Suicide – Edouard Leve (translated by Jan Steyn)

Back in July I reviewed Eduoard Leve’s “Works” a conceptual piece which lists 533 artistic projects which Leve conceived but at the time of writing had not realised. However his most “celebrated” work is this one, “Suicide”.
As the “Afterword” by translator Jan Stein explains:
Edouard Leve committed suicide on October 15, 2007. Ten days earlier he had given a manuscript to his editor; it was a novel entitled Suicide, the same you hold in your hands.
There is no escaping the fact that this fictional work’s subject matter and Leve’s own suicide lurks large as you read through the work. Although it is meant to be an homage to the narrator’s friend who had committed suicide twenty years earlier you cannot help to be constantly drawn to the tale of Leve’s own death at his own hands less than two weeks after he delivered to manuscript to his editor.
One of a handful of works that I have reviewed that is written in the second person it reads as both a celebration of life but also an insight into a mind which is preoccupied with premature death.
During summer, on the coast, you used to sail a catamaran single-handedly. You tightened the ropes and sailed straight ahead. Why tack to the coast when the waves were the same all over? A straight line suited you. You weren’t preoccupied with an itinerary; you steered the bow toward the horizon, back turned to the coast. You wanted to forget land, but your expeditions were too brief for you to be surrounded by nothing but sea. Air filled your lungs; waves drowned your hearing; the movement of the boat kept your body occupied as it sought balance. The rocking of the waters hypnotized you at the same time as the wind kept you alert. You liked this lucid somnolence, similar to that of a child rocked by a wet nurse singing the melody in a gentle voice that will put it to sleep. Then you would need to turn back. You would come about and try hard to return as directly as you had left, despite the direction of the wind, which compelled you to tack. The sight of land, far away, brought you back to the reality the sea had made you forget. As you drew nearer to the beach, you would leave behind the walking dream the waves had thrown you into.
This is a short work which is made up of reminiscences of our narrator’s friend, attending to all sorts of details of his life, and an attempt at making sense of his suicide. A journey through a survivor’s mind who is attempting to work out why?
Since you seldom spoke, you were rarely wrong. You seldom spoke because you seldom went out. If you did go out, you listened and watched. Now, since you no longer speak, you will always be right. In truth, you do still speak: through those, like me, who bring you back to life and interrogate you. We hear your responses and admire their wisdom. If the facts turn out to contradict your counsel, we blame ourselves for having misinterpreted you. Yours are the truths, ours are the errors.
Almost every paragraph draws you into Leve’s state of mind, his rationale for living, his rationale for taking his own life.
If each event consisted of its beginning, its becoming real, and its completion, you would prefer the beginning because there desire wins out over pleasure. In their beginnings, events preserve the potential that they lose in the completion. Desire prolongs itself so long as it is not achieved. As for pleasure, it signals the death of desire, and soon of pleasure itself. It’s strange that while loving beginnings, you terminated yourself: suicide is an end. Did you consider it a beginning?
I could quote passage after passage from this disturbing, but at the same time celebratory, work, however I simply suggest you hunt down a copy for yourself. A look into the mind of the ultimate performance artist.

It is hard to imagine if this work would have been as successful if Leve hadn’t committed suicide before its publication, although it is a deep reminiscence of a reflective mind and the conundrum of existence. Another great publication in translation from Dalkey Archive.

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