Bad for Us by John Portmann
The Lure of Self-Harm

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Why do we sometimes risk happiness and success? Newspapers regale us with breathtaking reversals of fortune: Think of the self-induced falls from grace of Richard Nixon, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jackson, and Martha Stewart. We too can be imprudent-occasionally stumbling and falling through life-and not because we were pushed. John Portmann argues that we are often our own worst enemies, and that the most painful suffering of all is that which we bring upon ourselves.

This edgy and altogether original exploration illuminates self-destructive behavior. It helps us understand how we crash and burn without any help from others and carry the seeds of our own destruction. Portmann observes that people frequently prefer feeling guilty to feeling powerless and therefore resolve to take life by the horns. The stage is then set for trouble.

From time to time, we crave the forbidden or the dangerous. Walking the fine line between what is expected of us and what we ache to experience can be thrilling. Portmann looks at the raves twenty-somethings flock to in order to analyze moments when we take leave of our senses and defy social mores. While some of us practice a hard-core lifestyle, indulging in unsafe sex, snorting cocaine, or having affairs, others take satisfaction in milder indulgences, such as streaking nude across a college campus or feigning sickness to miss work. Looking for love may compel us to post compromising pictures on the Internet; those who find our postings may take advantage of our vulnerability. Raving invites an intriguing spectrum of risks, most of which qualify as "a temporary vacation from the self."

In Bad For Us, Portmann urges us to "take a lesson from those who fall back to earth." Our very happiness is at stake: If we choose wisely, we will savor life through little rebellions; if we choose foolishly, we will swallow a bitter pill. This book is a beacon for cautious rebels.

About John Portmann

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John Portmann is the author ofWhen Bad Things Happen to Other PeopleandSex and Heaven, as well as the editor ofIn Defense of Sin. He teaches at the University of Virginia and lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Published July 15, 2004 by Beacon Press. 248 pages
Genres: Political & Social Sciences, Self Help, Science & Math. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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In the final section, Portmann gets down to his central thesis, the paradox that both a sense of self-control and loss of self-control are essential.

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Publishers Weekly

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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 volunta...

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