Which side was this private suicide

Heinrich von Kleist, Georg Trakl, Paul Celan, Jack London - all suicides

Many writers have dealt with the subject of suicide. Max Frisch wrote in his Berlin journal in March 1973: He no longer thinks of suicide, which does not mean that it is not possible in affect. And many writers have killed themselves. Heinrich von Kleist, Georg Trakl, Cesare Pavese, Paul Celan, Walter Hasenclever, Jack London, Wladimir Majakowski or Egon Friedell, who jumped from the third floor in a panic in front of SA men at his apartment door, but before the pedestrians with one Step aside! warned. Stefan Zweig was able to save himself from the Nazis, but was homeless in South America. Shortly before the joint suicide with his wife, he wrote a Declaração: I greet all my friends! May they still see the dawn after the long night! I, too impatient, go ahead of them.

The young Hermann Hesse, the little world hater, was on the verge of killing himself. He had bought a revolver and was writing to his mother saying that he had just decided not to shoot yet. Later on, Hesse will write his student novel “Under the Wheel”. His sad hero Hans Griebenrath chooses a tree in the forest, checks a branch to see whether it will hold, but in the end he goes into the water and drifts cool and calm and slow in the dark river down the valley.

Like Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet. And then one of the two grave diggers says that if a person goes into the water, he is a suicide. But when the water comes to him and drowns him, he does not drown himself. So, like so many suicides, Ophelia was dragged into death. Paul Celan also went into the water. He got into the Seine unnoticed and drowned. That's what Virginia Woolf did when she feared she was going insane.

René Magritte's mother did the same. His early pictures only become interesting because of their suicide. Régina Magritte was drawn to death. One night she was gone. But it wasn't until 17 days later that her body was found in the water. René was twelve years old at the time. And of course he heard the nightgown wrapped around his mother's head. Since 1925 there have been pictures by the great surrealist that are reminiscent of the drama: there women lie under fish in the water, others are veiled, and there are lovers who kiss through shawls.

Suicides are often like drama on stage. They are reminiscent of Lady Macbeth, Othello, Strindberg's “Miss Julie” or Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman”. When Sylvia Plath writes in "Lady Lazarus": Dying is an art like everything. / I can do it especially beautifully, then it sounds as if the lyric poet is standing in front of an audience in the role of the tragedy who will kill each other at the end of the drama, spreading all her skills.

"The limit has been reached. Not a step further! Where is the gas tap?"

In the novel "The Humiliation" by Philip Roth, Simon Axler was once a stage star. When he was sixty, he failed with Macbeth and Prospero, wanted to kill himself, but then seemed to overcome the process of self-dissolution by conquering a lesbian woman. But it leaves him again. And now comes the great conclusion: the humiliated man wants to make what was once depicted on the stage become reality. With the role that made him famous on Broadway, Chekhov's character Gavrilovich. He shoots himself believing that he has failed. And that's how Traxler ends his life. Just like back then shortly before the final applause on the stage. But now with a real bullet in the revolver. Next to his body is a slip of paper with nine words: The thing is: Konstantin Gavrilowitsch shot himself. These are the last words from Chekhov's “Seagull”.

It is these stories that have been so mysterious and seductive to me for years. And the writing and painting suicides were able to describe the process from a successful life to the tragedy of their failure. We can sense what was going on inside of them. For many, the end shines through their lives long before the deed. You are suicidal long before you kill yourself writes Jean Améry. And then it goes very quickly. Why do you commit suicide? asks Klaus Mann when one of his friends killed himself again. Suddenly you are at the dead point, the point of death. The limit has been reached. Not one step further! Where is the gas tap? Bring the Phanodorm! Does it taste bitter? What is it doing Life wasn't exactly sweet.

And he knows what he's talking about. He knows how narrow a suicide's gaze is at the moment of the crime. He has tried suicide and has not thought of his father, Thomas Mann, who after Klaus ’suicide bitterly asked why he did it to the family. No, he did it to himself!

Artists have dealt with the sensitivities that led to their suicide in stories, novels, letters, pictures, diaries and poems. Poets have the sensitivity for the perception of hidden soul impulses, writes Sigmund Freud. And so finally answers to the question of why become visible, even if we do not know their final thoughts and the moment of truth remains their secret.

D.he text is an abbreviated preprint from Birgit Lahann's book “At the point of death - 18 famous poets and painters who took their own lives”, which is being published by Dietz Verlag these days, 247 pages, 22 euros.

  • At the dead point, at the point of death
  • Heinrich von Kleist, Georg Trakl, Paul Celan, Jack London - all suicides
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