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Dara Miller
Professor Johnson-Gonzalez
ENG 472
30 April 2012

In Ovids Narcissus & Echo, from his Metamorphoses, a young man tries
futilely to grip an image that does not exist as he pines for the love of his beautiful
reflection and ignores the pleas of the nymph who loves him, but can herself only throw
back his fragmented words. As he gazes on this shadow of his own reflected form
that has nothing on its own, he eventually wastes away, leaving nothing behind but a
beautiful flower and a lonely echo of the love he sought. Freud would later use the myth
of Narcissus as part of the basis for psychoanalytic thought, but it is Derrida who
playfully recreates an image of this myth in his ending to Platos Pharmacy. As Plato
finds himself leaning over the pharmakon he sees only a never-ending reflection of the
Platonic phantasm he has idealized, and as the walled-in voice strikes against the
rafters, the words come apart, bits and pieces of sentences are separatedcome back like
answers [and] take themselves for a dialogue (Derrida 169). Although the myth of
Narcissus was written hundreds of years before Derridas work, Ovids tale still holds
intriguing parallels to Derridas analysis of the differences between speech and writing.
As the self-obsessed young man effectively traps himself in a world of where he
desires[s] to stand apart from [his] own self (Ovid 96), so does the Platonic reader trap
himself in a logocentric tradition that leaves him only consumed by endless reflections
and refractions.
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Much of Derridas work centers on the metaphysics of presence; in his arguments
about speech and writing, he emphasizes that the immediacy of the speaker does not
necessarily privilege spoken language over written language. Therefore, his Plato is stuck
in the woven tapestry of his own thought deconstructed, endlessly questioning his logic
as the threads of his argument unravel in the light of the multiplicity of meanings found
in his own words. In Ovids myth, Narcissus becomes the seeker and the sought, the
longed-for and the one who longsthe arsonist andthe scorched (94). His obsessive
desire for this unattainable relationship with his own image is comparable to the
logocentric focus held by the majority of Western thinkers; Narcissus cannot hold on to
his own image, and the superiority of speech cannot be truly be established over writing.
In the myth, speech is hobbled; Echo, as punishment for displeasing, Juno, is doomed to
only throw back refractions of others words as her own, and Narcissus, although he can
see the movement of his reflections lovely lips, cannot hear the words spoken be his
image. Interestingly, Narcissus understanding of the words issuing from his reflections
mouth moves beyond speech, as he is effectively reading the motion of his lips like a
According to Derrida, What is is not what it is, identical and identical to itself,
unique, unless it adds to itself the possibility of being repeated as suchits identity is
hollowed out by that addition, withdraws itself in the supplement that presents it, (168)
and this idea of repetitive negation is presented in the literal withering of Narcissus. As
he gazes on his identical image, he sees the addition of his own repetition, and his
obsession with this supplement effectively consumes his identity.

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Works Cited
Derrida, Jacques. Platos Pharmacy. Dissemination. Trans. Barbara Johnson. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1981.
Ovid. The Metamorphoses of Ovid. Trans. Allen Mandelbaum. Harcourt Brace &