THE HERESY OF SELF-LOVE by Paul Zweig

THE HERESY OF SELF-LOVE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Narcissism, or what Paul Zweig calls ""subversive individualism,"" is to the West what nirvana, or what Eliot calls ""the still point of the turning world,"" is to the East. Certainly self-love or self-exaltation is the mirror through which so much of European culture has been both created and apprehended. Certainly, too, it is a grand theme for the historian of ideas, and Professor Zweig's series of essays on exemplary ""heretical"" movements and figures, from the Gnostics to the Tristan legend, from Descartes to Rousseau, Kierkegaard, Melville, and Baudelaire, makes a fascinating study. However, there are questions of selection and emphasis that make the book less profound or definitive than it could and should be. For one thing, how can the narcissistic theme be adequately explored without reference to Hamlet or Goethe's Faust, or, above all, Nietzsche's philosophy? If one discusses Baudelaire, what about the more rigorous cultivation of the self found in Rimbaud and Gide? If Captain Ahab, why not Dorian Gray? For Professor Zweig, self-love is seen primarily in its religious manifestation, i.e., as a problem in Christian ethics and ontology: the demonic energy of the self seeking individual salvation or transformation whether through the other-worldly sects or illicit passions of the Middle Ages or the various modes of Romanticism where man quarrels with God or sees himself as becoming God. But Zweig's thesis is too casually or unsystematically developed, relying in the end on all too familiar notions re existential freedom or alienation, without the necessary dynamic dimension.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1968
Publisher: Basic Books