Distribution Automatique

Sunday, January 11

Blogging and Narcissism

From Never Neutral (Ernesto Priego) {click here}

"Not unlike psychoanalysis and some forms of
so-called postmodern fiction and art, blogging
works within a double-bind: in the end, blogs
may not be speaking about anything else but
themselves. In other words, the only space to
discuss the possibilities and consequences of
blogging may be the blogs themselves. One
should not forget the theoretical, political
dangers this would imply.
So, a resistance to blogging
would be called for."

Ernesto Priego's critique of blogging is well worth
considering, and would be more troubling if
"narcissism" itself was something truly worth
worrying about. There is one sense that it is
worth worrying about, and that is to the extent
that it prevents bloggers from acting as a group
in our own behalf, and on behalf of the issues
we are concerned about as a group.
As Foucault points out in a book that Ernesto
himself recommended to me on a recent book
buying spree at St Mark's bookstore that we
enjoyed together when Ernesto visited here briefly,
the issue to be concerned about politically is power.
Blogger narcissism is worth discussing, but the
narcissism of our political leaders might be
even more worth discussing.

As Howard Dean has already demonstrated,
there is a great political potential in blogging,
and it might be even greater if we got a few
more literary issues dividing us out on the
table. The greatest danger to bloggers is
the danger of divisiveness, and among the
dangers of divisiveness to all of us and
each of us is self-divisiveness.

Dangerously narcissistic people aren't likely think
about their narcissism, talk about it, or least of all,
write about it. So in my opinion, Ernesto is
not at all a candidate for worrying about his
narcissism. Calling someone a "narcissist" is
particularly contemporary version of a put-down,
kind of like calling someone a "paranoid" or a
"sociopath." But in everyday experience, to the
extent that most people who worry about such
things have anything to be concerned about,
it is not about their assertiveness but their
lack of assertiveness, their passivity. Most
forms of vulnerability are relatively easily
dealt with by addressing the issues with
those concerned. For example, when
recently I was upset by not being invited
to a certain group poetry reading two friends
of mine explained that most people simply ask
to be invited; certainly I should know better after
so many years that this is the case. This is an
example of narcissism, that led to some hurt
feelings and a self-pity party. But it's far from
a psychological disaster, and nothing to be
afraid of talking about, on this blog or anywhere
else. It is exactly this kind of talking that solves
the problem.

Blogging is essentially anti-narcissistic, particularly
for writers since it brings the blogger in contact with
others, and because it has the potential to cause the
writer to feel and be more independent. Narcissism,
for writers and artists mostly has to do with a lack
of parity between fantasy and reality. All writers
suffer from feelings of inadequacy and this is largely
a result of several reality issues; for one thing,
writers do not receive much money for what they do,
and secondly, there are so many competing claims for
the quality of writing work that it is extremely
difficult for writers to get a grip of the value
of their work to others, and sometimes even to
themselves. These are essentially actual social
problems, not individual psychological problems,
but these intense social problems for writers can
easily and do frequently become psychological
problems. Writers are led to attempt to manipulate
the essentially non-existent "market" for essentially
non-existent "market share." There are many
attempts, from Pushcart prizes to Nobel prizes to
alleviate the agony for specific worthy
(in some cases, perhaps, not so worthy) individuals
but this can bring at best only temporary
satisfaction for the writers and their followers.

I am hesitant to point to myself as a example
because, of course, this will immediately position
me as an potential object of Priego's thesis, but I
will say as I have said by now countless times
before that blogging has been of great help to me,
as I feel it has to many others, in taking more
control of my opportunities to work. Mostly
writers have to apply to publishers and curators
of reading series for an opportunity to work.
Now, because of Blogger and Google I am
able to make my work available to practically
anyone. Why is it more narcissistic to work
as a writer than it is as a stockbroker or a
dentist or a psychotherapist? Why wouldn't
anyone who loves to work in their field not
want an opportunity to work as much as they
want? This is what blogging makes possible,
and the community of bloggers that I have been
participating with, that includes Ernesto,
have made possible for each other
in little over a year.

Unlike many groups of writers, this blogging
community it seems to me has remained
open to new bloggers, and while some bloggers
seem concerned to keep their circle of supporters
exclusive, the vast majority are concerned to
increase their incoming and outgoing links.
This is unprecedented. In recent months I have
seen a growth of internationalism in blogging which
is also largely unprecedented. There is great potential
political power in this, as was seen in last year's
international demonstrations against the war against Iraq.

I have never been part of a writing circle as open,
supportive and encouraging as the circle of bloggers
I read every day and write about all the time.
A few issues have been unpleasant, but these are comparatively
rare, and usually the problem can be worked out.
Every single writer's group I have been part of has
eventually submitted to some form of manipulation by specific individuals.
While the writers and publishers have nearly always employed
such manipulative means of helping specific writers usually
with no harm intended to anyone else, but the result has always been to
exclude the quieter and less self-assertive writers,
who in many cases, of course, happen to be women,
but in other cases are just poets who don't
have the stomach for the extensive self-promotion virtually
*always* necessary to build up any degree of notice in this field.
What does "mainstream" recognition result from if not bigger and
better self-promotion? As a result, the small-press writers who have
no stomach for the more flagrant types of self-promotion cluster around
smaller publishers are better writers because they are less capable of
the kinds of self-promotion called for to achieve mainstream status. Please
tell me the exceptions. I would love to hear of them!
But very little of this has much to do with narcissism and
everything to do with ambition. The two are connected, but
not inexorably. There is no simple formula for this. As any philosopher
will gladly tell you, everything is a trade-off.
I can assert without hesitation: every single poet who now enjoys
any form of name recognition has it because they have
been extremely active in seeking to get it.
Usually the author likes to pretend they it just happened
of itself. Who wouldn't? And who in any field tells
all their "professional secrets." This is in the nature of
competition, which is the real culprit, and not usually narcissism.
Competition is the topic everyone knows about
but nobody is talking about, for lots of reasons. But more
on that another time.
The fate of every poet similar in behavior to
Emily Dickenson is identical: obscurity.
This introverted kind of behavior might or
might not suffer from just as much narcissism
as extroverted behavior because narcissism
is not caused by or result from external behavior. Not in
adulthood, anyway.
Narcissism is the result of faulty self-esteem regulation, the origin of which
is trauma in childhood. Narcissists don't benefit much
from either obscurity or fame because external
recognition or external manifestations of their
talent do not make them feel any better
than the privacy and quietness the anonymous
poet might enjoy for their own reasons.
Like pouring water into a bucket with a large hole in it,
admiration or very energetic private
production will not help a narcissist because
the self-esteem regulating mechanism is not
influenced by external behavior. The internal
mechanism is not influenced by behavior,
but rather is in the sway of early experiences
which have damaged the wherewithal to feel
better about oneself by means of self-assertion.

So the bottom line is that blogging will not help
a narcissistic writer very much or hurt one,
or cause a not so narcissistic writer to become
narcissistic. Like so many other psychological
syndromes, it largely resides in the unconscious.
It is because of the unconscious nature of
psychological problems that psychoanalysis
came into existence. And as anyone knows
who suffers from such issues, even with
treatment and much work they have a stubborn
tendency to resist change. Like narcissism,
"resistance" is unconscious.
Blogging might help or make things worse,
but only because the sufferer is doing many other
things-unconsciously- to try to help or make things worse.

In another post, I plan to list part of the bibliography
I offered in the course I gave to psychoanalytic students
on narcissism about ten years ago
at a psychoanalytic training institute.