• Chapter I
Narcissus – from myth to case study
Ovid’s myth of Echo and Narcissus
Freudian and Post-Freudian Theories of Narcissism
• Chapter II
Attachment and Loss
The Aesthetic of Narcissism
Infanticide and Object Loss
• Chapter III
Narcissism and the Study of CharacterThe relation between character and novelist
“I Burn with love of my own self;
I both kindle the flames and suffer them.
What shall I do? “
Ovid’s Myth of Echo and Narcissus
FEW ANCIENT LEGENDS ARE AS MYSTERIOUS OR TIMELESS AS THE MYTH OF ECHO ANDNARCISSUS. THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL YOUTH THAT LANGUISHED AFTER SEEING HIS OWN REFLECTION IN A BODY OF WATER HAS SEIZED THE IMAGINATION OF READERS EVERYWHERE. FROM ITS ORIGINS IN THE METAMORPHOSES, A LIVELY COLLECTION OF GRECO-ROMAN STORIES COMPLETED IN THE YEAR 8 AD, WHEN EMPEROR AUGUSTUS EXILED OVID FROM ROME FOR IRREVERENCE AGAINST THE STATE, THE NARCISSUS LEGEND HAS UNDERGONE COUNTLESS RETELLINGS.THE RICHNESS OF THE MYTH IS INEXHAUSTIBLE. NARCISSUS DRAMATIZES NOT ONLY THE COLD, SELF-CENTERED LOVE THAT PROVES FATALLY IMPRISONING, BUT ALSO FUNDAMENTAL OPPOSITIONS OF HUMAN EXISTENCE: REALITY/ILLUSION, PRESENCE/ABSENCE, AND SUBJECT/OBJECT. THIS DUALISM CONTINUES TO PREOCCUPY LITERARY THEORISTS, PSYCHOLOGISTS, AND PHILOSOPHERS.
Although the myth of Narcissus is two thousand years old,psychologists did not begin to explore its implications until the end of the nineteenth century. Havelock Ellis was the first to invoke the figure of Narcissus to describe a normal state of psychology with morbid exaggerations. In 1898, he published a paper called “Auto-Erotism: A Psychological Study,” in which he mentions a “Narcissus-like tendency” for the sexual emotions to be absorbed and oftenentirely lost in self-admiration. Ellis viewed the tendency as an extreme form of autoerotism; a term devised “to cover all the spontaneous manifestations of sexual impulse in the absence of a definite outer object to evoke them, erotic dreams in sleep being the type of auto-erotic activity”.
Freud’ groundbreaking 1914 essay, “On Narcissism: An Introduction,” postulated narcissism as anormal transitional state between autoerotism and object love. He identified the concept with nothing less than the entire development of the self. As we shall see, Freud linked narcissism to the libido theory and distinguished primary narcissism from secondary narcissism. In Eros and Civilization (1955), Herbert Marcuse associates Narcissus with Orpheus, both “symbols of a non-repressive eroticattitude toward reality”. This is an untypically affirmative interpretation of Narcissus, for narcissism has become widely associated with self-absorption, vanity, and illusory love. Indeed, the word now signifies a cultural phenomenon, embedding itself as a firmly in the popular imagination as T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land did half a century ago.
The astonishing popularity of the term has led,inevitably, to a loss of precision. Narcissus began as a literary figure, emerged into a psychological concept, and now has attracted the attention of political scientists and sociologists. Lasch complains that as the word narcissism becomes part of our everyday vocabulary, its clinical meaning becomes lost. The warning can be carried one step further: the mythic origins of Narcissus and Echo havebeen forgotten.
Ovid begins by telling us that Cerphisus raped a water-lady, named Liriope, in a winding brook and nearly drowned her. In the due time, she gives birth to a boy. Even as a baby, Narcissus inspires girls with thoughts of love. Anxious about her son’s life, Liriope asks the prophet Tiresias whether Narcissus will live to old age. “If he ne’er know himself”, the wise man...