On Suicide (For Tony)

Anthony Bourdain lays on a couch and speaks to an Argentinian woman on his TV show. This is not his analyst but a stage prop. It could be that the over-eager desire to solve the problem and confirm the need to compromise on one’s desire in most therapists and analysts is what wisely kept him away from them but ultimately deprived him of the possibility of living on. Not that living on is necessary. This man already lived more life than most people ever will. Why pathologize him. Most people (whether analysands, friends, or colleagues) I talk to admired him as one of the few in the media with integrity.

Bourdain belongs in the casebook of confounding suicides: those who do not compromise on their desire and construct their symptom to the point of great success in the Symbolic. So why no satisfaction. David Foster Wallace, Mike Kelley, Robin Williams…. I believe these cases point out the failure of the identification with the sinthome – or symptom – prescribed by Zizek and many Lacanians. These great sinthomes, or “saint men,” Joyce, Dali, and Klossowski for example, retained their fantasmatic object in the form of a woman – Nora, Gala, and Roberte to be exact. Would their symbolic construction have been enough without this? Did they know something about love?

Bourdain and Kelley killed themselves at the moment of crisis with a woman. What is Asia Argento’s place in this knot? Or Bourdain’s previous wives? “We should be ashamed to pretend we know what we are talking about when we talk about love,” said Raymond Carver. And the way this dilemma plays out in the film “Birdman” reveals what happened to Bourdain. The choice of the “Desire for Recognition over the Recognition of Desire,” as I have called it, that haunts contemporary life. In the time of Facebook everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes – and then hang themselves. This is not narcissism but failed narcissism: the attempt to shore up the primary narcissism of incorporation with the secondary narcissism of ego identity. Hence the relevance of Bourdain and Spade’s relation to food and fashion. 

If one can reach the point of (re)movability of the sinthome then a subject can be “unsubscribed from the unconscious” – free from the Other and the other – which means free to relate other-wise. In this case of truly writing one’s symptom in the arena of the Symbolic there is an eradication of the Other and repeated loss of the object fantasy. But this analytic path is still strewn with dangers of subjective destitution and moments of madness, for which drugs and suicide appear to be quick solutions. Every time there is a true writing another piece of the fantasy disappears. 

This is not a public health crisis of untreated depression, but the further realization of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Durkheim, and Freud’s diagnosis of the cultural and technological production of malaise, and the impasse of humanity at a certain point of evolution.