On Suicide

by Patrick Călinescu


The sum of all self-inflicted deaths is called suicide. All these self-inflicted deaths are the assuming forms of suicide—the forms that the phenomenon of suicide has traditionally been molded into. But one, all of them will prove to be just impure casts of suicide. Anyway, I won’t be getting ahead of myself. All I’m saying is that, meticulously and thoroughly studied as they have no doubt been, a different, fresh, perhaps innovative perspective on them will in all likelihood do them good. The sum of all self-inflicted deaths, which has so far been the core of the definition of suicide, is in dire need of reevaluation and reconsideration.


I thus begin by stating that the current definition of suicide, which makes it the sum of all self-inflicted deaths, is seriously wanting in accuracy. As I see it, this definition of suicide fails to take into account what may be called the purity of the very act of taking one’s life. What I understand by “the purity of the very act of taking one’s life” is not merely the intentionality of the action of doing yourself in, nor the ultimate success of inflicting death upon your own person—rather, what I actually mean by it is one’s complete and unequivocal going against one’s instinct of self-preservation, which means the total elimination from the suicidal preparations of any agents that would otherwise in any way ease the deadly task into completion.


A somewhat brief summary of the best known of these self-inflicted deaths—for no one really wants to delve into the morbid indefinitely—would likely be demonstrative of the point I have made so far. What I need to show, in order to prove the deficiency of the traditional interpretation of suicide, is that there always is at least a grain of self-preservation in all these self-inflicted deaths that both nullifies the self-induced part of such dying, and eases their coming about unexpectedly generously. If none of these self-inflicted deaths is really free from contamination from your instinct of self-preservation, there is then no way that they can be purely suicidal, is there?


I think it is commonsensical to take all self-inflicted deaths to be absolutely free from your instinct of self-preservation. If they are in any way tainted by it, they can’t be referred to as suicide. Paradoxically or not, suicide presupposes the abolition of that which is its very essence: the self.


My aim is to prove that all self-inflicted deaths, whose sum we call “suicide,” are actually infested by the instinct of self-preservation, which makes them, to a considerable degree, unworthy of the name of suicide. In truth, they are part of what I call a lesser kind of suicide, which is impure and only partially self-based.


Hanging yourself is a good case in point. This particular self-inflicted death is, quite likely, the most theatrical of all. In order for you to pull it off, you need a whole set of props—and even a stage. The stool, the rope proper, the rope-metamorphosing noose, the beam (or the lustre, or the chandelier) all become implements of death. But to hang yourself proves to be only an impure kind of suicide. Your instinct of self-preservation pops up everywhere in this relatively long and elaborate process that eventually leads to the final crack in the neck. Being so laborious (you must find a stool, which you need to place in the right position; the rope that on your terms turns into a noose must be neither too thick, nor too thin—neither too taut, nor too slack; the beam—or the lustre, or the chandelier—must be strong enough to take your whole weight upon themselves), the mise en scène of the hanging is replete with moments of deliverance. However, even if you somehow manage to muster all the courage in the world in order to circumvent all the inherent trappings of your instinct of self-preservation and you do get yourself killed, your death by hanging will still be suicidally impure. What prevents it from attaining the level of purity characteristic of the self-free suicide is the very setting of the hanging itself. All the things that took part in your so-called suicide have actually ended up easing your way out by becoming agents of your self. As agents of your self (hence agents of the instinct of self-preservation that is located within the self), they made your demise easier on you than it would otherwise have been by taking on the role that your very self should have seen through. The role of the killer. It was the stool that killed you—and the rope that killed you—and the rope-metamorphosing noose that killed you—and the beam (or the lustre, or the chandelier) that killed you—and this whole mise en scène of your hanging that ultimately killed you—and not, as it should have been the case, your very self. This is why hanging yourself cannot count as pure suicide.


It is virtually the same with all the other known illustrations of these self-inflicted deaths. None can ultimately be called “suicide.” If you take a handful of sleeping pills, again, it’s not your self that’s doing the killing. It’s the sleeping pills themselves that actually kill you. If you throw yourself off the roof of a building, what’s killing you is the sheer height of the building, the fall you’re subjected to, the gravity that equates the fall to the height—or all these put together. If you shoot yourself, what deals a death blow to you will be none other than the gun of your choice. If you slit your wrists, your killer—your suicide prompter—will be the knife—the implement—that will slash your veins open. If you stab yourself, again, it’s the stabbing cutlery of your choice that will eventually kill you. If you throw yourself off a bridge, your passing will most likely be brought about by drowning. If you lay your head on the railways just when there’s a train about to come, it will be that train’s razor-sharp wheels that will kill you. If you poison yourself, it will be the poison you used that will actually kill you. If you want to die by asphyxiation, the easiest way for you—the easiest, too, for your self—is to breathe in the noxious vapors emanating from an open, working oven.


But asphyxiation is also the only true kind of suicide. All these known self-inflicting deaths have a certain degree of contamination from the instinct of self-preservation that makes them no longer capable of being fully suicidal. The contamination of the self from the instinct of self-preservation makes them so. Then, all these known self-inflicting deaths seem to be able to delegate the coup de grâce from the self to the implements it uses to instill death into its subjects. But delegating that which causes death is not suicide. Death by delegation, which in a nutshell is the traditional definition of suicide, cannot define the kind of suicide that I call pure. The only kind of suicide that I think can be described as such.


When the implements of your death cease to take on the role of your self—when your death is truly self-inflicted—when your suicidal self is no longer content to get help from its death-implementing utensils, suicide is truly pure.


Asphyxiation is perhaps the only pure form of suicide. Of course, I am not talking about the oven-induced type of asphyxiation I have already mentioned. What I have in mind as exemplifying suicide is probably the most difficult way to kill yourself: the absolutely self- and tool-free instinct of self-preservation. If you want to die like this, you will be sure that it is pure suicide. You will also be sure that there is no thing that can help you with your task of killing yourself. You are completely on your own. Facing both your instinct of self-preservation, which can’t reach you anymore, and your suicide, which has been purified by the utter lack of its instrumentality.


Choosing to die this way truly means both “the intentionality of the action of doing yourself in,” and “the complete and unequivocal going against one’s instinct of self-preservation, which means the total elimination from the suicidal preparations of any agents that would otherwise in any way ease the deadly task into completion.” Choosing to die like this is choosing to lie down, preferably on a bed, ever more relaxed and intent on fulfilling your task. Then, choosing to die like this is choosing to raise your hands up to your nose and completely parallel to your nostrils and having your thumbs face their corresponding nostrils. Finally, choosing to die like this is choosing to lower your stretched thumbs down in order to be able, when the time comes, to begin pressing gradually against the nostrils until the whole of the nose receives no more air. When the time comes, which is when you’re ready to fight your instinct of self-preservation with everything you’ve got, gently begin pressing your thumbs against your nostrils until they are completely sealed off. Then make sure they get no more air. Then resist any impulse from your instinct of self-preservation to reduce the pressure that your thumbs have been exerting on your nostrils—or to lower your hands down altogether. Also resist any temptation to part your lips for even the shortest of breaths. As you have nothing at all to assist you in your pure suicide, you will have to be in absolute control of your whole body. You will have nothing but your will do die to help you keep your lips close—or your nostrils ideally close to asphyxiation. Then maintain the course and do nothing else no matter how hard your instinct of self-preservation is struggling in you. When you are already asphyxiated, your hands will naturally collapse from their suicide-prompting position on the softness of the bed. And all will be over.


In my opinion, suicide—pure suicide—is only when your instinct of self-preservation can no longer contaminate your self: the self required for the carrying out of the suicidal mission at hand. And if your instinct of self-preservation no longer contaminates your self, it will also no longer be able to produce the implements that in the already discussed cases of impure suicide are accustomed to taking on the role of the killer. A role naturally attributed to the self, which should always be the one that does the killing that then inevitably results in suicide.

On Suicide

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