THE SELFISHNESS OF OTHERS: AN ESSAY ON THE FEAR OF NARCISSISM
Farrar, Straus and Giroux"We know the new selfishness when we see it," writes Kristin Dombek in her first book, The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism, where she seeks to understand whether—as countless psychologists, journalists, bloggers, and others have proclaimed—we are living through an epidemic of self-worship. At the time Dombek is writing, as she puts it in mesmerizing, deceptively simple prose:
But for Dombek, it's far from clear whether we do actually know narcissism at all and what precisely we are seeing when we describe a supposedly new level of self obsession. Dombek, whose essays have appeared in n+1 and the Paris Review, begins with the DSM, which defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder as "a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy." But, like the first analysts, she grounds her book in case study, exploring archetypes of the widely varying kinds of people who seem to be most often described as narcissists: the bad boyfriend, the millennial, and the murderer.The bad boyfriend is exemplified by Tucker Max, a hero in a "movement among men to obtain power over women by insulting them and regularly withdrawing or disappearing," a man who, as Dombek amusingly describes, gets a blowjob from a girl who is about to go on a date with someone else, falls in love with his own reflection when he is drunk and dancing at a club, and later wakes up with a dog turd in his hair. The millennial is Allison, who, when she was a teen on My Super Sweet 16, insisted on having a parade that involved shutting down a street with a major hospital entrance. And though the murderer is never named, we know from Dombek's inclusion of the most horrifying details that he is Anders Behring Breivik, who stands in for "all the murderers [who] now post on Facebook before they walk into schools and movie theaters with guns, as if a moment's celebrity is worth any human life, even their own."
The app is Tinder, selfie has been declared the word of the year, and a study has come out showing that our language is more self-centered than ever before. You can see it in song lyrics, in novels, and in nonfiction. American writers are using I and me 42 percent more than they did in 1960… It's a winter when it's easy enough to find oneself hunched over one's computer screen, locked in horrified gaze at the self-adoration of others, and look up to find one's friends talking on and on about themselves, their words frozen and repeating "I," "I," "I." Listening to them, wondering if they even remember you exist, is like watching Narcissus bent over that still pool in Ovid's myth, stuck in the inaugural selfie.
Prosthetic RecordsThe term "dark hardcore" seems deeply silly at first, but Trap Them's new album, Crown Feral, makes a pretty good argument for why we need it. The Boston/ Seattle troupe clawed their way to the upper echelons of this kind of music—known for its bleak atmosphere, punk grit, and black metal, crust, and doom influences—with an explosive 2011 debut for Prosthetic Records, Darker Handcraft, which was followed by the even wilder Blissfucker. Now, the group—made up of singer and songwriter Ryan McKenney, guitarist Brian Izzi, drummer Brad Fickeisen, and bassist Galen Baudhuin—have dropped Crown Feral, a remorseless bruiser of an album augmented by legendary producer (and Converge guitarist) Kurt Ballou's deft touch behind the mixing board. You could write a sonnet about the guitar tone on this beast, but I'll spare you. Rest assured, that crunchy, metallic stomp (Swedish death-metal fans, take note) is present and accounted for, balanced out by a hulking doom and howling D-beat. The heavy, churning paranoia on tracks like "Twitching in the Auras" and the breakneck, cutthroat "Revival Spines" snap and menace with far more groove than one might expect; the whole record is bizarrely catchy and eminently headbangable. —KIM KELLY
THE STORY OF THE LAST CHRYSANTHEMUM
CriterionKenji Mizoguchi, whom Jean-Luc Godard once called "the greatest of Japanese filmmakers," started directing films in the early 1920s. Between 1936 and his early death in 1956, he made what he considered his best work—films distinguished by long tracking shots that carry the viewer fluidly from scene to scene, as in a Japanese narrative painting. ("My films from now on," he once told his cinematographer, "should be… straight and irreversible like a hand scroll.") The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (1939), newly released by Criterion in a restoration from Janus Films, is one such film, a period tragedy that centers on Kiku, a Meji-era kabuki actor who abandons his mentor and adoptive father—a famous actor—to elope with the household's working-class nursemaid, Otoku, the only one willing to be honest with Kiku about his shortcomings onstage. When the two go on the road with a touring company to make ends meet, Kiku turns abusive and cruel. Mizoguchi was drawn to self-sacrificing female characters, an interest inspired partly by memories of his sister, whom his family sold into prostitution when he was young. It's hard to keep this out of mind watching the desperate Otoku persuade Kiku's family to take him back into their company, knowing that she'll lose him if they do. —MAX NELSON
THE VIRGINITY OF FAMOUS MEN: STORIES
Bloomsbury USAA celebrity, in Christine Sneed's formulation, is someone who would rather be who he is than someone else. The best stories in Sneed's second collection examine the tension between celebrities and schlubs. Sneed has been here before—most notably in her 2013 novel, Little Known Facts. In the title story, drawn from that novel's cast, Will introduces his girlfriend to his famous, philandering father. "Every woman he'd ever met had always abruptly fallen," Will reflects, for Renn's "bullying, jawdropping generosity." It is difficult for Will, too, to resist it. And yet he knows that, on some level, his father is an illusion; celebrity can't survive intimacy. Will's father invites everyone to call him by his first name, but that won't make him, in any real sense, knowable. Sneed is excellent on the poetry of glamour, how it holds up well from a distance and dissolves on approach. A celebrity is a Chuck Close painting: Up close, it's all dots. In "The Prettiest Girls," an aging casting director brings a Mexican extra back with him to LA. She's beautiful and hysterical, poor but entitled. When she leaves him for someone more attractive, more well-known, the narrator fumes. You can't fuck someone famous, he wants to tell her. You can only fuck his fame. —JAMIE FISHERThese reviews appeared in the September issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.