strengthen each of us in our conviction that what is happening to the world today is wrong, and that what is often said about it is a lie. I've never written a book with a greater sense of urgency. --John Berger

Author Notes

John Peter Berger was born in London, England on November 5, 1926. After serving in the British Army from 1944 to 1946, he enrolled in the Chelsea School of Art. He began his career as a painter and exhibited work at a number of London galleries in the late 1940s. He then worked as an art critic for The New Statesman for a decade.

He wrote fiction and nonfiction including several volumes of art criticism. His novels include A Painter of Our Time, From A to X, and G., which won both the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Booker Prize in 1972. His other works include an essay collection entitled Permanent Red, Into Their Labors, and a book and television series entitled Ways of Seeing.

In the 1970s, he collaborated with the director Alain Tanner on three films. He wrote or co-wrote La Salamandre, The Middle of the World, and Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000. He died on January 1, 2017 at the age of 90.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

1 Opening a Gate
2 Steps Towards a Small Theory of the Visible (for Yves)
3 Studio Talk (for Miquel Barceló)
4 The Chauvet Cave
5 Penelope
6 The Fayum Portraits
7 Degas
8 Drawing: Correspondence with Leon Kossoff
9 Vincent
10 Michelangelo
11 Rembrandt and the Body
12 A Cloth Over the Mirror
13 Brancusi
14 The River Po
15 Giorgio Morandi (for Gianni Celati)
16 Pull the Other Leg, It's Got Bells On It
17 Frida Kahlo
18 A Bed (for Christoph Hänsli)
19 A Man with Tousled Hair
20 An Apple Orchard (An Open Letter to Raymond Barre, Mayor of Lyon)
21 Brushes Standing Up in Jars
22 Against the Great Defeat of the World
23 Correspondence with Subcomandante Marcos:-
I The Herons-
II The Herons and Eagles-
III How to Live with Stones
24 Will It Be a Likeness?
(for Juan Munoz)