Narcissism and Narrativity in Photographic Self- portraiture

Kalpaxi, Elisavet. 2012. Narcissism and Narrativity in Photographic Self- portraiture. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis deals with the relationship between narcissism and narrativity in photographic self-portraiture. The thesis consists of two parts, one theoretical (the text) and one practical (my photographic work). The text analyses the complexity of this link through psychoanalysis, semiotics, narratology and photography/art theory.

My main argument is that the relationship between self-portraiture and narcissism can be rationalized through psychoanalysis. In a psychological sense, however, narcissism is not evident in either the contents or the production process of photography, especially in images that are obviously constructed and suggest a narrative. Self-portraiture emerged historically more as a solution to photography’s ‘authority-consciousness’ than an indication of any underlying psychological causes. Besides, the centrality of narcissism in typical twentieth-century views of photographic self-portraiture has recently started losing ground to systems of interpretation inherited from painting and the growing emphasis on the superficial use of the genre.

The aim of this thesis is to recover narcissism as a ‘sense-making fiction’ (in F. Kermode’s terms). Drawing on literary criticism (John Barth, Linda Hutcheon, Patricia Waugh), I have addressed the paradoxes contained in photographic self- portraiture through those typical of experimental fiction. Critical studies on the ‘self- conscious fiction’ highlight the interrelation between psychological phenomena and meaning-making procedures in narratives. Narrative devices aiming at eliciting reader/viewer self-reference acquire special value as attempts to incorporate what is repressed and produce a more ‘real’ narrative order. By eluding structured language systems, narcissism provides a vocabulary for narrativizing procedures, as well as meeting the viewer’s modes of engagement. It can simultaneously represent an imaginary withdrawal of the artist, a projective mode of identification for the viewer, and a structure within the work. By these means, I argue, narcissism is responsible for the criticality of photographic self-portraiture as illustrating psychological, social and narrative de-structuring.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)


art, practice-based, photography, self-portraiture, portraiture, narcissism, narrativity, indexicality, self-reflexivity, psychoanalysis, semiotics, narratology, literary theory

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Date Deposited:

30 Jul 2012 14:46

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 11:17


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