Notes on Suicide

Simon Critchley

Includes a new preface, written in 2020, by the author

Includes ‘Of Suicide’ by David Hume
Published 23 September 2015, French paperback with flaps, 120 pages

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Suicide is everywhere. It haunts history and current events. It haunts our own networks of friends and family. The spectre of suicide looms large, but the topic is taboo because any meaningful discussion must at the very least consider that the answer to the question – ‘is life worth living?’ – might not be an emphatic yes; it might even be a stern no. Through a sweeping historical overview of suicide, a moving literary survey of famous suicide notes, and a psychological analysis of himself, Simon Critchley offers us an insight into what it means to possess the all too human gift and curse of being of being able to choose life or death.
     Five years after its initial publication, this revised edition of Notes on Suicide includes a new preface by the author adressing shifts in the discourse surrounding suicide, particularly in relation to social media.

‘An elegant, erudite, and provocative book that asks us to reflect on suicide without moral judgment and panicked response. For Critchley, many reasons have been given for suicide, but what remains less remarked is how suicide distinguishes human creatures who grapple with melancholy in the face of losses that are too huge or enigmatic to fathom. Though there may be many reasons given within philosophy or popular culture, there are also some simple, insistent truths that do forestall such an action. In his view, “suicide saddens the past and abolishes the future,” establishing a problematic framework for grasping the whole of a life. This text gestures toward what makes us forgetful about suicide: wondrous and recurring moments when we find ourselves “enduring in the here and now.”’
— Judith Butler

‘No one ever lacks a good reason for suicide, wrote Cesare Pavese. With passionate lucidity and philosophical intelligence, Simon Critchley explores what these reasons might be, bracketing simple moral judgement and trying to fight his way past the social, psychical and existential blockages that inhibit us whenever we try to think about this ever-baffling issue.’ 
— Lars Iyer, author of Wittgenstein Jr

‘For most arguments about suicide, there’s a counter argument, and Critchley makes us think anew about old questions. Is suicide selfish? I believed not until a member of my family killed themselves and the pain it caused persuaded me that it’s both selfish and stupid. But Critchley reminds us that our responses to suicide are distorted by anger, prejudice and inarticulacy. We must, he argues, stop looking for life’s great meaning and instead savour “little daily miracles, matches struck in the darkness”. And we must talk about suicide without shame or sanctimony. This book is a good place to start.’
— Max Liu, Independent

‘Critchley encourages us to seek out moments of ecstasy in the everyday, glimpses of the sublime in the commonplace. He ends with a beautiful meditation on what it means to open ourselves to the gentle indifference of the world and to do so tenderly, with love.’
Matthew Clemente, Los Angeles Review of Books

‘[T]his intense book is an instance of thought born in the hour of anguish, which eloquently makes the case for suicide not as an act to be pitilessly condemned, but a possibility for which any of us might be thankful.’
— Rob Doyle, Irish Times 

‘This delicate and sensitive book only aims “to try to understand”, not to aspire to a goal beyond our ambit. We may gain something from the attempt – as we gain plenty from Critchley’s writing – but we can never gain everything, a complete sense of what suicide, to put it falteringly, means. To have this would require us to stand outside of life, to see it in the round. But we can’t, and that’s our curse – in the fullest sense, the condition of living a life. Notes on Suicide shows us not how to understand, but how to realise what we don’t know, can never know, and what it is to deal with that awareness.’
— Cal Revely-Calder, 3:AM Magazine

‘[A] thoughtful and incisive insight into a subject that is often avoided, or uncomfortably discussed.’
— The Messy Booker

‘Critchley is generous without being platitudinous, rigorous but not overbearing. Remarkably for a disquisition on self-killing, one comes away from it feeling curiously chipper.’
Houman Barekat, Vol. 1 Brooklyn

Praise for Memory Theatre

Memory Theatre is a brilliant one-of-a-kind mind-game occupying a strange frontier between philosophy, memoir and fiction. Simon Critchley beguiles as he illuminates.’
— David Mitchell, author of The Bone Clocks

‘Novella or essay, science-fiction or memoir? Who cares. Chris Marker, Adolfo Bioy Casares and Frances Yates would all have been proud to have written Memory Theatre.’
— Tom McCarthy, author of C

‘This is a remarkable [fiction] debut: rich, profound and clever, but not oppressively so, and often very funny.’
— Nicholas Lezard, Guardian

Simon Critchley is Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York. His previous books include On Humour, The Book of Dead Philosophers, How to Stop Living and Start Worrying, Impossible Objects, The Mattering of Matter (with Tom McCarthy), The Faith of the Faithless, Stay, Illusion!: The Hamlet Doctrine (with Jamieson Webster), Bowie, and Notes on Suicide (also published by Fitzcarraldo Editions). He is series moderator of ‘The Stone’, a philosophy column in the New York Times, to which he is a frequent contributor.