attempts at living

to make a system out of delusions

Tag: suicide

On the politics of suicide

Depression has much to do with poverty, unemployment and despair, and much to do with the refusal of bearing the daily load of intolerable violence when you start feeling that this load is not going to be uplifted. All the political discourse about democracy and about the wonderful horizons that new technology has opened to us is bullshit – if compared with the daily perception of loneliness, the main psychological effect of the process of virtualization in conditions of economic competition.  Depression is deeply entrenched in the intimate digital recesses of precarious life. The suicide of Aaron Swartz questions the present form of digital alienation. Irrealization, disembodiment and loneliness: an every expanding territory of excitement with no affective return. The same gestures and the same signs are defining friendship, a codified automatic reaction

http://th-rough.eu/writers/bifo-eng/i-never-met-aaron-swartz-he-was-my-brother

Living suicides: part 1.

This post is about suicide. It is about the thought of suicide, and is inspired by the rise of long term conditions, especially dementia, that late capitalism has delivered to us. Today, our deaths are all the more collective and we each have the prospect of more than one death. Each death is multiple. This post forms the introduction to a concern with suicidality that at least one future post will focus on.

Unfortunately, modern medical science has put at our disposition pharmacological tools that oblige us to live much longer than our body and our brain can accept. Alzheimer epidemics is the ruthless punishment for a humanity which is holding onto life not because we love it (how can we love the horrid decomposition of memory, and of our ability to recognizing ourselves?) but because it is our property, and we have been taught never to abandon our belongings.- Franco Berardi. 2013. “Satanic exorcisms upon the surfacing of truth”. Here.

When the length of life doubles, it is no longer the same life, no longer the same person. This break touches more and more closely on everything connected with the duration of human life, its hazards, its brevity. For one who expects to live a century, all that has been constructed, thought out, codified to suit a short life is wrong. Everything — family, marriage, inheritance, saving, morality — needs to be shaken through a different long-life sieve. Commitment, fidelity, faith will never again have the meaning they had in societies where men were generals at 20 and eternity was waiting after another ten years: time enough to live fast and make a handsome corpse. A sort of frivolity about ourselves has gone. – Hervé Juvin 2010. The coming of the body.

Paul Virilio used to write about the “integral accident”. The term is meant to conjure an eschatological but not apocalyptic mood. The intergral accident explains the end-of-the-world obsession evident in late capitalist culture. The end that Virilio thinks we are undergoing in this accident, is the end of geography [1]. We should be careful when handling Virilio that we don’t get infected with his own siege mentality. I simply want to make the case that we are seeing a kind of end of a particular geography of the human body, and a particular end to the geography of death.

Late capitalism has changed what is is to be an embodied person. As Catherine Malabou [2] has it the Alzheimer’s patient is a stranger to herself, unable to flee her condition, she is produced as a new person to herself. Let me state it even more radically: the Alzheimer patient is often the very figure of the undecidability of personhood. They are accidental beings. Death, it is said, is an absolute interruption in the aesthetic project of the creation of a life. Alzheimer’s is an absolute interruption but it is not necessarily an end. It is in fact the beginning. Diagnosis inaugerates you into a new world of residential homes, care homes, nursing homes, hospitals, hospices, anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, neuropsychology, psychiatrists, nurses. A new world and a new- often rapidly diminishing- life; a world none of us, not even those who work in them, want to admit vulnerability to. The geography of the body is always the geography of its fault-lines and its frailties, its lurking accidents as well its capacities and sensualities.

Willard Mass. 1946. The geography of the body. Short film (that I can’t embed)

Malabou (p.71) opines that the Alzheimer’s patient doesn’t metamorphose, that they are as they were in our perception- save for a new gloss of indifference. She almost makes them sound like sages. Except that if you are providing care you’ve seen up close the changes and the extent of the metamorphosis. It may be true that in the Alzheimer’s patient we can’t see the stages of change, that it comes on suddenly…but vascular dementia, with its step-wise progression, has dramatic ischaemic events that result in the sudden and sharp emergence of cognitive deficits; and Korsakoff’s dementia produces dramatic personality change. One can even see the metamorphoses throughout the day. The patient sits quietly in the day room all day, with all the impassivity that Malabou identifies in her, but come a certain time she will spring into action, commanded by perceptual illusions, confabulations of the present made from fragments of the past, outright hallucinations provoking wordless screams in agonised terror. I remember working with a person who had once been a teacher. All day said person would be passive and acquiescent. Come a certain time, the day-room was suddenly the school room, patients and staff suddenly students to be marshalled out of their laziness. This person was advanced in years but possessed unexpected strength. People with Alzheimer’s are not immune to outbursts of violence, especially when minimal restraint is understandably interpreted as assault. This ex-teacher had broken many of his carer’s bones. We pass from the image of man as the rational animal to man as the broken neuronal system.

Each passing generation- if we bracket off the unpredictable- is going to be subject to dementia and other long-term conditions. The way of dying in late capitalism will be intensely regulated, managed, even self-managed (the lie of patient autonomy), and so the way of approaching death, conceiving it, will also be radically transformed. The sanctity of life that we cling to is going to bring us closer and closer to the risk of being parodies of ourselves. As we lose ourselves in these conditions, we also lose our world. The informational poverty that RS Bakker puts at the heart of his post-intentional philosophy is a accurate description of the world of the advanced dementia patient. Indeed, the neuropathic individuals of Bakker’s world are already with us, and are going to become more and more common.

In the up shot of all this, is there a case to made for our being-toward-death as no longer capable of orienting us and giving us an ethos. I’ve just finished reading Seneca’s On the shortness of life and I can’t help but think that his ideas around the engrossment. The person with dementia, as the disease progresses, becomes more and more engrossed in that disease’s empty mind, absent cognitions, and empty dreaming. This is not an engrossment that acquaintance with the stoic doctrine or any life of wisdom could disengage us from. The (incredibly rare) experience of “rementia”- a brief coming to lucidity of the person with advanced dementia- is subject to the haphazard weaving of fate. In this, and other long term conditions (although each demands its own treatment), we are abandoned even to our own ability to appropriate our death. Marcus Aurelius counselled that we think of senility, the daily degradation of our cognitive and imaginative powers, to provide an urgency to our philosophic practices. Yet the emperor wasn’t living in an age where bodies were kept alive against their will, and treatment continued even to the point where the disappearance of person-hood is all but certain. Marcus only needed to face up to one death. How many might we need to face up to today?

The future of our ageing societies are in question. Ageing bodies demand a total re-composition of social organisation. The global distribution of labour is going to shift and with it, in all likelihood, the direction of the circulation of capital. Importing young workers from the global South, capital will either haemorrhage from the North or else the distinction itself will disappear. Here, capitalism itself is leading us to a reconsideration of its own bio-political operations, and to our attachment to certain favourite delusions (ie; we are some kind of “first world”). It is part of our contemporary nihilism to keep bodies alive past the point of being a life. Perhaps it is time that we gave serious attention to the question of suicide, and of suicidality, both as practice and as philosophical concept. In place of being-towards-death, being-towards-suicide. I raise this in the light of discussions of vulnerability, fragility, and frailty. In this way I wonder if there isn’t a sense in which suicidality- the thought of suicide- can be reclaimed from ‘the dark side of the multitude’ [3] and put to work for a living inside and after nihilism. Bifo is quite correct that ‘suicide has become a political action everywhere’…why should it be left to those who would destroy.

Suicide must be re-appropriated from the exclusivity of the psychiatric establishment, from the suicide bomber, from the burning and forgotten monk (a figure of Baudrillardian hyper-passivity) and be reintegrated into the sensibility of creativity. I don’t mean that suicide is a strategy we ought to adopt or that people who are suicidal shouldn’t be assessed and helped. If I thought that I wouldn’t do the job I do, and I certainly wouldn’t have been involved in interventions for friends who have tried to kill themselves. Rather, it is the thought of suicide that needs to be reclaimed. As EM Cioran has it, the thought of suicide is enough to prevent one from needing to carry it out. In approaching suicide, perhaps we will find another way to approach autonomy, another way to ‘make friends with death’. What other deaths are there? What other suicides might be possible?

[1] Paul Virilio. 2005. The original accident. Cambridge: Polity Press.
[2] Catherine Malabou. 2012. Ontology of the accident: an essay on destructive plasticity. Cambridge: Polity Press.
[3] Franco Berardi. 2011. After the future. Edinburgh: AK Press.

This is also my second post on dementia on this blog. The first is here.

Catastrophic antipolitics

In Baudrillard’s catastrophic vision I see a new way of thinking subjectivity: a
reversal of the energetic subjectivation that animates the revolutionary theories
of the 20th century, and the opening of an implosive theory of subversion,
based on depression and exhaustion.

In the activist view exhaustion is seen as the inability of the social body to
escape the vicious destiny that capitalism has prepared: deactivation of the
social energies that once upon a time animated democracy and political
struggle. But exhaustion could also become the beginning of a slow movement
towards a “wu wei” civilization, based on the withdrawal, and frugal
expectations of life and consumption. Radicalism could abandon the mode of
activism, and adopt the mode of passivity. A radical passivity would definitely
threaten the ethos of relentless productivity that neoliberal politics has
imposed.

-Franco Berardi, After the Future (p.107). 2012.
The mother of all the bubbles, the work bubble, would finally deflate. We have
been working too much during the last three or four centuries, and
outrageously too much during the last thirty years. The current depression
could be the beginning of a massive abandonment of competition, consumerist
drive, and of dependence on work. Actually, if we think of the geopolitical
struggle of the first decade – the struggle between Western domination and
jihadist Islam – we recognize that the most powerful weapon has been suicide.
9/11 is the most impressive act of this suicidal war, but thousands of people
have killed themselves in order to destroy American military hegemony. And
they won, forcing the western world into the bunker of paranoid security, and
defeating the hyper-technological armies of the West both in Iraq, and in
Afghanistan.

The suicide risk of Austerity

Senior jobcentre executives have warned staff of the risk of benefit claimants attempting suicide as controversial changes to sickness benefits are being pushed through.

The warning, contained in an internal email sent to staff by three senior managers of the government-run jobcentres, warns staff that ill-handling of benefit changes for vulnerable claimants could have “profound results” and highlights the case of one suicide attempt this year.

Full story here.

Fatal Freedom

Suicide as a condition of freedom.
Suicide defined as self-killing is the act of a system terminally interrupting the ability to reproduce.
In this way we could talk about certain ecologies, certain networks, certain midsized objects maybe, possessing not just a death drive but a suicidality…and therefore a freedom.

black metal

When I was younger and my lungs were clearer
I was in a black metal band. We never played live
and recorded small tape demos for ourselves,
only acoustic guitar and the sound of my voice
screaming.
I remember we named the band Gethsemane
and we felt very clever at choosing that name
because it signified a place indifferent to Good and
Evil.
We were very young then and would drink Rum
all night through and not care about the morning,
We thought that we were inhuman things that defied
the way of the world through disengagement.
Today
I watch over those who want to make the final exodus,
while his body is a relief map of an adolescent pain.
I don’t scream that way any more, except to entertain
children.

A thought experiment regarding suicide

This is a repost of a repost. What? I’m busy. Fine, I’m pretending I’m busy…which in itself is rather exhausting.

Begin with the reverse hypothesis, like Copernicus and Einstein. You are depressed because you should be. You are entitled to your depression. In fact, you’d be deranged if you were not depressed.

The idea, one I first came across in Emile Cioran and later realised was something I myself had practised in the turbulence of adolescence, is to take suicide seriously and therefore discover the paradoxical therapeutic benefit imagining it has. Read the full thing here.

Miracles

The true miracle: that the entire species isn’t sunk in depression, that in the knowledge that we can destroy ourselves entirely we resist the temptation. But wait, instead we poison the earth, a slow genocide of the species that allows us to watch TV as we are obliterated. Why stop there? This way we can take all life with us. Is that the legacy of any organism conscious of being alive? Hell is other species?

a happy death

And when a morbid affection of the nerves, or a derangement of the digestive organs, plays into the hands of an innate tendency to gloom, this tendency may reach such a height that permanent discomfort produces a weariness of life. So arises an inclination to suicide, which even the most trivial unpleasantness may actually bring about; nay, when the tendency attains its worst form, it may be occasioned by nothing in particular, but a man may resolve to put an end to his existence, simply because he is permanently unhappy, and then coolly and firmly carry out his determination; as may be seen by the way in which the sufferer, when placed under supervision, as he usually is, eagerly waits to seize the first unguarded moment, when, without a shudder, without a struggle or recoil, he may use the now natural and welcome means of effecting his release.

Schopenhauer.

In talking about a life, a distinctly human life, we are always neglecting the other side; death. In particular we neglect suicide, the fatal freedom [Szasz, 1999] by which man can resolve to murder himself and so to escape the burden of living. Of course, here Schopenhauer equates suicide with the will to release, to effect escape from materiality and its sufferings, as do most who write on the subject. No one considers in suicide an affirmation except of some absolute affirmation of man’s final freedom. What if suicide where the affirmation of life, its wildest yearnings? Is it possible to imagine a suicide who is motivated not by unhappiness but by happiness, or whatever shadow of it is possible for conscious beings? Could we imagine some addict of life who knows that finally the moment of stauration has come- no matter how many hits he gets the come-down will always be that bit worse than the high, last that much longer, cause him that much more anxiety, fear, panic?

It’s not at all that she would be motivated out of a desire to avoid the come-down but simply that this moment, this crystalline moment, is the distillation of a joy that is so frequently promised and so rarely known. At this highpoint she might conclude that it is time to withdraw her investment, to pull back from the edge of things, and driven only by the calm ecstasy of a true satisfaction decide that this much is enough and no more is necessary. It is better to die now, a smile on her face and a perfect nostalgia completely without sentimentality or distortion.

Sat on this bed, the offensive orange bedspread glaring a too bright light at my face, militant hiphop vaguely harassing my passivity, the possibility of going out for drinks, I’m thinking about not thinking. Neither wanting to go out or stay in. Out there, maybe the chance of women. Despite having met so many, I can’t imagine Schopenhauer’s suicidal. Likewise, I can’t imagine the shape of the happiness that could breed a blissful death.

Interminable things. Systems of fragility. A density of sensation. The reduction of complexity: yes/no. Live/die. I find myself somewhere uncharted in between. The correlationist senses his exclusion from the world, that split of subject and object. I can’t sense anything so dramatic. I am a quiet thing stirring in the cotton, the leaves, the concrete and the plastic tundras, threatening to ineffectively explode in pathetic insurrection.

Everything strikes me as profoundly unlikely, profoundly unnecessary.

that smell

2000mg of Tramadol;
vomiting in A&E
after we spend hours convincing
and dragging her you there.
the cartography of violence
marked crudely on your face,
outlining the new world of love’s
brutal asymmetrical domain.
you want to die and we won’t let you,
heartless monsters we keep you
imprisoned to your flesh
and your flesh to all these
urgent arrangements of matter
that elide our deeper emptiness.
he holds you in his arms, keeping you awake
as you shiver and complain of growing numb
and asking if we’ll still be there
this time next week.
and you tell me you worry about me immensely;
suicides smell each other,
even when one is dying and the other dies
through living.