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Reflecting Narcissus: A Queer Aesthetic

STEVEN BRUHM
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttv1p2
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  • Book Info
    Reflecting Narcissus
    Book Description:

    Extending the horizons of queer, feminist, and psychoanalytic theory, this book challenges the twentieth century’s predominant understanding of narcissism-and the predominantly narcissistic qualities of male same-sex desire-as allegedly solipsistic, immature, sterile, antisocial, and apolitical. Bruhm argues that Narcissus has, instead, served to trouble the very cultural and gendered norms that define him. _x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9144-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction: REFLECTING NARCISSUS
    (pp. 1-19)

    InNarcissism and the Novel(1990), Jeffrey Herman argues that the “richness of the [Narcissus] myth is inexhaustible. Narcissus dramatizes not only the cold, self-centred love that proves fatally imprisoning, but fundamental oppositions of human existence: reality/illusion, presence/absence, subject/object, unity/disunity, involvement/detachment” (1). A field in which all the binarisms of contemporary culture and theory can be detected, narcissism is for Berman a seemingly endless treasure trove of tropic and theoretical meanings, which he traces in authors from Mary Shelley to Virginia Woolf. But let us stress that this trove isseeminglyendless. When Berman gets to Oscar Wilde, the “inexhaustible”...

  5. Chapter 1 NO EXIT: ROMANTIC MALE NARCISSISM
    (pp. 20-53)

    Could Freudnothave been thinking about British male Romanticism when, inCivilization and Its Discontents(1930), he described narcis sism? It is for him “a protection against suffering through a delusional remoulding of reality” and “an intention of making oneself independent of the external world by seeking satisfaction in internal psychical processes” (80-81), namely, works of art (82) and feelings of sexual love (83).¹ Such a catalog has certainly provided critics with a rich spectrum for the diagnosis of the Romantic male, beginning with Peter Thorslev’s location of a murderous “narcissistic sensibility” in Manfred’s love for Astarte (1965, 50),...

  6. Chapter 2 REVERSE OF THE MIRROR: SYMBOLISM AND SEXOLOGY
    (pp. 54-79)

    Among the many bon mots to outrage Edward Carson, the prosecuting attorney at the second and third Oscar Wilde trials, was Wilde’s response to the question, “Have you ever adored a young man madly?” Wilde quipped, “I have never given adoration to anyone except myself” (Hyde 1948, 129). For the late-twentieth-century reader, the witticism is itself a kind of evidence, but evidence for what? Narcissism, to be sure, but of what sort? Self-aggrandizement? Certainly. Self-preservation (in the Freudian sense of protecting the ego from persecution)? Definitely. Wilde is, after all, on trial for acts of gross indecency punishable under the...

  7. Chapter 3 SONS AND LOVERS, BIRDS AND JOHNS
    (pp. 80-115)

    Mamma’s boys: we’ve met a lot of them so far. Coleridge’s speaker in “The Picture” is captivated by Isabel’s maternal, domestic drawing of a small boy at a cottage. Byron’s Arnold seeks his transformation into Achilles because his mother rejected him: she threw him out of the house because he was ugly, and much of the first act ofThe Deformed Transformedreads like a fulfillment of the son’s wish to become the beautiful child his mother wants. Wilde and company’s Camille Des Grieux not only lives with his mother well into adulthood but finds himself in an erotic triangle...

  8. Chapter 4 QUEER QUEER VLADIMIR
    (pp. 116-143)

    Thanks to Freud, mothers inaugurate a legitimation crisis. On the one hand, “mother” emerges as that loved and lovable icon who, from her eighteenth-century roots, has been responsible for defining the moral tone of a culture; she stands along with her apple pie as signifiers of the good and the true (in America at any rate); and psychoanalytically she is the lever who pries the male child off his narcissistic fixation and lures him into the anaclitic, that otherness that will found his heterosexuality. Remember Hesse’s Frau Eva. But, on the other hand, her adored status as moral and sentimental...

  9. Chapter 5 THE GOTHIC IN A CULTURE OF NARCISSISM
    (pp. 144-173)

    And so, by the late twentieth century, Narcissus had become political. Not that he hadn’t always been; this book has attempted to trace the imbrications of Narcissus in the politics of various periods and classes, not to mention the specific political concerns in which an author was invested. But at least since the 1950s, Narcissus came to be associated with largeppolitics: communism, socialism, nationalism, a partisan affiliation that is made self-consciously and purposefully. Yet, in his very status as queer, Narcissus could also disrupt the alleged coherence of any of those political positions. Inflecting them with same-sex eros,...

  10. Conclusion: REJECTING NARCISSUS
    (pp. 174-178)

    The project of this book has been to read Narcissus’s privatizing, minoritizing impulse together with his synecdochic, universalizing one. I’ve tried to show how white Western culture since the late eighteenth century draws on both classical/early modern texts and psychonormalizing theories to make narcissism compulsory at the same time as regulating and compartmentalizing it. More specifically, culture mutes the narcissistic eros that it simultaneously depends upon for introspection’s epistemological, ethical, and analytical work. In a broad range of discourses from Neoplatonic Romanticism to Modernism, from the most arcane of poststructuralist theories to the most popular Gothic best-sellers, Narcissus comes to...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 179-198)
  12. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 199-210)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 211-224)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-225)