cover image Payback: The Case for Revenge

Payback: The Case for Revenge

Thane Rosenbaum. Univ. of Chicago, $26. (320p) ISBN 978-0-226-72661-8

The need to punish wrongdoers is natural, and ancient societies embraced, even codified it. Novelist (The Myth of Moral Justice), essayist, and law professor Rosenbaum reflects on this while discussing how fictional revenge sagas are not signs of modern-day "closet barbarian[ism]", but that such plots fulfill needs that ought to be met in legal systems. Suppressing revenge desires is de rigeur in real life; with "justice" sought in its stead. But this is obfuscation via language; "revenge is justice with an individual face." Rosenbaum inhabits both the fact-based legal world and the emotion-based arts realm, able to address everything from talion to The Princess Bride. His satisfying work gives us permission, contrary to contemporary politeness, to assert "honor in payback." Far from wanting chaos, Rosenbaum argues that leaving aggrieved parties on legal margins, and their emotions outside its doors, leads to more violence, even madness. He suggests that in the real world's cold rationality, it's only through art we publicly admit "evil does, indeed, exist in the world." And in light of the emerging field of narrative medicine, to seal this gap we could acknowledge lawyers as agents with a social contract to a client's emotional life. Refreshingly honest, Rosenbaum renders a consequential, often gruesome topic uplifting, even fun. (Apr.)