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There is No Team in I (But There is an M-E)

Everyone's Favorite narcissist, Pepe Le Pew.

Everyone’s Favorite Narcissist, Pepe Le Pew.

Every time you turn around the news media has labeled someone new a narcissist, from Kim Kardashian to Miley Cyrus to Johnny Manziel.

Do all of these people suffer from what the dictionary describes as “extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of [their] own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type”?

Since most of the people who are labelled narcissists in the news are celebrities or wannabe celebrities, the answer, quite possibly, is yes.

Kanye West is quoted as saying “…my greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live.” During his Oscar acceptance speech this year, Matthew McConaughey said that his hero is the future version of himself.

Today, narcissism permeates our culture. And it sells.

Quotes like the ones above get splayed over the internet and people take notice. The more in love with self a person seems, the more attention he or she gets. This increased exposure often results in bigger ticket and record sales.

Gina Berriault

Why am I thinking about narcissism? I recently reread Gina Berriault’s “The Search for J. Kruper,” a great short story about, as it turns out, a narcissistic writer named Klipspringer.

Gina Berriault was an exquisite writer and this is one of my favorite stories by her. It’s very atmospheric. Like so much of her writing, the story has a timeless quality to it, as though it could have been written fifty years ago or today. Although many of her stories take place in her native California, the settings could be some other country all together. This story appears in the short story collection The Infinite Passion of Expectation, which was published in 1982.

Klipspringer’s favorite writer is J. Kruper. While staying at a Phoenix hotel, he gets a tip from a fellow guest about where Kruper lives. He then sets out on a wild goose chase to find the elusive Kruper, a man who’s obviously taken great pains not to be found, all the while reasoning with himself…

“Twelve years ago, even five years ago with three novels to his name, he could not, he mused, have approached so confident of his welcome as now. Surely a man of wide and eclectic ranging through the literature of the world, classic and current, Kruper would recognize the name of Klipspringer and think twice, think six times, before turning him away.”

Kruper apparently turns away anyone who can manage to find him. But Klipspringer is so well known now,  Kruper wouldn’t dare. Grandiose view of his own talents? Yes.

People in Glass Houses

On first reading, it’s easy to criticize Klipspringer for being too self-involved – and label him a narcissist. Then you realize, who among us doesn’t suffer from a bit of narcissism? A bit too much self-involvement, a bit too much self-centeredness.

It’s inevitable in a world that assures us our own happiness is of chief importance (even at the expense of close relationships, including marriages), every waking thought is riveting (Twitter currently has about 255 million users) and parents throw birthday parties that cost upwards in the thousands of dollars for children as young as one year, making them the center of the universe for a few hours when they haven’t even learned to walk, talk or wipe their own behinds yet, possibly contributing to an inflated sense of self.

Narcissism as a positive personality trait has seeped out of celebrity culture and into mainstream life. The internet engine – in the form of social media, blogging and selfies – runs on self-absorption.

This blog included.

What makes me think anyone wants to know what I have to say about literature as it relates to various everyday topics? What makes my blog any better or more interesting than anyone else’s? Precisely nothing. But I enjoy writing, and I hope that at the very least a handful of people out there will enjoy what I’ve written.

Still, isn’t that a bit self-involved?

The Opposite of Self-Involvement

What’s the antidote to this growing idea that the self rules supreme? Looking outward, noticing others, not with an eye on what they can do for us but with a sense of genuine interest in the well-being of other people.

We all know this, of course, but it’s easier said than done when the events in our own lives seem overwhelming and burdensome. We may feel like we don’t have enough energy to worry about anyone outside of our small realm or outside of our own body even.

It’s important to be self-reflective enough to check ourselves for areas of improvement so that we can make the necessary adjustments in our personality to always be growing and maturing. But self-reflection, if left unchecked, can easily turn into self-involvement.

In Romans 12:3, Paul says “I tell everyone there among you not to think more of himself than it is necessary to think.”

If we can master that, on a continuous basis, we have a good chance of being unselfish, thoughtful and considerate.

And then, only rarely, will anyone be able to label us narcissistic.

Literature Cited: The Search for J. Kruper
Author: Gina Berriault
Year Published: 1982

photo credit: id-iom via photopin

What do you think? Has being labeled a narcissist lost its sting? Is negative attention better than no attention?

 

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This entry was posted on September 9, 2014 by in Contemporary Literature, Fiction, Literature, Psychology, Short Story and tagged .

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