Monday, August 5, 2013

Clancy Martin on suicide (Harpers Magazine)

 
This is a great short essay on suicide by a literate man with a suicide history. It is worth reading not just for the references to Hume, Schopenhaeur, and Camus, but for the phrase, "a mind no longer able to bear its own existence."

Some excerpts:

For years, growing up, I was obsessed with the thought [of suicide]; among my earliest memories is the desire, at age three or four, to run in front of an oncoming bus. Not because I wanted to see what would happen, but because I was sure I knew what would happen: I wouldn’t have to live any longer. I suspect there may be a suicide gene. My elder brother reports of wanting to kill himself from a very early age, and of having had to battle with the desire many times in his life....
...My elder stepbrother Paul leaped from one of the tallest buildings in Calgary when I was seven years old, and I wish he were still around. I have tried it, and, happily, I have failed. A few months ago I was in the mountains of southern Brazil with a Tibetan Buddhist monk, a retired firefighter, who told me (we were swapping stories of how we became Buddhists) that he had tried three times to kill himself. I admitted my own attempts. “We’re in the most shameful club of all,” he said. “We are the ones who couldn’t even do that.” It’s true: people are furious with you if you succeed and contemptuous of you if you fail...
...Camus’s conclusion — that the very meaninglessness of life ought to provoke us into a kind of mulish defiance toward the rationality of death — is not entirely satisfying. At one level I agree: to go on living is to say “Fuck you” to a universe that doesn’t give a damn about us. When Camus writes that we “must imagine Sisyphus happy,” we know that the greatest part of Sisyphus’ happiness must derive from the knowledge that the very gods who condemned him are now watching him, with frustration and grudging respect, push that damn boulder up the mountainside again and again. They can’t break him. 
...My psychiatrist, a wise eighty-seven-year-old woman who has been practicing six days a week for more than forty years, told me, “Think of the example it sets. For your children.” That remains the most compelling argument I’ve heard against suicide: it sets an example — for one’s children, of course, but for others too.

 
 
 
 
 

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