Wholly Otherwise

I’m not sure why I keep writing about suicide in the artistic community, either directly or indirectly. On the one hand it’s the least intelligible thing in the world—how could anyone who’s able to perceive beauty, or emotion, or some semblance of meaning in this ever-growing pile of detritus around us not be so incapable of finding something to hold onto, something worth it, even a little bit? But on the other hand it’s also the most intelligible thing in the world; those who give their lives to make meaning themselves become meaningful, and open to interpretation in every act. They, more than most of us, have it make sense even when it never is. To me, there’s something unspeakably, unutterably terrifying about the overrepresentation of suicide amongst artists, seeming to cry out with booming resonance for some kind of response, anything at all, some way to not only interpret but also to change, if not to stop it (if only there were some way) then at least to understand it: not as morbid curiosity but as true camaraderie. So that these people, who give to us—we whom they never knew—so much of themselves, without expectation of return, even in death, can be a little less alone. Because that’s what we all want, isn’t it? To be a little less alone? That’s what gives art its poignancy.[1] It can offer us fleeting access to other minds without crippling them, or the ability to imagine new worlds without just yet banishing our own. Thus,

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?[2]

[1] And science hasn’t gotten to it yet, if it ever will.

[2]Robin Williams as John Keating, Dead Poets Society, directed by Peter Weir (Los Angeles: Touchstone, 1989).


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