Robert Musil wrote that Kafka’s writing displayed the gentle friendliness of a suicide in the hours between decision and deed. I have previously corrected this lovely sentiment, as it is a false romanticizing (a redundancy, since all romanticism is false) of the suicidal man. Kafka’s gentleness derives not from a decision to die, but rather from a decision not to die, or not to die yet, which is in a sense an overcoming of death, as opposed to a will to die.
A suicide in the normal and proper sense, which Kafka was not, is no friend to mankind, let alone a gentle one. He is an enemy of all, and particularly of those who care about him and his fate the most.
For a truer picture of the suicide as such — that is, of the one who is going to follow through with it in practice — we may turn to Jorge Luis Borges. Here is his short poem, “The Suicide,” in the original Spanish and then in my (admittedly inadequate) English translation:
No quedará en la noche una estrella.
No quedará la noche.
Moriré y conmigo la suma
del intolerable universo.
Borraré las pirámides, las medallas,
los continentes y las caras.
Borraré la acumulación del pasado.
Haré polvo la historia, polvo el polvo.
Estoy mirando el último poniente.
Oigo el último pájaro.
Lego la nada a nadie.
There will be no star in the night.
There will be no night.
I will die and with me the sum
of the intolerable universe.
I will erase the pyramids, the medals,
the continents and the faces.
I will erase the accumulation of the past.
I will make dust of history, dust of the dust.
I am seeing the final sunset.
I am hearing the final bird.
I bequeath the nothingness to no one.
Suicide is total erasure. Dante places the suicides in the same level of Hell as the murderers; but pointedly, correctly, he locates them in the ring just below the murderers. For Dante understood, as Borges seems to have understood, that the murderer is in fact merely a failed suicide. The murderer seeks to end the world, but lacks the aim and the honesty to pursue this absolute destruction legitimately, namely by ending not merely another man’s awareness of the universe, but his own awareness, which is to say awareness as such.
By “bequeathing the nothingness to no one,” the suicide takes his final revenge on a world he lacks the courage to face and overcome. His is a twisted, trivial revenge, of course, because it is a solipsistic revenge: “If my consciousness ends, everything ends, which means everyone ends.” Hence, although it is rarely recognized as such, and never in this age which universally favors the romantic mock-tragedy of ego-gratifying self-pity, suicide should properly be understood as a misanthropic act, a hateful assault on everyone without differentiation.
And that is the key: To punish everyone equally is simultaneously to punish the guilty justly and the innocent unjustly. To eliminate the world in sum is thus, in principle and intention, an act of callous disregard for those innocents whom one has no grounds, let alone any right, to eliminate from existence.
Today, as Korean and international idol-worshippers “mourn” (i.e., revel in) the suicide of yet another insignificant pop star — mourn for a woman who intended to destroy their world, and their lives, to bequeath to them the nothingness that was her own lifeless soul — I think of these words from Borges’ poem: “I am hearing the final bird.”
Who was this empty product of personal and corporate greed to take the birds away from thousands of weak-souled young people who counted on her and her ilk to keep the birds in their skies? Each of these fame-mongering suicides is rationalizing and even promoting self-destructive thoughts and behavior in the hearts of his or her weak young admirers. Didn’t this woman care about those admirers, and their weakness? No, she didn’t. On the contrary, she was trying to destroy them in her way, by erasing the world in which they would live. She hoped to eliminate them from existence in order to “bequeath the nothingness to no one.”
She alone will inherit the nothingness.