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 truly 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

We are living through an epidemic of narcissism, or so we are told. Technology has made us self-obsessed, and this tendency may well be the death of us. But is our self-concern not warranted? Rather than an excess of vanity, what if we regard ourselves so frequently and with such intensity because we do not know who we are or what we are becoming?

By returning to the original myth of Narcissus, and the flower from which he takes his name, this book presents an alternative reading of narcissism and the selfie, arguing against a moralising subgenre of cultural criticism that suggests our self-obsession will be our downfall.

That may be so. But what if the selfie was not a symbol of stasis but an expression of a desire for transformation? And what might we become after we have rid ourselves of the cloistered self-images forced upon us by contemporary capitalism?

Beginning in the Renaissance with Albrecht Dürer, travelling via Rembrandt and Caravaggio to photographers and celebrities like Lee Friedlander and Hervé Guibert, Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, Narcissus in Bloom explores the rise of the self-portrait through cultures high and low, arguing that it is a sense of subjective indeterminacy that has disturbed us for centuries.

08 August 2023 | Published by Repeater Books