23
The Art of Suicide

Joyce Carol Oates

In the morning of life the son tears himself loose from the mother, from the domestic hearth, to rise through battle to his destined heights. Always he imagines his worst enemy in front of him, yet he carries the enemy within himself- a deadly longing for the abyss, a longing to drown in his own source, to be sucked down to the realm of the Mothers. His life is a constant struggle against extinction, a violent yet fleeting deliverance from ever-lurking night. This death is no external enemy, it is his own inner longing for the stillness and profound peace of all-knowing nonexistence, for all-seeing sleep in the ocean of coming-to-be and passing away.

C. G.Jung, Symbols of Transformation

Not only the artist, that most deliberate of persons, but all human beings employ metaphor: the conscious or unconscious creation of concrete, literal terms that seek to express the abstract, the not-at-hand, the ineffable. Is the suicide an artist? Is Death-by-Suicide an art form, the employment of a metaphor so vast, so final, that it obliterates and sweeps into silence all opposition? But there are many suicides, there are many deaths, some highly conscious and others groping, perplexed, perhaps murderous, hardly conscious at all: a succumbing to the gravitational pull of which Jung speaks in the quotation above, which takes him away from the "realm of the Mothers"—but only for a while, until his life's

____________________
Joyce Carol Oates, "The Art of Suicide," in The Reevaluation of Existing Values and the Search for Absolute Values. Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences ( New York: International Cultural Foundation Press, 1978), pp. 183-90. Reprinted by permission. Excerpt from "Lady Lazarus" in Ariel by Sylvia Plath. Copyright © 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965 by Ted Hughes. Printed in England by Faber & Faber as Collected Poems, copyright Ted Hughes 1965, 1981. Reprinted by permission of Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., and Olwyn Hughes. Excerpt from "Waiting to Die" from Live or Die by Anne Sexton. Copyright © 1966 by Anne Sexton. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

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