Thursday, 24 April 2008


The excellent David Thompson has this post about the pathology of self-criticism. He means it geopolitically, of course (the kind of drivel-question to which every answer is "it's the West's fault" - the ideological equivalent of the Friday night "Are you looking at my bird" to which every possible answer is wrong, and results in a beating).

Of interest to me is the way in which modesty, or fragile self confidence, call it what you will, slips easily into a kind of self-regarding masochism. You start off, reasonably, by refusing to arrogate too much praise to yourself: there are, after all, many factors including luck in your success. Then you begin to wonder whether or not what you have done is successful or not and once you are absorbed in this train of thought all sorts of possibilities open up: how does one really assess any given criteria, how can one be certain that a seemingly obvious criterion (ie publishing a poem) actually involves success; and so on. It is a short and fatal step from there to an utterly disproportionate but enfolding and comforting sense that, as nothing you have done can be counted as good, you cannot possibly survive or undertake any kind of challenge. Hence you must sit at home and, er, blog. Or something.

A side effect, much desired, of this kind of self-criticism is that well meaning persons continually try to reassure one. This is now slimy and nasty: not the persons, but the masochistic individual, who becomes accustomed to hearing people say nice things and wants more of it, but in order to do that needs to keep, simultaneously, doing things well and believing that they are doing them badly. The regression into early childhood becomes complete at the point at which the individual realises what he likes most is having nice women put their arms round him.

In other words, it is all too easy, especially in a society which values and esteems victimhood, to make oneself a victim - of oneself. To be, in a sense, the tortured individual whose own blindness to his success is in fact a symptom of the most ghastly self-love - a kind of psychological masturbation.

It is extremely difficult to break out of this: its corrosive effects soon begin to affect relationships and then really begin to affect work, and then you are left with little to show for years of self-regard but a permanent sense of worthlessness that is, in reality, a fault of too much self rather than too little.

This post, of course, in a recursive way, being a symptom in itself.

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