Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Artists' Suicide

A few weeks back this story in the new york times caught my attention. Video artist, popular blogger and a culural commentator Theresa Duncan committed suicide in her Manhattan apartment. A few days later her boyfriend, an up and coming young arist himself, whose work has been exhibited at the museum of modern art, went missing too. He was last seen on a beach going into the sea. His body was found and idenitfied only a couple of weeks later, that is now. The new york times report here. There is also a report in today's washington post.

Suicides are unsettling in ways other kinds of deaths are not. There are of course explanations but they only explain the suicidal state of mind. What leads one to the actual act remains a mystery.

Even more mysterious I think is the suicide of the artists and in general of people who live the life of the mind because I always like to think that when it comes to the mind and thought there are always possibilities, infinite and endless. The melancholia, feelings of disaffection and isolation and indifference to joie de vivre are easy to understand but that doesn't explain the act itself, the finality, irreversibility and the certitude of it. What makes them think that they have reached the limits? That they can't go on?


wildflower seed said...

You can find a whole host of books about the psychology of suicides. The classic text is Emile Durkheim's "Suicide". Another good book is Kay Jamison's "Night Falls Fast".

Depressing reading though.

If you are up to it, you will also find the subtext in this document :

interesting reading.

Alok said...

Aha, I have read both :) Skipped parts of Durkheim though.

Jamison has written another book about artists and madness too. I didn't find it of much use. This is one subject that interests me very much -- madness, melancholia and its relationship with the creative mind.

As I mentioned in the post these and similar books only explain the origin of suicidal state of mind. A lot of people feel like committing suicide (for various reasons, anomie, isolation, fatalism etc all readily explained in sociological and psychological terms) but very few actually do.

Cheshire Cat said...

I'm curious to know how much the Scientologists really had to do with it.

wildflower seed said...

"A lot of people feel like committing suicide (for various reasons, anomie, isolation, fatalism etc all readily explained in sociological and psychological terms) but very few actually do."

Well, you mean very few people actually succeed. Suicide methods are notoriously unreliable. For instance, only a very small percentage of people who try to commit suicide by drug overdose actually succeed. See that website I pointed to for all the things that could go wrong even with apparently certain methods such as the use of firearms or hanging. Moreover, feeling suicidal may not translate into action because painless methods of suicide have become relatively more difficult to execute over time. For instance, CO poisioning by sticking your head into an oven or jamming the exhaust pipe of your car and sitting inside, are both no longer options because technology has moved on. Additionally, over time, the state also has made suicide more difficult. For example, even though firearm laws are fairly lax in the US, states will frequently not issue a gun permit if the potential buyer has a history of mental illness. The distance between feeling suicidal and actually committing suicide is therefore a function of parameters beyond just the person's will to commit suicide. That is not to say that the will to commit suicide may not frequently be overridden by the will to live just as the potential suicide is on the brink of ending his/her life, but I doubt that one can generalize from such instances.

Alok said...

Yes I agree with you. In indian villages for example suicide rate is so high because the insecticide (or rodenticide) is so easily available.

I also read somewhere that the romans decreed some law which said that women who committed suicide will have their naked bodies dragged on the streets. The suicide rates dropped dramatically then.

cat: i was readin ron rosenbaum's blog, he thinks something is fishy too. but then he is another conspiracy theory nutter.

Cheshire Cat said...

Yeah, "conspiracy theory nutter" seems right.

Alok said...