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The narcissist and the coquette: contesting figures of sexual sociability

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In this talk I sketch-out Sigmund Freud’s theory of narcissism and its reception in psychoanalysis and cultural discourse more broadly. Of principal concern will be the complaint that psychoanalytic theories of narcissism inevitably malign ‘the feminine’. Beyond an engagement with some of the late-twentieth century feminist literature on this topic, I re-examine Freud’s feminine narcissist in some detail to ask whether she may be a more ‘attractive’ figure than her negative press suggests. The coquette, a contemporaneous historical representation of woman found in the sociological work of Georg Simmel, will help me to make the case for re-situating the narcissist in a vital relation to the dynamics of sociability. Ultimately, by comparing the narcissist and the coquette, I illustrate that in addition to encompassing the seductions of self-love, narcissism enacts a call to the other which is a profoundly social gesture.

This talk is part of the Twentieth Century Think Tank series.

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