American social critics in the 1970s seized on narcissism as the sickness of the age. But they missed the psychoanalytic breakthrough that championed it as the wellspring of ambition, creativity, and empathy. Elizabeth Lunbeck's history opens a new view on the central questions faced by the self struggling amid the crosscurrents of modernity.
Psychoanalyst, teacher, and scholar, Heinz Kohut was one of the twentieth century's most important intellectuals. A rebel according to many mainstream psychoanalysts, Kohut challenged Freudian orthodoxy and the medical control of psychoanalysis in America. In his highly influential book The Analysis of the Self, Kohut established the industry standard of the treatment of personality disorders for a generation of analysts. This volume, best known for its groundbreaking analysis of narcissism, is essential reading for scholars and practitioners seeking to understand human personality in its many incarnations.
“Kohut has done for narcissism what the novelist Charles Dickens did for poverty in the nineteenth century. Everyone always knew that both existed and were a problem. . . . The undoubted originality is to have put it together in a form which carries appeal to action.”—International Journal of Psychoanalysis
Egotopiaexplains why individual political and economic interests have eclipsed aesthetic considerations in the rampant billboards, malls, and urban sprawl of the New American Landscape.
Egotopia begins where other critiques of the American landscape end: identifying the physical ugliness that defines and homogenizes America's cities, suburbs, and countryside. Believing that prevailing assessments of the American landscape are inadequate and injudicious, John Miller calls into question the conventional wisdom of environmentalists, urban planners,and architects alike. In this precedent-shattering examination of what he sees as the ugliness that is the American consumer society, Miller contends that our aesthetic condition can be fully understood only by explorers of the metaphoric environment.
Metaphorically, the ugliness of America's great suburban sprawl is the physical manifestation of our increasing narcissism- our egotopia. The ubiquity of psychotherapy as a medium promoting self-indulgence has deified private man as it has demonized public man. The New American Landscape, Miller argues, is no longer the physical manifestation of public and communal values. Instead it has become a projection of private fantasies and narcissistic self-indulgence. Individual interests and private passions can no longer tolerate, nor even recognize, aesthetic concerns in such a landscape dedicated to uncompromising notions of utility.
A figure of reflexivity, narcissism describes a relation between self and other mediated through the mirror or reflection. As such, the concept might help us to consider how what we come to know as the other, or the object, is always the result of a process of image-making. It is in this suggestive sense that narcissism interests Caroline Rupprecht in Subject to Delusions.
Because "the other," or the object, is constructed, Rupprecht finds in narcissism the possibility of rewriting notions of identity. She then pursues this possibility through modern literary texts in which narcissism acts as a structuring principle--works by the expressionist poet Henriette Hardenberg, the American avant-garde novelist Djuna Barnes, and the surrealist writer Unica Zürn--reading each within the critical framework of the evolution of the idea of narcissism in psychoanalytic theory. All written by women, these works also raise questions of gender and sexuality. Moreover, because each of these authors belonged to or was influenced by a particular literary movement, Rupprecht's analysis advances our understanding of the poetics of these movements and of the movement of modernism itself. Underlying all is a deep engagement with psychoanalytic theory. Drawing on Freud, his contemporaries and rivals, Jacques Lacan, Melanie Klein, and many other theorists, Rupprecht interrogates preconceived notions of identity and subjectivity through her readings of the "transgressive potential" of narcissism as it is enacted in the texts under study. Bringing the works of literary modernism and psychoanalysis together in an innovative and provocative way, her book succeeds in enhancing our sense of both, and in clarifying the complex role of narcissism in our cultural narrative.
"Philip Rieff has become out most learned and provocative critic of psychoanalytic thinking and of the compelling mind and character of its first proponent. Rieff's Freud: The Mind of the Moralist remains the sharpest exegesis yet to be done on the moral and intellectual implications of Freud's work. It was a critical masterpiece, worthy of the man who inspired it; and it is now followed by a work that suffers not at all in comparison. No review can do justice to the richness of The Triumph of the Therapeutic."—Robert Coles, New York Times Book Review
"A triumphantly successful exploration of certain key themes in cultural life. Rieff's incidental remarks are not only illuminating in themselves; they suggest whole new areas of inquiry."—Alasdair MacIntyre, Guardian