The Narcissist's Great Admiration

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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"It is a fact, and in some ways a melancholy fact that massive works of the intellect do not spring from the abstract workings of the brain and the imagination; they are deeply rooted in the personality."

(Paul Johnson, Intellectuals)

"People in their right minds never take pride in their talents."

(To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)

To paraphrase what Henry James' once said of Louisa May Alcott, my experience of genius is small but my admiration for it is, nevertheless, great. When I visited the "Figarohaus" in Vienna - where Mozart lived and worked for two crucial years - I experienced a great fatigue, the sort that comes with acceptance. In the presence of real genius, I slumped into a chair and listened for one listless hour to its fruits: symphonies, the divine Requiem, arias, a cornucopia.

After 45 years, all I have to show for my manic pursuits is Internet ubiquity and parroted, shallow, ersatz-"scholarship". I am a fake.

I always wanted to be a genius. Partly as a sure-fire way to secure constant Narcissistic Supply, partly as a safeguard against my own mortality. As it became progressively more evident how far I am from it and how ensconced in mediocrity - I, being a narcissist, resorted to short cuts. Ever since my fifth year I pretended to be thoroughly acquainted with issues I had no clue about. This streak of con-artistry reached a crescendo in my puberty, when I convinced a whole township (and later, my country, by co-opting the media) that I was a new Einstein. While unable to solve even the most basic mathematical equations, I was regarded by many - including world class physicists - as somewhat of an epiphanous miracle. To sustain this false pretence, I plagiarized liberally. Only 15 years later did an Israeli physicist discover the (Australian) source of my major plagiarized "studies" in advanced physics. Following this encounter with the abyss - the mortal fear of being mortifyingly exposed - I stopped plagiarizing at the age of 23 and has never done so since.

I then tried to experience genius vicariously, by making friends with acknowledged ones and by supporting up and coming intellectuals. I became this bathetic sponsor of the arts and sciences that forever name drops and attributes to himself undue influence over the creative processes and outcomes of others. I created by proxy. The (sad, I guess) irony is that, all this time, I really did have a talent (for writing). But talent was not enough - being short of genius. It is the divine that I sought, not the average. And so, I kept denying my real self in pursuit of an invented one.

(continued below)

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As the years progressed, the charms of associating with genius waned and faded. The gap between what I wanted to become and what I have has made me bitter and cantankerous, a repulsive, alien oddity, avoided by all but the most persistent friends and acolytes. I resent being doomed to the quotidian. I rebel against being given to aspirations which have so little in common with my abilities. It is not that I recognize my limitations - I don't. I still wish to believe that had I only applied myself, had I only persevered, had I only found interest - I would have been nothing less of a Mozart or an Einstein or a Freud. It is a lie I tell myself in times of quiet despair when I realize my age and compare it to the utter lack of my accomplishments.

I keep persuading myself that many a great man reached the apex of their creativity at the age of 40, or 50, or 60. That one never knows what of one's work shall be deemed by history to have been genius. I think of Kafka, of Nietzsche, of Benjamin - the heroes of every undiscovered prodigy. But it sounds hollow. Deep inside I know the one ingredient that I miss and that they all shared: an interest in other humans, a first hand experience of being one and the fervent wish to communicate - rather than merely to impress.

Also see:

The Prodigy as Narcissistic Injury

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