Nothing can be more overwhelming for self-image and self-esteem than a lousy love life—something I quickly learned after an abrupt break up. Unhappiness is very destructive and I began developing a series of quirks and tics For example, I draped my mirrors with tulle so that my reflection was just a series of perforations. Or, if I saw couples kissing, my left eye would begin to blink uncontrollable then tear.
At the time, I was in Vienna visiting distant relatives. Very distant. They told me about a doctor in vogue who seemed gifted in curing young women with emotional problems and arranged an appointment for me. That’s how I met Doctor Freud.
Conjecturing had led me to believe that, to unclutter the mind, an uncluttered environment was fundamental. So I was really surprised by the doctor’s studio. Books and figurines were juxtaposed everywhere. For example, on his desk was a row of small goddess statues. And behind his desk was a glass case full of antiquities. My friend, Mona, had once warned me about men with collections. She said that collecting is symptomatic of someone who needs to stay in control. So, instead of looking at his collection with interest, I started to feel a bit uncomfortable especially after he told me to lay down on his couch. My instincts told me to get out of there. And since instincts don’t lie, I invented an excuse and left.
Lou Andreas-Salomè, who hung out with Freud, wrote in her diary about a cat that, from a window, would climb into the doctor’s study. The cat would closely inspect Freud’s antique objects then purr. Amazed that he would have something in common with a cat, Freud began giving him milk. But the cat was not impressed by this display of generosity and would completely ignore the doctor. That’s how Freud understood he and the cat had more in common than an interest in little statues—they were both narcissistic.
Female narcissism is not the same as the male’s. Our narcissism is more a form of coquetry. Not having the same power in society as men, we’ve had to invent alternative arms. In a misogynist world, flirtation and innuendo can get us much more than can straight forward communication.
And I wonder, was it narcissism that led Freud to collect phallic amulets? His housekeeper use to comment on how the doctor had a small Baboon of Thoth statue with prominent genitals that he liked to stroke. Lou Andreas-Salomè also had a kind of phallic collection only hers was not made of stone. More than a narcissist, she was a seductress. Instead of looking into the mirror, she was a mirror looking out.
In Greek mythology, Narcissus was the kind of guy every woman looks at twice then wished she hadn’t. Not owning a mirror, he really didn’t know what a hunk he was. Then one day, while walking by a lake, he decided to drink some water. That’s how he saw his reflection and immediately fell in love with himself. Really, he couldn’t take his eyes of his reflection and just stayed there until he finally decomposed, turned into compost, then was born again as a flower.
Narcissism makes your world smaller. And when there’s only you, life is lonely.
But back to novelist, seductress, and psychoanalyst, Lou Andreas-Salomè.
The writer Malwida von Meysenbug, who’d been living in Rome for years, invited us to one of her soirées. We happily accepted as she knew the most exciting people. It was there I met Lou and, even though she’d been very charming, I knew we could never be friends simply because I couldn’t take the competition. Her sex appeal was such that all a man had to do was look at her and see mattresses. In fact, all the men there were lined up trying to get her attention. In line was Paul Rée, Nietzsche’s best friend and fellow philosopher. Soon afterwards, Lou, Rée, and Nietzsche embarked upon an “intellectual” ménage à trois (and you can imagine the gossip that caused!) But it didn’t take long for the rooster fights to begin. Nietzsche wanted Lou all for himself and asked her to marry him. When she said no, Nietzsche was crushed, said all women were bad, then locked himself up in his room at Piazza Barberini (a delightful little room with a view of Bernini’s Fontana del Tritone) and began writing Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
Ahh, men can’t understand how fatiguing it is to be a femme fatale who’s desired not for who she is but for what she represents—an object of desire. And since you can only desire that which you don’t have, a desire is just a void yearning to be filled. Maybe because she was tired of being objectified, Lou married a linguistics professor. A celibate marriage, Lou was often restless thus took long walks. And on one such walk in Munich, she met Rainer Maria Rilke. Even though Lou was 15 years older, the young poet fell crazy in love with her. With schoolboy charm, Rilke wrote Lou poems such as: “my love is like a coat wrapped around you to protect and warm you up” and “all the roses in the world bloom for you and by means of you”. Really, it got to be too much and when Lou felt Rilke was getting too clinging, the affair lost its poetry.
Poor Rilke, he started acted stranger and stranger. He hadn’t been just a toy boy for Lou. She worried about his mental health and looked towards psychoanalysis as a solution. But Rilke wasn’t interested and told Lou “Don’t take my devils away, because my angels may flee, too.”
By this time Lou was fascinated by psychoanalysis and moved to Vienna for more. Here she met Freud and learned that all narcissists have mirrors but not all mirrors have the same reflection.
A man lives in a man’s world thus is constantly surrounded by his own reflection. The male mirror has room only for himself whereas the woman, living in a man’s world as well as a world of her own, sees herself and others.
Moral of the story: women have bigger mirrors than men.
(from The Diary of Luz Corazzini, Cynthia Korzekwa ©)