Book Review of Kenneth A. Kimmel’s EROS AND THE SHATTERING GAZE: TRANSCENDING NARCISSISM. Fisher King Press, 2011

By Elizabeth Clark-Stern, copyright October, 2011

What a feast for the mind, to encounter Kenneth Kimmel’s timely book. I was in the airport this past May, and saw the cover of Newsweek. A quite innocent-looking baby pig stared out at the camera. The title: What Makes Men Act Like Pigs. I bought the issue, and kicked myself when the contents provided no substantive analysis. I was hungry for an exploration beyond a re-cap of the public behaviors of famous men. I also wanted a narrative that offered a larger vision of the historic human malady of the narcissistic male.


Kimmel takes us on a sumptuous journey, using the vibrant medium of myth, movies, clinical vignettes, and contemporary portraits of such luminaries as Carl Jung and Bill Clinton, both of whom struggled with their own narcissism. Down, down we go into the shattered self that begins at the doorstep of the wounded mother-son relationship.

And yet, this is no linear Oedipal tale. The beauty of Kimmel’s approach is its multi-dimensionality. I found myself reading the book as if entering a series of caves or tunnels connecting to vitally diverse castles, shaman’s huts, or suburban houses above ground. Just as I thought I had come upon a “definitive” theory, a new chamber would open, and an unconsidered perspective enriched all that had gone before.

Kimmel does give us candles, even brilliant flood lamps, to light our way. He achieves true innovation in mirroring the diverse theories of Carl Jung and Jewish French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. This gives us a new way to interpret the ancient, destructive mother complex, and see how this plays out in the development of the under-seen male.

As I descended deeper in the journey, I realized how profoundly I was relating to this material, not only as a scholar or psychotherapist, but as a woman. How mystifying it is, for so many of my sex, to encounter the withdrawn heart, depression, and dependency of the narcissistic male, so often wrapped in such a charming, intelligent, and charismatic package. The narrative peels away the initial reflection, “what was wrong with him?” revealing to the female reader, “What was wrong with me that I chose such a man?"

For women whose choices of a wounded narcissist lodge in the past, this journey is a revelation of the bones of that choice that undoubtedly resonates in the present. For women currently in a relationship with a man who is harming her, neglecting her, shaming her, or betraying her, EROS AND THE SHATTERING GAZE is an invaluable tool for seeing that the remedy lies not in the man, or in the stars, but in ourselves.

What allows the reader to gaze deeply into the mirror of her own soul? I credit Kimmel’s ability as a storyteller. How could I, as a woman, not identify with Psyche, mortal heroine who falls victim to the mother complex acted out at her expense between Eros and his mother, Aphrodite. The labors of Psyche correspond to the efforts of both men and women to complete the impossible task, to please Mother and earn the way to true love.

Kimmel explores the complexity and paradox of the search for other, offering diverse interpretations, from Nietzsche’s “tragic man”, to his own interpretation of the story of Jacob. I was most relieved to read the latter. In Kimmel’s model, the rigidity of narcissism must be shattered for the opening of the heart to true, un-idealized love, to follow. This can be a major event, such as the public humiliation experienced by a Strauss-Kahn, a heart attack, as with Jung and Bill Clinton, or the more gradual eggshell crack of analysis.

With the shattering comes an awakening to the true messiness and unpredictability of life and love. Nietzsche’s tragic man is the one who steps forward to build his sand castle of imperfect human love, knowing that the tidal wave of change and loss is inevitable. Levinas goes further to describe that once the delusions of narcissism are exposed, the man can find his worth, not in making everyone around him the Same, but in celebrating the other and placing them before himself.

This last phrase, “placing the other before self” took me aback. As a therapist I often support women in reclaiming a shattered self that was sacrificed to a projected all-powerful other. How could Levinas advise either partner in a relationship to put the other above the self?

Happily, as soon as I felt my torch waiver, Kimmel offers illumination in the story of Jacob. In the book of Genesis, Jacob has come to Canaan to make peace with his brother. He is afraid his brother will kill him the next day for a great wrong Jacob did to him twenty years ago. That night he camps alone, and is ambushed by a powerful stranger, either an angel or a devil. What brilliance that the fable allows for reality of both! Wrestling with, and asserting oneself with the Shadow (the split-off negative aspect of our character) is the necessary enemy we all need to struggle with hand-to hand, for integration of the soul. At dawn, after a full night of wrestling, Jacob is blessed by the angel. He must become whole before he can kneel before his estranged brother and say, “I am here.” As so it is in the relations of romantic love. For men, and for women, once we deeply embrace our imperfect completeness, there is no loss of self in this surrender.

Is this not what we all long for, to kneel before a compassionate beloved and say, “I am here.”?

How tempted I am to send a copy of EROS to Andrew Weiner, John Edwards, and all the rest. Copies should be placed in the foyer of every office in Washington D.C., and in the tribal headquarters of those African chiefs with so many wives. Narcissism, in all of its subtle and destructive forms, expresses the wounding of the ages. Surely, if the powerful could do the hard, comprehensive work required for wholeness, there would be no need for an enemy, in the form of a negative mother figure, or a mother country so different from our own.

EROS AND THE SHATTERING GAZE provides a welcome road map for men and women on the journey to the whole: a pearl tossed gracefully onto the violent shallows of our time.

Elizabeth Clark-Stern is a psychotherapist in private practice in Seattle, and author of the play, OUT OF THE SHADOWS: A STORY OF TONI WOLFF AND EMMA JUNG, and a collection of two novels, SOUL STORIES: SAFARI TO MARA and ARIA OF THE HORNED TOAD. Her books, and EROS AND THE SHATTERING GAZE are available on,, and

* * * * *


By Mel Knight, PhD, 2012

Seldom do I feel compelled to write a review, much less actively promote a new book, on an old subject like Narcissism. So why now? And why this book?

Ken Kimmel is a Jungian analyst who has been in private practice here in Seattle for over thirty years. In Eros And The Shattering Gaze, Ken manages to provide, not only the cultural and historical context for viewing the trajectory of erotic love gone wrong, but through clinical vignettes and the use of contemporary film, he also offers current insight into the motivation and dynamics of male infidelity and the lesson so often learned the hard way: the hot fire of new passion burns out, leaving only ashes.

Ken begins this book with a retelling of the myth of Venus, Eros, and Psyche, thus setting the stage for his later assertion that the distortions and idealizations of misguided erotic love in the adult is grounded in the earliest attachment and dynamics with the mother. Whether it is the enactment of a relationship in which the boy is mother’s “little prince,” the invited replacement for a weak father, or the designated savior for an empty or depressed mother, the narcissistic male unknowingly replicates a pathologic early relationship. His wish for merger, control, or adoration blinds the infatuated man—not only to the less than angelic qualities of his new love interest, but also to the timeless wisdom of family and community: “When the ego is inflated and unconscious, the violent power of the Self can have a malignant effect upon it” (217). Affairs almost never end well. Some things risked are lost—forever.

And there is more in the book. Much more. Turning from the cultural and mythological record of tragic love, Ken turns his attention to the exploration of its healthy manifestation. “The Capacity To Love” (Chapter 11) is, for me, the most satisfying chapter of the book. Drawing on the work of Levinas, Ken invites the reader to take in the “face” of the Other. To look into the face, the soul, of the other and claim it as the reader’s own—this, according to Levinas, is the true measure of love. To refuse to take in that face in all its frailty and vulnerability and to betray it instead, is to annihilate the other—but to experience The Shattering Gaze:

". . . an opportune moment in time may arise when a man is suddenly awakened and dislodged from his narcissism, perhaps by some unforeseen tragedy or trauma, perhaps by the stark, unbearable truth of the harm he has done in his life, a truth that—this time—he cannot escape. Sometimes the encounter is not so shattering but takes instead the form of a slow erosion of the false self, as in the analytic encounter. But in every case, he stands revealed before the gaze of the Other, glimpsed in the faces of those most naked, whose vulnerability stirs his torment and responsibility for them. His false self falls away, useless, as he feels the shame of his own violence” (261).

Whereas some books on Narcissism become bogged down in theory, others confine their attention to pathology. Eros and The Shattering Gaze is different—and refreshingly so. It offers insight—not only to the dark side of love relationships—but also provides a glimpse of what healthy love requires—and how it can be achieved.

I hope that, by now, it is obvious why I wanted to review this book. For me, it ranks among the most useful pieces ever written on Narcissism and the Male Ego. I invite you to give it your undivided attention and to commend it to your colleagues and friends.

Dr Mel Knight was the Founding President for the Center for Object Relations in 1992 and has been recently re-elected to serve again as President to fill an un-expired term. He also served as President for two terms with the Northwest Alliance for Psychoanalytic study. He is a Clinical Psychologist in private practice in Seattle.

* * * * *

Reading Eros and the Shattering Gaze: Transcending Narcissism

Review by Collin McFadden

With the wounding that pierces the ego’s grandiosity, the suffering psyche--stricken, outraged-- is exposed to the shattering call of the Other—Ken Kimmel, (p. 181).”

This spring, I was part of a group that had the pleasure of meeting with author Ken Kimmel to explore his recently published book, Eros and the Shattering Gaze: Transcending Narcissism (2011, King Fisher Press). A book ten years in the making, the writing in it nakedly reveals Kimmel’s passion for the exploration of the depth psychology of narcissism. Congruent with Kimmel’s current position as the Chairperson of the Seattle Inter-Institute Committee, the book seamlessly integrates theory from Jungian Analytic Psychology, British Object Relations Psychoanalytic Psychology, and Levinas’ Psychology for the Other into a comprehensive, multidimensional understanding of the world of the narcissist. Blending psychoanalytic theory, myth and literature, history, and case studies, Kimmel approaches the subject from many angles to guide the reader through the narcissist’s complex, lived experience.

Kimmel’s class followed the structure of the book, which is broken up into three sections. The first section of the book invites the reader into the romantic world of the narcissist, where he insulates himself in romantic fantasy and states of fusion in a desperate attempt to defend himself against an unbearable wound surrounding his original attachments to his primary love objects. The second section draws the reader into the dark, annihilating experience of “the predator beneath the narcissist,” who offensively attempts to maintain his narcissistic defenses by tearing down, leaching onto, or manipulating the other. As the reader falls into despair in the face of the disturbing, seemingly hopeless position of the narcissistic predator, Kimmel provides a way out of the darkness through Levinas’s Psychology for the Other. He contends that there is hope for the narcissist and that hope can be found in the shattering gaze of the unknowable, transcendent Other, the traumatic gaze that seeps through the cracks of the narcissist’s exoskeleton and threatens to wound him in a way that has the potential to free him from his isolated narcissistic state.

Kimmel’s relaxed approach to the class provided a space for curiosity, inquiry, and spontaneity to direct the learning process. Encouraging us to voice whatever questions and thoughts arose, Kimmel promoted academic freedom by encouraging exploratory discourse, free from restrictive intellectual dogmatism that is found in the classroom setting far too often. Kimmel, a seasoned and well-respected Jungian analyst, who has been in private practice in Seattle since 1984, backed up his theories with practical, “real-world” experience. His extensive experience in the field allowed him to reference case studies from his practice, depicting the theories he presents in the book as they appear in “real-world,” psychotherapeutic settings.

With little prior knowledge of the world of the narcissist, I worried going into the class that I would be unable to adequately digest the course material. This was not the case. Kimmel’s relaxed style of teaching, his respect for the learning process, and his transparent passion for this subject made him more than willing to address and explore all questions broached in, and outside of, our regularly scheduled meetings, always sticking with the question at hand until we all understood the material.

Kimmel succeeded at communicating his passion for and curiosity of the narcissistic state, which yielded a refreshing, engaging, and contagious look at this age-old topic. Breathing new life into the exploration of the narcissistic state of mind and offering new possibility of transformation through an encounter with the shattering gaze of the Other, Ken’s class enlightened and enlivened.


Kimmel, K. (2011). Eros and the shattering gaze: Transcending narcissism. Carmel, CA: Fisher King Press.

No comments:

Post a Comment