Monday, September 29, 2008

David Foster Wallace on Suicide

A reader came across my latest article, "Thoughts on Suicide" which focused on the recent suicide of author David Foster Wallace, who wrote extensively about John McCain. This reader enclosed a passage on suicide from Wallace's Infinite Jest:

The so-called "psychotically depressed" person who tries to kill herself doesn't do so out of "hopelessness" or any abstract conviction that life's assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from a window of a burning high rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling down from a great height is still as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire's flames; when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It's not desiring the fall; it's terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling, "Don't" and "Hang on!", can understand the jump. Not really. You'd have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

Now Wallace ended his life by hanging rather than jumping. I don't want to be glib in thinking this but if Wallace felt the flames whatever they might have been he must have thought no one could help him put them out.

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