A Slap in the Face: Why Insults Hurt—and Why They Shouldn’t

William Braxton Irvine, Author
William B. Irvine. Oxford Univ., $21.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-19-993445-4
Hardcover - 978-0-19-993446-1
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We may not like to admit it, but the impulse to wound with words has long been a part of human history, Irvine (A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy) contends in this mélange of philosophy, psychology, and cultural study. Insults may range from barbs meant as flirtatious bait to the famously eloquent gibes of Shakespeare, but Irvine pragmatically argues that regardless of intention or context, we must understand insults in order to deal with them: “Sticks and stones can break your bones,” he concedes, “but you should develop a strategy to minimize the pain you experience when people call you names.” To that end, Irvine, a philosophy professor at Wayne State University, investigates the history of abuse, as well as the rhetoric of insult delivery and the science behind feeling affronted. He posits that the power of insults derives from our profoundly social nature, and that we wouldn’t feel hurt if we weren’t simultaneously invested in others and worried about how they see us. Irvine ultimately opines that a return to the pacifism and equanimity of the ancient Stoics is our best bet for dealing with insult, and while such a stance may be off-putting to some readers, Irvine adds a welcome dose of insight to injury. Agent: Byrd Leavell, Waxman Leavell Literary Agency. (Mar.)
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