Must I Go? : Invisibility, Suicidality, and the Performance of Mourning in Contemporary Fiction

Must I Go? : Invisibility, Suicidality, and the Performance of Mourning in Contemporary Fiction

Dr Jon VennZoom

The politics of visibility draws out the contours of suicide. We can apprehend how the conceptualization of suicide is fought through the politics of visibility: what can be seen across the body of the suicide, the remains of a life, the tangibility of its intentions in ephemera such as suicidal notes. The fact of the impossibility of ‘representing’ suicidal experience has almost become rote; suicide is forged in a dialectic between the demonstrability of the suicidal act and the invisibility of its impetus. From Amery (1976) to Critchley (2015), the invisibility of suicidal motivation becomes layered alongside suicidal voluntarism. This contrasts to the ‘psychological autopsy’ of Shneidman’s suicidology (1977), whereby new diagnostic technologies combat the ostensible secret of suicidal experience, and render visible suicidal cause.

In cultural representations, suicide quickly becomes something seen or not seen, laid claim to or remained a secret. This paper is interested in how contemporary literature can resist such a dialectic and offer wider understandings of suicidality. Novels such as Yiyun Li’s Where Reasons End and W.G Sebald’s The Emigrants, through concerns of iteration, memory, and the act of writing, are engaged in the performativity of mourning suicide as a reparative act.

University of Birmingham, UK
Fri 14:30 - 16:00
Mental Health
Standard paper