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June 30, 2012 6:21 AM   Subscribe

I'm doing research for an artistic work exploring the theme of suicide, and I seek 1) a particular recent article arguing that life is not worth living and 2) the most provocative, interesting works on suicide from artistic, philosophical, social science, journalistic, religious or medical perspectives.

The article was published in the last five or ten years. I remember it beginning written in accessible language and I suspect it was penned for a lay audience, but distilled the arguments of a longer scholarly work. I don't think the philosopher was indicating an intention to kill himself, just giving an abstract justification. Does this ring a bell for anybody?

I am also interested in other sources of inspiration for our work. Presently, I don't have access to English language bookstores so recommendations of works available through the internets (including e-books) are most helpful. I've just read Kay Redfield Jamison's Night Falls Fast, which I found disappointing. I'm listening to and enjoying Shelly Kagan's lectures on death through Yale Open Course currently. I've read a bunch about David Foster Wallace's suicide but would be open to another article if it was especially enlightening. I am aware of Hamlet, but if there's another play out there I should be looking at, I'd love to hear about it. I hear Durkheim is an important thinker in this area but I'm not up for the project of reading his main work on the topic. This is a side project for me, so despite the weightiness of the subject I prefer to find a few gems I can pass along to my collaborators rather than give myself a thorough education. Have anything in mind? A great short story, a work of art, a surprising magazine article, a poem or quotation, an evolutionary theory or bold economic explanation?
posted by reren to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Camus's The Myth of Sisyphus is a short work discussing absurdism and whether suicide is the answer to the futile nature of life. You should definitely check it out - its not too much of a slog, and would be informative.
posted by k8lin at 6:44 AM on June 30, 2012

"The Savage God" by A. Alvarez is a solid book on the subject, though perhaps dated, if the subject can be dated . . .
posted by fivesavagepalms at 6:48 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

It’s not about suicide per se, but Thomas Ligotti’s book The Conspiracy Against the Human Race is a lengthy argument for life not being worth living. It recapitulates, among other things, the arguments of the Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe on ‘the error of human existence.’

Jean Améry’s On Suicide: a Discourse on Voluntary Death might also be of interest to you, although there doesn’t seem to be an e-book edition of it. Nor do the works of E. M. Cioran, who wrote a good deal on the subject, look like they’re on Kindle yet.
posted by misteraitch at 7:43 AM on June 30, 2012

reren, I remember an article like you describe, but can't find it at the moment. The one I'm thinking of was a book review, covering at least three, maybe four books, and the middle section of the review covered an argument something like "Suicide is ethical and humane because it leaves room for some other human's life." I can't find the article, though.

Regarding DFW and suicide, don't miss his stories "Good old neon" and "Suicide as a sort of gift/present." Although I don't have a solid basis for it, I keep thinking these stories must reflect some of his own suicidal ideation.
posted by Coventry at 8:27 AM on June 30, 2012

A fundamental one: Seneca's letter to Lucilius On Taking One Own's Life.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 12:35 PM on June 30, 2012

Jack Seward's Hara-Kiri might be more particular in topic than you're after, but is really interesting. As with many traditional Japanese things there are several types(for honor, shame, lover's oaths, etc.), all sorts of etiquette, aesthetic, and ritual/procedural considerations and so on. I remember there being so much stuff in this book I don't think I've often seen referenced elsewhere. I can't find any on-line sources for it like Google Books, unfortunately. But if the narrow focus is relevant to what you're doing, it's well worth hunting down a copy.
posted by Su at 5:17 AM on July 1, 2012

Was it How not to commit suicide by Art Kleiner?
posted by quadrilaterals at 8:10 AM on July 1, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks to all of you.

No, it wasn't "How Not to Commit Suicide." It was really about why life is not worth living, not objecting to suicide. Nor was it the article you were thinking of, Coventry, though that one sounds interesting, too.
posted by reren at 9:11 PM on July 1, 2012

Further to misteraitch's comment, you may be thinking of Zapffe's article The Last Messiah. It's a distillation of his untranslated 'On the Tragic', and the English version of the article was published in 2004 in Philosophy Now.

The article in effect provides a justification for suicide (arguing that the human intellect is tragically over-evolved insofar as it enables us to ask fundamental existential questions for which the world does not provide answers), but focuses in the main on the ways in which we deal with this existential angst and so avoid suicide / extinction.

Wikipedia here.
posted by inire at 3:32 AM on July 13, 2012

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