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NONFICTION

HIS OTHER HALF: Men Looking at Women Through Art by Wendy Lesser (Harvard: $24.95; 277 pp.). This delightful departure from the humdrum of academic feminism argues that Edgar Degas’ portraits of women evoke not “violence,” “degradation” and “contortion,” as some dissertations have theorized, but “natural physical grace”; that Picasso’s last portraits--sex-obsessed, frenzied, crude and angry--express not hatred of women but “an old man’s frenzy at the beauty of what he can no longer do,” as critic John Berger put it. Thoughtful feminists will bristle justifiably at the glib way Lesser excuses such artists as Alfred Hitchcock: “If he victimizes women, he does so to come to their defense.” But in charting a historical “progression” in views of women, from “mother” to “woman as sexual opponent” to “woman as the artist’s mirror,” Lesser offers insights into issues as subtle as the nature of love.


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