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Drichel, S. (2018). The Disaster of Colonial Narcissism. Am. Imago, 75(3):329-364.

(2018). American Imago, 75(3):329-364

The Disaster of Colonial Narcissism

Simone Drichel

Narcissus's self-knowledge is an accession to a clarity that is so clear that it will not lead to relation. (Spivak, 1993, p. 32)

In her 1991 article “An Impossible Response: The Disaster of Narcissus,” Claire Nouvet notes that Maurice Blanchot includes a brief discussion of the Narcissus myth in The Writing of the Disaster. This inclusion, she says, “implicitly gives rise to a question of capital importance for our purposes: what is ‘disastrous’ in Narcissus's story?” (1991, p. 117). On one level, the answer to this question—which is of “capital importance” not just for Nouvet's but also for my own purposes in this essay on colonial narcissism—seems fairly obvious: narcissism, as the psychopathology which takes its name from “Narcissus's story,” has such a singularly bad reputation in the popular imagination that it is not difficult to fathom why someone would frame it as a “disastrous” condition. In fact, in as much as Narcissus is commonly attributed with arrogance, grandiosity, aloofness, intense self-absorption, as well as a ruthless lack of empathy for and indifference towards others, he is easily identified as a walking disaster best avoided. However, while Narcissus's disastrous impact on others is well documented, and much lamented, what is perhaps less commonly noted—at least outside the context of clinical psychoanalysis—is the utter disaster of Narcissus's own existence. This lesser-known disaster is perhaps worth a closer look, for it certainly plays a significant part in Ovid's original conception, where Narcissus is severely punished for his cold indifference and impervious air of superiority: meeting the fate predicted for him by Tiresias, Narcissus falls in love with his own reflection and dies upon thus coming to “know himself.” In fact, becoming bound to a love that can never be consummated, Ovid's Narcissus turns into what Gayatri Spivak, in her essay “Echo,” evocatively calls “an icon of mortiferous self-knowledge” (1993, p.

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