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IN DEFENSE OF SIN

John Portmann, Editor
John Portmann, Editor . ARRAY(0x25aa648) $23.95 (308p) ISBN 978-0-312-23986-2
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-1-4039-6142-6
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In this age of pious hyperbole, a volume extolling the virtues of sinfulness is very welcome. Portmann, the author of a wonderful examination of schadenfreude, When Bad Things Happen to Other People, here offers selections from a range of authors in defense of 16 varieties of evil, four of which are sexual. He makes no claims to inclusiveness—the deadly sins of sloth and gluttony and biblical injunctions against profaning the Sabbath and coveting one's neighbor are sadly omitted to make way for vindications of new transgressions—gossip, promiscuity, despair. The readings are uneven in tone and focus, thanks to the inclusion of excerpts from popular texts that seem off base. Oscar Wilde's mordant paean to lying, for example, is less about noble forms of deceit such as "white lies" than about the supremacy of art over nature, of the imaginary over the real. In defense of murder, Portmann offers a familiar satire by Jonathan Swift rather than a serious discussion of capital punishment or some other case in applied ethics. In contrast, chapters such as Anthony Ellis's vindication of casual sex and David Novitz's rejection of forgiveness are focused and provocative. The odd selection might have worked had the editor's introductions been less perfunctory. As it stands, the collection reads like a packet of texts assembled for a college course; absent is the authoritative presence required to tie it all together. (Sept. 8)

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