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Number 14: Summer 2019

Review: Narcissism, Melancholia and the Subject of Community edited by Barry Sheils and Julie Walsh, Palgrave Macmillan 2017 ISBN 978-3-319-63828-7 Andie Newman

Andie Newman

This book offers readers a wonderful invitation to re-explore two of Freud’s most significant papers, On Narcissism: an Introduction (1914) and Mourning and Melancholia (1917 [1915]). The book’s chapters provide diverse pathways which weave us both back into an intimacy with the texts, and out and beyond the theoretical sphere – into the social – society, or, rather the Community of the book’s title, before returning us once again to metapsychology. It is in this spiraling movement that the book’s form enacts its content – in turn evoking and collapsing the variable and unstable boundaries described between self and other, between the intrapsychic and the social.

In their beautifully crafted and meticulously argued introductory chapter, Barry Sheils and Julie Walsh bring Freud’s two papers into dialogue with one another, demonstrating how, fundamentally, both papers return us to “the intricacies and insecurities of ego-formation”, and outlining, not only the convergences of the terms melancholic and narcissistic, but how they can, in fact, be “productively confused”.

The editors go on to survey the ways in which these Freudian constructs have been put to use in scholarship far beyond the psychoanalytic domain; in disciplines such as cultural criticism and critical theory, including critical-post colonial and race studies, feminism and queer theory.

The book itself emerged from a symposium held at the University of Warwick in 2015, an event at which the late John Forrester apparently posed the question, “What might a community of narcissists look like?” thus inspiring (provoking?), say the editors, the parameters of the book. The question animates how, in mainstream discourse, the term narcissist has come reductively to symbolize simply an anti-social or self-absorbed subject, thus ignoring the “pleasures of narcissistic seduction” and the “possibility of narcissistic sociability”, both of which were acknowledged by Freud.