Do you have a nemesis?
On envy, enemies, rivalries, and phantom beefs
”The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased…”
In Dana Jeri Maier’s Skip To The Fun Parts, her book of cartoons and complaints about the creative process, she writes about “the usefulness of a nemesis.” She describes her own nemesis, Pendergast (not his real name). Pendergast is a “hate-follow” of hers who has not wronged her in any way, who is “objectively good at what he does,” and whose art has much in common with her own. This, in fact, is the problem, as she writes, “The artists who really get under my skin are the ones who are sorta like me but veer off in a direction that offends my sensibilities.”
The purpose of an artistic nemesis is to harness the narcissism of comparison, helping us identify the critical differences between our work and theirs, to emerge with a clarified sense of who we want to be instead. The point is not to be consumed with debilitating bitterness or rage but to summon just enough precious envy to put to constructive use.
Envy is considered one of the seven deadly sins, but it’s also a useful feeling that can provide us with information. Nietzsche thought it was a feeling that could help us figure out what we really want.
“You’ve got to make an enemy of envy,” says art critic Jerry Saltz. But perhaps you need an enemy made from envy… a nemesis.