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Camus

From “Ontogenesis and the Ethics of Becoming“:

KY: In terms of the Stoics, how might their approach to “dying well” offer us some resources for thinking amidst our current scene of ecological reorganisation that is named the Anthropocene?

EG: The Stoic concept of ‘dying well’ is immensely important not only when we consider the effects of imminent social collapse on each of us and our possible responses, but also when we consider that we are placed in an immensely vast universe where the call to ‘live well, according to one’s principles’ provides us with a connection to the universe, a fully material universe, as the Stoics understand it, which is nevertheless ordered and framed by an order they call ‘incorporeal’. To live well is to live, not according to the opinions and values of others – what we cannot control – but according to one’s own rational sense of one’s place in the world, according to actions we can control. To live well is to live according to what one can control, one’s own inner states, one’s own bodily behaviour, one’s own principles. This position is fundamentally anti-egoistic: it is directed to a knowledge of the world and one’s place in it. However, as a psychical attitude – perseverance, acceptance, self-reliance – I suspect that Stoicism is perhaps not the best psychology for struggle, as the devastation of many of the earth’s resources draws closer. Nietzsche understood that in times of violence, the Stoics were immensely life-affirming in their fortitude, but that in times of peace and plenty, he prefers the Epicureans (The Gay Science #306). The Stoics affirm that we are the subjects of destiny, which is indifferent to our needs and interests. The task of a reasoned or reflective life, a life lived in according with what is beneficial to one’s nature (according to one’s own understanding) is a life able to fully affirm its destiny, a life that seeks to be worthy of what befalls it, even as it has little or no control of such a destiny.

This is a very similar line of thinking that led me to pick up and start practicing Stoicism in the first place- and what has also led me to look into radical variations of ecopsychology that lead us towards first an acceptance of the situation as it is, devoid of ideological blinkers, and thereby to being able to adapt to it and act within it. At some point soon I hope to have some drafts or outlines up of reflections on these concerns in relation to the questions of suicide, eco-catastrophe, and extinction.

Elsewhere in the interview the above excerpt is taken from Grosz links the Stoics to Spinoza and nietzsche in a philosophical counter-tradition. I would say that this is the tradition of ontological corporealism that I identify with and unsurprisingly with an ethics centred on compassion and care. To this tradition we could add Schopenhauer, Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze, Ernest Becker, Judith Butler and geo/eco-feminists such as Stacey Alaimo and Grosz herself.

Albert Camus wrote that suicide was the only serious philosophical question. Today this must be said of the meanings and the projects of extinction.

Introduction

In this essay I want to discuss suicide from within a Heideggerian perspective as a form of freedom. In doing so I will be making the distinction between suicide-as-event and suicidality-as-possibility. To deepen the discussion I will be drawing on Stoic accounts of possibility and fate, situating suicidality in terms of Baudrillardian seduction, theories of sublimation and briefly connecting the discussion to contemporary psychotherapeutic practice. I intend to open a discussion on the place of suicide and suicidality after the post-nihilist turn and to recognise in it not only the moment of despair but also a path toward the sense of liberation and opening of possibility that a catastrophia inflected post-nihilist praxis sees as the pre-requisite for living after nihilism.

Suicide

 ‘There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide’ (Camus 2005, p.1): this is how Albert Camus  opens his book The myth of Sisyphus. It is a book that forms Camus’s elaboration of his ideas on the Absurd, ideas that have a more readily accessible form in his novels such as The outsider and The fall. At the outset of The myth of Sisyphus Camus is setting up the question of whether we should live or die as the paramount philosophical problem. In this way of thinking about suicide, it is presented to us as a question, a provocation and, at the same time, as an accusation. The question is: what is the status of suicide, and what is the status of life? Camus is quick to state that to treat this question as a purely social phenomenon in the manner that Durkheim did, and that Franco Berardi does today, is to evade the centrality of the question. It is to flee from the intimate proximity of the suicidal person to themselves and to the terrain of their life. As Camus puts it

 An act like this is prepared within the silence of the heart, as is a great work of art. (2005, p.3).

Within the silence of the heart the suicidal act is locked into Beckettian profounds of mind; the urge to kill one self lurks subterraneous and mute, being prepared but without communicating to the one who prepares it. This is a work, ‘like a great work of art’, that writhes beneath the everyday consciousness  in ferocious activity; working itself out, but unknown to the one who will put the gun to their head or tip the pills from their crumpling plastic cup. This is almost like the kind of process that Charles Bukowski somewhere speaks of in the ideal experience of writing poetry: you should not write unless the poem surges from your mind onto the paper, a torrent lashing from the fractured sky. And just like the great work of art there is a sense of culmination, of destiny fulfilled, of the work coming to fruition, as if all preceding acts were merely rough sketches, vague gestures, and preliminary experiments in style. Prepared in the silence of the heart, it is as if Camus thinks of suicide as a great love or a great sadness that can finally confess itself to a world that it spurns, as if suicide were its mode of intimacy with that world, like the cruelty of a rejected lover. As a great work of art suicide may be the smallest act in a vast and cold universe devoid of final salvations or consolation, but it is sublime nonetheless and even perhaps because of it.

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