Saturday, August 09, 2014

Ignosce te ipsum

Shorter David Brooks, "Introspective or narcissistic?" New York Times, August 8, 2014:
Your self-worth and identity are at stake in every judgment you make about yourself. Therefore you shouldn't make any judgments about yourself, or if you must, do it in the third person, so you can tell yourself it isn't about you. I often use a pseudonym for this purpose, like "C.S. Lewis" or "George Marshall".
I think we can now conjecture
  1. that the topic of the book Brooks didn't write last fall was the dangereux voisinage of self-knowledge to narcissism in what he regards as an increasingly self-regarding culture, and
  2. sometime during its non-composition the now former Mrs. Brooks shouted, "Ha, you want to write a book about self-knowledge? You have the self-knowledge of a fire hydrant!"
Hence the flurry of columns starting in February inveighing against knowing thyself, and the remarkable storm of references in Friday's episode—I count citations of seven names ranging from Immanuel Kant to self-control mavens Özlem Ayduk and Ethan Kross and one psychological acronym—suggesting either that he has put in an uncharacteristically large amount of homework for this piece or has been saving stuff up.

Chuck Close at work in 2004-05.
Think of one of those Chuck Close self-portraits. The face takes up the entire image. You can see every pore. Some people try to introspect like that. But others see themselves in broader landscapes, in the context of longer narratives about forgiveness, or redemption or setback and ascent. 
If by "pore" you mean "tiny rectangular abstract image which resolves itself, seen at an adequate distance, into part of a human face". Otherwise, no, from the first photographs of 1967-68 to his most recent work, not a pore to be seen [That's a bit of an exaggeration, see tgchicago in comments—Y.]. Close's work is entirely about distance and context. It's as if Brooks saw one from 40 or 50 feet away and recoiled in disgust and anxiety, refusing to get any nearer.

Why the subject of self-examination fills him with such fascination and dread is a matter he might want to investigate himself, perhaps with the assistance of a therapist, if he weren't so deeply opposed to it.


Driftglass is in magical form.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.


The New York Crank said...

Back in the 1970s, a company called Yankelovich, Skelly and White that tracked social trends noted the increasing growth of what was called "focus on self." You know, the me-me-me-me-me-me generation.

At long last, that trend seems to have reached its apotheosis. Examination of self, and examination of the examination of self, and the art of the critique of the examination of the examination of self, has reached a point where we are all about to crawl into our own navels and vanish.

I welcome that event with open arms. Whoops, I've mentioned myself. Well, enough about me. Let's talk about me.

Yours very crankily,
The New York Post

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure Brooks is right about Chuck Close. Do a Google image search for Chuck Close self portrait detailed. You get some of the pixillated stuff, but also some of the incredibly detailed stuff.

For instance, Self Portrait, Pink Shirt.

Victor said...

Yeah, I'm going to listen to the musings on introspection from the narcissist who decided he was the right guy to teach a course on "Humility."