There are books that time itself is responsible for placing in the place that corresponds to them or, if you prefer, it is occupied in revealing all the reason they contained. It is not that at the time of their appearance they went unnoticed or were erroneously interpreted by their contemporaries, but that, confused in the midst of the cascade of novelties that permanently floods bookstores or the pages of literary supplements, they could not show the true scope of their proposals.
As representative of this type of proposals we could mention, in hasty relationship, those of various authors. There would be, in the first place, that of Guy Debord, whose characterization, in the sixties, of our society as a society of the spectacle, although overshadowed at the time by the brilliance of the figure of Marcuse, has ended up becoming almost commonplace when describing the functioning of the public sphere in our time. Secondly, it is worth mentioning that of Cass Sunstein denouncing, at the beginning of this century in his República.com, the failure of that naive expectation that the internet could become a global agora where a planetary and cosmopolitan democracy could become a definitive reality. Or, finally, and not to make the list too long, the proposal of Christopher Lasch would belong to this same group, who, in his book The Culture of Narcissism, which has just been happily republished, knew how to anticipate some of the most relevant determinations of our current collective imaginary.
Let us point out, first of all, that the treatment of the question of narcissism presented here does not intend to delve into the ontological-philosophical dimension of that construct that we usually call self (or personal identity). That was what the British philosopher Derek Parfit had dealt with in those same years, among others in Reasons and People, a book very celebrated then, especially in analytical environments, and today barely remembered. Lasch, on the other hand, far from focusing his analysis on dissecting the ontological weakness of such a construct (an approach that is somewhat obvious, given our social and cultural condition), places the focus on another dimension of the same subject, that of the way in which said self relates to the world that we have been lucky enough to live.
For that construct that we are not to collapse, a certain selfishness is needed, but selfishness, like cholesterol, is good and there is bad.
And it is that we will have to accept that for that fragile construct that we are not to collapse at the first onslaught of the real, a certain dose of selfishness is needed. Although probably with selfishness it happens as with cholesterol, that there is good and bad. The first would be equivalent to that self-love of which Fernando Savater spoke at the time, and the second would be represented by narcissism, which is still a distorted and pathologized perception of the self. In one case the subject loves himself in order to continue measuring himself with the world, in the other he likes himself without moderation precisely so as not to have to face it and be forced to assume its eventual failures.
In the more than four decades since the emergence of The Culture of Narcissism, the relevance of its approach has been increasingly certified. Perhaps in moments of relative collective placidity in which reality does not challenge us excessively, narcissistic reverie can be, for better or worse, maintained. But that doesn't seem to be the case today. The drift of events since the book was first published in 1979 has, if anything, been in the direction of increasing the problems of all kinds that humanity suffers. The world has not ceased to challenge us, each time with new and more powerful arguments. However, none of this has led to the narcissism that characterizes the present has faded or, at least, mitigated. Moreover, in many moments, especially thanks to the massive irruption of social networks in the public space, it seems to have increased. The mirage-effect that the latter are causing in their users, to the compulsive search for likes, is worth underlining in this regard.
In this sense, it has only widened the distance between reality and the self-satisfied perception that individuals have of themselves, without the repeated failure of the expectations they maintained managing to make a dent in their incontinent overvaluation. All this not only ratifies Lasch's diagnosis, but makes it more dramatic. Because, disappeared the possibility of a radical transformation of the existing that would solve the problems that afflict everyone, individuals only seem to be left as a dilemma either individualistic perseverance in their narcissistic reverie (perfectly functional to the system, since the order of the real is not questioned) or abandonment, tired and failed, which is represented by the metaphor of depression as the disease of our time.
As we are warned in the postface, this book is not another "jeremiad" against the dominant (evil) egoism. On the contrary, he falls decidedly short in his laments. The proof is that there no longer seems to be any antidote to narcissism in public discourse other than self-help. Or, for the more cultivated, the reading of fragments of the Stoics – especially Epictetus – which is something that you saw a lot in times of defeat.
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