“Death and suicide are still things surrounded in silence, or just a kind of fake seriousness. It’s a profound social problem.” (Simon Critchley)
VICE Magazine, 12 Nov 2015
In 2014, the day after Robin Williams committed suicide in his home, the number of calls to a suicide hotline in the US doubled from 3,500 to 7,400. Earlier this year, a study found that more middle-aged white people in the US are committing suicide than ever before. In the UK, a study by the charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) shows that 12 men are ending their own lives everyday and that suicide remains the single biggest cause of death in men under the age of 45 in Britain.
It’s in this light that the philosopher Simon Critchley has written his book Notes on Suicide, in which he deconstructs the stigma, the clichés, and the romance around ending your own life. Critchley has experience in this area; he was responsible for a (tongue in cheek) “Suicide Note Creative Writing” class as part of his month-long School of Death (a prod at Alain de Botton’s School of Life), in which he analyzed the suicide note as a literary genre and got people writing their own. He talked to VICE about the high-profile suicides of recent times, what it is to write a suicide note, and whether even just talking about suicide can act as a catalyst to the act.
In your book, Notes on Suicide, you say that suicide is the last act of an optimist. Can you explain that a little?
The idea is adapted from the bleakest writer, Emil Cioran, a Romanian aphorist. He deals with the pessimist’s reputation for suicide, in that something is going to be solved by your death, or something will be saved or changed. And that’s one of the delusions that’s often driving a suicidal act—that your death matters. Cioran very coolly notes that nothing will be saved by your death. You know, who do you think you are? Why not calm down and observe the elegance of the melancholy spectacle of the world, which lays out so deliciously in front of us, and linger a while?