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This article is taken from PN Review 116, Volume 23 Number 6, July - August 1997.

American Narcissism Louise Glück

That the story of Narcissus has proposed itself as focus of contemporary meditation owes something to its concerns and something to its nature: like much contemporary fiction, it is all psychology, no narrative. Impossible to film. As a static image, it encourages projections of the kind narrative limits or interrupts. As an image concerned with the self's engagement with the self, it falls quite naturally in line with one of our century's engrossing discoveries, psychoanalysis. Further, it adopts and extends Romanticism's attentiveness to the soul, or the inward.

The soul, here, is entirely hostage to the body. In Ovid's telling, the beautiful cold boy, whom love never moves, sees in the pond what others see, the depth of the water compensating for the superficiality of the reflection. His punishment is to suffer what has been suffered in his name: he also falls in love, his love as conscious and as doomed as Echo's. He knows what he's looking at: 'Alas! I am myself the boy I see. I know it… I am on fire with love for my own self.' He endures, until grief claims him, the knowledge of his passion's impossibility.

Still, this is for Narcissus the discovery of love, of feeling. Yet within the still parabolic shape of the story, and end, a constriction as well as a beginning. Echo, spurned, is deprived of her body; Narcissus loses his life. Although the punishment devised by Nemesis initiates lucid apprehension, it is the sense ...


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