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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Narcissus and Echo


Last night, Zoe, who, let it be known, is a sweet dog, and a loving dog, and above all else, a good dog, woke me up at two o'clock and then again at three o'clock needing to go outside.  As I lay in bed in the predawn hours, trying, not very successfully, to get back to sleep, I thought about Dali's painting, "The Metamorphosis of Narcissus," which I'd looked at the day before as a possible writing prompt for my students.


What I noticed the other day, but never seen before is the figure on the left is the young man, Narcissus.  I'd always thought it was just a pile of rocks, but suddenly I could see quite clearly the golden-haired head bending downward, the slim and muscular limbs.  That, of course, is intentional: Dali is showing Narcissus in the midst of change, already "stone-still" gazing at his reflection.  The narcissus flower is sprouting from the egg-shaped rock in the gigantic lithic fingers on the right.


Dali adored those sorts of visual puns.  Notice how in this painting the breast and stomach of Venus de Milo becomes a woman's lower face.

Anyway, that set me to thinking that the stories of Narcissus and Echo are ghost stories.  Not what you would normally think of as ghost stories, but clearly that's what they are.  Both were transformed in death to a shadowy simulacrum of themselves, left behind as a reminder down to this day - just like that stain on the wall , which just won't wash out, and that resembles Aunt Agnes or the cold spot in the room where Gerald hanged himself.

Narcissus, as you may recall, saw his own reflection in the water and stared enraptured - literally seized by - his beauty until he was transformed into the flower that bears his name.  Echo, the hapless maiden who loved him, and followed him in sycophantic hopefulness, breathlessly trying to catch his attention and approval, died in a cave, and nothing is left of her but a disembodied voice that repeats anyone who will call out to her.

What occurred to me, lying in bed in the wee hours is that Narcissus and Echo both become reflections or echoes of what they were, and that moreover, the two stories, just like the rock formations in Dali's painting, echo each other.

Pretty slick, huh?  Worth reading the whole blog just to arrive at that one point, right?

Well, that's the sort of thing that comes to you when you're unable to sleep and have a chance to reflect.

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