Narcissists Anonymous: Reading and Dorian Gray’s New Worlds

  • Kevin Ohi


The previous chapter pointed to the disorientations of aesthetic experience and historicity in Pater: the paradoxical coalescence of presence and absence, recovery and loss, merger and isolation that appears, among other ways, in “renaissance” as an identification with death. Seen from a different angle, the disorientations of Pater’s aesthetics point to elements that reactions against aestheticism share with current panics about pedophilia. Turning to a similar identification with death in The Picture of Dorian Gray, this chapter frames pedophilia’s anxiogenic power in terms of identification and its capacity to unnerve. It suggests that identificatory disorientation—or simply the disorientation of identification—offers decadent writers a way to articulate an erotics of aesthetic experience and to resist narratives of sexual normativity. Focusing on the concept of narcissism, it contrasts its use in psychiatric denunciations of pedophilic desire to its more expansive possibilities within a certain strand of Lacanian psychoanalysis, a contrast that turns on different rhetorics of internalization and different models of what a subject is or ought to be. The understanding of identification animating psychiatric and popular conceptions of pedophilia continues a long tradition of pathologizing non-normative desires as narcissistic.


Sexual Minority Aesthetic Experience Involuntary Memory Mirror Stage Etiological Account 
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© Kevin Ohi 2005

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  • Kevin Ohi

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