Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The suicide note as literary genre.

Lit Hub has a piece up, The Suicide Note as Literary Genre. The author only focuses on literary heavyweights, like Virginia Woolf, whose note, like all of her writing is morose and distantly powerful:
Everything has gone for me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. 
There's no real discussion of suicide as an act of desperation and pain, it's framed through the value of literary voices and of their written legacy. What Woolf is saying is not unlike any other "normal" suicide note, she's saying her partner is too good for her, and that she feels she's ruining their life, and that she was indeed happy with them, but that it needs to end for her now. She can't anymore.

He author ends his piece saying:
It is little wonder, then, that there are those of us who read and return to the literature of suicide with interest, and always with a sense of gratitude, an awareness of embattled courage. No matter how often I read them, it still seems an incredible thing to have laid words upon a void, to have given raiment even to expiration.
Raiment, or dressing that "expiration" in language only romanticizes it. A painter can represent a harrowing, isolate landscape and it can be truly beautiful to look at and ponder, but to live there is a horror. And in some art, there is an amount of exploitation. A photographer takes a picture of a war zone, of an absolute horror scene that someone is living through, and that piece of work will represent that horror for better or for worse. That photographer cannot claim responsibility for the way in which that photograph is interpreted. They can, however claim their intent. In the case of this piece on suicide notes as literature, the author does have a very romantic view of these pieces as literature first, and as a pained expression second.

That's not to say that there is no literary value to suicide notes, there can be. But for me, the context within which they were created cannot be extruded from the resulting literary output.

Having "given raiment even to expiration" is a pretty turn of phrase for something more plainly expressed by saying the writers of these suicide notes used their art, and their main communication tool - writing - to express their despair and attempt to explain their actions to those left behind.

I don't know, the piece bugs me. I think it's fucked up to overly enjoy this kind of writing, especially from a non-depression based reading. If you're mentally ill, reading a suicide note can evoke a lot of feelings in you, and it can be helpful in describing your own pain or experience if language isn't your forte. It's also speaking at a pitch that I recognize.

Overly "fetishizing" this writing is fucked up and seems disrespectful to me. The author is quick to point out that criticism and then dismiss it, but it's valid. These are intimate pieces written for specific people, mind your business. He writes about it with glee. It bugs me.

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