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, and Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man. Heller died in 1999.
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
Chicago Sun-Times Ingenious -- another new kind of novel:
intelligent and written with grace....A fiction to appreciate and
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.
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.
Vogue Pure renegade Heller -- at best, as sharp (and thoroughly American) as Lizzie Borden's axe.
Doris Lessing I think Picture This is brilliant. It has the astringency and wit of Catch-22, matured.
Rita Mae Brown Chimerical, political, and funny, Picture This is a novel with fangs....His flashiest since Catch-22.
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)