12 September 2011

Suicide by Levé, 2008

Filed under: Fiction — ktismatics @ 11:18 am

In the metro, in Paris, you entered a train car and sat down on a folding seat. Three stations later, a homeless man came to sit next you. He smelled of cheese, urine, and shit. Hirsute, he turned toward you, sniffed several times, and said: “Hmmm, it smells flowery in here.” You had put on a fragrance in the morning before going out. For once, a homeless man made you laugh. Normally such people made you uncomfortable. You didn’t feel threatened, they’d never caused you any harm, but you were afraid of ending up like them. Nothing justified this fear, however. You were not alone, poor, alcoholic, abandoned. You had a family, a wife, friends, a house. You did not lack money. But homeless people were like ghosts foretelling one of your possible ends. You didn’t identify with happy people, and in your excessiveness you projected onto those who had failed in everything, or succeeded in nothing. The homeless embodied the final stage in a decline your life could have tended toward. You did not take them for victims, but for authors of their own lives. As scandalous as it seems, you used to think that some homeless people had chosen to live that way. This is what disturbed you the most: that you could, one day, choose to fail. Not to let yourself go, which would only have been a form of passivity, but to want to descend, to become a ruin of yourself. Memories of other homeless people came to mind. You couldn’t prevent yourself, when you saw some, from stopping to watch them from a distance. They owned nothing, lived from day to day without domicile, without possessions, without friends. Their destitution fascinated you. You used to imagine living like them, abandoning what had been given to you and what you had acquired. You would detach yourself from things, from people, and from time. You would situate yourself in a perpetual present. You would renounce organizing your future. You would let yourself be guided by the randomness of encounters and events, indifferent to one choice over another. When, seated in the metro, you were imagining to yourself what it would be like to live in his shoes, your neighbor stood up, staggering, and left to join a group of drunk homeless people on the next metro platform. One of them was slumped on the ground, asleep with his mouth open, belly up, one shoe undone. He resembled a corpse. This was perhaps what you feared: to become inert in a body that still breathes, drinks, and feeds itself. To commit suicide in slow motion.




  1. and in your excessiveness you projected onto those who had failed in everything, or succeeded in nothing.

    Yes, that’s very good, the ‘and in your excessiveness’, as it’s a form of self-indulgence, no matter what political persuasion does it.


    Comment by illegal dances of new york city — 23 September 2011 @ 2:06 pm

  2. The author went all the way for marketing impact: his title is Suicide, and he killed himself ten days after delivering the manuscript to the publisher. I acknowledge that the lurid appeal worked on me. The entire novel consists the narrator’s brief disconnected reminiscences about his dead friend, who in light of subsequent history it’s hard not to conflate with the author himself. It’s pretty good, short enough not to become tiresome. From Wikipedia:

    Levé’s first book, Oeuvres (2002), is an imaginary list of more than 500 books by the author, not actually written, although some of the items were taken up as the premisses of later books actually written and published by Levé.

    Oeuvres has not been translated into English.


    Comment by ktismatics — 24 September 2011 @ 9:54 am

  3. Fascinating. Artistic suicides are something I’ve been hearing about every now and then. In my music history class, we were talking about the 20s and 30s expressionism in music, and there was a painter (now can’t remember who) who made a big show of it. I’ve mentioned the one who, in his SoHo loft in the mid-70s, invited guests to watch him cut off his cock and die. There was something in one of Baudrillard’s last volumes about a dying man who made some sort of art about his process of dying–while I don’t deny the validity of this (and it may have been not only meaningful but excellent as well, I haven’t heard any more of it). The main problem that took a while to assimilate was Baudrillard’s own extreme jadedness (which could be very tonic) in seeming to perceive this sort of thing at this point in time as being the only ‘valid art’. Although lots of people think it, from Orlan and Stelarc and the various performance-art mutilants (Christian recently told me about either seeing Orlan in one of these, or reading text of an extremely pretentious nature about it, or both–I don’t go for this shit either, although Stelarc used to hang over streets and vertiginous lands, as if flying, also back in the late 70s and early 80s, and these were different because they had some element of beauty in the traditional sense: He was as if flying over on Avenue B, for example, held only by many tiny razors fitted carefully under the epidermis), to another one of those public flagellants who, in the late 80s, invited people over to hit him hard, some 80 or so as I recall. And they did it. I doubt they considered it art at all, and had the sensibility of Taliban stoners who, once they get started, even the parents ‘get the fever’ and throw stones at their own 20-year-olds. Quite disgusting. It’s more sterilized here with the capital punishment, but that’s another issue. In a sense, that’s made into a kind of ‘spectacle art’, though, and I usually avoid reading much about it, whether or not there’s a presumption of definitely possible innocence (as with Davis the other day, at least about the literal crime, not all circumstances around it) or none at all (as with Tim McVeigh), because it’s strangely equally disturbing either way (the McVeigh thing bothered me the most, but that was only because most was made of it, and I hadn’t learned to filter the media yet.)

    And yet, Baudrillard is wrong, but I still like his ejaculations like that, because he doesn’t mind making mistakes, and makes you think it through. It’s ultimately just a matter of opinion whether or not these self-destructive art-objects are ‘more truly art’ than those which are not. I don’t tend to think so usually, although there ought to be a lot of risk in art. Courage is the word Georgia O’Keeffe said is what you have to have in any of the Arts, but she obviously wasn’t interested in pain. But the ‘suicide artist’ is impressive in a sad way, because he can’t have ‘not been sad’ in some basic sense–just that that was somehow where all the sense of worth was invested. B’s thing on 9/11, that trio from Verso along with Virilio and Zizek, was far more adventurous than the other two–he had a lot of admirable cussedness. Also, just to mention I think there are those reality TV shows which promote humiliation, eating dog food or what have you. I forgot the name of the one that ‘dares you’ or whatever, and never saw it, though. The more mild ones are bad enough.


    Comment by illegal dances of new york city — 24 September 2011 @ 1:06 pm

  4. The suicidal subject of Leve’s novel is rational, controlled, reflective, distant — not at all the hysterical release of affect or multivalent unconscious energy vectors flowing through him. So too with Leve’s narrator — coolly detached, neither lamenting the suicide nor celebrating his release into the posthuman. The subject leaves no suicide note, gives no hint through word or gesture that he is contemplating suicide, barely even registers as depressed. The only clue as to motive is that death brings a sense of completeness to a life, making suicide a sort of signature at the bottom of a work of art. But the narrator observes that the suicide transforms all that came before it in the person’s life, infuses it with a different meaning imposed on it by the person’s friends, wondering if he had really been chronically morbid throughout his life, if they could have done something for him, and so on. So the closure and wholeness achieved for the suicider paradoxically destroys that wholeness for the observer, replacing it with an open question that had never before been asked and that can never be answered. It turns out that Leve himself did leave a suicide note, though I’ve not investigated whether its contents have been released.


    Comment by ktismatics — 25 September 2011 @ 7:33 am

  5. “The only clue as to motive is that death brings a sense of completeness to a life, making suicide a sort of signature at the bottom of a work of art. ”

    That Texas teacher I wrote about in the Ivan Davis post told me in 2001 that the great (and extraordinarily eccentric) Bach pianist Glenn Gould was very dispassionate about his suicide, and simply considered his work finished. To some people that’s all there is–a certain field. And curious, I don’t think I mentioned another very early boyfriend, who also had a girlfriend at the time who was also my friend, told her ‘Glenn Gould? Oh, Pat doesn’t want that’. And Marjorie said ‘Frank, Pat’s not interested in low, vulgar things’. And Frank was dying laughing ‘I know what he wants’. Very charming guy from a rich Philadelphia family who cast him out to a great degree because of his homosexuality. Nobody would be happier to see what I’ve arrived at (others are not at all pleased, but then they had also been bad ‘bed material’…). Indeed, Glenn Gould’s total isolation–even if I didn’t have specific aspirations well-defined– with his refusal to play in public and only record, with his strange film ‘The Idea of North’, with his superhuman amounts of pills, and even his beady eyes, and yes, even some of his insane Bach and Mozart…No, Pat didn’t want much of that, frankly it didn’t seem like much even with all that talent (sometimes it’s startling, to be sure, and his organ playing on the record of ‘Art of Fugue’ is a true divine madness.

    But I also think anybody else’s death doesn’t make that much sense to anybody, because that’s just dreadfully lonely no matter how ‘just’, as some of the old ones we know who die painlessly, easily, at very old age, still they do it alone. Only solution is to decide aloneness isn’t that bad, and it always does seem both bad and not so bad.

    Maybe this one in the Leve and others are the product of very unemotional types, at least they don’t want to show it. I was thinking about Noel again, but he could get very worked up and emotional about things, things as silly as how in some stage production his costumes were ‘nothing but RAGS!!!’ I don’t think anything ever made him madder than that, except that this came in the same afternoon that I had come up with one of the Crebillon’s best full summaries, some 8 or 9 pages, with the songs and plot all outlined by then (I even had a dance piece called ‘Dance of the Communists’, but I never wrote it), and I was at that point casting him, not ‘Jonquille’, as the starring role–in the Crebillon that is the Prince
    Tanzai, who is cursed with impotence for a time, although the cure is fetched. I was working out a bunch of ideas at the time, and that synopsis was called ‘The Starlet-Prince’, and I had Tanzai as a literal transsexual. Sometimes Noel himself seemed like he might really be a transsexual, with all that super-sissy non-stop concentration on being a clotheshorse (in 1999, a couple of years before his death, he threw out all of his furniture from his small living room and put up clothing racks as in stores, and hung up some 75 expensive suits he’d recently bought in Las Vegas–he simply couldn’t think of anything else to do.) Anyway, I could tell that his rage stemmed from my spotting his very strong streak of transsexual, which was not so mainstream a subject in 1985 as it is now.) So part of what you’ve got here is an unemotional attitude toward one’s own deliberate death, and that’s probably a kind of ‘sobriety’ that many suicides have if they plan it carefully instead of doing it impulsively.

    All those points you made make sense, but it also does make sense to kill oneself if one wants to ‘do art’ like that. I don’t see the appeal personally, and can only imagine suicide as a way out of something more slow and painful. I definitely can’t see it as a meaningful revenge on anybody at all, because you don’t get to savour it, and man, you sure don’t. I still think Noel was going to get to ‘sense the reactions’ somehow. As it was, it just seems a very bizarre narrative, with the Sofitel, and then flying to Toronto, and thence to Vancouver, breathing in something, and being ash-scattered over the Pacific. Before that, though, he had had some serious illnesses that I think had come up rather last minute, even after I saw him–W., the drug dealer, told me he’d had to use those adult diapers he’d deteriorated so; although that’s hard for me to believe. He notes 9/11 in those diaries I have, and I walked past him about 2 months before his death (that I found out about over a year later), and he looked not that worse for wear, even charming. But I’d learned he was poison by then, and wouldn’t speak.


    Comment by illegal dances of new york city — 25 September 2011 @ 6:58 pm

  6. I can’t remember if I put up any “text grabs” from The Loser by Thomas Bernhardt. A fiction, it concerns itself with three pianists who had gone to Austria to study with Vladimir Horowitz. One of the pianists was Gould, and the other two realize that they can never compete with his brilliance. One of these “losers” keeps playing concert gigs but eventually kills himself. The other pianist is the narrator, and he’s rather cold and disdainful about the whole business — which seems characteristic of Bernhardt based on the other two novels of his that I read. The narrator’s response to Gould’s genius is to stop playing altogether, selling off his piano and barely keeping touch with his old musical chums. He creates another life for himself, although he never quite tells us what that life entails other than it involves “the human sciences.” I suppose if one aestheticizes oneself it would make sense to regard one’s suicide as performance art — this doesn’t seem to have been the style for either Gould or Leve. Maybe engineer types get obsessed with the method of suicide, optimizing the process and the outcome according to whatever standards they deem most important, maximizing or minimizing pain, speed, mess, and so on. I could imagine some sort of psychopathology in which the person believes that he has already killed himself, and goes around his old haunts as if a ghost. He might even talk to people, amazed that it was possible to maintain such close contact with the living.


    Comment by ktismatics — 25 September 2011 @ 8:48 pm

  7. Wow. I think Gould died a ‘natural’, if young, death after all. I do remember it but didn’t pay much attention at the time. It was in 1982, I was living with ‘Janet’ and Princess Grace died the same week. But this teacher DID tell me that Gould committed suicide. Jesus, that is like bigtime fucked-up, and I had never doubted it, as she usually knew the inside stuff, or fairly well. She’d gone into a somewhat off-balance, shall we say, state, though, and the house was simply obscene with her mentally ill son’s things thrown all over the entire large apartment, and just left there. Including on the piano. So a couple of trips up there were the last. I simply haven’t ever thought about Gould all that much, although I’ve gone nuts over some of the Bach Preludes and Fugues; in the second book of WTC, there is this amazing performance of the G Major Prelude that sounds like the Lyrebird song I heard on a fucking PBS ‘Nature’ show once! Some of the weird things he’d do were adding little staccatos that would change the character of a legato line sometimes, and he was just powerful enough to get away with it. Just looking there, his whole live career preceded my even getting here. In the mid-80s, I was aware that he recorded Wagner’s ‘Siegfried Idyll’ transcribed for piano, but I just found out that his last thing was to conduct it. THAT is impressive, because I thought the piano version was clearly a beautiful labour of love, but you still can’t quite ‘have it’ on the piano. That’s almost my favourite piece too, and if he got to conduct it, it must have been a form of bliss, because the later climaxes of the orchestra on the main theme are so transporting that they really constitute one of the heights of 19th century Romanticism (as does Wagner elsewhere).

    I didn’t find any factual noting of Gould ever studying with Horowitz. That much more healthy and robust and open pianist, Ivan Davis, that I wrote about, did though.

    Christ I just read some more about Gould. Had no idea he had managed to get Lukas Foss’s wife to leave him for 4 1/2 years and then she went back. Lukas is no slouch as a pianist either. But all of his behavious pretty mad. I looked again, this said his last recording was ‘Siegfried Idyll’ with the ‘original chamber music scoring’, so I’m going to have to get hold of that. I just found this: ” One recording I like is conducted by Glenn Gould. His delicate interpretation evokes all the tender feelings Wagner injected into the music. Gould was also very close to death when he recorded the piece (1982), so the recording has an air of wisdom and poignancy.

    Gould also transcribed and performed the entire Siegfried Idyll for solo piano. His conducting performance and his piano performance are on the same CD. Available on Sony.”

    I haven’t heard this 13-instrument version, which was the original. I says he beefed up the orchestration later, and that’s what I hear on my favourite Toscanini recording.

    Now that all this comes up, it does strike me as odd that Glenn Gould was not interesting to me for his incredibly well-known, and quite insane, eccentricities, although I always did want to listen to the music, and would tell people he was one of the greatest of all pianists. But it never even occurred to me to watch that ’32 Films about Glenn Gould’ or even read bios. He was all about what he did with the music (maybe more in an exclusive way than some of the others, although I prefer a few others, like Arturo Benedetti Michalangeli, who is the most elegant, and Richter, whom I linked recently, and heard in person. And a few others. Gould’s total isolation never fascinated me (I now see that it should have!)


    Comment by illegal dances of new york city — 25 September 2011 @ 10:10 pm

  8. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/26/opinion/an-indefensible-punishment.html

    Off topic, but I mentioned our ghoulish slow death penalty, not only on the executed, but horrible media use that doesn’t really scare the public, just makes it miserable. NYTimes is very good on this one, but there was one just before the execution that made little sense. Maybe it was just desperation to get the stays to last a little longer, and then go to work getting Davis free–but since all these new things pointed to innocence, it seemed as though this wasn’t a case of getting any sentence at all if you hadn’t done the murder–and the Times was calling for ‘life without possibility of parole’. None of this is going to ever seem rational, though, and probably isn’t; decisions made behind closed doors, I have to say this one really looks bad. This was pretty startling at the end when they went ahead with the execution after halting a few minutes after scheduled and still went on with it, as if something had to be fulfilled. I thought about that during that evening, and couldn’t sense and ‘fulfillment’ that would be needed, or that would satisfy anybody short of those really convinced of his guilt (hell, maybe he WAS guilty, but it sure didn’t seem like it). I remember that the Susan Hayward movie ‘I Want to Live’ about Barbara Graham (I think that was her name, and I think she’s supposed to have actually been guilty), and the way there was this back and forth with stays and last-minute changes, and how nobody should have to go through that. Harrowing and brilliant film, but I hadn’t thought of the fact that they haven’t corrected that at all until the Davis execution the other night. I’d say this was the worst case I’ve ever been aware of, and wasn’t watching it that closely till the day. Although how many innocents have been victim we probably have no idea. I do agree with the whole article though, and have long thought the death penalty was obscene as they point out. Killing in matters of war are a different thing, but even Mcveigh could have been given life without possibility of parole.


    Comment by illegal dances of new york city — 25 September 2011 @ 10:43 pm

  9. Yes, here it is, and the movie was very precise about this. But Davis’s had happened in 2007 as well, and maybe another time: “On June 3, 1955, she was scheduled to be executed at 10:00 a.m., but that was stayed by California governor Goodwin J. Knight until 10:45 a.m. At 10:43 a.m., the execution was stayed by Knight again until 11:30 a.m., and a weary Graham protested, “Why do they torture me? I was ready to go at ten o’clock.”[5] At 11:28 a.m., Graham was led from her cell to be strapped in the gas chamber. There, she requested a blindfold so she wouldn’t have to look at the observers. Her last words were “Good people are always so sure they’re right.”[6]”

    Very extraordinary last words, I daresay. Some sort of conundrum for everybody in that one.


    Comment by illegal dances of new york city — 25 September 2011 @ 10:55 pm

  10. I’ve never seen “I Want to Live” haven’t watched any old movies at all lately. I’ll request it. Currently I’m reading Freedom by J. Franzen, which is the most exemplary traditional novel I’ve read in a long time. He’s tremendously skilled at creating contemporary characters and situations and relationships, all the more entertaining because of the soap-opera intrigues he conjures. And he’s got the long form mastered, with scenes that meld together for hundreds of pages. His efforts to be politically relevant probably irritate some, as if he’s just salving his conscience when his heart is really in the human-scale intrigues and heartbreaks, but this too is what people are like, trying to live meaningfully yet so easily overcome by matters of the heart and the dick, the competitions and effronteries and outrages. In brief, I’m enjoying the book and admiring its author.


    Comment by ktismatics — 26 September 2011 @ 5:01 pm

  11. Serendipitously linking a couple of comments back, here’s what I just read in Franzen’s book:

    …and by donning big cushioned headphones and angling himself toward the window and holding a Bernhard novel close to his face, he was able to achieve complete privacy until the train stopped in Philly.


    Comment by ktismatics — 26 September 2011 @ 6:04 pm

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