Von all den erstaunlichen Eigenschaften der mittelalterlichen Kathedralen überrascht ein Merkmal den modernen Geist ganz besonders: Wir haben keine Ahnung, wer die großartigen Bauwerke entworfen und gebaut hat. In einer Art und Weise, die uns fremd ist, haben damals die Architekten und Bauherren darauf verzichtet, ihre Namen auf den Eckpfeilern unterzubringen. Diese Anonymität ist ungewöhnlich. Es gibt keinen bleibenden Ruhm für die Künstler. Angesichts dieser Demut, mit der damals vorgegangen wurde, sind wir geradezu ratlos.
Heute leben wir im Unterschied dazu in einer Kultur, in der die narzisstische Selbstdarstellung alltäglich geworden ist.
Aaron Kheriaty stellt für Thirst Things das nicht mehr ganz frische Buch The Narcissism Epidemic von Jean Twenge und Keith Campell vor. Ich kann die Besprechung sehr empfehlen. Kheriaty schreibt:
The artistic and cultural norm of the anonymous artist or craftsman began to change during the so-called Enlightenment. Witness Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, a book he dedicated “to me, with the admiration I owe myself.” The book opens with these lines: “I have entered upon a performance which is without example, whose accomplishment will have no imitator. I mean to present my fellow-mortals with a man in all the integrity of nature; and this man shall be myself.” Rousseau deliberately chose his title as a response to Augustine’s work by the same name. In contrast to Rousseau’s vain self-aggrandizement, Augustine gives all glory to God, as in his opening quotation from the Book of Psalms: “Great thou art, and greatly to be praised.” One has to add, however, that even if we admire Augustine’s humility, Rousseau’s language strikes us as more familiar. “To me, with the admiration I owe myself” is a dedication that would look right at home today on a Facebook or MySpace page.
In the eighteenth century, Rousseau’s narcissism, although fashionable among the philosophes, was still something of an anomaly in the wider culture. Indeed, if you believe the statistics in the book under review, such self-conscious narcissism remained an anomaly until roughly forty years ago. Not so today, argue authors Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell. The Narcissism Epidemic opens with this claim: “We didn’t have to look very hard to find it. It was everywhere.” Indeed. As the reader sifts through the evidence the authors have gathered, it becomes apparent that this is a book that could have written itself. And yet this is the first popular book on the topic since Christopher Lasch’s 1979 bestseller, The Culture of Narcissism (a book still very much worth reading, in spite of its somewhat anachronistic theoretical framework, which draws heavily on Freudian psychoanalysis). We should be grateful to Twenge and Campbell for bringing us up to date, carefully collecting and collating the evidence at hand.
The authors, psychologists by training, employ clinical language throughout. In the book’s four sections, the phenomenon of narcissism is understood in terms of “diagnosis,” “causes of the epidemic,” “symptoms,” and “prognosis and treatment.” But what is dealt with here is, in fact, more a cultural phenomenon than a clinical one. The book could be classified as sociology rather than as clinical psychology or medicine. One wonders whether the authors’ use of language derived from a medical model is the wrong approach to the sort of narcissism they describe. The individuals profiled in the book are not the wounded souls who typically visit a psychiatrist’s office in search of succor and healing. They are, instead, the student denizens of UCLA and Texas Tech and the parents who formed them—individuals supposedly healthy and well adjusted, even flourishing, by contemporary standards. And yet, when one looks beneath the surface, these are sick souls. Medicine, then, is perhaps the apt descriptive metaphor. (“Narcissism is a psychocultural affliction rather than a physical disease,” as the authors put it.)