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September 6, 2013 2:10 PM   Subscribe

Disch died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on July 4, 2008, and, if one so desires, Endzone can be read as a suicide letter. But then, so could his entire body of work; the reduction of any writer's output, whether it be that of Sarah Kane, David Foster Wallace or Hunter S. Thompson, to an explanation of his or her suicide divests it of intention and frisson. It reduces the novelist to a patient of post-mortem psychotherapy. Clute, reversing this impulse, wrote that Disch took his own life "to demonstrate that he really had meant what he had been saying over [his] career." -- Brendan Byrne reviews the last work Thomas M. Disch completed before his suicide: his Livejournal.
posted by MartinWisse (13 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

warning - potential trigger (should accompany the article, as well)

Good grief, "endzone" is downright depressing. It's disturbing and sad to think what social isolation, pain, and poverty will do to a mind - to the whole person. For most people who end this way, it's a slow road of perceived (and real) tortures that lead to to a self-end that they perceived as relief - and, I guess it is a relief, to them, in their own way, and for their own reasons.

What's even MORE disturbing, and heartbreaking is that suicide is almost never the optimal answer, because the victims (yes, victims) of most suicides are blinded by the cognitive distortions that point them to suicide, in the first place. Maybe Disch might have found another way to deal with his frailties and various illnesses. I don't know, but it makes me wonder. There is no judging his act, but it does generate wonder, and questions, and a bleak kind of sadness.

I guess (because I don't know, form personal experience, and I hope I never do) there are self-inflicted ends that do make sense for some - like ending a terminal illness in a way to put off suffering, but I see that as a different thing than the subject of Byrne's essay. I suppose one might consider Disch as having a conglomeration of illnesses that added up to a death sentence, so maybe he falls into the category of "ending a terminal illness". I don't know.

The whole thing - i.e. "life" can be so awful and wonderful (even at the same time) really, without answers. Just some random thoughts here. The double whammy is that we just don't know what comes "after", if indeed, there is any "after" at all. Quite the little box of enigma that we find ourselves in, isn't it?
posted by Vibrissae at 2:36 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

What's even MORE disturbing, and heartbreaking is that suicide is almost never the optimal answer, because the victims (yes, victims) of most suicides are blinded by the cognitive distortions that point them to suicide, in the first place. Maybe Disch might have found another way to deal with his frailties and various illnesses.

That might come across (I'm sure inadvertently) as blaming Disch for not bootstrapping his way out of what he saw as an intolerable situation.

Our current horror of suicide is a cultural position and frequently in history there have been peoples that embraced it and respected the autonomy of individuals to make their own decisions about their death. I think that is a more wholesome attitude than fetishizing life when in reality for many people it's a grinding hopeless waste with no prospect of improvement. I personally don't think it's helpful to pretend that there are always alternatives to moving out of the smoking hut.
posted by winna at 3:30 PM on September 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

I personally don't think it's helpful to pretend that there are always alternatives to moving out of the smoking hut.

Who is blaming Disch? That's your reading.

It's also not helpful (in fact, dangerous, for some) to accede to interpretations of sufferings in life as a "smoking hut"; or, to romanticize how self-destruction is a viable escape from suffering *without benefit* of interventions that might make that life a wonderfully fulfilling and rewarding thing.

Again, it's too darned bad (tragic, really) that so many people don't have or aren't able to gain access to alternative solutions to deep depressions - no matter their cause. Some people don't want that, no matter what. Some people are very clear about ending it all, and are not depressed.

The horror of depression is that one's own depression often precludes the hope of ever escaping one's "smoking hut", and thus blinds one from seeking alternatives. Thus, the tragedy - i.e. that suicidal depression is most often not a romantic act of ending one's pain, but an escape from a condition that might otherwise have been ameliorated, or helped altogether. For most, it's an ending that could have been prevented - and, not only prevented, but having new, hopeful, and often strikingly new perceptions put to their suffering.

Last, I made a strong point about NOT judging anyone who suicides. I'm not religious, but the only way I can say what I mean is to quote, thus: "there but for the grace of god, go I".

Very last: we're not "other cultures" - we don't leave people on mountains, supported by tradition, to die. We're supposed to be better than that; more enlightened than that.
posted by Vibrissae at 3:49 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

As someone who loves a person who sometimes has suicidal thoughts, i find the romanticizing of suicide profoundly gut churning.

I recommend reading The Noonday Demon and Against Depression to put an end to this nonsense.

Celebrating the bravery & autonomy of someone who kills themself when a disease is rotting holes in their hypothalamus & affecting their ability to make decisions is wretched. So is crediting their creativity to the disease that killes them.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 4:02 PM on September 6, 2013 [7 favorites]

Disch was such a great writer---Camp Concentration is one of my favorite sci-fi novellas (maybe it's more a short novel? Anyway, it's great). Also a terrific albeit curmudgeonly teacher, though his illness sometimes made it impossible.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 4:14 PM on September 6, 2013

I don't know. If you don't have family or close friends and are mentally or physically ill, are having trouble earning an income, and look into the future at 4am and there's nothing there but more of the same and then death - it's called staring into the abyss. Sometimes there is no help, no pill to take for depression. I didn't see anyone celebrating him for his bravery, but maybe I missed it. He had the right to do what he did and I don't think there was anyone to be hurt by his action.
Just want to mention: he wrote a great novel with Charles Naylor called Neighboring Lives about Jane Carlyle, the wife of Thomas Carlyle.
posted by AnnElk at 5:00 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

We may not be a culture that "leave[s] people on mountains, supported by tradition, to die," but the epidemiologist in me is well aware of "our" many, many other traditions of staying mum on peoples' preferred methods of moving closer to death. That many of these locally-preferred methods are not as acute as a gunshot or bolus dose of pentobarbital doesn't make them any less associated with rushing that inevitable endpoint that we all share.

To add to this, I'd say that there are some very good arguments in favor of those cultures that do avoid or reduce the taboo associated with those more acute forms of suicide. I recognize the need to ensure that the decision is not made in duress, but that's not to say that the "burning hut" isn't a good reason to make that decision.

Years ago, I was housemate to the person who pseudonymously wrote this book, and the revulsion it stirred up in public has only been matched by the demand for it. The book's grace was in pointing out that a relatively small proportion of attempts is successful, and some of those successful attempts--it is surmised--included people who did not truthfully wish to meet that end; for those who wish to find success, it can be done wisely. Disc seems to have been a person who likely fell into that latter category, and may not have cast himself as a victim.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 5:06 PM on September 6, 2013

I've lost two friends to suicide and have another that I am afraid for. I hate it, but at the same time, I saw their pain up close and would never presume that I know how much more they could've taken, or should've taken, in trying to be well and keep living. I've come closer to the abyss in my own life than I ever expected.

It is horrible to feel so helpless, to know that a society with better mental health care and social supports might have prevented my friends' deaths, and to also know that the friend I worry about now will not be receiving anything like that care anytime soon and so is alive only as long as he is determined to be so. (Thankfully, he's a stubborn bastard).

All we can do is keep pushing for that better world we need without knowing who will be saved or when.
posted by emjaybee at 5:20 PM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think I'd read Patrick Nielsen Hayden's obit at the time of his death, but had never looked at the LJ myself, until now. PNH pretty well nailed it: some really good poetry, occasionally interspersed with some incredibly petty political and personal sniping.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:24 PM on September 6, 2013

I think I'd read Patrick Nielsen Hayden's obit at the time of his death

Intrigued, I clicked on that and upon reading the comment by Carol Maltby, wherein she wrote:
I guess I'm one of the few who hung on to the Bantam On Wings of Song. I don't recall bonding with the book for the most part, but I see I still have pp. 275-79 bookmarked, the Honeybunny story told to Incubus the dying dog.

On rereading that part just now I see my reaction is the same as it was a quarter century ago -- that this superficially silly confection of an interlude was somehow some of the fiercest, bravest, take-no-prisoners writing I'd ever encountered.
I much the same reaction to the book, and, so, even more intrigued, I googled Honeybunny Incubus Dog and was led here. For what it is worth.

Now, I must run down a copy of that book. I realized, after reading her comment, that I had forgotten so much of it. Parts have stayed with me but still...

But then it was such a heartbreakingly beautiful book and it can be hard to linger as much on the heartbreaking parts.

Other things stay with one. How could Everyday Life in the Later Roman Empire ever be forgotten ?
posted by y2karl at 12:19 AM on September 7, 2013

(Won't interject here except to say I'm glad you all responded to the piece and it's a pleasure to be linked to on the blue.)
posted by Football Bat at 1:49 AM on September 7, 2013

[this is good]
posted by Freen at 12:19 PM on September 7, 2013

Carol Maltby's, I guess I'm one of the few who hung on to the Bantam On Wings of Song, was written in response to Neil Patrick Hayden's aside [b]ut “least read” may be true: according to publishing legend, his SF masterpiece On Wings of Song had a 90% return rate in its 1980 Bantam paperback edition, in his obituary.

Perhaps due to that legendary return rate, I found a copy at Twice Sold Tales yesterday afternoon. I am just starting Part Three. It is just as good as I remember. And just as heartbreaking. As poor as my memory has become, I do remember it gets even more heart breaking page by page. And I am at only page 199...
posted by y2karl at 12:17 PM on September 8, 2013

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