Book: Considering Suicide
Author: Andy Nowicki
Type of Book: Non-fiction, unexpected polemic
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because, surprisingly, I finished reading it and didn’t want to burn it when I was finished.
Availability: Published by Nine Banded Books in 2009, you can get a copy here:
Or you can get a copy directly from Nine Banded Books.
Comments: As a woman with decidedly liberal leanings, I often find it difficult to read extreme right wing political and religious ideas and not want to debate or refute them. But lately I’ve been trying to take the perspective of enjoying that which is unusual in some manner without accepting or rejecting it in terms of my own philosophy and morality, which I should have been doing all along, really. Being open to that which I consider bizarre or strange or completely mad is more or less the purpose of this site, polemics included.
It’s just that too often those who write polemics present them as proven theses rather than admitting that they are, in fact, just presenting their very personal beliefs as an attack against a rival ideology. Diana West’s ridiculous The Death of the Grown-Up comes to mind. A polemic against what West believes to be cultural childishness caused by us evil liberals, West’s book savagely attacked modern customs. However, instead of lashing out against a culture West found deficient, she attempted to provide proof that bolstered her intense opinions and completely destroyed her premise because each piece of “evidence” she used to show the degeneracy of modern America was open to lots of interpretation. That which West felt genuinely showed American culture to be childish proved nothing more than her own entrenched opinions. What could have been a coherent savaging of modernity became an “old man yells at cloud” moment wherein West felt that by using sources that showed that Cary Grant wore camel hair coats and tourists wear fanny packs and some guy felt Look Who’s Talking Now proved John Travolta is immature and Bill Gates wears ball caps and Jack Nicholson was edgy around 40 years ago and similarly irrelevant and strange citations that she had made a prima facie case that America lacks the gravitas of black and white films from the 1950s. Her attack was lost in an ocean of trivial “facts,” her momentum destroyed as the reader was forced to decide if ball caps are really a sign of the fall of Western Civilization, and she came across less as a seasoned polemicist than a cranky racist who holds a grudge against anyone who was not raised in the Diana West household.
A polemic is not a proven thesis – it’s just one side of a very passionate argument. Those who believe as the polemicist does will find truth in the attack, and those on the other side will not, but the polemicist’s case is seldom helped by source citations because an honest polemicist knows that his or her attack exists in the realm of opinion, not fact. Just as there was no way to prove that liking Maya Angelou meant one was childish (and trying to do so made it clear that West really resents anyone but white folk like her having any cultural influence), there was no way for Nowicki to prove that a return to Judeo-Christian (mostly Catholic) mores and 1950s standards of behavior will prevent cultural suicide. I appreciate that he didn’t try, that he kept this book in the realm of the polemic. While I really disagree with the premise, I still can appreciate this book for what it is – Nowicki’s intense reaction to a society in which he finds little merit.
Nowicki also has an advantage over failed polemicists like West in that he manages to create a personal experience for the reader and is quite accomplished at wielding a mild sort of black humor. The first half of the book, entitled “Diary of a Suicide,” was quite engaging and I rather wish this book had not included the second part because the second half abandons humor and the personalized experience fades as Nowicki merges into the strident opinions that make a good polemic. In a sense, this book really wouldn’t be a polemic if Nowicki had not included the second half, and my liberal leanings definitely influence my dislike of the second half, but even so I think most people will find the first part of the book a very good read. So I think I will concentrate on the first half of the book.
An unnamed diarist is recording his attempts to shuffle through a world that alienates him. He considers suicide not as an abstract representing a world killing itself but as a genuine consideration of a man who does not want to live in a world in which he finds no value, a world that is actively destroying everyone. The diarist is itchy, in a way that reads very true to me, because this sort of despair caroms from noble disenchantment to self-disgust to fantasies of base vengeance.
The diarist, as I mentioned already is itchy. Twitchy, even. There is nowhere he feels comfortable and there is no way for him to feel like he is doing the right thing because he never feels right anywhere he goes and all the people around him just make everything worse.
It is amazing how difficult it can be simply to find a physical location where one can sit comfortably and write about suicide! You spend more time getting in and out of the car, driving from spot to spot, from the library to the bookstore to the mall. Yes, the mall! Everywhere you run into obstacles. Mostly in the form of other people disrupting your concentration with their chattering idiocy. It would be much easier if one were able simply to stay in one’s house, away from everyone else, away from it all. Yet somehow this simply will not do. If I just sit around my house to write, I feel somehow like I’m in prison. What a strange circumstance – even a misanthrope feels he must be out and about, “with” people in a sense, rather than holed up, alone. I can neither fathom it or explain it.
He feels utter disgust for the human condition and every element of humanity is a source of foulness. Sex, masturbation – all human sexual expression is depressing to the diarist.
It’s not a question of being sexually frustrated – I stopped being a teenager long ago – it’s more the sheer sense of physical release it brings.
Yet it also brings sadness.
“Sadness that you’re not with a woman?” I hear the hypothetical reader ask with a smirk. No, not sadness about that. Sadness, that I, who was once innocent, now find myself corrupted, like everyone else. Sadness that however innocent I want to be, I cannot be other than I am. Sadness about the whole sickening spectacle of this unredeemed, semen-stained world. Is it any coincidence that a baby is conceived in such a manner? In a better, cleaner, purer world, it would not be so. There would not be the repulsiveness of the birth process, much less the sweat and groaning of the conceiving process, what in that vomit-inducing phrase is called “making love.”
It’s not just sex – being a human being means living in a shameful state.
In truth, our sense of revulsion derives from an awareness that we are living in a state that ought to be beneath our dignity. Our shame comes from an understanding that we shouldn’t have to do such things as shit, piss, vomit and ejaculate. No one actually revels in these “natural” activities. We make jokes to mask our embarrassment. If rank biology weren’t a source of shame, there would be no need to joke.
On some level, death could be a release from this foulness of being alive but there are no guarantees, are there?
Is it not true that the desire for death is to a great extent motivated by a conviction that after death we will in some way be purified of our sins and released back into the innocence we lost? I cannot deny that it is a yearning for purity that fuels my yearning for death. But – what if death does not cleanse us from the filth we have amassed? What if it stays with us after we die? A terrifying thought! One thinks of suicide as a purgation, but what if it is nothing of the kind? What if we continue to exist, just exactly as we are? Full of shit beyond the grave.
God, this has been a thought I’ve entertained before – death as purification. But then death leads to putrefaction, and the filth and disgusting mess stays with us. One has to believe in the concept of a soul and an afterlife for there to be any purgation involved in dying, and that’s a sort of crap shoot. Faith can be hard to come by and even harder to maintain.
We have to take it on faith, but where does such faith come from? If you don’t have it, where can you go to get it? The Christians would say “through prayer.” It takes faith even to summon the willingness to pray.
The diarist also focuses on a more childish element to suicide – revenge.
Blowing your brains out can be an impressive hate letter to the world. Let them clean your brains from the wall – hell, it’s not your problem. You’re dead. It’s a real way to send a message: You don’t like me, well, fuck you! Look! (blam!) I’m dead! How d’ya feel now?
But if you kill yourself in such a manner, you will be driving home to all around you that you were indeed childish, willing to go to any extreme to hurt others. No worries, though. Passive aggression can help the vengeful suicide accomplish his goals.
Ask humbly for their forgiveness and understanding. Say it wasn’t because of them, but rather in spite of them that you decided to do what you did. Then savor the fact that what you wrote about spite was true, not just in the way they will hear it. And be sure to leave documents laying about that absolutely contradict what your note insists is the truth. Place a photograph of you and your ex-girlfriend at a happier time, posing together while on vacation at the beach. Leave a birthday card from Mom and Dad on your desk, the same desk you splatter your brain upon. Compose a phony diary entry, and put it in a not-too-hidden place. Write things in it like
I still recall the day my parents told me that they were getting a divorce. […] I’m remembering these events now because it was twenty years ago on this day when it happened. Yes, I still recall the exact date! I haven’t been the same since. I was broken to pieces that day. I haven’t been able to put myself together…
But you do this and there is still no guarantee the assholes in your life will respond with any depth or sensitivity.
They know the script. They know how to behave when someone you love commits suicide. You mourn, you cry, you blame yourself, you see your shrink, you learn to forgive yourself, and slowly, slowly, you learn to live again and blah blah blah. One day at a time, and all the rest of it. They’ll get over you. They won’t follow the program you want them to follow, even if they should. They’ll grieve when they’re told to grieve, and they’ll stop grieving when they’re told “enough already.” By the same ones who gave them permission to grieve in the first place. They’ll do what they’re told, but not what they’re told by you. You aren’t as powerful as their script. You don’t stand a chance. Even if you’re a ghost. People are stupid pawns. You’ve got to get over them, just as they’re sure to get over you.
Those same people who follow the script may simply not have what it takes to understand why you decided to die rather than continue to live.
Is it possible to lead a life of quiet desperation when you aren’t even desperate? When you aren’t even aware of the desperation of your circumstance? Can you be afraid of the truth when you don’t ever give it a thought? In the end, is the luckiest person the one who dies in such a profound state of ignorance? – the one who is able to escape fear, even the fear of fear itself, through apathy?
This segues neatly into an examination of others around the diarist, and he unleashes his anger most harshly on the pedants who mock those who try to find meaning, genuine meaning, in life.
Smug, mediocre pussies. Fuck your postmodern ethos with your futuristic architecture at your galleries and your unreadable academic essays about “semio” this and “meta” that. Fuck your trendy post-structuralist, solipsistic, opportunistic, sycophantic so-called theories. You all think you’re wild-eyed nihilists out to stick your dicks up the asses of Middle America, don’t you? You’re pathetic. You’re far more pathetic than the bourgeoisie, the object of your ridicule. At least the bourgeoisie are consistent. Their lives may be dull and they may be stupid, but they aren’t full of themselves the way that you are. And even if they are, it’s usually because they’ve worked hard to become the boss or to have that bigger office or to buy that perfect home in the suburbs. You fuckers don’t do anything but sit around and parrot Chomsky or Derrida or whomever else is declared to be in vogue, and watch movies with subtitles, and think this makes you somehow more worthy. You think you know about nihilism, about the erosion of meaning in this post-modern, post-colonial, post-structuralist, post-whatever age? Here’s an idea: try living it. Better yet, try dying for it. Make fun of people who believe in God and vote against gay marriage all you want. For guts, try thinking about living in a world without God. And not in an ironic Chuck Palahniuk novel kind of way. Think about having nothing – nothing! – to hold onto. Nothing to rely upon. Think about how it really feels to drown, to really drown, in a sea of meaninglessness. That’s right – have the courage to live out, to die for, your convictions!
My favorite jobs I’ve had as an adult have been working in a bookstore and cleaning toilets. I could not take graduate school for longer than one semester. I felt so often like the books I was reading for classes were lost behind artificial constructs used to discuss the text, the humanity of the words lost forever. I like to think but I am no intellectual because I would hate to be that useless. Better to clean the toilet and see the meaning in the beauty of work than to become so educated one cannot really be human any more. Or that’s what I tell myself to explain why I just didn’t want to write another fucking paper about some novel I didn’t care about written by an over-hyped author whose talent was questionable. Perhaps I’m just too lazy and find a toilet an easier path. Who knows, but I certainly understood Nowicki’s distaste for pointless intellectual posturing.
The diarist, in addition to railing against specious intellectualism, is at war with himself concerning the real way to process the metaphysical ennui that is paralyzing him. He sees little use in hope:
As long as one chooses to remain alive, one is choosing to have hope. Even if you know there is no hope. You go on living because you hope there is hope.
Hope that there may be hope is a slender reed to grab hold of. What about love?
It is love, I believe, which best describes this painful compassion for the innocent, for what they must suffer, for the awful spectacle of their own corruption. It is love that makes a man feel like dying.
If genuine love for mankind’s suffering makes one suicidal, what can hate do for you?
In it’s favor, hatred does fill a person with a sense of purpose. It emboldens him to dispense with the trivial. It teaches him to stand up for himself, to brook no nonsense. Hatred is a great clarifier. Used prudently, it can help one to be productive and successful.
And it is the best counsel against self-slaughter. It makes a person’s pride swell to the point that he would never have his enemies see him as beaten. Dying by one’s own hand would only satisfy them, saith hate.
At the same time, hate almost invariably leads a person astray. I say that hate can be a powerful tool if “used prudently.” But hate is scornful of prudence. Hate is always pushing a person to make grand gestures as a testament to the glory of his own hatred. It winds up being self-defeating.
And hate can lead you to the vengeance that causes you to blow your brains out on your desk next to diary entries created for the sole purpose of haunting your parents when they find your body. The diarist in part one decides that he will end it but will change his mind if God sends him a message within a week, persuading him that there is some meaning in continuing to live. Won’t spoil how that ends up.
Part two of this book, entitled “Is Life Worth Living?”, just wasn’t my cup of ideology. It more or less is a right-wing, libertarian, Christian polemic against current liberal modernity. Part of me wants to discuss it but I know that if I do I will end up digging out a book I started writing a few years ago on the topic of heathen feminism wherein I attempted to show that the only way this world can return to health and sanity is to destroy all Abrahamic religions that demean women and women’s work, counter the current cults that embrace either over-involved lunatic motherhood, twee-housewifeliness and fey crafting or reject all domesticity entirely while hiring other women to handle these chores, decimate feminist ideas of empowerment that eschew responsibility in the hopes that the patriarchy will suddenly become wholly honorable, understand that mechanization and specialization cannot work in the micro, and break the backs of corporations that dictate the moral, social and economic ethos of America and increasingly Europe. And believe me, no one wants that.
This is a three-star book. Part one is five stars, part two is one star. More conservative readers of this blog will likely rank it far higher than I did. But even if you are a more ardent leftist than I am, it is undeniable that Nowicki is a very good writer. He would have to be in order for me even to stomach reading the second half of this book. So while I don’t wholly endorse this book, I do think I will read more of Nowicki in the future. I like his turn of phrase and his at times dark sense of humor. Somewhat recommended, liberals be alert and conservatives be happy.