Narcissus Unleashed

Before my afternoon job at FIT the other day, I was having lunch in a small organic health food eatery on Seventh Avenue. I sat quietly, dividing my attention between a mesclun salad and the New York Times crossword puzzle. Two young women were sitting nearby and I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. One of the women was telling the other that she was planning to break up with her boyfriend. When the friend asked why, the woman replied, “Because I can’t take it anymore. He’s such a narcissist!”. A knowing smirk formed on my face. A narcissistic man in New York City?? Impossible! That’s kooky talk!! 😆

Ah, but I tease my hometown and our psychologically defective residents. The truth is that narcissists are everywhere, flooding our popular culture and inflicting their pernicious disorder on all the rest of us. Paris Hilton, for example, refuses to go away. Ubiquitous reality TV “personalities” expect fame and adulation with no discernible talent or contribution. And now, like the straw that might break the camel’s back, we have the ever-conceited Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez appearing in a magazine photo spread kissing his own reflection. Is he purposely trying to make us all vomit, or is our collective nausea just an unintended side effect? Yuck.

Have these fools learned nothing from the original narcissist? He was, after all, their symbolic and etymological namesake; the one and only Narcissus of Greek and Roman mythology. You all know the story. Son of the river god Cephisus, Narcissus was a beautiful and vain young man. While wandering in the woods, he was spotted by the lovely nymph Echo. She followed him adoringly. But Narcissus spurned her love and affection, in a cold and heartless fashion no less. He did the same with all others who fell in love with him because, in his eyes, none of them were worthy. His inflated self-image pushed away all suitors, both male and female. The sweet, innocent Echo was heartbroken, and endured great sorrow over Narcissus’ callous and arrogant rejection.

Narcissus then saw his reflection in a pool of water and, like a true narcissist, fell in love with himself. The Greek version of the myth has Narcissus bending down to kiss his reflected image, falling in the pool and drowning. The Roman version tells us that he kissed his reflection and saw how it disturbed the perfection of the still image. So rather than disturb his gorgeous reflection again, he just stared . . . and stared and stared, until he died of thirst . . . and wasted away. . . never having received love, unable to open his heart to another, unable to break free of his pathological self-obsession.

The story of Narcissus and his tragic fate has been a popular theme for art, literature, and poetry over the ages. One of the most well-known visual depictions was given to us by John William Waterhouse. From 1903, this is Echo and Narcissus:

waterhouse_echonarcissus

Here is Caravaggio’s self-admiring Narcissus boy, entranced by his own reflection. I think A-Rod has him beat:

caravaggio_narcissus

Nicholas Poussin’s Echo and Narcissus from 1628, portrays Narcissus at the end of his rope, after he has expended all his emotional energy pining over himself. With Echo looking on, he dies empty and unfulfilled, left with nothing but his ego and his depleted body on the riverbank:

poussin-echo-and-narcissus

Although I’ve known many in my life, and been forced to cope with much pain and aggravation due to their destructive ways, I’ve realized that all you can do for a narcissist is pity them. Not because they’re flawed (we all are), and not because they have inflated egos (just “fancy” arrogance), but because they’re incapable of giving. And giving is one of the greatest, most satisfying joys in life, whether it be friendship, devotion, or romantic love – generosity of one’s spirit, sharing and exposing of one’s soul. Without giving, receiving feels corrupt and opportunistic, and pointless. Yes, I pity the narcissists. They have no idea what they’re missing . . . 🙂

7 thoughts on “Narcissus Unleashed

  1. fredh1 says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissistic_personality_disorder

    Narcissistic Personality Disorder is one of the plagues of our culture, mainly because we feed it so! Celebrity obsession and extravagant executive compensation turn a tendency into a pathology for certain hard-charging types. And doesn’t everyone at least fantasize about being famous and fawned over? I still catch myself doing it, and I find celebrity culture repugnant! It’s a powerful drug.

  2. ColdSilverMoon says:

    Bravo, Claudia! Very well said!

    Ironically, I’m sure many people consider us art models narcissists because we parade around nude all day in front of an array of artists focusing on every curve and crevice of our bodies. But the reality is most of us models not only feel unworthy in our role, but also view modeling as a service – I don’t model for me, I model for the artist. It is obvious you have the same outlook. Thanks for a very enjoyable post!

  3. dougfromcanada says:

    Hmmmm Claudia, here’s the difference between me and old Narci – I’ld be skinnydipping in that lovely river pond with dear sweet Echo and and and……….
    good posting Claudia, you relate our everyday life to art in such interesting ways.
    dougfromcanada

  4. exbrun2 says:

    I agree with ColdSilverMoon in that I do approach modeling as a service to artists but I also admit I get just as much juice out of it as they do. I like knowing that I inspire and catalyze their art. I guess that’s a bit narcissistic… I also think it’s human nature. No matter what people do on some level there is juice in it for them. I would posit that there’s nothing wrong with that if others benefit, too.

    (I didn’t post the link to my blog because I suddenly feel uncomfortable about it. It’s all about me and my art modeling…. soooo narcissistic….)

  5. artmodel says:

    I really enjoyed all these wonderful comments on the Narcissus post. Thanks everyone. I know I normally respond to each one individually, but I’m not up to it right now. My newest post will explain why.

    But I’ve read them and wanted to acknowledge them. They’re great!

    Thanks my friends . . . .

    Claudia

  6. Uma Maheswar Nakka says:

    Dear Friend

    I love reading Greek, Egyptian, Roman and Indian Mythology. This story of Echo and Narcissus is new to me. Your narration of the story is laconic and beautiful. Lucky I passed through this page

    thanks and regards
    Blessings to youUma Maheswar Nakka

    • artmodel says:

      Uma,

      I, too, am happy you found this post! And pleased that you’ve discovered the Narcissus myth for the first time here. I never appreciated mythology when I was in school, but found a new respect for it in recent years. Great stories that have inspired a lot of great art.

      Thanks so much for your comments!

      Claudia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s