THE REAR VIEW by Jean-Luc Hennig


A Brief and Elegant History of Bottoms Through the Ages
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 Hennig, a freelance journalist, offers diverse cultural, historical, artistic, and literary perspectives on human hindquarters. He may not have any fundamental aesthetic thesis to propound in this loosely arranged series of vignette-essays, but his conversational touch lightly mocks academia's current obsession with such matters as body theory and the ``gaze.'' In his ongoing contemplation of the S-silhouette and the hourglass figure, Hennig examines, tongue-in-cheek, such aspects of the posterior as its evolution, its depiction in the art of Renoir, Degas, and Toulouse-Lautrec, the comparative movie careers of Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot, the three varieties of bottom-pinching as practiced in Italy (pizzicato, vivace, and sustenuto), and the medieval blazon, which is an apostrophic verse genre devoted to body parts. Hennig does not neglect the male buttocks, noting representations from the ancient Greeks through Michelangelo and up to GÇricault. One of the odder items that Hennig turns up concerns one theory about the Mona Lisa's ``twisted, slightly idiotic smile,'' which supposedly is a representation of a boy's posterior turned on its side. Throughout, these disquisitions are embellished with literary allusions and quotes from the likes of Baudelaire and Apollinaire, though Hennig sometimes over-relies on certain sources, such as Desmond Morris's The Naked Ape for anthropology and Sir Kenneth Clark's art criticism. The only drawback to this slim, entertaining volume is its Francocentrism: Noted buttocks fanciers Chaucer and Swinburne go unmentioned, although Hennig discusses French slang and advertising campaigns at some length. Although The Rear View often risks glib showiness, its celebration of the derriäre is generally witty, amusing, and literate. (16 pages b&w illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: April 2nd, 1997
ISBN: 0-517-70814-0
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1997