This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books
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.