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Book Reviews


SONG OF RIDDLES

Geula Twersky has written an extra-ordinary book: start with the title, Song of Riddles, which announces immediately the approach taken in the analysis of the biblical “Song of Songs”- one of the most beautiful and, to many, puzzling, books to have been included in the collection of writings included in the Bible – and then …

Song of RiddlesRead More »

ARGUMENTS ABOUT ABORTION

Abortion. In philosophy it raises many questions around several important issues including: When does life begin? What is a person? Is there a significant difference between biology and morality? How can thought experiments help us sort out these problems, or in what ways are innocent violin players and fetuses the same? How useful are thought …

Arguments about AbortionRead More »

And many more!! Go here.

Narcissus’ Disorder

In the Myth of Narcissus, a beautiful youth longs after his reflection in a pool of water. In the simple version, he is love with himself – so transfixed by his beauty that he cannot set his sights elsewhere, and eventually wastes away.

Narcissus loves to see his reflection because he cannot conjure one up himself. Without it, he has no self (and no self-love). Without a self, he doesn’t exist. He dehydrates because he cannot bring himself to disturb the water on which his reflection, his existence, depends.

Another interpretation by French philosopher Louis Lavelle in The Dilemma of Narcissus (1973) is that:

Narcissus’ crime is to choose his image and to reject his self. It is impossible for him to be united with it, and this drives him to despair. Narcissus loves something that he cannot possess … To join one’s own image and to become identical with it is, precisely, to die.

The sin of Narcissus is his inability or unwillingness to self-reflect, and so it is the hallmark of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. In order to have a semblance of self, people with NPD must see themselves through other people (a camera will do). Furthermore, that image should be great; reflected back in the form of achievements, accolades, and a trail of losers they can measure themselves by. They are desperate for this reflection via affirmation because, like Narcissus, they are nothing without it. People with NPD may be, and often are, as charming, talented, intelligent, and attractive as they imagine. The problem is it’s not real to them without that reflection. The weakness that is an inherent quality of NPD is more like a fragile sense of self, as easily disturbed as a reflection in still waters.

The sense of inferiority that accompanies NPD is especially true for the people who are demonstrably the opposite of what they project, such as soon-to-be one-term ex-president Donald Trump. In “Too Much and Never Enough”, Donald’s niece Mary Trump, a clinical psychologist, describes her uncle as a textbook narcissist. She notes “an accurate and comprehensive diagnosis would require a full battery of psychological and neurophysical tests that he’ll never sit for.” But the psychologists who’ve spoken out say he doesn’t need to when it’s this obvious. The diagnosis is severe malignant narcissism, and it’s gonna be a problem.

Trump is facing a double whammy to his psyche here. Not only will his sources of reflection – the camera, Twitter, his sycophants, and the highest achievement of the presidency – be greatly reduced, but the self that remains – the mirror that he is desperately hanging onto – is breaking up before his eyes in the face of one public humiliation after another and massive celebrations on his own lawn.

Bandy X. Lee, a psychologist with Yale, says about his condition, “When there is an all-encompassing loss, such as the loss of an election, it can trigger a rampage of destruction and reign of terror in revenge against an entire nation that has failed him.”

She adds, “It is far easier for the pathological narcissist to consider destroying oneself and the world, especially its ‘laughing eyes,’ then to retreat into becoming a ‘loser’ and a ‘sucker’ — which to someone suffering from this condition will feel like psychic death.”

Whether to feel anger or pity will come down to if it’s him or America.

Quotes out of Context: T.S. Eliot

I would be in some sort of denial if this next post, scheduled to be published a day before what feels like the most consequential election in the history of the modern world, didn’t at least have something to do with it. The dysfunctional freakshow of the US political scene has taken up so much of my time and energy these last four years that I can’t help but wonder with deep regret what I’d have done with both if I had just not cared about this which I don’t affect and doesn’t affect me. It seems like such an awful waste of caring…and yet caring seems like the least I can do.

A quote comes to mind. It’s one you’ve dropped before with no context and left me to figure out the meaning as applied (which I didn’t bother to do at the time). So welcome to another episode of Quotes out of Context staring T.S. Eliot in “Teach us to care and not to care”:

Such a simple line, but very powerful. Lots of ways to read it but what sticks out to me is that he is speaking to a higher power that is ostensibly in charge of our caring-meter, whether that be God or just the higher self within us all, the one with all the will power. I think it’s in a religious context because a humanist with free will would suggest you teach “yourself”.

Anyway, the quote recognizes the priority problem that plagues humanity, if not most individuals, and perhaps also the media problem of sensationalizing things that aren’t that such big deals and simplifying things that are. We care too much about things we shouldn’t (exhausting and futile) and don’t care about things we should (a shame). The latter is definitely true. It’s just hard to muster up the emotion about it because of the lack of caring to begin with. But logically we all know that we don’t care about what we should.

 “Teach us not to care” is the more interesting bit. It could be about anything. In my context I read it as pleading with the higher power to make me stop caring about US politics, and this makes me automatically want to rebel against this idea because of my nonbelief. I would rather try and justify this feeling I already have because it’s more attainable than asking something outside of me to shut it off. I’d be more receptive if it was “teach yourself” because I would be more encouraged, or reminded, to use the real ability to change my behavior in order to change my thoughts. That is, if I could be convinced that it’s wrong to be where I’m at. There could be some yet unseen advantage to caring, a conscience I’m maintaining for when I am ready for battle. Like with lots of good things, just because it’s suffering, doesn’t make it wrong.

Now for the quote in context. I learn that this is a line in a poem he wrote after he converted to Anglicanism called Ash Wednesday (part I). Too bad for me because I am an understander of neither religion nor poetry.  I can say it sounds like he is at a stage in life where he wants to be relieved of the burdens of his humanity and is definitely bothered by intrusive thinking, but is hopeless to achieve this peace because he lacks the faith?

Let me try and focus on the stanza this line is apart of:

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.”

Let me see…I guess his mechanism with which to believe (his wings) don’t work, but it’s is the world’s fault (the air) and not his (his wings/will)?  So that’s why he asks God for help – to change him if he can’t change the world. Teach him to be someone who can find peace regardless. So it’s a prayer then. Bit of a tall order. Sitting still, though – that I can do.