At the weekend I watched Contrapoints' latest video essay, Cringe, and was really struck by the the last point she makes, not least because it featured David Foster Wallace, and it’s always heartwarming to see the intersection of the Venn diagram of people you admire. In Natalie’s words:
Recently I was listening to a David Foster Wallace interview - yeah, I know, cringe - and he attacked me mercilessly and unprovoked.
Cut to a clip of DFW from this interview where he says:
There’s a lot of narcissism in self-hatred.
And back to Natalie:
How dare you notice that!
I think Natalie hit the nail on the head - DFW is of course right, but it’s a deeply uncomfortable realisation to come to on your own, let alone have some wise guy nicely sum it up in one short, incisive sentence.
I have talked a lot about narcissism before, and very frequently try to draw attention in this blog to my efforts to avoid it. I’m not sure which I hate the idea of more - being perceived as a narcissist or actually being one - but both make me feel queasy. It’s a quality that I can’t stand in other people and so I do my best to distance myself from it. Or at least, I thought it was my best.
It’s a sentence I have turned over and over in my mind since hearing it, something that sounds so simple and obvious in retrospect, yet still never occured to me and presumably a lot of other people either. I pour so much time, effort and energy into my own low self-esteem, thinking about it, talking about it, wallowing in it. But surely the only way to justify pouring so many of my available resources into it, I must think I am the most important thing in the world? DFW has pointed out on other occasions the fetishization of being the protagonist of our magnum opus, an ideal that is sold to us for our entire lives. But does it make us happier? He says, and I believe him when he does so, that there is great liberation to be found by simply realising that we aren’t such a big deal as individuals. We shouldn’t feel obliged to shape our lives into a beautiful work of art, and then feel guilty or inadequate when it doesn’t turn out the way we’d hoped. At some point, despising yourself for being unable to complete this metaphorical artistic endeavour becomes the artistic endeavour itself, all perspective is lost as we funnel so much of ourselves into this grand spiral of despair.
There are an infinite number of things more deserving of my time than hating myself. So hopefully there’s going to be less narcissism from now.