Saturday, May 15, 2010

Martyrdom and Suicide

"This one's for the unborn..."

- Mercyful Fate

"One must die to find peace inside..."

- Dead, of Mayhem

Existence. Beneath it all, there's the guilt of being alive...you can feel it running through your blood, arching across your spine, filling your hands and feet with weariness: one more day as a victim, one more day as a victor - which one is the true path? And to triumph over fate, to accept the laws of the universe, to look without blinking into the dregs of being and recognize what you see there as elements of human totality - all that we can be, all that we were meant to be - to witness this, convert it into an experience (for thoughts and emotions are also experiences), and to still somehow stay sane, to stay upright, in harmony, in equilibrium, to not slowly slip to one side, and thus to...death...there is the essence of courage. How much of courage is just endurance? And there, right at this instance - of recognizing your frailty, your fragile state, and then looking through the illusions of others to see it inside them as well - that is the essence of compassion...what is compassion other than recognizing yourself in others, as in a mirror?

The most damning thing I could say about another human is: he is not as a mirror to me. But what compassion does the martyr have for his own soul?

The lure of martyrdom is the temptation of nothingness, of negation, of sleep...in the destruction of the ego, the self, the willing 'I' - the essence that experiences, the history that can not be escaped - but (and this is the thought that I find most disturbing) what if nothingness does not exist? What if the sleep never comes, and we are condemned to be awake, experiencing, alive, feeling, aware, inside ourselves, for all time? The martyr is essentially a suicide who feels the pull of glory (that is, immortality through death - a beautiful paradox) in a more passionate way than his/her own instincts towards self preservation - I would wager that a large number of suicides actually consider themselves, on one level or another, to be martyrs...for there are a multitude of causes to be martyred for, and a myriad moments in the life of a soul where - for that minute, a span of seconds in the life of the mind - a martyrdom seems somehow to be the crowning of existence. How many suicides have died for the thoughts of a moment? How many have died to be the Nazarene of a world of the mind and emotions that lived within for the span of a few days, a few hours?

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despis'd love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin?

- William Shakespeare, speaking through Hamlet

And martyrdom - the apotheosis of a passion, the solidification of a passion into an institution - is taken outside of the confines of suicide and becomes, paradoxically again, the reason for living...or rather, the reason for existing in order to seek a later death. Those who encounter the martyr will be swept under the aegis of a noble, charismatic passion (how much more 'charismatic' is sentiment than reason?) - a light burning itself out, and their own passions for death will be touched and acted upon. The respect that we accord martyrs is only the statement of our eager wish to die in turn. We tell each other we admire the 'belief' of the martyrs, but which one of us would wish this belief on ourselves? Those who lust after martyrs are already filled with darkness, they wish companions for the journey into nothingness...or rather, they want someone to hold their hand as they die.

I believe that if the Angel of Death ever chose to walk openly on Earth, he would find many to follow him...I also believe that the death instinct is the most misunderstood reserve left in human experience, even though it colors all our lives...

For martyrs are 'filled' with the otherworldly - which is another way of saying they are 'filled' with the nothingness at the heart of existence - and that center of nihilistic absolution, that experience and awareness of the inner void, calls out to the suicide in all of us...

Which one of you has not, at one moment in time, felt the power of the death instinct? Which one of you has not lived in a moment where you wished to be the end of your own experience, your own suffering? Which one of you has not awakened from the sleep of reason (if only for a few seconds) to feel the overwhelming pain of existence? Consult the inner oracle...

The martyr says 'I am awake' and then rushes back into the final deep sleep with the desperation of the possessed...woe to those in his/her way. Why? Because the waking state can not be suffered for long, and once awakened the only reprieve possible comes from death. Death also comes to those foolish (or lucky) enough to step between a suicide and his lover. It is impossible to lapse back into sleep once one has been awakened. Those who do not destroy their bodies inevitably destroy their minds. Those who do not succeed in the initial suicide walk maimed and bleeding the rest of their days, until they finally succumb to death and greet it as they would an old friend. We call these people the wise - but they are only failed suicides. It would be equally justified calling them the torn, the lacerated, the crippled, the useless...

Which one of you has not been handicapped by time and experience? Which one of you walks without bearing the scars of your 'learning' as a badge?

If you do not believe in fate, you must either believe that all existence is random, or that you somehow control your own path through experience. If the last, you are a suicide, and eventually the situations, events, experiences, and moments you place yourself in will kill you - in other words, you bring about your own death through a manipulation of circumstances. You steer yourself towards negation. Everything that you pursue in life only leads you one step closer to death. Those who acknowledge control also acknowledge the fact that we are all suicides. If so, how do you know your desires, your wishes, your wants, your goals, etc. are not leading you towards your own death? What is the difference between an 'increase of life' and death? Who can tell the difference between the most exhilarating feelings of life and power and the call of the grave? Don't all of our desires end in death?

There are those in life who call for immortality, even those who could not imagine existence if we weren't all immortal - see Unamuno, etc. The opposite is true of me...I couldn't imagine would it would be like to live forever, on and on, throughout eternity, without ever having the knowledge that one day, far, far in the future...all of it would end. Who wants to live forever? Those addicted, with a sickness, to their own ego. Those who flee from death and into life because they are afraid of the dark, even though they were born in it. This sickness is what keeps most humans alive. Who can imagine the unbearable existence of souls condemned to exist without ever knowing the bliss of final sleep - the purity and beauty of negation? An end to the boredom and pain of existence? Does anyone remember the cursing of Cain? What does it say when the Christian faith rewards both its transgressors and its willing adherents with the same gift - immortality? For those of you who earnestly wish to live forever, I can only say...I hope you get what you wish for. I imagine eternity is like a never ending scream...and I believe when you hear babies cry endlessly or the insane moan in their agony, you know you have heard the Voice of God.

The martyr wishes for his death - the act of his death - to transcend life and history. This is a natural desire, some would say, for who would not wish his final action to have a purpose even if his entire life didn't? And those who have lived a completely 'useless' existence always seem like prime candidates for martyrdom, don't they? It's as if the Fates have decreed that they would live only for death, and the longer they were alive the more 'glorious' their deaths would be. This is one of the crown jewels of Pity's crown: the martyrdom of the useless. But what purpose does one's own death serve? Death is the end of one's personal reality, the end of existence - and thus the end of all existence, as far as the dying one can comprehend, and so isn't a death just another curse thrown in the face of life? Another insult for life to bear upon its besmirched robes of office? Those who destroy their own lives do so out of a desire to negate all existence, and the martyr is no exception. Is it a coincidence that a large number (if not all) of the most notorious killers throughout history have ended by committing suicide? In society, killing others is just another form of suicide...

Those who believe they die for a purpose...isn't this idea of a 'purpose' another form of insanity, analagous to all of the other reasons for killing one's self that the religions, mass hysteria, and nationalism have invented over the years? Purposes somehow make it easier for some the slough off the mortal coil, but they might as well admit to themselves that without this sense of 'purpose' (which is insane - believing that one's actions can have any kind of 'final' or 'ultimate' impact on the train of circumstance and events) they probably wouldn't have the 'courage' to kill themselves. Strange. No, in their own egotism, they believe that their lives actually have some kind of 'abstract value' and that they can trade in this coin in the realm of reality for a chance to alter events in futurity - events that they could never predict. I believe this is just another remnant of the ancient idea of sacrifice, that is: propitiating the Fates and the amorphous nature of the elements or Godhead by spilling blood...the thought is that by killing one's self you somehow create a debt on the part of existence, and that events will alter in turn to pay off this debt to those who come after you. This thought is as old as man, and it still persists, in a number of guises - in many ways it is still at the heart of our beliefs or implicit in our psychological mechanisms for coping with reality. Who does not try to sway the hand of futurity by daily making all sorts of minute personal sacrfices? And you thought you could cheat or control the God of Cause and Effect...

What martyrs would commit suicide if they glimpsed the true state of existence: that their God was a dream, that nobody would remember them, and their actions would have no result? A small number, I am guessing. Martyrdom is just another action in a vast machinery of give-and-take, a barter system, where the martyr sells his soul for glory. How many martyrs have died because, on some level, they had started to doubt their own faith and wished to punish themselves? How many martyrs burned because they wanted the 'glory' of martyrdom rather than the 'infamy' of suicide? Again it is easy to see how circumstances can be arranged to bring about one's own death and not make it 'look' like a suicide.

But it still is.

But what is courage, then? I believe courage is the Final No, a spit in the face of existence, of fate, of the concatenation of events, of that deity of cause and effect...in short: courage is rebellion, against what one knows and what everyone else 'knows' - both about themselves and about reality. Reality is larger than all of us, and can swallow all our supposed 'transgressions'. I believe that courage is the awareness of valuelessness of life, and the transition between life-affirming and life-denying, that is: courage is living sideways.

Courage is the Imp of the Perverse - perhaps the only faculty that man can truly claim is his own...for as we exist in a halfway state, neither completely corrupted or completely pure, we have the constant trial of good and evil (that is to say: conscience) battling in our actions, and that battle is the meaning of all human existence...
For those of you who don't believe in the existence of good or evil, I pity you...the chances are that you will understand very soon. I believe that all of us, in the end, come to an intimate understanding with evil...

U. Amtey
13 November 2000