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The Laugh of the Mona Lisa

LOÏCK ROCHE

THE LAUGH OF THE MONA LISA
An Essay on Suicide

Contact: Loïck Roche loick.roche@grenoble-em.com
Loïck Roche, AMP (Harvard), is a graduate of ESSEC Business School, Paris; Doctor of Psychology, Doctor of Philosophy and accredited for the supervision of research in management sciences (HDR). Author or co-author of about thirty books, specialist in innovation, in well-being in the workplace and in company performance, he is today Associate Director and Vice-Dean of Grenoble Ecole de Management (France).

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To Dieter

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“I will undertake the difficult task of making you understand, let’s say…, something…” (Lacan)

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“Death is a part of faith [prolonged silence]; you are perfectly right to believe that you will die, of course. [Prolonged silence] That sustains you! [Prolonged silence] If you did not believe this [prolonged silence]; would you be able to accept the life that you have?”

§

Louvain, 1972, Catholic University. As we are speaking of death… The person who is speaking there, who is shouting, in a room that is too small, obliging his audience to even sit on the floor – but he likes that – it’s Lacan. A Lacan who, in the twilight of his life (he died in 1981), is far from the one whom we know hit his patients with a cane. Patients who he believed did not want to engage what Lacan

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called their “understandability”, as Jean-Baptiste Pontalis said. This same day at Louvain, when he was jostled by a student – a student who spilled the water jug over his notes and threw them out, sweeping everything off the desk – Lacan analysed this gesture in a nutshell – it was… an act of love!

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And here too, much is also inherent in suicide…

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As Harold Searles wrote (The Effort to Drive the Other Person Crazy) “I am more and more convinced that, in the quantity of situational factors which influence the human being’s emotional capacities, there is nothing stronger than this simple fact: for each individual, this complex thing called life, this thing which fascinates us, tortures us, excites us, bores us, reassures us and frightens us, which has its moments of simple peace and its moments of complex torment, all this will inevitably end one day.”

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§

“If we did not rely strongly on this certitude, that this will finish” continued Lacan, still with his prolonged silences, “would you be able to accept this story? [Prolonged silence] Nevertheless, it’s only an act of faith. [Prolonged silence] And to cap it all, you are not sure of it. [Prolonged silence] Why shouldn’t there be a man or a woman who could live for 150 years, well, why not? [Prolonged silence] This is where faith finds its strength. [Prolonged silence] You know, me, what I am telling you here, it’s because I’ve seen it. [Prolonged silence] One of my patients, so long ago that it is no longer spoken about, otherwise I would not tell her story, she dreamed one day that existence would always rebound of its own accord. [Prolonged silence] The Pascalian dream. An infinity of lives succeeding each other with no possible end. [Prolonged silence] She woke up almost mad.

[Prolonged silence] She told me this. I can assure you that I did not find it funny.”

§ “The anxiety of the finality of life is too hard to bear if one is not strengthened by the idea that one is a total person and that, thanks to this totality, one is able to participate totally in life – capable of proving oneself by

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being a part of this entire community called humanity, each of whose members is faced with a single outcome. An individual cannot bear the idea of inevitable death until he has lived life to the full”. (Harold Searles, The Effort to Drive the Other Person Crazy)

§

“As an arrow to its target, and we never miss it, […] we know, wrote Albert Caraco in his Handbook of Chaos, that we will die, sometime, somewhere, somehow”.

§

If we exercise our “understandability”, what we mean by this is: that death, as Michel Serres said, “is our great teacher”. As for life (and this is the most important), it is only bearable because we know… Because we know that it will really, maybe tragically, end one day. This is where suicide finds its place!

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As suicide was no stranger to Lacan, rumours were

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circulating: “It appears that there are many suicides at Lacan’s.” “By accepting to listen to those who were going to die, wrote Pierre Rey (A season at Lacan’s), [Lacan] was one of the rare people to accept the risk of their inevitable break. Almost no other analyst, to avoid staining his visiting card with death, would be brave enough to meet, even only once, a single one of those looks, to accept the challenge from one of these “people for death”. “This type of suffering, continued Rey, was never turned away by him. In cases of extreme anguish, he held the life of others in his hands. […] If he had let go, if he had made the slightest mistake in his assessment, pronounced an unfortunate word, prolonged a silence, forced a look at the wrong moment, the whole situation could fall into oblivion: among these condemned souls grasping for death, destined for death, almost dead and whom he tore from death’s grasp to bring them back to the river’s bank – how many, without his help, would have survived?”

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Patients committed themselves. “And afterwards?” Lacan could have asked when he did not say anything even worse – we will return to this. One cannot always go against what is inevitable. Against those – including schizophrenics – who

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say that they are going to commit suicide. Assertions that were constantly repeated, attempts that were multiplied. Like Hansi, a young schizophrenic, they can go to a crossroads for a taxi which will take them to the hospital’s day service, walk down the middle of the road, be rebuffed by motorist’s horns, lie on the tramlines. Although they are saved on that occasion by passers-by, by the taxi driver who well knew that in accepting this type of journey he would be having problems, they nevertheless inevitably finish by “succeeding”. Like Hansi who, one morning, threw himself out of the window...

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“Life, wrote Cioran, is bearable only with the idea that one may leave it when one wishes. It is our choice […] to be able to leave the stage when we want to; this is an exhilarating idea.” If our thoughts are ambivalent – how can they be otherwise? – we know that, in life, we hold the upper hand. This was not always the case. In the Roman Empire, those close to the Emperor who wanted to commit suicide had first to seek his permission. As is shown, for example, by Marguerite Yourcenar in Memoirs of Hadrian.

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§

“Suicide, wrote Kant, is a free act.” “The ultimate freedom for mankind” for the Austrian philosopher Jean Améry (whose real name was Hans Mayer and who was a prisoner with Primo Lévy at Auschwitz), in a book on suicide published in 1976. This liberty, this is what saves us! It “only depends on me. I own it, wrote Pierre Rey; to leave life if the desire for life leaves me.”

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We can, when we wish to do so, depart from life by committing suicide. “Without the idea of suicide, one would kill oneself on the spot!” wrote Cioran who, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, died in 1995. Perhaps because of the illness, Cioran “forgot” to commit suicide. Unless he

deliberately refused to do so. “One always kills oneself too late!” he said. Cioran preferred to write. Rather like “Do what I write, not what I do…” Books which, for him, were “a postponed suicide” But writing is in fact a real therapy, an antidote to suicide… And perhaps also a solace for a lack of courage!

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§

Jean-Noël Cuénod, the Paris correspondent for the Tribune de Genève and 24-Hours, wrote that to “live one’s life” one needs to have an understanding for death.

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Even though suicide is not condemned by the Church, (we will return to this), one can make a link with religion. For Jean-Noël Cuénod, this is the annual message – we are redeemed at Easter.

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In the time of Plato, who was a believer, death was the property of gods and the Fates, the commanding divinities of human destiny who cut the cordon of life. Committing suicide was therefore (already) in opposition to the gods’ wishes.

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§

There are always those who constantly want to prevent perpetual suicides!

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Another restriction on the freedom to commit suicide is the belief in mental illness, i.e. the idea that it can be morally correct to oppose someone’s right to consider suicide (one must not be afraid of ridicule…) or to commit suicide (which already appears more rational). For Lawrence Stevens – a lawyer who, whilst exercising his profession also defended the psychologically “ill”, and whose works on the Internet are deliberately free of copyright to encourage their distribution – a diagnosis of “mental illness” is without doubt a value judgement on the thoughts or behaviour of this or that person, and not a diagnosis based on “good faith”. “The so-called mental illness, wrote Stevens, does not deny a person his free judgement; on the contrary, it is his expression of it (even if it is met with the disapproval of others). […] Furthermore, there is no serious proof

confirming that mental illness – whatever its definition – is at the origin of a decision to commit suicide. For Marion

Crook (Stop Suicide Association, Montreal: Suicide, thirty

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teenagers

speak

of

their

attempts):

“Adolescents

contemplating the possibility of suicide are not necessarily mentally unhinged. In fact, they rarely are”. The

psychologist Paul Quinnett (Suicide: The Forever Decision), reaches the same conclusion: “It is not necessary to suffer from a mental illness in order to attempt to take one’s life. In fact, most people who commit suicide are not legally “mad”. […] One does not therefore have to suffer from mental illness to think about suicide.” What Paul Quinnett states, writes Stevens, is a clear recognition of the fact that alleging mental illness in order to interne suicidal people is dishonest. “To knowingly swear a false accusation of “mental illness” before a Court […] is a form of authoritarianism and despotism. […] This is indeed imprisonment for the crime of holding an opinion as described by George Orwell in his novel 1984.”

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“Certain people, explains Lawrence Stevens, believe that it is fair to use force to prevent someone committing suicide; they are convinced that the impulse for potential death in a person is probably only temporary, and it will either partially or totally go away if the person is forced to

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live a little longer, until the strong emotional reaction to a recent traumatic event disappears over time.

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[…] The usual justification given for forced internment, and the so-called treatment of those who think of suicide or who make the effort to kill themselves, is that this could lead to a potentially dangerous situation. But even those who disagree with the principle of “self-ownership” (which we will mention later) need to ask the question: danger – but for whom?

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[…] Another factor to be considered is that mental health specialists, contrary to what they may state,

involuntarily encourage suicide rather than preventing it. […] Because of the harmful effects of modern bio-psychiatric treatment, the boredom and cruelty that sometimes reign in treatment centres as well as the lack of self-esteem and discrimination which then have their effects in the

educational system and professional workplace, a higher percentage of suicides is to be expected among those who

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have undergone psychiatric treatment compared to the number of suicides which had not been treated.

[Paradoxically] recognising the right to commit suicide is not only to respect personal freedom; it is also to avoid the harm and cruelty generated in the name of preventing suicides.”

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During his existence, and if he enjoys at least a part of his mental and physical capacities, the human being has only two certitudes: the certitude of his death and the certitude that he can choose the moment and, in part, the place and manner of this death. As Lawrence Stevens remarks in an audio cassette version of their book Life 101 published in 1990, John-Roger and Peter McWilliams explain – as we have already mentioned – that “the consensus of descriptions made by a wide range of people demonstrates the possibility that death may not be so bad. […] Suicide always remains an option. This is what sometimes makes life bearable. [Always the best… “safeguard”]. The fact that we do not absolutely have to live down here can make life easier.” “A single remedy to avoid thinking of death: write a book about death” as Vladimir Jankelevitch so truly wrote.

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§

Here too, without being schizophrenic! “When working with schizophrenics, wrote Harold Searles (The Effort to Drive the Other Person Crazy), one quickly sees that many of them are […] incapable of “feeling alive” all the time. This repression has a defensive role: one does not have to fear death if one feels dead: subjectively, one has nothing to lose by dying.

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Although the first certitude – the certitude of one’s death – is undeniable, everyone has experienced at least once this second certitude – we can decide the moment of our death.

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“I was on the rails, and travelling. [Then] the locomotive became unreliable, stopping without reason. It was at that moment that the idea of death sprung into my daily life”. (Camus, The Fall)

§

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§

“Everyone, at least once, either seriously or “courteously and superficially” as Camus wrote (The Fall), has

experienced the thought of committing suicide.

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In the backpack of our torment, we all have suicidal thoughts!

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We are like the characters of Dostoyevsky, of Kurosawa. “Why, explains Deleuze, is Kurosawa on familiar terms with the characters from Dostoyevsky and Shakespeare? Why is it a Japanese who is so familiar with Dostoyevsky and Shakespeare? Something quite curious often happens with Dostoyevsky’s characters. They are usually very excited. A person goes out, goes into the street and says to someone: “Tania, the woman I love, is calling me for help. I’m going, I’m running. Yes, Tania will die if I don’t go.” Then he meets a friend or he sees a dead dog. And he completely forgets that Tania, dying, is waiting for him. He again starts

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speaking like that. Then he meets another friend, he has tea at this friend’s house and all of a sudden he says: “Tania is waiting for me, I must go.” What does this mean? With Dostoyevsky, the characters are always in a hurry. And, while they concerned with pressing affairs to do with life and death, they know that there is a still more urgent matter and they don’t know what it is – and that is what stops them. Everything happens as if in the greatest urgency, the house is on fire, I must go, I say to myself: “No, no, there is something more important and I won’t move until I know what it is. It’s The Idiot. It’s the formula for The Idiot. There is a more urgent problem. Everything can burn down but there is a more urgent problem. […] Kurosawa’s characters have exactly that problem. They are absorbed in impossible situations but, beware, there is a more important problem and I must know what it is. The 7 samurai […] are in an critical situation. They accept defending the village and from one end to the other they are thinking of something more serious. And this will be expressed by the chief samurai as they leave: “What is a samurai?” What is a samurai, not in general but what is a samurai at that moment in time? He’s somebody who is no longer a nobody. The masters no longer need them and the peasants will soon know how to defend themselves on their own.

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§

“We other samurai, what are we?” It is this question that we never stop asking ourselves!

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“The idea of suicide, wrote Nietzsche (Beyond good and evil) is a powerful consolation [which] helps us to get through many bad nights”.

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Suicide can affect everybody. Indeed, suicide impinges upon everybody. Like during the Great War in which everyone had a family member who was killed or injured everyone, among their relations, knew someone who had committed suicide. Unless they tried but failed like Yvette in Maupassant, “trapped” by chloroform which offers sweet dreams…

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“How many people wanted to commit suicide and were content by just tearing up their photograph?” wrote Jules Renard in his Journal.

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Already in Roman antiquity, as can be found on the Wikipedia Free Encyclopaedia website, Seneca was a witness to the universality of suicide, touching all classes of Roman society: “Men of all classes, of any income, of all ages ended their distress by committing suicide.” This is referred to by Montaigne in a chapter of Essays entitled “Customs of the Ile of Cea” where he gives numerous examples of voluntary death in Antique times.

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Things are no better today. As Durkheim has already shown (Suicide, published in 1897), suicide is increasing in proportion to societal and economic disorders. Whether it is crises or… the improvement in the economy, the individual loses himself. He can no longer regain his place.

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§

”Thinking about suicide is an everyday thing” wrote Lawrence Stevens. He continues that for Earl Grollman, in his book Suicide published in 1988, “almost everybody, at one time or another, has thought of committing suicide.” In Suicide: The Forever Decision, the psychologist Paul

Quinnett shows that “a large majority of people have envisaged suicide at one time or another during their existence, and have done so very seriously.”

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Listing like Prévert, perhaps excluding the racoon… the imagination for committing suicide knows no bounds…

§ Each of us has Socrates’ hemlock within reach; the phial of cyanide that we will break unless, like Katow, the pragmatic hero in The Human Condition, we offer it to two unknown prisoners, literally dying of fear – Katow who knew that he was condemned to be burnt alive in the fire of a locomotive because of his political ideas… Each of us has available Bettelheim’s plastic bag with which, on March 13,

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1990 he covered his head; the window through which Gilles Deleuze jumped on November 4, 1995; the lift-cage from the top of which Primo Lévy threw himself on April 11, 1987, the first day of the Jewish Easter; the sword that is used for seppuku, the ceremonial Japanese suicide; the Hara Kiri of the samurai who, out of respect for the Bushido (the code of moral principles that the Japanese samurai were required to respect), killed himself to avoid being taken prisoner or to restore honour to his family or his clan. Each of us can obtain the firearm used by Neil in the Dead Poets Society…; the grenade with which the Japanese committed suicide following their defeat at Iwo Jima in March 1945, after 40 days of heroic combat. Each of us, we know that we can drown ourselves, hang ourselves, gas ourselves, use a supply of lithium, borrow arsenic from the pharmacist Homais as Emma Bovary did; drink opium like Chatterton de Vigny when pursued by his creditors, refusing the

humiliating services of a valet - he who dreamed of being a poet. Each of us knows how to find poison, the right barbiturate, pesticides and, if necessary, “recipes” like those available in Suicide, mode d’emploi [Suicide, User Guide] by Claude Guillon and Yves le Bonniec. Each of us knows where to find a razor blade, a shard of glass or something else… and why not – with terrible, infinite imagination as in the The Suicide, the play written in 1928 by Nicolaï Erdmann - a sausage… mistaken for a revolver!

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§

“Even if the gods are plotting against us and the planets are disorganised, even if the earth disappears from under our feet, we will always need to have a problem” (Frances Lear, The Second Seduction)

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Suicide is a right. For Nietzsche (Human, All too Human): “There is a certain right which permits us take a man’s life, but no right to deprive him of death.” Stevens notes that in the psychiatrist Fuller Torrey’s book The Death of Psychiatry (1974), he writes: “People have the right to kill themselves if they so wish.” In 1968, in his book Why Suicide?, the psychologist Eustace Chesser wrote:”The right to chose the time and manner of one’s death seems to me to be an inalienable right. […] My opinion is that the right to die is the last and greatest of man’s rights.” For Schopenhauer whose father, Henri Floris, died when Schopenhauer was 18 years old (and even today one wonders whether he accidentally fell or deliberately jumped from an attic into the canal situated behind the house in Hamburg): “There is nothing in the world to which a person has a more inalienable right than his own life and his own person.” For

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the psychiatrist Thomas Szasz: “Suicide is a fundamental right. […] Society does not have the moral right to intervene by force against a decision to commit this act.” (The Untamed Tongue, 1990). Lawrence Stevens added to these statements upholding the right to suicide: “In a truly free society, you are master of your own life; your only obligation is to respect the rights of others. I firmly believe that each person has the right to be considered as his own master, the sole possessor of his own life. I therefore think that a person who commits suicide is well within his rights so long as he remains within the limits of his private life without menacing the security of others. […] So long as the person in question does not violate the rights of others, his autonomy has more value than just implementing what some consider as rational or others think is in his best interest. In a free society where the right to be one’s own master is recognised, the danger to oneself is irrelevant. To recall the words of the title of a film in which Richard Dreyfuss played a role: Whose Life Is It, Anyway? The first of man’s rights is the right to “selfownership”: it means the right to life, and the right to end life. The supreme test is whether one accepts or not the right to commit suicide, revealing whether this person truly believes in “self-ownership” and in the individual liberty which is an indissociable part of him.”

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§

The main thing – and this is not the most simple – is to think about suicide when there are no consequences involved. In these circumstances then, as Cioran said:”The thought of suicide is a thought which helps one to live.”

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One must consider suicide when one cannot commit this act. Like Primo Lévy, the author of If This is a Man, who never thought of suicide whilst in the Nazi camps during the Second World War. Thinking about suicide meant committing suicide because it was so easy to kill oneself. Couldn’t one just run towards the electrified barbed wire and get shot down by the guards who were trained for precisely this role? “I was close to the idea of suicide - before and after the camp. But never inside the camp!” wrote Primo Lévy. The point was to consider suicide when circumstances simply made it impossible. This is in fact a tautology since by definition he who commits suicide doesn’t think. To reason as Liebniz does, he doesn’t debate on it – or rather, he no longer debates – with himself. It is because I think that I do not commit suicide. But at the same time, it’s because I thought of suicide that I can commit suicide. I obviously

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exclude here, and in what follows, the suicides which are more related to negotiated suicides.

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I think of Socrates, condemned by the Layman’s Court to commit suicide by drinking hemlock; of his words reported to us by Plato: “If one looks at it from this point of view (Socrates was speaking of religion), perhaps it is not unreasonable to say that one must not commit suicide before God requires us to do so, as He does of me today.” But I think of Cato too who, opposed to Caesar, spears himself with his sword at Utica after the defeat of Thapsus. A two-part suicide - like shooting oneself in the head twice. Because Cato did not succeed in killing himself the first time. When the doctor came to him to stitch up the “noble wound” - as Virgil and Horace praised it and as told in the Encyclopaedia of Death (agora.qc.ca) - Cato sent him away. Tearing at his entrails with his own hands, “he opened his wound even more, so much so that within the hour his spirit had departed from him.” I think of Seneca, a contemporary of Jesus. “Compromised in the conspiracy by Pison in 65, as described in the Encyclopaedia of Death, Seneca committed suicide by opening his veins and drinking poison on the orders of Nero.” Anecdotally, his last words were to ask for

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freedom for all his slaves. Other last words – those of Socrates. As Plato tells us in the Phaedo: “[L]ifting his veil, because he had veiled his head, Socrates’ last words were: “Criton, we owe a cock to Asclepius – pay him, don’t forget.” This was obviously not about giving a cock to a neighbour but… sacrificing a cock to the God of medicine. “Yes, this will be done,” said Criton, who nevertheless seemed to be disappointed, “but don’t you have anything else to say to us?” “[Socrates] did not reply to this question, but a few moments later, he had a convulsion. The man uncovered him: his eyes were lifeless. Seeing this, Criton closed Socrates’ mouth and his eyes. Thus died our friend […], a man who, we can say, was the best, the wisest and the most honest among those whom we knew at the time.”

§

In

Antiquity,

as

Wikipedia

reports, “suicide

was

committed after a defeat in battle to avoid capture and possible torture, mutilation or being enslaved by the enemy. […] During the second Punic war Sophonisba, the

Carthaginian princess, poisoned herself to avoid the fate of the defeated and be led to Rome to figure in Scipion’s triumph. […] Brutus and Cassius, who assassinated Julius Caesar, committed suicide following their defeat at the battle

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of Philippi (in Macedonia) – a battle won by Octavius and Anthony. […] Cleopatra VII, the last Queen of Egypt, ended her days to avoid being led as a prisoner to Rome.” Montaigne cites Pelagia and Sophronia who were both canonised; [one] threw herself into the river with her mother and sisters to avoid a group of a few soldiers and [the other] also killed herself to avoid the forces of the Emperor Maxence.” Similarly, the Jews at Massada committed suicide in 74 B.C. to escape being enslaved by the Romans.

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“In Roman society, as we continue to see in Wikipedia, suicide was an accepted form of preserving one’s honour. For example, those who were tried for capital crimes could avoid confiscation of their family goods and properties by committing suicide before the court rendered its judgement. [...] Domitien, the Roman Emperor, demonstrated his pity and the divine mercy of love by allowing a condemned man to commit suicide.” Rommel was condemned by Hitler following the failed attempt on his life on July 20, 1944 – Rommel could either commit suicide (in which case his death would be explained as death following war wounds), or be presented before the People’s Court (the Court which would judge and execute him as a traitor).

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§

The phrase by Elsa Triolet could be applied here: “Every suicide is a murder!”

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To confirm that one is in the presence of a suicide, death must the object of the act and not simply one of its consequences. From the Latin word suicidium, and the verb sui caedere, “massacring oneself”, committing suicide, (as we read in Wikipedia), is an indisputably deliberate act of ending one’s own life. “A suicide attack, for example, would be considered more as an act of terrorism or form of martyrdom (depending on who is speaking) rather than a suicide. If a suicide has legal consequences, it must generally be proved that there was intent and death for the act to be qualified as such in law.”

§

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We will leave aside a number of cases. Assisted suicides, like acts of euthanasia, which are generally completely justified by the will of patients physically unable to kill themselves. But also suicides for reasons of physically insupportable pain, or the perspective of certain unbearable suffering or, more simply, anticipated distress. As in

Maupassant’s novel A Coward where the hero Signolès, following a sleepless night thinking about the duel that he will be facing the following morning, commits suicide by shooting himself in the throat.

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Lawrence Stevens tells the story of Suzy Szasz, a victim of lupus (an illness that derives its name from the Venetien mask of lesions that appear on the face), who writes in her book Living With It: Why You Don’t Have To Be Healthy To Be Happy following a major advance in the disease during which she contemplates suicide: “As the philosophers of Antiquity correctly remarked, I have discovered that the simple liberty of being able to commit suicide can be of great help.” “When existence becomes such a burden, death appears as a welcome refuge.” (Herodotus).

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§

One must leave aside the bogus suicides like those who destroy themselves gradually by using drugs, through alcohol (its excesses, of course); like Alain Leroy, the hero in Louis Malle’s film The Fire Within - a production inspired by the novel by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle and the life of Jacques Rigault, author of this sentence: “Life is not worth making the effort to leave it.” It is true that, coming from a

surrealist writer… Other bogus suicides – suicides like Scott Fitzgerald. Without saying that he really “committed

suicide”, Scott Fitzgerald knew he had a weak heart so slept on his left side to end his life. In Buffet Froid by Bertand Blier, Jean Rougerie asks Depardieu to commit a murder; the chosen victim is none other than the person making the request! Another form – The Grande Bouffe (Blowout) by Marco Ferreri. The story of a collective, gastronomical suicide. Booed at Cannes – the film also wanted to be an indictment of the consumer society – Philippe Noiret retorted to the critics: “We were offering a mirror to people and they didn’t like what they saw in it. It reveals bloody

extraordinary stupidity.” (sic!). We also leave aside all the suicides based on what we could call the organisation of one’s own sabotage! Refusal to accept treatment when severely ill, certain accidents or taking extreme risks… Like Virginia Woolf, these people every day insist on putting into

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their pockets the stones which will carry them down the river.

§

The suicides that we are speaking about are those committed or wanting to be committed by people who can no longer tolerate something in life. In Tel Quel, Paul Valéry shows that suicide is generally due to what he calls “his victim” not being able to destroy in themselves an idea that causes them suffering and which they believe can only be eliminated by eliminating their own life.

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This can concern private life, it can concern professional life. The common factor: existence appears absurd for the metaphysical reasons and psychological suffering which it implies. “For an observer, explains Lawrence Stevens, suicide can appear to be something harmful for the person ending their life. But this is not how the person committing suicide sees the situation. People commit suicide because they believe that continuing their existence in such

conditions is a greater evil than staying alive. […]”. For

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Frances Lear, then a magazine director and writer, quoted by Lawrence Stevens: “One does not take the exit lightly. Suicide has numerous consequences. It will hurt those who love you, it can dirty the sidewalk; but its intention, its magnetism is that it is the only guarantee for ending, exploding, dynamiting a critical mass of suffering. Suicide, reduced to its most simple expression, is a system of deliverance which leads us from pain to the absence of pain.” (The Second Seduction) For Eustace Chesser, who was a psychiatrist: “Suicide is a deliberate refusal to accept the only conditions in which it is possible for us to live.” (Why Suicide?) Stevens concludes: “Who can therefore reasonably pretend that a suicidal person has taken the wrong decision in terms of danger to oneself?”

§

Who holds the truth, if truth there is? Karl Popper refused this notion which yesterday was pertinent and today is imbecile. If the question of truth was the question for the Greeks – “under what conditions is truth possible?” asked Socrates – Kant had already indicated that this question was much too ambitious. He had substituted another question for the question about truth: “Under what conditions is

knowledge possible?” Karl Popper ended this debate (the

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final straw!). Believing that the question by Kant was also too ambitious, Popper substituted yet another question: “Under what conditions is progress possible?” Popper thus ceases to speak about truth – it is clearly no longer present. At the most, he says, one can lean towards the truth. In order to mark this new way of thinking, he created a word: verisimilitude, i.e. the approximation of the truth. For questions about suffering, this approximation of the truth concerns the men and women who suffer because they are the ones who experience it. For Bachelard, the “I am” is stronger than “I think”. The body that acts is stronger than the “cogito”. Who better can feel the pain of another person than the person themselves? We are already unable to remember, I mean physically, what a headache is – I did not say headstrong ;-) – when, in fact, we no longer have a headache… “The idea, wrote Stevens, of knowing if it is better to accept an existing, wretched situation in the hope of a better future is only a value judgement.”

§

Someone who commits suicide is above all unhappy – even if, of course, this word unhappy (“badness”) can lead to many interpretations.

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§

“The gods had condemned Sisyphus to roll a rock, without stopping, to the summit of a mountain where it would fall back under its own weight. They thought with some justification that there was no punishment more terrible than useless effort and no hope.” (Camus, The myth of Sisyphus). Like Sisyphus nobody today, in their own stress “between human calling and the world’s unreasonable silence” can say that one must “think happy” - the time is long past when other than one’s task, as Camus argued, the only thing that mattered was the sense that one could give to one’s actions. What mattered to someone who commits suicide, wrote the authors of the Elegy of Well-being at Work, is also unhappy that the stone he rolls and under which he will allow himself to fall when, no longer able to endure the suffering, the only solution he sees is to abandon his task.

§

For the person who commits suicide: “All, henceforward, is vain.” “Too weak in life to continue on the path”, he gives up. “Tomorrow, wrote Camus, (The Myth of Sisyphus) everything will change, tomorrow. Suddenly, he discovers that tomorrow will be similar, and the day after tomorrow,

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and all the other days. And this irreversible discovery destroys him.” “If every second of our life must be repeated an infinite number of times, we are nailed to eternity as Jesus Christ was to the cross” Milan Kundera (The

Unbearable Lightness of Being). Here lies the dread of understanding what Nietzsche meant by the eternal return of the identical (identity!)…

§

One

must

be

Montaigne

to

think

that

“all

the

disadvantages in life are not worth wanting to die for in order to avoid them.”

§

“By waiting and waiting, said Epicure, we use up our life and we die from the effort.”

§

“It is ideas like this which make you die. Being unable to bear them, one kills oneself […]” (Camus, Betwixt and Between). That too has changed. Today, man is aware of

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this. “Yesterday when, at each step, the hope of success could support man, wrote Camus (The Myth of Sisyphus), today he is aware that there is no hope. It’s then that his destiny changes dramatically and becomes tragic.”

§

Camus continues: “It can happen that the surroundings fall apart. Get up, tramway, four hours in the office or factory, meal, tramway, four hours of work, meal, sleep and Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and

Saturday with the same rhythm; this path is easily followed most of the time. But one day the “why” comes into the mind and everything begins with this lassitude […]”

§

For Camus (The Rebel), the person committing suicide contrasts with the person condemned to death. He revolts. For the former, the suicide, the end justifies the means. For the latter, the condemned person, it is the means which justify the end. And here is a paradox. Whereas the person committing suicide does not believe in death and cannot bear his life, it is because the rebel believes in death that he

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can endure his own life, as we have seen with Lacan at the start. Here too is why, often, trade unionists for example get better results… “In the daily grind in which we live, wrote Camus, (The Rebel), revolt plays the same role as the “cogito” in the order of thinking: this is the first obvious fact. But this fact draws the individual from his solitude. It is a common realm which combines all men through the first value. I revolt, therefore we are.”

§

“The rebel, wrote Camus, does an about-turn in the etymological sense. He acted in response to the master’s whip. Now he faces him. He opposes that which is preferable to that which is not.” As for Prometheus, “the first act of modern conquerors is a claim by man against his destiny” Camus continues. “By the force of conscience, [he]

transforms into a rule of life what was an invitation to death.”

§ Raymond Bellour and François Ewald, in their work with Deleuze on Spinoza (“Signs and Event”, the Literary

Magazine, 1988), show that if he does not revolt, the person

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committing suicide is the one who is inevitably overcome by external factors.

§

The only coherent revolt – is suicide!

§

“It is therefore basically through helplessness, they write, [that a man] commits suicide or rather is led by external conditions to turn his own hand against himself. […] One commits suicide when the vital force is overcome by the force of sad passions. […] Because although Spinoza said that suicide comes from the outside, even a potential suicide must always define himself through the effort required to persevere in his being. But for him, persevering in his being is apparently only possible when he leaves life. Perhaps this (the death of the Body) is a means, the only means possible, to stop the constant decline in his power to react? Therefore the only way for a potential suicide to act instead of to suffer.”

§

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“Nobody […] commits suicide without being obliged by external sources […].” (Spinoza, Ethics) Today, in too many companies, to feed on external circumstances - the most violent psychic wounds always come from inside

communities that, a priori, are the most normal, said Lacan many men and women in companies, but also in

administrations, communities, “because they no longer believe in anything, because they feel denied, even deny themselves, as the authors of the Elegy of Well-being at Work wrote, they finish by giving up. They renounce. And – here is the paradox – in renouncing because they can no longer influence the exterior world, because they are inhibited to act (as Laborit said), they will commit suicide. This is what suicide means for them. It is their sole idea and paradoxically the only solution at the final moment, to retake control of their destiny. To finally succeed in deciding and acting. Yes, to commit suicide, but to finally make a decision”.

§

“His future, wrote Camus, his only, terrible future which he discerns and rushes after”.

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§

“Like in these Italian museums, wrote Camus (The Myth of Sisyphus) where one can see the little painted screens that the priest held in front of the faces of the condemned to hide the scaffold from them”, we, everyone in the company, we are afraid. And because we are all afraid, each person develops their own defence mechanism.

§ “Will we one day get away from this blind form of management, write the authors of the Elegy of Well-being at Work, which requires that in response to a decision taken by an n something, n-1 simply passes the request on to n-2 who in turn passes on this request? Everybody shares the same fear of not knowing what to do (this is also true for the manager who must meet shareholders’ demands, the

demands made of politicians…). Everyone develops defence mechanisms which simply cumulate as they spread

throughout the company.”

§

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The first defence mechanism - fear can be internalized, each person then retreats behind their desk, behind their professional tools; fear can be externalized – this opens the door to violence, vexation, humiliation.

§

Today’s employee gives up his arms in the spittle cell which constricts him. “The spittle cell, wrote Camus (The Fall), was a bricked-up box in which the prisoner was held upright but could not move. The solid door which enclosed him in his cement shell reached up to his chin. One therefore only saw his face which each prison guard copiously spat upon. The prisoner, wedged in his cell, could not wipe himself. It is true that he could shut his eyes.”

§

This then is the door open to moral harassment. “All together, but on our knees, head bowed.” (Camus, The Fall)

§

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Moral harassment that is always, always, always a form of sexual harassment!

§

Another defence mechanism: protect oneself from the suffering that is created. Each person fashions themselves to become deaf to complaints, blind to the suffering of others.

§

Working in “discomfort”! Discomfort was this cell in the dungeon during the Middle Ages. “In general, wrote Camus (The Fall), you were forgotten for life. This cell was different to others because of its ingenious dimensions. It was not high enough to remain standing, not wide enough to lie down. One had to adopt a protective attitude, live

diagonally; sleep was a fall, awakening a crouching position. […] Every day, due to the permanent confines which numbed his body, the prisoner learnt that he was guilty and that innocence consisted of joyously stretching himself.”

§

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“To die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly” (Nietzsche)

§

“In these games of the modern circus, wrote the authors of the Elegy of Well-being at Work, where the workergladiator can go to the extreme of surrendering his life in order to win, we wanted to economise on intelligence in order to always prefer this same, unreasonable silence […] in the world of work. We wanted to go the quickest way, the fastest way, we believed that […] it was only necessary to control everything [to rule over everything]. But this does not apply and, worse than anything, it is indeed death that we have sown within the company.”

§

Do not be mistaken - the authors of the Elegy of Wellbeing at Work highlight this - in the company where one counts the number of deaths, there is always a coresponsibility of management, the unions, even company doctors and others who could be involved… One should also

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be aware, as Camus wrote, “if the same day a friend of the distressed person did not speak to him in an uncaring manner. He is then the guilty one. Because this can suffice to hasten all the resentment and all the weariness still in the background…” Above all, it shows profound respect to the employees who commit suicide to say this; there is also a co-responsibility on their part….

§

The first person responsible is the man, the woman who commits suicide because of the gesture that they assume!

§

“Death

is

solitary

whereas

servitude

is

collective”

(Camus, The Fall)

§

“He who commits suicide would have wanted to live.” (Schopenhauer)

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§

“To choose oneself the moment when one wants to leave this world, wrote Camus, when no remedy for suffering exists other than death - that is the supreme dignity.” “The question, explains Werther to Albert (The Sorrows of Young Werther), as Baldine Saint Girons recalls in the Dictionary of Philosophy, is not to know whether one is weak or strong, but if one can stand the weight of suffering.” As Stevens suggest, one can “legitimately decide that this future, better than one hopes, cannot be a justification for an unbearable present.” In a certain sense, Camus continues, he who commits suicide is taking his revenge. “It’s the way of proving that he will not be subjugated!” For Nietzsche (Human, All too Human), one must respect both the person committing suicide and the act itself. This is also why, as stated in the Elegy for Well-being at Work, “one must not feel too much anger against people who commit suicide…” Yes, one must realize how not to hold it against them too much…

§

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Not all authors share the same point of view on knowing whether the potential suicide thinks (i.e. at the moment of his gesture) - I do not believe this. In his work Suicide: The Forever Decision already quoted, the psychologist Paul Quinnett, as Lawrence Stevens reminds us, wrote: “I have spoken to hundreds of potential suicides. If I succeeded in guessing what went on in their [head] and [in their] heart, I am sure that I would hear [them] debating a long inner dialogue on the question of living or […] not living.” As Lacan says: “No question ever relies on a single answer.

[Prolonged silence] That is certain. [Prolonged silence] One only asks a question when there is already an answer. Which appears to considerably limit the extent of the questions. [Prolonged silence] Fortunately or unfortunately [prolonged silence], the answers are different for each person.

[Prolonged silence] This is the obstacle to what one so benevolently calls… communication.” “When one has the right answer, wrote Pierre Rey, the question, suddenly emptied of all substance, loses its raison d’être and disappears of its own accord.”

§

A person who commits suicide does not prepare two columns, the “plus” and the “minus”. Suicide is no longer a

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question for the person who commits it. If there are questions, they are amongst the people around him… It’s even less a subject for debate, it’s the response. In his book Suicide, Paul Grollman writes: “Suicide does not just happen all of a sudden, impulsively and unforeseen.” For Lawrence Stevens: “[The suicide is] accomplished after long reflection in the framework of [the victim’s] efforts to negotiate with what [one] considers to be intolerable living conditions.”

§

When Bruno Bettelheim committed suicide at the age of 86, it was anything but a surprise. In a recording made about ten years earlier, he announced his suicide. “The day that I can no longer think, or I can no longer write…” Bettelheim, whose life and whose death were marked by three major confinements. Like Primo Lévy, like millions of others, he too was interned in the camps (in Dachau and then Buchenwald)… first confinement! His spent his

professional life working on autism… second confinement! The method of his suicide: a suicide, as we have seen, by enclosing his head in a plastic bag… third confinement! For Odile Odoul, as one can read on Agora (agora.qc.ca), the death of Bruno Bettelheim is an act of liberty in accordance with his convictions. “He committed suicide perhaps just

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because, at an advanced age and physically weak, this ability to think freely deserted him. […] It is less an act of desperation than the courage to pursue his principles about life to the end.”

§

For Gilles Deleuze, same causes, same… effects. Richard Pinhas, a musician, producer and composer, thinks that Deleuze, suffering from a serious respiratory illness (he had already contracted tuberculosis when very young)

“accomplished [through his suicide] a final, great act of freedom, the last one possible.” “Death as the only reality [when], committing suicide [reaching his mysterious number as Jaspers said], means sealing his destiny. […] It’s clinging on until the end, Camus tells us – what Seneca (before Satre) called the road of freedom.” “When one is confronted by permanent pain, continues Richard Pinhas, and a machine is breathing for you, one cannot last for a long time. Deleuze had just published “Pure Immanence: Essays on Life” in the journal Philosophy – the last text published in his lifetime. Only “The real and the virtual”, which he wrote just before throwing himself out of a window, was published

afterwards.” Deleuze like Bettelheim had, in his meetings with Claire Parnet (The Primer of Gilles Deleuze), stated the

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evidence of suicide as a necessary ending. “The major thinkers, Nietzsche, Spinoza have delicate health. Weak health, explained Deleuze for the letter M for Malade in his Primer, is favourable to thinking. Not that one listens to one’s own life but to think is to listen to life. […] I believe that fragile health encourages this sort of listening. […] One cannot think if one is not in a field that is a little beyond your strength, i.e. which makes you fragile.”

§

“In a certain way, these important authors [and this is true for all those who commit suicide], continues Deleuze, have seen something too big – so big that, for them, it was too much.”

§

“When a bird that is bred has been captured, it does not struggle! wrote Montherlant in La Reine Morte” [The Queen Dead].

§

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Bettelheim, Deleuze, same (non-) combat! In dying by their own hand, they experienced what is great in man, what is “a bridge and not an end; what one can appreciate in man, as Nietzsche wrote in Thus Spake Zarathustra, is that he is a transition and he is a decline .”

§

“Suicide,

one

can

read

on

Wikipedia,

is

an

act

condemned in the teachings of monotheistic religions. Even if the fact of committing suicide is firstly an act against oneself, the “belonging” of man’s destiny to God means that this act becomes a break in the specific relationship between man and God and an act which contravenes God’s

sovereignty. [To illustrate this] the Catholic viewpoint was defined at the first ecumenical council of Braga which was held in about 561: it states that suicide is criminal in Christianity except for “madmen”. The first council of Braga wished to counter pagan ways of thinking in an era still deeply influenced by the Roman mentality where suicide [as we have seen] was presented as a noble undertaking, an honourable death, to be recommended to expiate a crime, whereas Christianity wanted to espouse for itself alone the notion of pardon, the acceptance by a criminal to submit

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himself to justice, as the only acceptable path. [Another example]: Islam forbids suicide and considers it a sin (even a crime). Based on a Hadith, Mohammed apparently refused to pray for a person who, having committed suicide, was presented to him; he however ordered his companions to pray for him nevertheless.”

§

“But the history of the Church, reports Montaigne, reveres a number of examples of devoted people who appealed to death as a guarantee against the excessive attacks on their conscience that the tyrants were preparing.”

§

“Suicide […] is one of the grand ideas that man possesses. But for two thousand years one prevented people from committing suicide”, Cioran will tell us.

§

Leaving aside the demands that religion imposes – “religions, wrote Nietzsche in Human, All too Human, are

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decidedly rich in excuses to avoid the need for suicide; it’s how they flatteringly sneak into those enamoured by life”, “it will be permitted, continued Nietzsche, to ask oneself: why is the reality of awaiting slow decline until decomposition more glorious for an old man who feels his strength ebbing away than to decide oneself on the ending, in complete consciousness?” In this case (still Nietzsche): “Suicide is an act which offers itself naturally and which, being a victory for reason, should in all fairness command respect: and it was in effect recognised [as we have seen] in those days when the leaders of Greek philosophy and the bravest Roman patriots usually died through suicide. Much less admirable, on the contrary, concluded Nietzsche, was this manner of surviving day after day with the help of doctors who were anxiously consulted and treatments that could not have been more painful, without the strength to move clearly towards a legitimate end to life.” In the Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche adds about suicide: “It shows a death which is chosen as a need and a final resort against decadence.”

§

“When in Wuthering Heights, wrote Camus (The Rebel), Heathcliff prefers his loved one to God and asks Hell to reunite him with his true love, he is not only speaking of his

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humiliated youth, but also the searing experience of a whole lifetime. The same inclination causes Master Eckhart (a Dominican theologian and philosopher), in an access

surprising of heresy, to say that he prefers Hell with Christ rather than Heaven without him. It’s the driving force of love.”

§

Even if it is not as well reasoned as for Bettelheim or Deleuze, it is obvious that he (or she) who is going to commit suicide will think about it beforehand. The person has never even done anything else except to think about it. The Eureka of Archimedes was, above all, the result of a long reflection, not always consciously. It is never

unthinkingly that a peasant, haunted by ruin, will buy a rope – assuming that he does not have one available in some outhouse. But, as in marriage, - this “bureaucratised orgy, monotonous hearse of audacity and invention” as Camus said in The Fall – is not death, after birth and marriage, the third important moment in life? At least that is what was long taught in small classes at a time when one learned… this type of thing; some made it a point of honour to wear new clothes, and use new rope to commit suicide. It is therefore never unthinkingly that this peasant will throw this

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same new rope over the beam in the barn, grumbling no doubt rightly that this rope, too new, has difficulty in looping over the timber and allowing the noose to be tied…

§

“Who does one seek to kill when committing suicide? asks Baldine Saint Girons (The Dictionary of Philosophy), a past of which one is ashamed?, a self diminished by failure?, a life devoid of interest?”

§

“Suicide allows a nebula of explanations” (Primo Levi)

§

Every one of us has a share of responsibility. When will we cease to admire, write the authors of the Elegy of Wellbeing at Work, those who “succeed” and who, to achieve their success, do not hesitate to humiliate, to wound, to rape, sometimes even sending men and women to the clinical slaughterhouse of suicide? All this with the

unconscious orgasm at the sight of stress, even more so by

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malevolence (as in male….!).

§

“The pleasure of creating suffering, wrote Nietzsche, increases the feeling of strength and [power]. […] A desire to destroy, the expression of an instinct even deeper than the desire to destroy oneself: the desire for nothingness.” In the same way, continue the authors of the Elegy of Wellbeing, this fascination denounced by André Green in A Pyschoanalyst Engaged referring to Lacan: make the patient believe that he could become an image of him. A fascination already highlighted in the analysis of the Banquet by Plato and the relationship between Alcibiades and Socrates. Fascination, more generally, “for the artist who is

emotionally unstable, the writer who dies of hunger, the important manager, the politician, a genuine machine for destruction, all exhibiting excessive sexuality… when, as Joyce McDougall will show (The Many Faces of Eros…), the part of them which allows them to create [to work] is, in reality, the uninhibited part of the symptom!”

§

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There is a cause for this gesture that only close friends and relations could qualify as desperate, whereas for he who commits suicide, suicide is both a reaction to a form of despair (the person committing suicide is anything but masochist) and, above all, a gesture of hope: anything so long as it is ended. More precisely, a range of causes. Remember my peasant - it is never therefore only ruin. Conversely, and here is where it may differ, he who commits suicide has more or less thought about it, more or less consciously, more or less often. So suicide is never – at least totally – an impulsive act, an unforeseen act...

§

... it always requires something. He who is going to commit suicide is inevitably, for a moment, balanced on an edge. On one side, the sunny slopes. If he stumbles, he will survive. On the other side, shade. If he slips, he will be lost.

§

“As Oedipus, without realising it, first obeys destiny, his tragedy begins at the moment he is aware of it” (Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus). If Oedipus does not commit

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suicide, if Oedipus does not slip onto the wrong side, it is because “at that instant, blind and despairing, he recognises the only bond that attaches him to the world, the cool hand of a young maiden”. Incidentally, why do you think that one holds hands when one is 20, 40, 60 years old – all one’s life…? It is literally to hold on to someone else. And even if I don’t hold on so firmly… the other person, the person that I need, also needs to hold on to me. For a hand to hold me, or to let me go, or even push me away the day when I in turn am on the windy ridge of life, I will have decided to kill myself.

§

Like Neil, the unfortunate hero in the Dead Poets Society by Nancy Kleinbaum, for whom a memory fleetingly brought back a sparkle to his eyes; as in Dostoyevsky’s The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, a person can change their opinion, abandon the idea of suicide thanks to a small star seen in the sky; as Lawrence Stevens says, you can easily, within the space of a few hours or days, get up one fine morning and declare: “I have decided not to kill myself after all.” You can always choose which side you are on.

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§

For all those who do not have this cool hand to unite them with the world, this memory which will bring them back to the world, “who do not have the chance of being able to discern through the ragged clouds the impenetrable black stains and, within them, a small star; for those, divorced from life, more or less infirm – then, wrote Dostoyevsky, their destiny [is sealed].”

§

“Suicide – the strength of those who no longer have any, the hope of those who no longer believe, the sublime courage of the conquered.” (Maupassant)

§

The internal ravages are visible in some people. The weariness of their life is palpable. “I will end up killing myself…”, “I would prefer death…”, “I want to get it all over with…”, “My birthright has been stolen, I will not allow my right to death to be stolen…” They can reject the

responsibility: “You what me to die or what?”, “If I shoot

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myself, you’ll have it on your conscience”… as François Cluzet said in Claude Chabrol’s Hell. It can be a phrase… a phrase on its own, spoken aloud: “I can understand that someone wants to kill themselves…” It can be a recall (unless indeed it is a call) of what they believe to be a bad omen. It is Anna Karenina (Tolstoy’s hero) who, thinking that her lover Vronski was leaving her, throws herself under a train; Anna Karenina who, at the start of the novel, was witness to an accident… in St. Petersburg station. As too in The Fall by Camus – a fiction also built around suicide. § For others it can be invisible – like the fanatics who believe all is well as Lacan called them, the close relatives of “There are no problems, only solutions” so many of which exist in the world today. “Just before committing the act, most of my friends who died through suicide, wrote Pierre Rey (A season at Lacan’s), showed external signs of stability and desperately insisted that everything was alright.” Like a child following a psychotherapy – he too a fanatic who believes all is well - whom the therapist asks at the start of each session how he is feeling. The child inevitably answers “very well”. A “very well” that means: I beg you please, please be sure to find nothing!” Like this other fanatic who believes all is well, a friend of Pierre Rey (one does wonder whether he attracted such people) - a friend who clearly would commit suicide – “He called me a number of times

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[that is what is important – “a number of times”], thanked me, told me that he was contented and that everything was alright.”

§

The fanatics who believe all is well, candidates destined for suicide, beings for death, as wheat is against the scythe, the scythe against the hammer (one knows the song…) these people only really show as much as they wish to hide!

§

When certain behaviour is too obvious, it may be that it is hiding something completely different. As an (almost frivolous) example, let us imagine Arthur, 40 years old, married for 20 (these 20 years of marriage are important to understand this). So Arthur, 40 and still married for 20 years, goes home but later, much later than usual. To be forgiven – or at least that is what we can suppose as we are obviously not in Arthur’s thoughts – he arrives with a bunch of flowers. He does not keep these flowers for himself but offers them to his wife and in offering them (one always overdoes it) says something to her which is not in fact

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untrue, and says it more than once (I insisted that one always overdoes it!): “I love you, I love you, I love you…” What do you think Celeste understands by this? (Celeste is, of course, his wife’s name). Celeste who has not received any flowers from Arthur for the last 20 years (that’s why the part about the 20 years is important) – since the day which she understandably remembers, when Arthur asked her if she would marry him. Celeste, who now thinks that she would have been more fortunate if she had broken a leg that day, no longer knew if Arthur could decline a simple verb like “to love”. What is Celeste thinking? “Too much is too much!” Arthur must be hiding something. And this something is called Thing, or Creature… whatever. That this “something” is only just 18 years old is unimportant… or matters little. No matter that “it” was met in the computer department where she was working on her third-year apprenticeship (she was no doubt a bit behind in her studies but this was

compensated for elsewhere; at least, and more likely, she does not appear her age…). And finally, the idea that Arthur may be prepared to renounce his family for this young lady and live his crisis at the age of forty is simply a fact of life…

§

Let us leave here “the unbearable levity of the being”,

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dear to Kundera, and return to these people who loudly proclaim that they are happy - but happiness which is exaggerated (in fact very exaggerated) has obviously never made anyone happy. Continuing with what was written by Pierre Rey: “[They] would simply die. Until [they] kill themselves, nobody would have been able to suspect the weight of the past shadow that obliterated their life. [They had] mobilised their strength for a combat lost in advance against an invisible adversary. Their method of dying finally demonstrated this: too late. Death preceded diagnosis. To have one, it was necessary to pay with the other. […] Someone can be covered in women and still feel cold.” Like Marilyn, bursting with happiness in the photos taken a few days before her death – we can be covered with men and here too be very, very, very cold.

§

« I am happy, I am happy, I’m telling you, I forbid you not to think that that I am happy, I am dying with happiness!” (Camus, The Fall)

§

Can one hear these people who will commit suicide if one

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is not a psychologist, if one does not have an analytical ear…? And again, only if these faculties can be exploited. As Lacan said (and we can now also anticipate the prolonged silences): “For a certain time one was able to believe that psychoanalysts knew something but [prolonged silence] this was not very widespread. [Prolonged silence] The height of it all was that they did not believe in it themselves. [Prolonged silence] But they were wrong in this. [Prolonged silence] Because, in fact they knew some of it. [Prolonged silence] Only, [prolonged silence] exactly as for the

unconscious of which this is the true definition, they didn’t know what they knew.”

§

These people who will commit the act, who don’t know what they know…, they can be recognised by their smile… an enigmatic smile. Exactly the same enigmatic smile as the Mona Lisa!

§

The Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile is the Unknown Woman in the Seine, this body recovered from the river, already

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dead. An employee at the morgue, struck by the young woman’s beauty and the happy expression in her smile, made a plaster mould of her face, tearing off the sores before their time, at the very start of the XXth. century.

§

The Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile is the smile on the lips of the automobile worker, an employee who was laid off and who, after visiting the Employment Centre – a Centre that one knows, however has only much ever “Employment a Centre” of it

represents,

offered

crumb

good

conscience for the company, a lot of money for consultants, an infinite suffering for the now ex-employees – leaves the counsellor saying simply “thank you…” This worker who will be found a few days later, lying below a viaduct.

§

There are, like this one, places that are known… known for being places like cemeteries where animals come to die, where one commits suicide! Pierre Delvot, in his “Study of suicide by precipitation off the Loire Atlantic bridge” (one is precise or one is not…) shows that there are iconic bridges,

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easy to access, known by the public and the media as being sites used for suicides. Bridges carrying strong symbols like beauty and strength. They only lack… wisdom!

§

Bridges where all the smiles have disappeared. Bridges like the Pont des Arts (we’ve left the Loire Atlantic) where John-Baptiste Clamence, the hero in Camus’ The Fall, hears an immense gust of laughter: a laugh which returns up the river two or three years after the suicide he witnessed when on the Pont Royal one night in November. “I had gone onto the Pont des Arts […] to look at the river which was barely visible in the night. […] I was about to light a cigarette […] when at that instant, a laugh broke out behind me. […] I went to the railings […] I heard the laugh behind me, a bit further away, as it floated down the river. I remained immobile. The laugh faded but I still distinctly heard it behind me, coming from nowhere but the water. […] Then, soon, I heard nothing more. I returned to the river bank. […] That evening, I called a friend who was not at home. I hesitated about going out when suddenly I heard the laugh beneath my windows. […] I went to the bathroom to drink a glass of water. My reflection smiled in the mirror, but it seemed to me that my smile was double.” (Camus, The

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Fall).

§

Two or three years before, therefore… “I returned to the Left Bank and then home by the Pont Royal. It was one o’clock after midnight. […] On the bridge, I passed behind a shape leaning on the parapet, apparently looking at the river. Closer, I made out the form of a young woman dressed in black. […] I continued on my way. […] I had already gone about another fifty metres when I heard a noise which, despite the distance, seemed incredible in the silence of the night - a body hitting the water.” (Camus, The Fall)

§

Similar to the letter stolen from Edgar Poe that no-one had seen when it was lying there on the desk; the Mona Lisa, if one looks at the background, shows that she was painted on a promontory, leaning against what is perhaps the parapet of a bridge – a parapet that is also called a barrier…

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§ The Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile is Dieter’s smile, saying farewell as he left for Dublin. Dieter whom we found hanged. Three days later!

§

The Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile is this “strange air” of Van Gogh which had struck Gaugin so much at Arles and about which he confided to Emile Schuffenecker, a friend who was also a painter. “Whilst he was sitting in front of a window, recalls Pierre Rey, something had alerted him: he turned round and saw Van Gogh standing in the open doorway looking at him with a bizarre expression, a razor in his hand!” An expression of the unconscious, the laugh of the Mona Lisa - Gaugin confides in Schuffenecker about Van Gogh’s strange air; Schuffenecker whom one knows will one day be suspected of having painted forgeries – forgeries of Van Gogh!

§

The Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile is the smile which hides

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the other’s vacant look. A look, as Pierre Rey says, which shows nothing. Smile… and look into space! A smile which calms and makes one uncomfortable. Uncomfortable

because the candidate for suicide shows what I call “the burdensome friendship”. It “sticks”. Not like the firm friend or the good companion who sticks, but someone whom you feel wants to be your friend when on the contrary you wish – without really saying so or, later, after his suicide – to keep your distance. He even sometimes evokes a form of fear. Pierre Rey gives a precise description of this uncomfortable feeling, about this friend whom he called “the Fat One”. “The pathetic desire to communicate, dinners where he arrived his arms full of bottles and food. Everything about him said “love me” and everything about him generated a sort of distrust which kept him away from the others. [That’s exactly it. As I say, they are the burdensome friendship. You invite him, he speaks only about himself and at the same time says nothing – just empty words!]. In company, Rey continues, he was nobody, clumsy. He created an empty zone of anxiety around him. […] This king behaved like a muzhik. He spread uneasiness.”

§

The laugh of the Mona Lisa when, paradoxically, it must not be misinterpreted; “one can feel that instant in the

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relationship with this other person, Rey writes, when harbouring all the violence of his animal instinct, he wants to kill you.” It is also like the feeling “that your life, your success can be wounded by a ricochet.” The uneasiness in his presence can be such that “it is necessary to space out the meetings.”

§

The Mona Lisa is he, is she (and this is what matters) who will commit suicide!

§

The laugh of the Mona Lisa - the enigmatic smile of the person who will commit suicide is contagious.

§

Like family precedents – this can be used as an example if close relations have committed suicide – there exists a fashion for suicide even if it is difficult to accept… “The supreme drama, write the authors of The Elegy of Well-being at Work, is precisely that - people who thought of suicide

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(or rather who always refused to think about it for a lack of courage, for fear of abandoning their loved ones) then committed suicide, as if drawn to it by previous suicides. As if it could be socially more acceptable – somehow more dignified – to commit suicide for what would be blamed on the evident failure to support working conditions and not other, more secretive reasons which are perhaps also seen as being more cowardly”.

§

At the end of the XVIIIth. century, The Sorrows of Young Werther was widely acclaimed but led to a wave of suicides in Germany.

§ One can find wisdom, strength and beauty in the suicides of others when committing suicide oneself; to follow in the steep trails of “these first suicides who showed a difficult path on which they were the first to tread.”

§

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Cato, Plutarch tells us, twice read Phaedon (which relates the death of Socrates), the same night that he died by his own hand.

§

It is but an immense laugh that breaks through from behind the illusion of the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile! A laugh which seems to tease the crowd, those who now weep for the dead. A laugh that echoes their impotence to help the one who was going kill himself, to have been able to save him after he had gone. “Almost immediately, I heard a cry, repeated several times, which also flowed down the river then abruptly ceased. […] I wanted to run and I didn’t move. […] I have forgotten what I thought then. “Too late, too far…, or something like that.” (Camus, The Fall)

§

How does one restrain a friend who is sliding away from life? Tell him what we are feeling? If necessary, talk about death? Open the door and say: “Are you alright…?” Or, as Montaigne suggested, put forward the stoic theory of “the reasonable exit”, the duty to live in the service of others?

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§

To save them, one must be odious with them. Bellow the four truths at them. To say nothing means disgrace. “Nothing troubles if one speaks about it.” (Dolto)

§

To save them, one needs to know how to take the time. “It’s the time you wasted on your rose that makes your rose so important.” (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

§

The story of The Fall… Jean-Baptiste Clamence, it’s JeanBaptiste crying out in the desert; it’s the Mona Lisa’s laugh that reminds us, those of us who have seen her enigmatic smile, the smile like that of people who have committed suicide - even if we could go back in time, we would always arrive too late, we would always lack the courage to save them. We would never be odious enough with them. We

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would never take the time it needs.

§

The laugh of the Mona Lisa when the death of our loved ones produces ambivalent reactions in us (Freud).

§

The laugh of the Mona Lisa - like Clamence, (he who “clams”!), we could pronounce the words which for years have not failed to resonate during his nights: “Oh maiden, throw yourself into the water again so that I may have a second opportunity to save us, to save us both! […] Suppose […] we take him at his word. Do it! Brr…! The water is so cold! But courage! It is too late now, it will always be too late. Fortunately!”

§

There remains but a trace, a word, a sentence, an act, a condemnation, a request for pardon…, the place, the method used. The laugh of the Mona Lisa, the enigma that remains to be deciphered: why?

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§

The enigmatic smile, “what occasions are more or less suitable to make a man go into this state to kill

himself?” asks Montaigne.

§

“Suicide is a philosophical act” Primo Levi will tell us.

§

“[Besides], there is only one really serious philosophical problem: suicide. To judge whether a life is worth living or not is to answer the fundamental question of philosophy. The rest - whether the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories - comes afterwards. These are games – first, one must answer. And if it is true, as Nietzsche maintains, that a philosopher must preach through example to be appreciated, then one understands the importance of this answer as it will precede the ultimate act.” (Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus).

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§

Of course, and this too is a part of the Mona Lisa’s laugh, there will always be someone who, having read only the An Essay on Suicide, condemns the short cut that they would have liked to have seen, a call to suicide… Of course, there will always be those who will not have read the book. No matter – to quote Lacan: “I do not speak on behalf of idiots” – those whom he calls (as we have seen) the “fanatics who believe all is well”. These “fanatics who believe all is well” who, wrote Pierre Rey, hang themselves laughing because life, as we know, is perfect!

§

The Laugh of the Mona Lisa – I am now speaking of the painting – does not of course come into what Robert Misrahi calls tragic teachings. “One can be wary of tragic teachings. They end by paralysing willpower. If one teaches that humanity has no sense, that death is our main objective (Heidegger), that all is absurd (Cioran), if we are taught all that, it is obvious that young people will become

disenchanted. In favour of what? Of absurdity and violence.”

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§

As there are those who encourage crime, Hegesias of Cyrene – as we can read on the Wikipedia site - maintained that happiness is not possible and that death is preferable to life (except for the wise man to whom both are indifferent). So he advised suicide, which led to his nickname

Peisithanatos (“he who promotes death”).

§

One can be surprised when speaking of death. “But when one enjoys living, wrote Pierre Rey, how can death be ignored when denying it means denying life? Death setting life as the symbol of the frontier, it fixes its price and adds its authority to enjoyment, this piece of intensity clawed from death and from art, the enigmatic part of eternity that is stolen from it.”

§

We must live our lives as if we may have to commit

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suicide in the next five minutes. The probability of suicide must be a wager. Like Pascal’s wager – “God is, or He is not” – is really unimportant but, and this is the real wager, if one believes in God, one lives more fully because one lives more freely. Well, making the wager on suicide being probable during one’s life is making the wager that we could live fully because we could freely exercise this liberty and, better still, because we could enjoy the moment.

§

“If we survive, as Dolto said, it is because there is reason.” “I am sure, continued Pierre Rey, that Dolto was speaking to us of the moment, in the fulfilment of that which surpasses it, love, beauty, enjoyment” and other nothings.

§

The question must not be: “What do I risk if I fail?” but: “What do I risk if I succeed?”

§

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Like Mercier and Camier by Beckett, one must progress if only, as Deleuze says, to verify something, a theory, an idea that one has of where one is going. This may appear to be of little interest, but not progressing means to die. This is the big difference between Mercier and Camier and Waiting for Godot. Beckett shows us in this latter novel that these are the ravages of immobility – here one again encounters the inhibition to act. Estragon and Vladimir are waiting for a Mr. Godot throughout the play. They never stop saying “Let’s go” and they never move. So inevitably an idea takes hold – suicide! To hang themselves with their belts on the only object available, a tree. They are saved, at least

momentarily, because they break their belts when wanting to test how resistant they are. The final phrase, again and always: “Let’s go”!” and they don’t move, as Beckett insists in his stage directions.

§

“If one can enjoy the moment, writes Pierre Rey, one holds the key to the world. One succeeds in putting oneself into a timeless orbit, this point in space that Borges refers to in The Aleph where suddenly present, past and future come together to form but a single amalgam reduced to a strange flickering of light seen in a certain place at a certain time of day at a certain angle from a certain step of a staircase in a

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certain district of a certain town.”

§

But nevertheless…

§

“Sometimes, further and further away, when the night is truly beautiful, I hear a distant laugh. I again wonder. […] On these nights, or rather these mornings because the fall occurs at dawn, I walk along the canals with a resolute step.” (Camus, The Fall)

§

There is no ethic save practising non-desire.

§

You understand why Lacan’s reaction to a suicide, however brutal it may appear, also sheds rays of light: “What would you like him to have done instead?”

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I have spoken!

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