The Self-portrait as a Mnemic Residue of Primary Narcissism

Elisavet Kalpaxi

    Research output: Contribution to ConferencePaper


    ‘The Self-portrait as a Mnemic Residue of Primary Narcissism’, at ‘Representing Memory’ conference, organised by the Department of American Culture & Literature, University of Istanbul, 02-03/05/2012.
    This paper focuses on the signification of the artist’s image in photographic self-portraiture. It approaches the image of the body as a residue able to bring up forgotten memories of pleasurable linkages deriving from Primary Narcissism. Also, through visual examples it deals with problems of reference that arise in contemporary photographic self-portraiture. Through psychoanalytic theories (mainly Freud’s and Lacan’s) the paper explains photographic self-portraiture as inherently linked to narcissism and notions of identity. The objectification of one’s body image, operating in conjunction with photography’s projective power, can be linked to self-representative interests. This idea concerns the artist and the viewer who projects his/her own lost narcissism onto the image. In both cases, however, the artist’s/viewer’s engagement is associated with a need for resolution and a definite narrative that holds them back from regressing to narcissism. This describes a situation whereby psychological processes interfere with memory in meaning-construction.I claim that psychoanalytic theories provide a useful vocabulary to analyse people’s reactions to their own images in the early days of photography, the significance of the family-album, the therapeutic aspects of self-portraiture (i.e., in Photo-therapy), as well as the rhetoric’s of images produced for the context of art (mainly from the 1970’s onwards) to address issues of identity. However, narcissism seen as part of the process of creating and viewing an image can be internalized without requiring narcissism on the artist’s side or the psychological engagement of the viewer, because this has already been done by a tradition onto which the artist draws. In fact, narcissism becomes problematic in our current cultural climate of exchange. Current conditions for viewing and the imposition of meanings negate genuine engagement. The prioritization of art as a context for all self-portraiture necessitates the re-definition of the genre’s references and re-constructing meaning regarding representations of selfhoods and positions of coherence.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 2 May 2012
    EventRepresenting Memory - Department of American Culture & Literature, University of Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
    Duration: 2 May 20125 May 2012


    ConferenceRepresenting Memory


    • Photography, borders, marginalisation, self-portraiture, identity politics


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