A brief post before dinner for thoughts that need to be developed in greater detail. In an interview somewhere or other I vaguely remember that Derrida says that his project, from beginning to end, is an interrogation and deconstruction of narcissism. Given Derrida’s profound critique of the logic of identity, this comes as no surprise, for while identity is a postulate at the heart of Western philosophy (consider Parmenides or even Plato’s divided line) that functions as a logical axiom of truth and being (A = A), it also goes to the heart of our being as egos. In this connection, we could say that the thinkers of that beautiful French moment (Derrida, Deleuze, Irigaray, Foucault, and perhaps Lyotard), the thinkers of difference, are each in their own way addressing the problem of narcissism and its political effects. Here I cannot help but think of Lacan and his analysis of the logic of the Imaginary, the logic of the ego, and the extraordinary trajectory of thought in Freud that runs from “On Narcissism”, “Mourning and Melancholia”, The Ego and the Id, and above all Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego.
What is it that Freud, above all, teaches us? Freud teaches us that narcissism, far from being a love of self, a love of ego, by the ego, is a love of self by the other. Freud’s primary narcissism is not a love of self by the self, but is the voice of the other, of the parents, telling the infant how wonderful or horrible the infant is. The infant internalizes that voice to continue to love itself in the absence of the other, torturing itself or praising itself through that foreign voice that so disrupts its mythical and originary psychic economy. In Aesop’s Fables, Narcissisus is not captivated by himself, but by the image of himself; an image he can never fully embody or live up to and an image that is above all an image that is available to the other that beholds him. This is why the first primary narcissism in the fable of Narcissus is not his image in the pond, but the gaze of the woodland Nymphs that he rebukes and denies so cruelly before he is captivated by his image in the pond. As Rimbaud said, to quote what is now a cliche, “I is an other”.
In Group Psychology and Analysis of the Ego, Freud teaches us that the ego is the result of an identification with an image and a gaze, and that the ego gains a lacking ontological substantiality through its identification with the dear leader or movement or party or nation or any number of other things. Through this alienating identification we are given an ego or a self that supports us, but with an image the likes of which we can never fully coincide. We thus discover that at the heart of the ego is love or the amorous relation with an other whose gaze captivates us. To say that the project of deconstruction is the deconstruction of narcissism is to also say that deconstruction is the deconstruction of the illusions of captivating love– an unhealthy love –that leads to idealization of that gaze of the leader, party, movement, nation, or privileged signifier. And here, of course, we get the Lacanian discourse of the Imaginary. For what do we find at the root of the imaginary? We find antagonism. The more we strive to coincide with the frozen image that is the ego, the more antagonistic our relations with others become. From the ego, from identification and captivation in this unhealthy form of love (there is another type of love that is not lethal or narcissistic) we encounter nothing but strife, conflict, antagonism, and war. The more we try to coincide with the captivating image and gaze, the more we need an enemy with whom to engage in with war. Nationalism must thus always go to war with other nations, identity must always vilify other identities, identification with a favorite philosopher must always lead to war with other philosophers over territories, and all the rest. The political question would thus, in part, be of how to envision a politics beyond identification, the ego, and narcissism?
For me there are two fundamental questions that animate my thought: The question of this lethal love and how it is at the root of so many of our antagonisms or the question of a beyond to Schmidt’s friend/enemy political logic (how is a politics without fathers, an anarcho-politics possible?) and the question of how persuasion is possible (something that arises from my own childhood traumas). The two questions are interrelated and both relate to the lethal and toxic form of narcissistic love that so distorts our thought.