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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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Perceiving as the activity of this culture after nihilism is artificial and perceives in works only what we — the artificial beings by nature — value. Nietzsche asks himself the question: “What does it mean ‘to perceive’?”, and answers: “To take something to be true: is to say yes to something.” Self and world cannot be played against one another, they belong together, inseparably, as reciprocal perceptive action, as Nietzsche knew: “The animal knows nothing of itself, nor does it know anything of the world.” There can be no authoritative measure in autopoetics surpassing that which created the authority to begin with. But this does not make us self-legislators in Kant‘s sense and in that of the Enlightenment, this would only be the case if we had to yield to a (universal) law of consequence. Even the self-imposed rule becomes obsolete for me at the same moment it has made its contribution to my art of living. As Nietzsche tells us: “The creator must always be a destroyer…, only the appreciation of value itself… cannot destroy itself. “But how can the individual possibly discover whether his or her life fulfills itself — without criteria and without assured methods? Together with Nietzsche we should respond to a postmodern cynicism which calls upon us to vegetate, homeless in our own world, and to renounce identity once and for all with an affirmative: THIS life is not for me! I WANT a different one! Whether life fulfills itself cannot be discovered with the aid of a eudaemonistic ethics and its self-examination, nor even through general inquiry. The existential interest in the lie diagnosed by Nietzsche concerns most intimately self-delusion. Everything which reaches our consciousness and is interpreted by it is subject to this tendency to deceive oneself in the futile interest of survival, to blandish what is bad, to ruin what was perfectly good. Happiness as well as suffering are noticeable and for this basic reason cannot be helpful in allowing a self-fulfilling life to become evident.

Wolfgang Schirmacher, Ph.D., is a continental philosopher, professor of philosophy and founder of the pioneering Media and Communications Division at the European Graduate School (EGS). An internationally renowned Arthur Schopenhauer scholar, he is the President of the International Schopenhauer Association. Dr. Schirmacher is also the Arthur Schopenhauer Chair at EGS.

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Baudrillard and Schirmacher in conversation.

Baudrillard and Schirmacher