Casting out myself

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Narcissus of the Greek myth slowly wastes away. Refusing to look away from his reflection in the pond, he dies of thirst and starvation.

The myth assumes that the pond is placid. There are no ripples. But what if a storm troubles the waters, rippling the pond –something like a virus that does not notice Narcissus’s need to see his own reflection in the pond.

Narcissus mutters to himself until, at last, his voice falls silent, except for Echo, repeating his words, forgetful of what she had surrendered to his power: the confidence and beauty that come only from within.

Teach me, like you, to drink creation whole
And, casting out myself, become a soul.

- Richard Wilbur, “The Aspen and the Stream,”
Advice to a Prophet (1961)

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 12, 2020.

When the Pond drives up and the Echo stops

scorched-earth

Classical Greek mythology held a deep wisdom familiar to the framers of the U.S. Constitution. They were well-schooled in the Greek and Roman classics.

In the Greek myth of Narcissus, two things keep Narcissus alive: the unruffled water of the pond that reflects back his self-image, and the voice of Echo, the beautiful wood nymph whose voice the gods have silenced, except to echo Narcissus’s speech.

Narcissus dies of thirst. He refuses to drink because to do so would mean disturbing  the pond’s reflection on which his sense of self depends. The pond and Echo are enduring metaphors of a deeper wisdom.

What happens to a president when the pond (the electorate) is disturbed or dries up and the voice from across the pond (the press) no longer echoes his words? Or, to the contrary, what happens to the pond and Echo when they placidly yield to the needs and voice of Narcissus?

Yesterday the President and his Press Secretary acted to shrink the pond and silence Echo by including Breitbart News and other alt-right media and by excluding the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and CNN from the informal “gaggle” White House Press Conference. They took another step toward shrinking and smoothing out Narcissus’s pond, and muting Echo’s own voice.

“No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.” – Thomas Jefferson.

 

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 25, 2017.