Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Berger himself has written with great lucidity about the significance of aesthetic, scientific, and political achievements in early twentieth century Europe. He has dubbed this epoch “the moment of cubism,” praising it for its revolutionary projection of new human perspectives, the first since the triumph of humanism, Galilean mechanics, and visual perspectivism during the Renaissance. G. itself has been compared (by David James in the essay cited at the end of this article) in its formal experimentation to analytical cubism in painting. The comparison is surely apposite. Berger’s essay was published in 1969, only three years prior to the publication of this novel, and Berger was almost certainly continuing the same itinerary he had sketched in the essay when he chose to write a historical fiction about the period.

The problem set by cubism in the visual arts is the relationship between the perspective of the individual observer upon an event or a phenomenon and the complex structural determinations which are necessary for the phenomenon to come into existence. While European art since the Renaissance had tended to privilege the individual viewer in presenting the world as if it could be comprehended from a single point of view, cubism shattered this visual plane by presenting one and the same object from different vantage points, thus producing an object of representation which no single observer occupying a given position could possibly...

(The entire section is 504 words.)