Saturday, July 3, 2021



“There is but one truly philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” Albert Camus The Myth of Sisyphus


            For those who have attempted suicide and failed, those who have lost someone they have loved because of self-killing, and those who keep their suicidal ideation a secret: there is no greater shame than the one who thinks evil of this. - (Honi Soit qui Mal y pense.)





In the epigraphs before the preface to Concetta Principe’s rigorous and brilliantly poetic meditation on suicide, she is careful to set up subtly contrasting sentiments that begin this impressive and thoroughly researched collection of essays, sprinkled heavily with startlingly beautiful segments of poetic prose. This may be a simultaneously difficult and breathtakingly comforting read for anyone who has questioned the complex and horrific death toll that the twentieth century and the first two decades of the twenty first century have amassed. An important read for anyone interested in discovering how one articulate being looks closely at suicide and its myriad implications. 


One particularly haunting segment occurring halfway through the essay entitled Afghanistan Is Not Suicide possesses the signature poetic strains that rise up throughout the collection -



            As per the soldier’s training, he keeps the facade of marble and hides the depression room at all costs. Makes it so that no one sees Afghanistan as a room inside, projected on the night, porous with dreams. I can imagine this but I don’t understand. I was not deployed; I was never interested in pro patria mori; I was not born a fighter coming of age in a post-9/11 world. Honestly, army life is an enigma, but I can see it is full of the promises of belonging, which everyone wants. It also offers a pretty structured system around honour and shame, so that you know what is right and what is wrong, and you know a mistake when you make it. The soldier is told it is Afghanistan that is the cause, but then is treated as if everything he is suffering is his fault. The gaslighting forces the corporal inwards.

            The fact is, even if I can get inside because I know how these rooms are built, I would not know where to start dismantling the room that the Military’s Afghanistan built around him.  




            There is a closed response to suicide, like a room around the soldier’s room. This outer room, a shield perhaps with some bricks slipping, is the room that surrounds the inner room, as if it is a device for quarantine. The slipping of outdated mortar. This room, it has no doors so they can’t get in and she won’t leak out all over the place. But she keeps her window with which to hear the world. She’s not totally inhuman. And humanity comes in, distorted, through these layers of judgment, thick and sturdy. She doesn’t even know the mortar is crumbling. Even if the outside started tearing down what’s coming apart, they won’t get in. There is nothing she can tell him.  [pp 33-34]



Principe dares to move in and out of notions clearly related to suicide, and instances where suicide becomes an indirect yet pivotal global spectre, looming over many cultures in a world hell bent upon destroying itself and its inhabitants via complex socially conceived structures - ranging from war, to commodification, motherhood, anorexia, Sylvia Plath, and “THE BLOOR LINE.” 


In the essay entitled CASE STUDY: KATE SPADE a designer silk scarf becomes a vaguely comforting yet frightening signifier within a brief yet harrowing encounter with the news of a celebrity designers suicide by hanging. Including herself in this essay, and elsewhere throughout the collection, the author reveals a simultaneous fear/fearlessness regarding confronting the ghost of suicide that plays a part in so many lives.


The sheer range of topic and emotion packed into 159 pages may be compared to that cliched roller coaster ride of sentiment we so often feel when someone close to us makes the decision to take their own life. Sentiments including anger, shame, grief, and regret. Principe moves deftly through and beyond the sorrow of the individual, honouring all of the grief and complexities of dealing with the loss of a loved one to self-killing. She provides her reader with a heart-wrenching yet vastly engaging mediation on one of life’s most dire mythologies, or as Camus says in the epigraph - the “one truly philosophical problem.” A difficult read for some perhaps, but a must read for anyone interested in attempting to understand how suicide is a deeply complicated mechanism built into living. 


She closes with a beautiful and lightly hopeful paragraph, relating to parts of her own subject position as woman and mother, indirectly citing the collections title in her final words -




… At school he learns to count to one hundred, then he is bringing home stars for excellence in math, for his spelling.

            Slowly the grinding in me fades and I start to hear things. A cardinal, twittering and trilling. The whining of my sweet feral cat to be let out. The cackle of squirrels. My love, back from school, running in the door. [p159]



‘Cackle, twitter, trill, whining, sweetness, feral…My love…running in the door.’ 




            A cacophony of life’s joy and heartbreak, as it begins and ends, as it counts each star. 

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