Suicide[Reading] ➸ Suicide By Simon Critchley – Suicide is everywhere It haunts history and current events It haunts our own networks of friends and family It most likely haunts your private thoughts too Why delay the inevitable silence particularl Suicide is everywhere It haunts history and current events It haunts our own networks of friends and family It most likely haunts your private thoughts too Why delay the inevitable silence particularly when this world can be so painful The specter of Suicide looms large but the topic is taboo because any meaningful discussion must at the very least consider that the answer to the uestion — “is life worth living” — might not be an emphatic yes; it might even be a stern no Simon Critchley Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy at the New School in New York City takes on the precarious uestion of Suicide in this darkly fascinating book Through a sweeping historical overview of Suicide a moving literary survey of famous Suicide notes and a psychological analysis of himself Critchley offers us an authentic portrait of what it means to possess the all too human gift and curse of being able to choose life or death With poignance empathy and scholarly thoroughness Suicide takes us to the humming cliff of death Here on the edge Critchley calmly and pacifically whispers the ecstatic secret of life to us SIMON CRITCHLEY is Hans Jonas Professor at the New School for Social Research His books include Very Little Almost Nothing Infinitely Demanding The Book of Dead Philosophers The Faith of the Faithless The Mattering of Matter Documents from the Archive of the International Necronautical Society with Tom McCarthy and Stay Illusion The Hamlet Doctrine with Jamieson Webster An experimental new work Memory Theatre and a book called Bowie were both published in ​ He is moderator of ‘The Stone’ a philosophy column in The New York Times to which he is a freuent contributor. To be human is to have the capacity at each and every moment of killing oneself Incarceration humiliation disappointment disease – the world can do all of this to us but it cannot remove the possibility of suicide For as long as we keep this power in our hands then we are in some minimal but real sense free 72Camus begins The Myth of Sisyphus with the words There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide I think that anyone who has reflected deeply on life has spent time thinking about death; and if you have thought seriously about death you have probably contemplated suicide Not in the sense that you have actually considered committing it You don't have to go as far as Nietzsche who wrote that The thought of suicide is a great consolation by means of it one gets through many a dark night While perhaps liberating to a few the thought that one can end one's life at any moment is frightening and outright unacceptable to most Suicide is still one of the big taboos in today's society – both in deed and discourse When people end their lives in response to a severe depression the loss of a loved one or a similarly painful psychological or circumstantial reason this is one of the most unuestionably tragic things that can happen However the notion of suicide becomes philosophically interesting only when such reasons are absent or at least when they do not explicitly play a role In a sense the option of discontinuing our lives is one of our greatest freedoms – and one of our few true freedoms at that The other day I was listening to an episode of Philosophy Bites one of my favorite podcasts which happened to be on suicide and its philosophical implications The interviewee was Simon Critchley and the talk was intriguing I figured that Critchley must have written on the subject so I did some searching and found that he recently published this extended essay entitled Notes on Suicide I ordered it and decided to read it right awayAs promising as the essay initially appeared it was ultimately disappointing Critchley takes Camus's uestion as a starting point to his inuiry into the ending of one's life and provides a historical overview of reflections on suicide as well as a literary survey of suicide notes He builds especially on the thoughts of Hume Améry and Cioran to get past the intuitive emotional – and rather contradictory – reactions to the phenomenon as well as the religious particularly Christian theological and moral condemnation of suicide in order to examine it dispassionately and philosophically In the end he doesn't add all that much to the discussion however Nor are his uniue contributions like the love hate aspect of suicide notes worked to a satisfactory degree The suicide notes that Critchley shares seem handpicked to make a point that is not convincingly argued the short reference to Freud is not sufficient in my opinion to ground suicide notes as such in a kind of love hate Oddly the discussion remains rather superficial in certain areas where you would expect Critchley to go into greater depth Perhaps in the end he didn't dare no matter how bravely he attempts to take the issue on the essay has a personal dimension since it was written after a dark period in Critchley's life as he tells us – he opens with the words This book is not a suicide note There is one thought which was particularly interesting to me and that is the notion of suicide homicide It is especially relevant now in a time when people appear to increasingly go out and kill people while killing themselves Perhaps the essay suffers then by virtue of its form – its subject seems to demand a book rather than a short reflection The suicide note analysis is fascinating and may tell us much – but and maybe this is the scientist in me speaking it won't tell us much as such without a systematic analysis I'll add to the review and reformulate it later Critchley is a philosophy professor at New York’s New School for Social Research However he wrote this short essay from a beach hotel in East Anglia Although he reassures readers with his first line that “This book is not a suicide note” he also hints that its writing was inspired by personal trouble “my life has dissolved over the past year or so like sugar in hot tea” Not suicidal himself then but certainly sympathetic to those who are driven to self murderThis concise essay illuminates arguments surrounding suicide with points of reference ranging from Greek philosophers to Kurt Cobain and Robin Williams Overall though it feels cursory and inconclusive Note In a curious inversion the afterword is a historical piece the posthumous eighteenth century essay “Of Suicide” by Scottish philosopher David HumeSee my full review at Nudge Once in a while you come across a book that blows your mind away This book is just that Simon begins off with introducing people who committed suicide after submitting their work on suicide Sylvia Plath came to my mind and had me thinking what if there is a correlation between people who have penned their thoughts on suicide and the actual act of committing suicide The data suggests such a possibility but this book is not about thatSimon clarifies his position right in the beginning he does not condemn suicide he does not believe that it is a “moral or legal” offense Is he advocating for suicide? The answer is “No” He discusses at length the issue with how we perceive and talk about suicide We want to know “why” and “how” of a suicide We tend to rationalize it we condemn it we pity it we look for the causes mental illnesses or otherwise He is asking us to change our stance our stance of either romanticizing suicide or loathing itWhy did he write this book? He struggles with suicidal ideation and this book is perhaps a genuine attempt to play his role in understanding what is happening with him and in general how we view suicide At this point 16 pages into the book I was glued I was hooked I wanted to find out his ultimate verdict I knew that he knows the struggle of getting up in the morning with thinking about nothing else other than To be or not to be So I surrendered myself completely and let him walk me through his mind The first chapter is an analysis of the history of suicide but it is not “just” an academic historical lesson on suicide He sets out to answer a specific uestion “Why is suicide seen as illegal immoral or irreligious?”Socrates and Seneca both were both declared criminals and were sentenced to take their own lives And then there was according to Simon a shift in thinking from accepting to rejecting suicide The answer he believes lived in Christian theology He singles out an event from history to let the story run smoothly Radicati a protestant wrote “A philosophical dissertation upon death” in order to legitimize suicide That did not work out well but he left his imprint John Donne was another key player in trying to legitimize suicide and predates Radicati but that did not work out well as well He further discusses the legal denouncement of suicide over time In the next part he presents the key arguments set forth for and against suicide from religious and secular perspectives He deconstructs each major argument philosophically and logically and forces the reader to seriously reset their mindset These are the arguments “Suicide is wrong because only God has proper moral authority over our lives”“Suicide is prohibited because life is a gift from God”“Thou shalt not kill” the sixth commandment“Violation of sanctity of life” “Suicide is wrong because life is a gift from parentscommunity etc”“Violation of sanctity of life”“Right to suicide because of self ownership”“Do our duties to others override our personal claim to the “right” to suicide?”“Suicide is justified if it is rationally chosen”“Justification based on autonomy”With this newly found ground I entered the third part – the suicide notesHe introduces Freud’s hate love theory “This also partially explains the phenomenon of the suicide note and its mixture of depression and exhibitionism where self love becomes hatred and one dies apologizing for one’s actions” Suicide comes in various forms and so does the accompanying suicide notes – to extract revenge for retribution self justification entitlement for the sake of love hatred suffering politics altruistic business economic shame pride fantasy and self pity In the last part Simon plays his final card gives his verdict and tells us to wait just a little longer We already have the option of suicide then why the hurry? Asks us to love To move away from hating ourselves and to start loving somethingsomeone else He focuses on Virginia Woolf’s struggle and suicide note and then deliberately asks the reader to focus on the “life” in her work “It is not Woolf’s suicide that grants her life coherence That coherence is provided by the courage of her work and what she wrote about life” Just love and might as well live PS I am going to buy a copy A great book that I find myself lucky to readA very insightful approach to what is suicide why we act it and a very introspective contemplation on suicide notes Rolled my eyes at the end Critchley uncompromisingly busts taboos and baseless myths about suicide with intellectual distance and gentle humor He shows that society is often too lazy or frightened to face this unpleasant phenomenon and rather relies on religious prejudices or ignorance Even in modern and secular communities it is very convenient to classify all suicides simply as a case of untreated mental illness But can you definitely rule out that suicide can be also committed by a perfectly sane mentally balanced person as a result of a thorough and free decision? What if suicide is one of the determining abilities that differentiates humans from animals? Despite the morbid topic Critchley remains slightly optimistic and at the end of the book offers at least one good reason why to stay alive 😊 Often my reasons for buying a book are ridiculous A few weeks back I read a piece in the The Guardian about a new bookstore in London where literature and lattes don’t mix whose managers offer visitors a curated selection of suggestive themes designed to provoke browsers into making unexpected connections The spotlight we’re told will be on cutting edge independent publishers Fitzcarraldo Editions is the first example so I went hunting on its site and selected Critchley’s volume as my first sharp sample When it arrived I was impressed by its elegance dark blue type on a thick white paper cover The text is set in a handsome custom typeface Today I finally brought it with me to Peets and enjoyed it with a latteWho can resist a book that begins This book is not a suicide note What a relief Critchley references the obvious counterexample Edouard Levé’s Suicide – that note sufficed to ruin suicide for me Critchley’s first couple sections are dull in a different way dutifully dispensing with all the usual religiousmorallegal reasons that suicide is Wrong concluding however with a wry nod toward Dorothy ParkerThe first line of Section III made me laugh out loud In May 2013 I organized a suicide note creative writing workshopHere the essay found its voice Critchley points out an obvious but overlooked aspect of HamletWhat is most striking about Hamlet’s speeches is not their delusional uality but their perspicacity Then there is a uick survey painful to read of actual suicide notes some of which are eually perspicacious The saddest DARK Light DARK The next section is lighter if only because Critchley cites Cioran the most intentionally grim writer ever Almost everything I read by Cioran I read in my salad days when depression was merely a diversion which is to say I've forgotten everything but the mood of those books So I was surprised to find that Cioran had captured my own version of Parker’s Résumé with his typical aphoristic acuityOnly optimists commit suicide the optimists who can no longer be optimists The others having no reason to live why should they have any to die?When people come to me saying they want to kill themselves I tell them What’s your rush?And the delicious coup de grâce –The refutation of suicide is it not inelegant to abandon a world which has so willingly put itself at the service of our melancholy?But this is only merry melancholy Anyone who’s actually experienced the temptation of suicide knows the reality is stark the true abyss Critchley comes closer to a genuine response when he uotes the passage from Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse in which Mrs Ramsey reviews the world and exclaims It is enough It is enough Except of course it wasn’t not for VirginiaI closed the book unpersuaded by anything but that wasn’t the point My imagination had been educated which is enough Critchley appends David Hume’s good spirited essay Of Suicide – and Hume’s conclusion remains my own If Suicide be supposed a crime it is only cowardice can impel us to it If it be no crime both prudence and courage should engage us to rid ourselves at once of existence when it becomes a burthen It is the only way that we can then be useful to society by setting an example which if imitated would preserve to everyone his chance for happiness in life and would effectually free him from all danger of miseryThis review by the way is not a suicide note I haven’t had the Workshop A finely written précis on a subject of perennial importanceCritchley examines our predominant Western social and religious attitudes about suicide and traces their historical context Contemporary examples of suicide in its various modalities are also providedI wish this book were longer and fully fleshed outMy two main criticisms are that Critchley sometimes seems seduced by the elegance of his own phraseology to the detriment of his philosophical rigor and that he clings to a very subtle kind of disaffection that can at times come across as preciousYet for the reasons he himself adduces this remains a vital topic and his thoughtful oftentimes beautifully written meditations are a welcome contribution to the literature This essay is only 76 pages long and it is absolutely beautiful I don’t agree with everything Simon Critchley writes in here but he writes it all with such grace humour and tenderness that it’s impossible to ignore The philosophy along with ancient and modern history intertwined made this an experience of a book and it really touched me Fascinating study reflections on a taboo subject covering religious national ethical community views a passage on suicide notes and a uestioning on Leve and Woolf uestioning but compelling another fine title from Fitzcarraldo Editions