by Φ

Excerpts from Suicide by Édouard Levé

“Being forgotten spares me the trouble of having to shine.”

Having died young, you will never be old.

You collected phrases spoken on the street by passersby. One of your favorites was: “A canine is just fine, but I do adore a dinosaur.”

You claimed to be smaller in the evening than in the morning because your weight had compressed your vertebrae. You said that the night returned what the day had taken.

You used to give yourself over to endless sessions of doubt. You would claim to be an expert on the subject. I saw you one day at the end of an afternoon of solitary speculation. Running several kilometers in a deep forest full of ravines & pitfalls would have exhausted you less.

You father exerted his violence on others. Your mother was sympathetic to the suffering of others. One day you directed the violence you had inherited toward yourself. You dished it out like your father and you took it like your mother.

You used to read dictionaries like other people read novels. Each entry is a character, you’d say, who might be encountered on some other page. Plots, many of them, would form during any random reading. The story changes according to the order in which the entries are read. A dictionary resembles the world more than a novel does, because the world is not a coherent sequence of actions but a constellation of things perceived. It is looked at, unrelated things congregate, and geographic proximity gives them meaning. If events follow each other, they are believed to be a story. But in a dictionary, time doesn’t exist: ABC is neither more nor less chronological than BCA. To portray your life in order would be absurd: I remember you at random. My brain resurrects you through stochastic details, like picking marbles out of a bag.

Not one to believe stories, you would pay them only a floating sort of attention, looking for the hitch. Your body was there, but your mind would depart, then reappear, like an auditory form of blinking. You would reconstitute accounts in an order different from that which they’d been given. You would perceive duration like others would look at an object in three dimensions, moving yourself around it so as to be able to represent it in all its aspects at once. You looked for the most immediate impression of other people, the photograph that would, in a second, capture the unfolding of their years. You reconstituted their lives through a panoramic lens. You brought together distant events by compressing time so that each instant stood side by side with others. You translated duration into space. You looked for the aleph of the other.

You directed toward yourself a violence that you did not feel toward others. For them you reserved all your patience & tolerance.

You used to tick the wrong boxes on administrative forms to fabricate a new identity for yourself under your own name. Sometimes you would tick “Yes” for “I am on maternity leave,” write “3” for “Number of children,” and write “Australian” for “Nationality.”

The phrase “A long, black song” resurfaced in your consciousness unexpectedly. Where had you heard it? No memory came back to you: the effacement of its origins accentuated its ghostly character.

You marveled at the story of the Parisian entrepreneur whose obsessive hobby consisted in documenting his daily existence. He saved letters, invitation cards, train tickets, bus tickets, metro tickets, tickets for trips by planes or by boat, his contracts, hotel stationary, restaurant menus, tourist guides from countries visited, programs from plays, day planners, notebooks, photographs . . . A room in his house, lined with file cabinets, served as the receptacle for his archives, always being expanded. At the center, organized in spiral, a chronologically oriented plan indicated Paris, France, or abroad, continents, seas, months, days in different colors. With a glance, the man could visualize his entire existence. He had made a collection of himself.

You undertook the project of designing your own tomb. You didn’t want to leave the delicate choice of your most enduring residence to others. It would be made from shiny, flat, and unadorned black marble. In front of it, a stele would indicate your name, your birth date, but also that of your death, at eighty-five years old. It would not be a family tomb: you would occupy it alone. The dates would be engraved during your lifetime.
You imagined the reactions of those walking through the cemetery, seeing a date of death in anticipation, located several decades in the future. Many scenarios would follow.
Before your death, its date, set in advance, would turn your grave into a joke, or else a troubling prediction. If you died before the planned date, you could be buried, and the indicated date could be replaces with that of your actual death—which, in giving the lie to the original inscription, would trivialize your grave. But, you could also be buried without changing the inscription. Visitors, believing it to be a joke, would laugh in front of a tomb which nonetheless would contain a corpse. The stele would carry this joke up to what would be your eighty-fifth year. After this date, those who walked by would no longer have any idea of your eccentricity: who would imagine that the inscription was false, and that the man in the tomb had not died on the date indicated?
Or you would die in the forecasted year, at the age of eight-five. Either naturally, which would be extraordinary, since your death would be fulfilling your prediction, or by your committing suicide, if you intended to keep the promise carved in marble. You could then be buried without the inscription on the stele being altered in the least.
If you lived past eighty-five, passersby reading the dates would believe you to be dead, even though you would still be alive. And the day would come when you did die. If the stele was left unaltered, you would be buried in a grave whose inscription made you younger. Unless you decided in the end that the inscription should indeed be updated to match the date of your death. Or you left posthumous instructions for someone to perpetually push the inscribed date of your death further back, so that it would always be forecast, but never achieved.
Your suicide put an end to these complex hypotheses, but your wife, who knew of your project, had your tomb built according to the drawings that you left. She had the dates of your real birth and your death engraved on the black stele. Twenty-five years separate them, not eighty-five: it didn’t occur to anyone but you to joke about your death.

[Energetic on antidepressants] Bedazzlement transformed the street into a white monochrome through which you walked more slowly in order to appreciate its beauty. Colors returned gently, as in a cinematic special effect. This is what gave you the idea to walk in slow motion, to try out another special effect on your body. You took half an hour to reach your house; you crossed the garden like a tortoise. Your wife appeared on the doorstep and began to laugh. You let out an uncontrolled, crazy laugh, which stopped suddenly, which baffled your wife.

In order to measure the effects of depriving yourself, you refrained from exercising for a month. No tennis, no horseback riding, no boating, no swimming, no running, no walking. You became electric. Like an overcharged battery, you risked melting or exploding. Your gestures became faster. You felt clumsy manipulating everyday objects, as though you were handling a complex machine for the first time. Long forgotten nervous tics from childhood reappeared. You extended your arms for no reason then times in a row, making your elbow joints crack. You stretched out your shoulders, forcing the joints to their limits. You breathed in and out exaggeratedly for five minutes. When you were on your feet, you would stand on tip-toes; you contorted your ankles when speaking to a friend who detained you for too long. If your room you felt the urge to box or kick the air. You body was trying to cheat by expending its energy despite the immobility you were inflicting on it.

You preferred the first dream [compared to the nightmare], but the pleasure you felt having the one and the unease with which you dived into the other did nothing to alter the charm of recalling them. Dream or nightmare, what did it matter, if you could experience the confusion of reliving, while awake, the memory of things lived in sleep. 

You dreaded two-person boredom, the face-to-face. You attributed no virtue whatsoever to moments of waiting, moments without anything perceptible at stake. You believed that only action and thought, which seemed absent here, carry life. You underestimated the value of passivity, which is not the art of pleasing but the placing oneself. Being the in right place at the right time requires accepting long moments of boredom, passed in grey spaces. Your impatience deprived you of the art of succeeding by being bored.

“A self excused is a self accused.”
“A self accused is a self excused.”

You need, in order to speak comfortably, to be as close as possible to your listeners when in dialog, or as far as possible from them when making a speech. In between, you felt misunderstood.

You were in the habit of hesitating when buying clothing. You wardrobe was already well stocked, and since it only contained plain clothes, it would never go out of fashion. To buy new clothing would only have been necessary if the old were worn out. It wasn’t money that guided your choices, but your mania for collecting nearly identical outfits. You used to choose, in stores, an improved version of what you already owned, in order to constitute the perfect assortment, the universal uniform freeing you of the daily duty of choosing how to dress yourself.

You did not have any children. Your wife had asked you if you wanted any. You didn’t feel ready yet, and didn’t know if you ever would be. To procreate was such an important and mysterious act that you did not believe yourself capable of doing it wisely.

Your desire to die was less strong at night than during the day and less strong in the morning than in the afternoon.

Your suicide was the most important thing you ever said, but you’ll never be able to enjoy the fruits of this labor.

Explain your suicide? No one risked it.

Your suicide was not preceded by failed attempts.

You succeeded in the few things you undertook.

In art, to reduce is to perfect.

Life is proposed to me
My name is passed on to me
My body is imposed on me

Prudence agitates me
Violence provokes me
Vengeance disappoints me

Thirst bothers me
Hunger enlivens me
Eating puts me to sleep

Obstacles raise me
Defeat hardens me
Success mollifies me

Cleaning bores me
Tidying calms me
Discarding delivers me

The new attracts me
The old anchors me
Change animates me

Work fulfills me
Hobbies instruct me
Holidays sedate me

To know makes me grow
Not to know impairs me
To forget frees me

To deny tempts me
To affirm excites me
To suggest is enough for me

Humming rocks me
Intoning suspends me
Singing unfolds me

Goodness impresses me
Stupidity amuses me
Malice disgusts me

The millennium enfolds me
The century situates me
The decade decorates me

The hour rules me
The minute hurries me
Seconds escape me

Rhythm leads me
Melody charms me
Harmony troubles me

My brain conceives
My eye guides
My body makes

“There is something sad in seeing yourself in someone who chose to leave.”
~ Anonymous Party