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There is no doubt of viciousness of existence. Bertolt Brecht spoke of how one minute you are striding out freely down a merry boulevard, the next poleaxed by a great lump of steel fallen from the heavens.

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The Stranger Inside is billed on its own front cover as ‘an erotic adventure’. The title would be considerably more innocuous if the book didn’t announce itself as erotica, but once it does, the phrase ‘the stranger inside’ suddenly becomes suggestive in the extreme. It’s a good title, partly because grammar renders it fruitfully ambiguous: apart from the obvious implication, it could also mean ‘the inner alien’ (a fragment of psychobabble, as in ‘the inner child’), or perhaps ‘the more peculiar interior’ (as in ‘my inside is stranger than yours’). Whichever way you read it inside the body, inside the book, inside the soul the phrase suggests that eroticism depends on a combination of interiority and mystery.

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For over a decade, Peter Singer has been one of those public intellectuals we are supposed by some not to have. In the past, however, the problem with him has been that his thinking has often been about matters not seen to concern the public at large, animal liberation, for example. But events have hurried us all forward. Even a few years ago it was possible for mottoes like ‘greed is good’ or pronouncements like Mrs Thatcher’s that ‘there is no such thing as society, there are only individuals’ to seem not only provocative but hard-headed. The good life, we were, many of us, persuaded, was synonymous with goods, our heroes were experts in money-making – having and spending, ethics seemed to be a matter of preserving the appearances, not getting caught.

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