Worldwide, more people die by suicide than by murder, and many more are left behind to grieve. Despite distressing statistics that show suicide rates rising, the subject, long a taboo, is infrequently talked about. In this sweeping intellectual and cultural history, poet and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht channels her grief for two friends lost to suicide into a search for history’s most persuasive arguments against the irretrievable act, arguments she hopes to bring back into public consciousness.
From the Stoics and the Bible to Dante, Shakespeare, Wittgenstein, and such 20th-century writers as John Berryman, Hecht recasts the narrative of our “secular age” in new terms. She shows how religious prohibitions against self-killing were replaced by the Enlightenment’s insistence on the rights of the individual, even when those rights had troubling applications. This transition, she movingly argues, resulted in a profound cultural and moral loss: the loss of shared, secular, logical arguments against suicide. By examining how people in other times have found powerful reasons to stay alive when suicide seems a tempting choice, she makes a persuasive intellectual and moral case against suicide.
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Informative but oddly dispassionate
In the introduction to Stay, the author notes that she has lost several close friends and fellow writers to suicide. She then argues why we have an obligation to stay. Powerful stuff. What follows after though is an oddly dispassionate and encyclopedic progression through historical justifications for and mostly against suicide. Some of this is interesting from a philosophical and sociological perspective but neither is it necessarily very persuasive. What seemed lacking, given the intro and the author's firm belief that we owe it to ourselves and others to live, is that she fails to engage the reader at an emotional level by bringing in any contemporary or personal connections. Still, I would say that Stay is a worthwhile read but more for those with an interest in the evolution of western society's mores toward it than a book that will convince anyone to come down from the ledge.
I return to this book again and again
Whenever I'm struggling, I come back to this book. There is always something new in it that strikes me, and gives me something to hold onto moving forward.