cover image On Seeing: Things Seen, Unseen, and Obscene

On Seeing: Things Seen, Unseen, and Obscene

F. Gonzalez-Crussi, . . Overlook, $23.95 (236pp) ISBN 978-1-58567-674-3

What Oliver Sacks does for the mind, González-Crussi (On Being Born and Other Difficulties ) does for the eye in this captivating set of philosophical meditations on the relationship between the viewer and the viewed. The author, amused and amazed by our desire to see what is forbidden, draws on historical and cultural examples, from Actaeon spying on the goddess Diana to a pair of voyeurs in revolutionary France who unwittingly incite a massacre. Mixed in with such accounts are personal reflections drawn from medicine (González-Crussi is professor emeritus of pathology at Northwestern's medical school). He is astounded, for example, at how many people have pestered him for access to an autopsy, just to say they'd seen one. The ornate sentences are filled with stunning images, like his description of an infant just emerged from the womb, bloody, "weakly flailing his arms" and crying, appearing to the author not as a symbol of life but as resembling "a foot-soldier in a defeated army, a pitiful survivor in a catastrophic retreat," and his prose never loses its elegance, even when the stories he tells veer into the bawdy. Not every anecdote resonates perfectly, but González-Crussi is a charming raconteur who will win over readers with his thoughts on our visual connection to the world around us. 10 b&w illus. (Feb.)