Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

Credit: Jeremy Clarke

I was two days alone in the caravan and no signal or reception of any sort. It was like a Buddhist silent retreat, where you have to listen in horrified amazement to your own thoughts. During the day I walked the cliff path; in the evenings I sat on the caravan steps wishing I had a rook rifle. On my walks, I did acquire a book, however: Sigmund Freud's essay On Narcissism . It was on a community book-swap shelf in a disused telephone box. I've been picking up Freud and putting him down again perplexed and defeated for most of my adult life. But when I opened this one and glanced inside, I thought here at last was something I might be able to get to grips with.

A narcissist, I read, standing outside the peeling kiosk, is 'someone who treats his own body in the same way in which the body of a sexual object is ordinarily treated -- who looks at it, that is to say, strokes it and fondles it until he obtains complete satisfaction through these activities'. Well, blow me down, old Sigmund had me down to a tee, the fella. So that's what I am -- a narcissist. I couldn't wait to get the book back to the caravan, draw the curtains, and settle down to read in a calm and leisurely manner what is going on behind the scenes.

I started off well. I could understand successive sentences. Early in his career, says Freud, he had all us narcissists down as perverts. Then over time, he says, he kindly modified that view and now concedes that this kind of human behaviour is perhaps fairly normal. Pleased about that, but wondering about such a sheltered life as his must have been, I pressed on. But soon the road ran out and I was blundering hopelessly about in a dense and thorny thicket of object-cathexes, ego-instincts and transference neuroses. Before I flung the book aside, however, I stumbled, scratched and bleeding, into a clearing. Children, Freud says, are pure narcissists. That is why we imagine we love them. Their blithe narcissism revives and speaks to the narcissist in us that we as socially adjusted adults have been forced to repress. 'Parental love,' he concludes, 'which is so moving and at bottom so childish, is nothing but the parents' narcissism born again. …

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