Narcissus at work


The myth of Narcissus is usual evoked when philosophers study the individual’s relation to its own self. In the following Moore paints a bigger picture:


This is one of the deeper implications of the Narcissus myth: the flowering of life depends upon finding a reflection of oneself in the world, and one’s work is an important place for that kind of reflection. In the language of Neoplatonism, Narcissus discovers love when he finds that his nature is completed in that part of his soul that is outside himself, in the soul of the world. Read in this way, the story suggests that we will never achieve the flowering of our own natures until we find that piece of ourselves, that lovable twin, which lives in the world and as the world. Therefore, finding the right work is like discovering your own soul in the world. (186)

When our work doesn’t serve our soul it easily takes on narcissistic qualities—meaning: We try to find satisfaction in secondary rewards, such as money, prestige, and the trappings of success.

Narcissus and work are further related because the love that goes out into our work comes back as love of self. Signs of this love and therefore of soul are feelings of attraction, desire, curiosity, involvement, passion, and loyalty in relation to our work. (187)


The relationship between money and work carries so much fantasy that it is both a burden and an extraordinary opportunity. Many of the problems associated with work center on money.

  • We don’t make enough
  • We feel we are worth more than we are making
  • Our fathers will be proud of us only when we have made as much as they have or more
  • We will feel part of adult society only when we have all the hallmarks of wealth and financial security

As a result of such feelings, we respond to money either apotropaically—shunning its power—or compulsively.

An alternative is to enter into the particular fantasies that money gives us and see what messages they might offer. If we think we need to make a lot of money in order to justify our existence, for example, then maybe there is a truth there. We may need to be more immersed in communal, concrete life in order to feel the soulfulness contained in that fantasy. The only mistake would be to take that fantasy too literally. We could end up with millions of dollars and still wonder when we are going to grow up. (195)

Caravaggio Narcissus (1598)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.