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Kristiansen, S. (2015). A comment on Arild Utaker’s “Images and words: A reconsideration of the psychic dimension”. Scand. Psychoanal. Rev., 38(1):46-48.

(2015). Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review, 38(1):46-48


A comment on Arild Utaker’s “Images and words: A reconsideration of the psychic dimension”

Sølvi Kristiansen

The philosopher Arild Utaker ends his challenging paper by an interpretation of the myth of Narcissus and Echo as it appears in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Utaker highlights the often unnoticed beginning of Ovid’s story, when Narcissus’ mother Liriope brings her beautiful young son to the blind seer Tiresias and asks about his destiny. Will he live a long life? Tiresias answers that her son will live until he sees himself. If he fails to recognize himself he will live – when he comes to know himself he will die. In the myth, we follow how this prophecy becomes true. When Narcissus eventually understands what he desires is actually a reflection of himself, he gradually dies.

In this myth, Utaker finds not the tragedy of a person only capable of loving himself, but the tragedy of a man not able to enter a domain of representation1 and symbolization. Narcissus is caught in a world of reflection and duplication. What he sees in the water is not recognized as an image of himself, something that may help him know himself. What he desires is thereby neither himself or the other, and there is no difference between object and representation. The same destiny comes to the nymph Echo. Doomed only to repeat the last words of others, her language cannot express subjective thoughts. She is reduced to a duplication of the other. Narcissus’ and Echo’s fatal lack of an ability to enter a mutual relationship is in this perspective closely linked to their missing capacity for symbolic functioning.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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