Notes towards a suicide letter
On December 25, 1956, Robert Walser died from a heart attack during a walk near the asylum where he had spent the last 23 years of his life. Cezanne is said to have died (1906) in similar fashion, during a walk, but no pictures had been taken, a painter’s ironic affront to photography perhaps. There are various angles from which a handful of pictures of Walser’s death were taken, each version collated into an incident. On December 2, 2010, a girl took a picture of herself as Walser, only the exclamation mark formed by her arm and hat were too close to each other. Things tend to roll farther when they are dropped rather than placed. Walser abruptly gave up writing in 1933, checking himself into a mental asylum, where he remained for the rest of his life. As an extension of his genius, “I am not here to write,” he said, “but to be mad.” Duchamp similarly disowned visual art — degrading it as “retinal,” a glimmer for the mere receiving lens of the eye — to move towards math and chess. These of course, are not suicides, no more than Suicide (2008), which may be read as author Edouard Levé’s (who killed himself in 2007) glorified suicide letter. He was also a painter and photographer, burning all his canvases in his early career to make mental room for photography, a photographer’s non-ironic affront to painting. Here’s the deal though: they are both rectangular windows of conceit, fake life in a box. The second-person “you” in Suicide eerily takes on the semblance of instruction, and you find yourself slowly disappearing with each page, as if the toner was running out of ink.
It wasn’t long until Chatroulette started in 2009 that people — specifically one, who had quite an aesthetic handle on the matter — began faking suicide(s) to garner shocked responses, invariably collected into youtube “response compilations” in which the content in itself is people reacting to other “original” youtube clips (often transgressive, most infamously, “2 Girls 1 Cup,” a scat-fetish film in which two women defecate into said cup, consume said defecation, and vomit into each other’s mouths). The authenticity of suicide “set ups” relies on the prosaic background — an unmade bed, some clothes on the floor, a skewed camera — for really, a suicide is not only just another day, but a day of someone who probably wasn’t too concerned about laundry that day. We will not believe the body is actually hung, for Plato’s allegory of the cave is often wishful thinking. Tyler the Creator’s “Yonkers” (2011) video is one rather captivating take which ends, though somewhat disappointingly, with our young artist hanging himself. The entire video is hyperbole — mocking our expectations of music videos and marketed tortured artists in general. He eats an African (haha) cockroach and barfs. He writhes more than needed, as if dancing without a floor, a marionette of the machine, no matter how many times he says no strings attached.
Stanley Kubrick, having mastered blood’s cinematic and biblical capacity (i.e. elevator scene) in The Shining (1980), knew to put our unhappy protagonist “Gomer Pyle” (real name Leonard Lawrence, realer name Vincent D’Onofrio, presently of Law & Order fame) in a pristine bathroom aligned with white tiles to best visually juxtapose the inevitable dark red speckle and splatter of his brain and cranium. Hollywood will use corn starch for both blood and semen to thicken them up, cracked celery stalks for the sound-effect of breaking bones. Fearing real life, our greatest enterprise is mimesis. In 1961, Hemingway (1899-1961), of course, wasn’t too concerned about mere film. That he was shot, photographically, in a similar bathroom holding the very shotgun which he was to end his life with, may REDRUM finger-point to Full Metal Jacket‘s (1987) infamous prelude’s end. Notice, in the film’s still, the light diagonally slanting downwards as a Vermeer, the incessant sundial created by windows and rooms. Time watches us, where we just watch watches.
If a suicide letter has never been written for you, then you aren’t living life enough. I found mine inside a puffy winter coat pocket, spotted with either tears or rain, or both. Black ink will bleed purple, turning a vowel here and there into tiny watercolors of lilacs. Because I’m cheesey, and perhaps in need of “material,” I go back to the site of the attempt every anniversary to re-read the letter with a bottle of whisky. I watch the trains go by, sitting there on the gravel, feeling the low violent rumble under my ass cheeks. I asked her “but won’t the trains stop?” to which she replied that if you place your head on the tracks close enough to them, they can’t. I think of all the people going home from work those days, and how their memories might have been altered forever by a footnote, a headnote. The person you choose in your life will either be a disease or an antidote, a cancer of bad spreading memories, or its radiation. I’m either going to laminate or burn it one day, but for now, it sits in a drawer designated for orphaned socks and soon-expiring condoms. She’s okay now, really.
Our version of Cobain’s suicide has been protected from explicitness, just the left side of his body without his face (had he even had one or not at that point) calmly resting on the floor. I didn’t know what nirvana was until it was also a band’s name. When rock and roll makes a kid pick up a dictionary, the world changes forever. I remember watching MTV news with Kurt Loder, with his gen-x vaguely longish hair, telling me that Kurt Cobain was dead. For a boy who never went to church, there was something hymnal in Cobain’s grating hollow scream, the pitchy squeals at the end, however affected they might have been. I spent that month’s allowance on Nevermind the next day, and still listen to it now. If punk can be only heard by punks, I’m glad punk is dead. When something can be loved by the unlovable, a lanky 15-year-old self-hater in the burbs, its capacity eclipses its genius. Humanity, however badly dressed, ought to be the patron. The minute art dares to call itself that, it is dead. A museum just might be a scentless funeral home.
Painting’s problem has always been foreshortening, that uncooperative horizon coming at you. It’s always easier to have things recede in pictorial space, Cezanne’s peach behind a pear, tucked safely in the distance as fruits forgotten in my own fridge. The foreshortened figure of Christ in “The Mourning over the Dead Christ,” (Andrea Mantegna, c. 1475) inadvertently perfectly illustrates this problem. His feet are simply too close, yet simultaneously not close enough. We, the viewer, do not know where we stand. To complete the Supposed Body with fragments of culture may be delusional, but the aggregate of God, in one’s mind, ought to be complimented with a finished rectangle, that compulsion of painting. If symmetry is divine, then we ruined things with a wound to one side. I doubt Thomas would disagree.
I met someone who described going away towards a horizon within 48 hours of meeting her. “That will make me run for the hills,” she said, politely, as a caveat towards my premature romantic proclamations and/or sexual solicitations. I imagined that Wyeth painting of that girl sitting in a field looking up at a horizon spotted with a house in the distance. A little research shows me that the girl was one Christina Oslon, whose polio paralyzed the lower half of her body. I — maybe because I’m gross, or just a [hu]man — immediately thought of her clitoris, and if that part of the world even existed, and more so, if such a thing really even mattered, existentially I guess. If a blind person has better hearing, maybe a sexless person has better feelings. Wyeth said he saw Oslon from a window within the implicated house once, as a girl, crawling across a field. That he painted it when Olson was 55-years-old establishes how long he thought about the painting before he painted it. I thought about her running for the hills, of vanishing points, and the triangles which form them. I thought about drawn lines in pencil as imperfect brittle rail road tracks coaxing some feeling straight through my sternum, where everyone’s last stop is. If life is not only meaningless, but more so dressed with misery, then why not simply save everyone involved the hassle and just end it? Nirvana, after all, is freedom from suffering. Yes, suicide would be rational — but we are not rational beings. We can barely render God dead towards us. The big bang is a wordless elegy for what was to happen. My heart can be described as a black hole trying to bend time into a full circle where you come around one day. Your back might be described by the terrain of moles whose celestial wonder marks the passing of months, of years, of empty time. If you bring a serrated knife to your wrist and move it back and forth a couple of times, its bounty will be bloodless. That is not a threat, just a little scratch.