One of the toughest parts of the last year has been the spate of adolescent suicides in North Kildare. It has hit my town and my church community hard. We have spent much time in prayer for the families left behind and simply in pursuit of an explanation from God as to how suicide can happen. In his beautifully titled, The Fragile Absolute. (or, Why is the Christian legacy worth fighting for?) Zizek writes about the meaning of suicide.
Zizek asks us to consider life as a Möbius strip. The two surfaces of life are the body and the spirit. Zizek asks us to disdain any philosophical approach that seeks to separate them, which is gnosticism. As such, the Möbius strip is an excellent illustration since they are continuous but differentiated.
Zizek can see distinct modalities for suicide. The first is the protest suicide that “bears a message”, such as self-immolating monks or airplane-hijaacking terrorists. The driving force behind this suicide is that death will not be the end but that the effect of the self-ending will live on in posterity. It is thus sustained “by the imagined scene of the effect”.
The second kind of suicide is the one that takes place as an action, “the violent passage á l’acte. Here, the suicide seeks to cancel out the paradox of the suicidee. By choosing to kill oneself one is acting to end all action and the hope is that a void will be left over. It is suicide as annihilation.
But if we imagine human life like a Möbius strip then we see that in suicide, the person does not fall out of the frame into nothingness. Instead, suicide is the act that flattens out the strip. It is the spirit choosing to be swallowed whole by the body so that all is left is a corpse. What lingers behind after a suicide is not actually a hole. It is worse than that. It is a disfigured strip, a collapsed creation, a flat piece of flesh that testifies both to the death drive of the suicidee and the impossibility of created beings uncreating themselves. They may swallow their “I” up through the self-destructive action of their body, destroying their spirit and leaving only a corpse, but still they persist as that.
Suicide is the expression of the death drive that falls short and serves the exact opposite purpose. It doesn’t obliterate the person. It makes them permanent. Not because they long to make a political point but in spite of the fact that they want to make no point at all.
It is here, at the arch-futility of suicide that the third mode of suicide emerges, the “symbolic suicide”. The act of suicide continues to resonate in its symbolic meaning. They die, and their death testifies to the mess that has been made of life.
Perhaps it is the defence mechanism of a not particularly gifted pastor that I find such solace in this abstract theoretical discussion of self-inflicted death but the image of the Möbius strip has helped to show me how important it is to, while protecting and loving those who are left behind, retain some language of anger at the action of suicide.
Your Correspondent, Turns off the lights and it doesn’t look right