Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mitchell Heisman: (if only there was a word to describe him)

Preface: The story I describe below (of the man pictured above), has really grabbed a hold of my mind since I found out about it yesterday afternoon. I don't know what to think. I really don't. Definitely Sad. I am not intending to glorify the story, nor demonize his suicidal act a metaphor for our brutal century. When you read about it, there is nothing gory about the story. Pretty basic suicide (if a suicide can be "basic."). But the event that surrounds the suicide, that makes it newsworthy. That is what I am miffed by. I guess I am left here with you, trying to figure out my thoughts regarding it and using this blog as kind of a therapy. What word do I use, in my own head to classify this man's suicide? I want this story to make sense. That is what this man was trying to do with his life...and it just gets, so.....

Story: The pictured man's name is Mitchell Heisman. I have known of him for one day. He is dead now. He died on Saturday, September 18. He committed suicide. He shot himself on Harvard's campus. He ended his life on the steps of the infamous Harvard Memorial chapel. In front of 20 tourists. I was (enthralled?) by his story.

Because the man published 1,905 page suicide note on a website whose link was automatically sent out from his email address to 400 recipients four hours after he shot himself. Yes, 1,905 pages. (note: the actual suicide note has some inappropriate language issues within).

And I can easily say that "suicide note" is not the proper summary of it. It's so much different. It's more like a philosophical inquiry. He had been working on it for five years. And by philosophical inquiry, i mean, here is a sentence I pulled at random, "After Darwin and the cosmological frame of reference gleaned from astronomy, the provincialism of humanism was revealed as a mere prejudice towards the human race."

In short, the note aims to provide a rational basis for his suicide and argues through the primary philosophical ideologies that stand opposed to his suicide (primarily the presupposition that "life" is good). As you can see from the quote above, it's very dense writing, and here and there he adds a bit of dark humor. But all in all, the most perplexing thing about the book is it's entirely academic (over 1,400 footnotes). There is minimal sense of his own self within the book except for the closing chapter where he describes his own life walking through the philosophical struggles he had been discussing in his book, ever since the death of his father at the age of 12. No good byes to family. No "I love you." No mention of battling a depression. He is concerned about logic (or the inability for man to be logical

So why am I so interested with Mitchell? I think it's the fact that no one knew about what his book was about. 5 years he wrote. Told people he was nearing completion a week before he died. 5 whole years, and it's not clear if when he started writing, if suicide was his desired ends. The openness about his arguments displayed in a public website for scrutiny. And when read, it's like the individual is gone (one section he argues about the necessity to a lose a sense of the individual, but I could not cipher what his conclusion was).

So how do I describe it? Is fascinating too optimistically obsessive of a word? Enthralling? Disturbing definitely seems apt, but I think that would too easily forget the sincerity or honesty he was trying to write with? Captivating may do but that seems to infer a kind of enticing attraction to him, to which I would say there is no attraction to what Mitchell did. Arresting? Engrossing? Maybe engrossing. I find his entire process engrossing. Which infers that he is more of a side show I guess...but maybe that's what he is. An academic suicidal sideshow for all to weigh in on. An object, now ceased, that we can talk about. Forget about soon enough. Mention our regret (it really is tragic).

And in my quest for labeling, I am trying to find meaning. Significance. A word to properly portray why I even took the time to read some of his note.

 Was Mitchell doing the same with his life? Trying to find meaning through philosophy and argument. And in the end, found "suicide" as the best answer? Or was suicide always his answer, and he looked to fill in the gap between the act and his existence. Define the story so he didn't look so crazy?

While far from suicide, aren't we all doing this a little? Determining our end result and then filling in the pieces between now and the end? I don't know.


Warning, this next paragraph may bore you and is unnecessary. The essay is in it's completed form exists above. What follows is a brief summary of what I was able to glean from my spot readings of his book in terms of themes, and purpose. I tried wading through some of the selections (the ones that had section headings that intrigued me) and read his opening and closing  chapters (about 40 pages in all. Not even making a dent in it). One thing that interested me was how he started the suicide note not believing in God, and had unexpectedly come to believe in God. Though I could not find what his definition of God was (definitely not Jesus). He does come to see artificial intelligence (which he thinks is the next evolutionary step of man) as a kind of soon to be physical representation of the Jewish idea of God (a conscious being completely distinct from man). Overall, Mitchell is wrestling Nietzche's nihilism (meaningless world where we are to act on our urges) vs. his "boundless" move to really enact on the meaningless of life: suicide. Or...because there can be no value found in life (or a rational explanation that life itself is good), then it's opposite, "death," and it's limitlessness cannot be declared a negative. That is the argument in short (obviously, he ends up siding with suicide).  Monotheism (Judaism especially) vs. Polytheism (Greek paganism), and then paralleling those two being precursors of democracy vs. Nazism is another key element (there are many many more points obviously, but after skimming and reading a few topic sentences then the intro and conclusion, those seem to be the focal point (he believes that because of democracy, and the absence of eugenics such as advocated by Nietzche and Hitler, man will not evolve except to become robots (i was put off too, but this suggestion, but there is much more to it and was actually a fascinating theory). While there were countless paragraphs I had difficulty with comprehending, the stuff I was able to grasp I thought was very interesting. 

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