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The Narcissus Theme from «Fin de Siècle» to Psychoanalysis

Crisis of the Modern Self


Niclas Johansson

The story of Narcissus, who falls in love with his own image in a spring, has fascinated writers and thinkers ever since Ovid first gave poetical form to the myth in his Metamorphoses. This study systematically investigates the elaborations of the theme at the turn of the century around 1900. It argues that a sense of crisis in the modern foundation of selfhood explains the heightened interest in Narcissus during this period.

The book investigates three different aspects of the theme: as a symbol of a poetic apotheosis of the self in French Symbolism; as a narrative of a dissolving self in English, Austrian and French decadent literature; and as the concept of narcissism in sexology and psychoanalysis, where self-love provides an instinctual foundation of the self.

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My deepest gratitude in completing this project goes to my advisors, professor Torsten Pettersson and professor Björn Sundberg at Uppsala University, the sense and sensibility of this dissertation. Always encouraging me to pursue the paths I have myself found the most rewarding, they have open-mindedly responded to my work on its own premises, judging it critically yet benevolently.

I am highly indebted to Elisabeth Friis, senior lecturer at Lund University, for a very competent opposition at my final seminar. Elisabeth pointed out a wide range of aspects of this study where further attention was required, which I have attempted to address in my continued work with the text. I am also grateful to Carin Franzén, professor at Linköping University, who earlier gave me valuable comments at my licentiate seminar, particularly regarding the theoretical framework of the study.

Some of the most important people during this project have been my fellow PhD candidates, to all of whom I am deeply grateful for providing the intellectually and socially stimulating environment without which this extensive project would have become all too solitary. For discussions, comments and suggestions that have more particularly contributed to this work over the years, I would like to mention Sam Holmqvist, Thomas Sjösvärd, Frida Buhre, Katarina Båth, Malin Nauwerck, Karl Berglund, Ingeborg Löfgren, and Andreas Hedberg.

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