Just in time for Valentine’s Day: a presentation of lust’s better angels.
Of course, Blackburn (Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Being Good, 2001, etc.) admits in this third volume from the New York Public Library/Oxford University Press series on the seven deadly sins, there is lust for power, lust for wealth, lust for lots of things. But venery, the yearning for sex, is the lust that really engages our interest. Blackburn offers exegesis on the spotted history of lust since Eden. He enlists high-minded Plato and the Greeks, calls upon lofty Shakespeare, reviews Augustine and the theology of sex, marshals the views of Kant and Hobbes, trots out Sappho, Sartre, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. He writes of prostitution, pornography, and feminist objection to objectification. “Lust knows no decorum,” our instructor allows. His gnostic treatise, nevertheless, is quite decorous, indeed. For all the wanton glances, the brief text is cool, not tumid with human fervor; it is slick, but hardly lubricious, and it is fully footnoted. In true-blue British fashion, Blackburn’s upper lip remains quite stiff. There’s more sense here than sensuality, though ultimately he does grant that lust aims simply at “a good lay.” A thoughtfully burnished essay on a titillating topic. (Illustrated)