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When Bad Things Happen to Other Peopleby John Portmann
Synopses & Reviews
Although many of us deny it, it is not uncommon to feel pleasure over the suffering of others, particularly when we feel that suffering has been deserved. The German word for this concept-Schadenfreude-has become universal in its expression of this feeling. Drawing on the teachings of history's most prominent philosophers, John Portmann explores the concept of Schadenfreude in this rigorous, comprehensive, and absorbing study.
Citing examples from literature and popular culture-from the works of Toni Morrison, Umberto Eco and Baudelaire to physical comedy and cartoons-Portmann lays bare an important distinction in our understanding of Schadenfreude, the difference between taking pleasure in the suffering of others and relishing the execution of justice. His study of Schadenfreude contrasts Kant and Schopenhauer's rejection of the concept to Nietschze's and Freud's embrace of this all-too-human tendency. Most importantly, he confronts the debates over institutional punishment, violence in our culture, and our current hunger for media images of punishment and betrayal. Almost encyclopedic in its survey of scholarship on understanding and evaluating Schadenfreude, this groundbreaking and highly accessible examination of a neglected topic will make a vital contribution to the study of human ethics, as it compels us to reexamine our own feelings about suffering, sympathy, and the morality of justice.
Book News Annotation:
Portmann explores the feelings of pleasure that people experience when even a close friend suffers, surveying the perspectives of such thinkers as Nietzsche, Baudelaire, Freud, and Toni Morrison. He also uses the concept as a lens to consider such contemporary issues as the insatiable appetite for media images depicting power, scandal, and betrayal; and capital punishment as a euphemism for revenge.
Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
"Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies, " Gore Vidal once observed. It's funny, it's terrible, and it's true. In this provocative and groundbreaking book, Portmann explores this all-too-human foible--what the Germans call "Schadenfreude."
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