21 December 2015

Review: Ways of Seeing by John Berger et al.

Trade paperback, 166 pages
Published 1977 (originally 1972)
Acquired August 2006
Reread April 2015
Ways of Seeing by John Berger, Sven Blomberg, Chris Fox, Michael Dibb, Richard Hollis

I've taught this book in my college writing course for freshmen a lot, often chapters out of it, but this semester and last, I decided to go for an all-Berger semester: the book has four prose chapters (there are also three chapters consisting only of images), and I assign four paper projects, so I just based one paper assignment on each chapter, pairing each chapter with an essay by another author on the same topic (e.g., I paired chapter one, about museums, with excerpts from André Malraux's Museum without Walls). I don't know that anyone comes away from the course loving John Berger, but he's a useful author in that context: polemical and wide-ranging, he allows me to give a set of assignments that clearly have common themes, but aren't too repetitive. He also is a good model for academic writing, in how he exposes and reads the details of something to build an argument, one with actual implications. But man, chapter 5 (the one on property in paintings and The Ambassadors) is like, impossible to teach; I've yet to come up with a writing assignment based on it that just doesn't vex my students to no end. Next semester I'll be teaching a different course, but when I come back to freshman writing, I'm sure I'll be coming back to Ways of Seeing, and I'll have to try something different there.

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