Picture This

Picture This

4.6 3
by Joseph Heller

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Picture this: Rembrandt is creating his famous painting of Aristotle contemplating the bust of Homer. As soon as he paints an ear on Aristotle, Aristotle can hear. When he paints an eye, Aristotle can see. And what Aristotle sees and hears and remembers from the ancient past to this very moment provides the foundation for this lighthearted, freewheeling jaunt

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Picture this: Rembrandt is creating his famous painting of Aristotle contemplating the bust of Homer. As soon as he paints an ear on Aristotle, Aristotle can hear. When he paints an eye, Aristotle can see. And what Aristotle sees and hears and remembers from the ancient past to this very moment provides the foundation for this lighthearted, freewheeling jaunt through 2,500 years of Western Civilization.
Picture This is an incisive fantasy that digs deeply into our illusions and customs. Nobody but Joseph Heller could have thought of a novel like this one. Nobody but Heller could have executed it so brilliantly.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
The New York Times Book Review Mr. Heller treats the whole panorama of history past and present with the bravado of Mark Twain in one of his sassier moods.

Doris Lessing I think Picture This is brilliant. It has the astringency and wit of Catch-22, matured.

San Francisco Chronicle The author of the outrageous classic Catch-22 once again comments on all of society and history with this whirlwind tour through the minds of Aristotle and Rembrandt. Their vastly different worlds are not so very different from each other, or for that matter, from our own world. History as told by Heller is so comic and heartbreaking that you wonder why anyone would want to live there.

Chicago Sun-Times Ingenious — another new kind of novel: intelligent and written with grace....A fiction to appreciate and ponder.

Vogue Pure renegade Heller — at best, as sharp (and thoroughly American) as Lizzie Borden's axe.

Rita Mae Brown Chimerical, political, and funny, Picture This is a novel with fangs....His flashiest since Catch-22.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a radical departure, Heller has concocted a clever, strange piece of experimental historical fiction. As the novel begins, slovenly, debt-ridden Rembrandt van Rijn is painting his now-famous Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer. Suddenly, we are whisked from 17th century Holland to ancient Greece, where an exiled, weary Aristotle clairvoyantly watches Rembrandt doing his portrait. Not much has changed, the philosopher concludes as he gazes down the centuries at our dawning modern era of greed, wars and capitalism run amok. Written in a flat, reportorial style, omniscient in viewpoint, the narrative confusingly and annoyingly jumpcuts in time and spacebetween and within epochs. The chapters on Athens, where Plato pontificates while Socrates berates the belligerent youth Alcibiades, are occasionally wickedly funny. Best read in short takes, this startling parable about the degeneration of art into commodity and the survival of human values in a materialistic world demands total suspension of disbelief. For willing readers, it casts an undeniable spell. First serial to Playboy; BOMC featured alternate. (September)
Library Journal
Less a novel than a discursive meditation on a theme, this work broods over the manifold implications of the Metropolitan Museum's possessing Rembrandt's Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer. Juxtaposing the Periclean Age with the Golden Era of the Dutch Empire, and always aware of the quasi-imperialism of recent American history, Heller focuses and refocuses in different historical settings on the ambiguous incompatibilities of art and contemplation with the equally human drives of material lust, vanity, and ambition. The collapsed and degraded Athenian Empire, collapsed and degraded European imperialism, and our own post-1945 history of cold, tepid, and hot wars are brought into pathetic consonance. Sardonic, polemical, occasionally preachy and turgid, but to my mind Heller's most interesting book since Catch-22 . Earl Rovit, City Coll., CUNY

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Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Aristotle contemplating the bust of Homer thought often of Socrates while Rembrandt dressed him with paint in a white Renaissance surplice and a medieval black robe and encased him in shadows. "Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius," Plato has Socrates saying after he had swallowed his cup of poison and felt the numbing effects steal up through his groin into his torso and approach his heart. "Will you remember to pay the debt?"

Now Socrates, of course, did not owe a cock to Asclepius, the god of medicine.

And the leather merchant Asclepius, you will find written here, son of the physician Eurymynedes, was as baffled as anyone to learn of the bequest from the slave who appeared on his doorstep in the morning with a live rooster in his arms. The authorities were curious also and took him into custody for questioning. They put him to death when he continued to profess his ignorance and would not reveal the code.

Copyright © 1998 by Joseph Heller

Meet the Author

Joseph Heller was born in Brooklyn in 1923. In 1961, he published Catch-22, which became a bestseller and, in 1970, a film. He went on to write such novels as Good as Gold, God Knows, Picture This, Closing Time (the sequel to Catch-22), and Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man. Heller died in December 1999.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
May 1, 1923
Date of Death:
December 12, 1999
Place of Birth:
Brooklyn, New York
Place of Death:
East Hampton, New York
New York University, B.A. in English, Phi Beta Kappa, 1948<br> Columbia University, M.A., 1949

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Picture This 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Altheo More than 1 year ago
Joseph Heller's "Picture This" has yet to be fully appreciated because the world is not yet ready to change the subjective opinions of the facts which have made our history books sources of misinformation. As the wise saying goes, what we have learned from history is that we don't learn from history. Heller seeks to rectify this. Comparing Aristotle and his times (the Greeks weaned on Homer's epic novels), the Enlightenment (made possible by the invention of the printing press), the beginnings of the industrial revolution (which included Rembrandt's artful ups and downs) and life as it is today, what we are shown is that nothing has changed, and the only true hero is the least understood of the Hellenic Greeks three most famous philosophers: Socrates (time having discredited the subjective ideas of both Plato and Aristotle.) What Socrates taught and preached was the reward that comes from using of our reasoning powers to dispel our deep-seated illusions of grandeur and delusions of persecution; the reward being both the wisdom of ethical behavior and the happiness that comes from attaining peace of mind. Luckily, Heller survived the war and lived to tell about it. His abhorance of war, and of the injustices he saw, were the subject matter of his books. Unfortunately, he was seen as merely a humorist; his subsequent books were judged as his never having lived up to his potential. The barbs of satire are aimed at human foibles. When completely understood satire becomes a source of comedy, but when not understood it is seen as criticism and reacted to as a personal threat. Unfortunately, we are still in the habit of killing the messenger. Although the sorry fate of Socrates is well known and hard to endure--man's inhumanity to man a current theme--this book needs to be read more than once. Joan Morrone
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wow and Wow! When I first read this book it felt like I was reading someone's college thesis or something. It is literally a history book, but somehow Joseph Heller pokes his head through the painting of Aristotle contemplating the bust of Homer. Heller takes us abroad on a journey through time. From Plato to Rembrandt and even after that. The main character of this book is canvas. Now that is innovative (no sarcasm). As you read this you feel like you are reading a real important book (a natural and totally appropriate feeling). It is almost like you are reading something that no one else could read. It is so original that it is frightening to picture Joseph Heller plunging into history books and art archives to come up with this stuff. Personally I was freaked out, because I didn't know if this was a real book or if it was just fiction thrown together with famous names. I am indebt to Joseph Heller for knocking me on my butt every time I read one of his books. Even though he is not with us now, his words are a posthumous/posthumorous tombstone. I cannot recommend this book anymore.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Everyone this is a great book and I think any age group would love it