Thursday, 11 July 2013


Narcissus, Caravaggio 1594-96
Nathaniel stood before the mirror, transfixed by his own reflection. “Looking good!” He praised himself, taking in his tanned skin, tousled blond hair and deep blue eyes. He knew he was God-like. He saw the desire in men and women's eyes when they studied him. They all wanted him; to look like him or to be with him. He was in love with himself and, it appeared, so was everyone else around him. The only beauty he saw in the world was himself.
To this modern man, grooming was everything. Many hours were spent maintaining his looks to his high standards. Facial hair had to be removed; skin had to be tanned and moisturised. His bathroom was filled with lotions; his wardrobe with expensive clothing. He worked his muscles in the gym with the aid of additional protein. It was hard work being an Adonis, but the compulsion drove him: he feared being unloved and falling out of love with himself.
His reflection spoke for itself; he never grew bored of looking at himself in mirrors and shop windows. He was constantly distracted by reflective surfaces and besotted with his 'mirror' image. But the attention his 'twin' received was not enough; he wanted others to be as obsessed with him as he was.
Friendly with the owner of a perfumery, Nathaniel developed his own unisex fragrance: drops of his sweat combined with narcissus extract, taken from the petals and bulb of the flower, and named it 'Vanity'. A narcotic scent, the word spread, and soon everyone was wearing it. Once the hype had died down, Nathaniel noticed explicit changes. At first, he became aware that people had grown numb to him. His presence did not evoke the usual reactions: the whispers, the stares, the dilated pupils or the shallow breathing. There was no girlish giggling or attempts at flirting. Instead, people had turned vain and introspective. Daily life was disrupted as everyone was studying their reflections; some even became drunk on their own self-image. Delirious with love and wanting. As the addiction increased, there was a spate of drownings: individuals who were compelled to touch their 'beautiful twin' shimmering in pools of water. A phenomenon that became known as 'Narcissism'. It got so bad, government officials stepped in and ordered 'Vanity' to be recalled, withdrawn from public sale, and discontinued.
Nathaniel complied, because in this short space of time, he had felt sorely neglected. His greatest fear had been realised: watching others drugged had made him fall out of love with himself. He had been ashamed to discover he'd never loved the whole person, and vowed to, from now on, recognise his true self-worth.