Narcissus in Bloom

But we may already sense that there is another “narcissism” here — or, indeed, multiple narcissisms — lurking beneath the surface of our shallow reflections. Throughout recorded history, both flower and man have been associated with far more than vanity alone. Behind our popular understanding of the term is the narcissism of self-transformation, rebirth, and self-overcoming. And yet, despite being routinely dramatized and depicted in cultures all around the world, any alternative reading of narcissism today is drowned out by a cottage industry of self-help books and works of folk psychology — which have long had a place in bookstores but arguably became inescapable over the last decade, following the advent of social media — not to mention the casual symptomologies paraded around by the media, which screams ad nauseum that narcissism is a plague we’re all at risk of catching (if we haven’t already). Move over, coronavirus! But to dismiss narcissism as modernity’s fatal flaw, heralding the decline of civilisation, is to ignore the libidinal motor driving its spread — that is, our constant yearning for the new (be it new selves or new worlds).

Narcissus in Bloom: An Alternative History of the Selfie

Beginning in the Renaissance with Albrecht Dürer, travelling via Rembrandt and Caravaggio to photographers and celebrities like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, Lee Friedlander and Hervé Guibert, this book considers how so many artists have regarded their own images over the centuries.

Common to them all is not an excess of vanity but a sense of subjective indeterminacy, and so Narcissus in Bloom considers how the age of the selfie can be reconsidered as a time of transformation rather than stasis.

By returning to the original tale of Narcissus, and the flower from which he takes his name, this book also offers an alternative reading of narcissism from within the midst of a moralising subgenre of books that argue our self-obsession will be the death of us. That may be so. But what will we become after we have taken the watery track, and rid ourselves of the cloistered self-images forced upon us by late-capitalism?

August 2023 [TBC] | Published by Repeater Books