Hey! Isn’t that numbnuts staring at his reflection again?--some Greek person
(The following ideas are largely borrowed from an essay by Marshall McLuhan entitled: The Gadget Lover: Narcissus as Narcosis, appearing as Chapter 4 of his book: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1st Ed. McGraw Hill, NY, 1964; reissued MIT Press, 1994, with introduction by Lewis H. Lapham; reissued by Gingko Press, 2003 ISBN 1-58423-073-8). Likewise, McLuhan interprets the ideas of medical researchers Hans Selye and Adolphe Jonas, Lewis Mumford, and William Blake — He also said the Virgin Mary provided intellectual guidance — and if you can’t borrow from her, who can ya?)
Narcissus comes from the Greek word narcosis, or numbness.
Narcissus did not actually fall in love with himself, contrary to popular interpretation.
In the Greek myth, young Narcissus was numbed by his own reflection which he took to be another person. His perceptions were numbed until he became the servomechanism of his own extended or repeated image: he had become a closed system.
Similar states of numbness result from various extensions of ourselves. People become fascinated by extensions of themselves in material other than themselves. The term auto-amputation has been used to describe these extensions. When our perception can not identify or avoid irritation, the body’s strategy of auto-amputation results from its attempt to maintain equilibrium. Whether expressed as “freaking out”, or through healthy sport and play, these are manifestations of how we isolate offending parts of our being so as to deal with life through protection of our central nervous system.
This process also occurs with our inventions.
The wheel for example — as an extension of the foot — is a strategy to relieve stresses of acceleration of pace and increase of load. Pressures resulting from acceleration of exchange (of various stuff) resulted in this extension which in turn resulted in an amputation of this function (walking) from our bodies. The feet in rotation (wheel) are amplified and our nervous system handles this through a numbness or blocking of perception.
The myth of Narcissus is about the young man’s image resulting in self-amputation: an extension that causes numbness. He doesn’t recognize the situation: He has self-amputated. Self-recognition and self-amputation are mutually exclusive.
This gets more profound when we consider the unfolding digital computer interface with which most of us participate (at least those reading this).
Our body functions as a group of sustaining and protective organs protecting our central nervous system — to buffer sudden variations in the physical and social environment: a broken heart, or busting a move to avoid physical disaster. Physical activity or social therapy (our old friends, pleasure and comfort) are counter-irritants to aid in equilibrium of the physical organs which protect the central nervous system.
With internet technology humans have extended, or set outside of ourselves, an entirely new prosthetic for our central nervous systems. To the extent that aspects of the internet are embraced by some as “live” and as “friends”, this is a type of auto-amputation unassisted by our physical organs to help our central nervous system in dealing with the imposition of these new mechanisms.
Like Narcissus, this self-amputation brings numbness as the only response to this new type of psychic shock. Our perception — our sensibility — dwindles. The extremely specialized stimulations of these technologies — that select a single sense for intense, extended, and/or isolated stimulus — cause the central nervous system to respond with generalized numbness. The senses compensate, depending on which sense has been extended technologically.
Infusion of a particular technology demands new ratios among the other organs and extensions of the body: You tweak your visual or your auditory and your sense of touch and taste change. Any medium at once affects the entire field of the senses.
The Narcissus myth shares some wisdom with Jewish tradition and its concept of idolatry:
“They that make them shall be like unto them.”
Or to bring it into the Internet-era: beholding your laptop conforms you to it.
People have become what they have beheld.
What they have beheld, William Blake says (he didn’t even own a laptop), is “the spectre of the reasoning power in man” which has become fragmented and “separated from imagination and enclosing itself as in steel” — technology as self-amputations of our organs, such that each organ becomes a closed system of great intensity that hurls man into “martyrdoms and wars”. (War and the fear of war have always been considered the main incentives to technological extension of our bodies.)
Thus, we are fragmented by technology, and when you realize that fragmentation is counter to integrity, you realize how much we should be educating ourselves as to appropriate levels and uses of this stuff.
Blake, on the organs of perception:
If perceptive organs vary, objects of perception seem to vary:
If perceptive organs close, their objects seem to close also.
We embrace technological extensions of ourselves into our personal systems and we necessarily submit to the resultant closure or displacement of our perceptive powers. We relate ourselves to IT (internet technology) as its servomechanisms. To use IT we must serve these devices — not unlike a religion.
Not only that, but as people are perpetually modified by their use of technology, and in turn find new ways to apply it, people function essentially as the sex organs of internet technology. As the bee assists in the generation of the plant-world, so too, we serve to generate this IT stuff. (I’d think that how one feels about being a gonad for the internet is open to several interpretations.)
Nonetheless, internet technology as a healthful extension of our physical bodies, requires that we accept and recognize the numbing of our human senses inherent in this technology.