Cover image for Bad for us : the lure of self-harm
Bad for us : the lure of self-harm
Portmann, John.
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Publication Information:
Boston : Beacon Press, 2004.
Physical Description:
xxii, 224 pages ; 23 cm
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BF637.S37 P67 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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What's bad for us, and who decides? Portman's thoughtful and entertaining work asks and answers, looking to those before us who fell back to earth to provide insights into why humans are so often their own worst enemies. Portman (religious studies, U. of Virginia and also the author of When Bad Th

Author Notes

John Portmann teaches at the University of Virginia and lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

After When Bad Things Happen to Other People, his well-received 2000 study of schadenfreude, the scholar Portmann moves to another embarrassing arena of human frailty. He?s scoured the international tabloids to find examples of classic celebrity hijinx, observing with wry good humor everyone from Kobe Bryant to Bill Clinton. Sometimes it seems like all celebrities trip up, as if it were in their contracts. But a person doesn?t have to be famous, Portmann reminds us, to be drawn to the dark side of psychology. Why do people do things that are against their best interest? And how should they best control this impulse?through religion, law or Augustinian self-control? Most efforts at regulation, Portmann shows, whether imposed externally or internally, are doomed to failure, the ingenuity of sinners being greater than the will to stop sinning. But the great surprise in this volume is that Portmann encourages the cultivation of ?raving,? his neologism for deliberately over-the-top behavior. ?What interests me,? he writes, ?is the pleasure of giving in to temptation, yielding to what we could control, to letting go of ourselves voluntarily.? Portmann, who teaches religious ethics at the Univ. of Virginia, has the wry wit to leaven the inevitably repetitive theme. There?s a long chapter, related only tangentially to his other concerns, which could be expanded into a book of its own?potentially a more interesting one than this one. In it, under the rubric of ?unnecessary self-control,? Portmann explores the ambivalence of contemporary college boys in locker rooms and their inhibitions about stripping off when other men might see them. It?s a cheeky interlude in an otherwise placid book of liberal speculation. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Review

Portmann (When Bad Things Happen to Other People) has once more delved into what some may consider the darker side of human nature. An alternate title could easily have been "Why It Feels So Good To Hurt Yourself So Badly," for indeed that is the focus here. The text is divided into three sections: "Bad for Us," "Self-Control," and "Raving," which explores a group behavior that the author argues is a direct result of the desire for self-harm. Portmann has done an outstanding job of researching the phenomenon of self-harm, exploring customs, mores, and laws in various societies. He considers the range of ways people can harm themselves, from expected scenarios like gambling, cheating, drugs and alcohol, adultery, and greed to more radical methods like self-mutilation and autoerotic asphyxiation. One hypothesis as to why people insist on harming themselves is that it is much better to feel guilty than to feel powerless. Well written, thoroughly researched, and clearly presented, this work should be part of every academic library collection.-Melody Ballard, Washoe Cty. Lib. Syst., Reno (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Preface: Where the Wild Things Arep. xi
Part 1 Bad for Us
Chapter 1 Bad for Usp. 1
Chapter 2 Are We Not Our Own?p. 7
Chapter 3 Flights of Fancy: A Tourp. 25
Chapter 4 Protecting Us From Ourselvesp. 63
Part 2 Self-Control
Chapter 5 Self-Controlp. 85
Chapter 6 The Men of UVap. 108
Chapter 7 Beyond Our Controlp. 130
Part 3 Raving
Chapter 8 Ravingp. 151
Chapter 9 The Whole World's Gone Madp. 178
Absent without Leavep. 193
Acknowledgmentsp. 202
Notesp. 203
Indexp. 217