The Human Prison: A review of John Berger’s “Meanwhile”

Helpful review of Berger’s Essay (turned into a book) ; ‘Meanwhile’. I’m currently reading a more airy Berger book; ‘And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos’ which I’m a bit in love with. ‘Meanwhile’ looks heavier, and not quite what I’m currently looking for, but i’m probably going to read the bulk of Berger’s writing eventually so i’ll have to reach the more distressing stuff sometime….

Raincoat Optimism

John Berger is an English art critic and cultural theorist known best – if at all – for his 1972 book Ways of Seeing – a work written partly in homage to Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In 2008 Drawbridge Books published an essay of his called, simply, Meanwhile, which attempts to look at our historical age as we live it – an impossible task.

As Berger rightly noticed, descriptions of history need words, words need definitions, definitions need figurative images to serve as landmarks and without landmarks “there is the great human risk of turning in circles”. The landmark, as Berger notes, that he has found, to define our age, “is that of prison.”

The advent of the penitentiary, so Michel Foucault once noted, was linked to industrial production, “its factories and its utilitarian philosophy.” Time has not stood still…

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