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Love in the Times of Narcissus

Love​ piques all, but what is it about love that keeps our philosophers, story-tellers, writers, thinkers, believers, and other artisans constantly in business? One may never run out of love-stories or other popular cultural artistry to look at love and to look at it deeply, but if we were ever to define love then it would categorically fall under the psychological realm of feelings. The more important question is quite challenging as it centers around the struggle to love. So, we may work with ​the larger belief​ that to feel is to be able to identify your emotive responses, and that we are in love with the perception of ourselves in another. Therefore, one can preclude that the psychology of love is to look deep within. Remember ​Narcissus​? 

The myth of Narcissus is one of the oldest love stories in the world. The story goes that a young man, named Narcissus, was born to a river nymph, called ​Liriope​, who was raped by ​Cephissus​, a river God. So, one day Liriope asks the oracle if her son will live to a ripe old age, and the oracle confirmed that as long as Narcissus didn’t know himself, he would live long. At the age of sixteen, Narcissus grew to be a handsome young man and desired by many of both genders. He would not yield to anyone’s passionate declarations and, so, one of his admirers cursed him with unrequited love. Nemesis​, Goddess of revenge, heeds to the curse. Narcissus comes across a pool of water, and, while drinking it, he sees his own reflection. He immediately falls in love with the sight of himself which he believes to be of another ​buried deep in the pool​. His ​desire ​overpowers him, and he dies. Meanwhile, ​Echo​, a mountain nymph (and also one of the many admirers of Narcissus), helplessly watched Narcissus fall in love with himself. Echo was cursed by ​Juno​ (Goddess of fertility and family, and queen of the Greek Gods) to speak only the last words spoken by another because she thought that Echo was saving ​Jupiter ​(Juno’s husband, the God of thunder, and the king of the Greek Gods) from being caught consorting beautiful nymphs (which he was, and he had strictly instructed Echo to keep an eye-out for him). So, she could never articulate her feelings in an appropriate manner which led Narcissus to reject her proposal of love. Once again, she fails to warn Narcissus about his vision and, instead, she aids him by repeating the last few words of his speech as a consolation to his lamentation. It can be inferred that she may have been the reason for Narcissus to find out that he was looking at his own reflection. When people came to find his body after his death for the funeral, they found ‘​a flower with a trumpet of gold and pale white petals.​’

The story gives us an insight to ourselves and on how we love. We love what we know and what we value, but how do we know if what we love is worthy of our love or if our emotions that are so fickle can be termed as something so permanent (as socially construed of love) as love? The problem is that we have no clue if what we believe-in can be believable to us. The problem is that it is so roundabout a discourse that to segregate each thought and to singularly find its essence would loosely define nothing and everything together. Then, what is it about love or Narcissus that we may want to gaze upon in hope of ​introspection​ to feel love? ​Self-love​, a highly volatile idea, is often confused between the idea of selfish needs or self-centered thinking, and love for one’s self. It is highly possible that this confusion has resulted in conjectures that have left a substantial amount of us feeling the need to place our individual expectations of love as the higher goal. One can’t deny that this is as acceptable as that of the clinical discourse on love. Love is survival and it vitally plays the role to satisfy the need for all that is beautiful, good, pure, and permanent. Therefore, the truth of love lies in us and we are not sure if we see it as our weakness or our strength. 

Some psychological perspectives range from the idea that love is best derived from intimacy, passion, and commitment, while some may feel that love is vitally a good feeling towards one’s self and one’s surroundings. This good feeling is comprised of a healthy sexual image of oneself (and others), a healthy engagement with one’s past, a healthy connection to one’s ​fantasies and desires​, a healthy internalization​           ​ of one’s partners or loved ones, and, eventually, a healthy outlook towards one’s ambivalent feelings. The term healthy will consciously lead to the idea of a space for negotiation and comprehension (in the bleakest academic fashion) within oneself and, hence, to all those who interact with us. Narcissus does tell us all of this and his life is immortalized in our everyday. This is evident in Salvador Dali’s painting of Narcissus which is quite aptly called The​ Metamorphosis of Narcissus​. Firstly, because Dali makes his reference to Ovid’s Metamorphoses​         and, secondly, because he emphasizes the change that Narcissus goes through in his journey of feelings​. His painting does open our peepers to look at the myth from different perspectives, but he does invoke the past for us to see, and to see it differently. 

The idea behind Dali’s reimagining in popular culture is not only to nostalgically engage in the myth and the relativity that the myth invokes, but, also, to closely look at love. What is it about love that is being mistaken? Frankly speaking, there’s nothing mistaken. It is a matter of consequences and absolute faith in the belief that one can conjure. Each experience is an experience of internalization, and we keep striving to find our grounds to externalize​      ​ because whatever we externalize is internalized first. It is internalized first so that we can externalize it later. That is to say that the relation between the several worlds is linked in this entire process of internalizing and externalizing. Vanity and self-admiration are often condemned and categorically viewed as Narcissistic, but without these two aspects of us, we will never discover our feelings. One may acquire the idea that to love another is to first find one’s weakness and, then, to find strength in any form. 

This brings us to a very pertinent part of the story of Narcissus (especially to the context of our interaction). The white-petaled-flower, that was left behind in the myth and the flower that we see in the right side of Dali’s painting, are the same. The flower/plant is called Narcissus or Daffodils. The myth of Narcissus doesn’t have anything to do with its name, but the similarities are uncanny. Daffodils are known to have medicinal properties and, for centuries, they have been used to cure diseases, such as whooping cough, joint diseases, cold, asthma, and, recently, it is being considered to help Alzheimer’s. The plant is said to carry pain-relief properties. Liriope is also a grass-like flowering plant named after our nymph, and it contains medicinal properties. The upper-part of the plant is often used as an expectorant. The root is used for anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic purposes. Korea is known to use Liriope’s properties for building stamina. 

There are many interpretations to the myth of Narcissus: one being that maybe these plants and flowers were secret cures that were being passed on through these stories, and, the second possibility would claim that the myth identifies the human condition while offering a solution that is evident to us in our socio-cultural means. 

Do leave your thoughts with us. We do not penalise different viewpoints, but we like to work with questions and more information. Do give us a call if you need to have a heart-to-heart. Meanwhile, this is an overview and there’s a lot of literature available online and otherwise for further clarification. 

Thank you.

The author, Satarupa Bhattacharya, loves flowers and coffee. She is, currently, writing to be read. She has a Ph.D. in literature and cultural studies from an Indian university. Her work involves psychoanalyses, violence, power, gender and sexuality, border-crossing politics, theater (newspaper theatres and Indian theatre), film-studies, art history, cultural and political theory, and several other areas. 

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