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This post is in response to Sarah’s oral report, so clearly I’ve been sitting on it for a while and I apologize for that. Miguel de Unamuno, a Spanish/Basque writer, presented an analysis of human motivation regarding living and dying that I show below in chart form.

As it relates to this class, each character we have read about can, through his or her actions, be categorized as wanting to live, wanting to die, not wanting to die (but not sure about living either), or not wanting to live (but not sure about dying either). I have listed a few characters below:

  • Brian Remy becomes increasingly apathetic throughout The Zero as he realizes that the events in which he participates are beyond his control. When, during the “interrogation” of Bishir Madain, he decides to “just drink until this all went away… this seemed like a good strategy” (Walter, 254), he behaves like someone who does not want to be (negative apathy). He is not quite ready to kill himself, but he withdraws from his life to an extreme degree.
  • Oskar Schell gives himself bruises when he has very heavy boots. Marta compared this bruising to a suicidal act, which I think is valid, especially in this context. The bruising is an act of not wanting to be bordering on wanting not to be. Oskar feels so much pain about his father’s death that he doesn’t know how to deal with it all. However, Oskar displays an incredible amount of agency for someone his age throughout the novel, so it can be argued that he belongs wholly with those who want to not be.
  • Keith Neudecker seems throughout Falling Man to be trying to get over what happened to him. He seems to want to be there for his wife and son and to let them be a part of his life, but he also doesn’t quite understand how he feels or what he’s going through. He ends up drifting through his own life. He doesn’t want to die, but he has forgotten how to live, placing him with those who don’t want to not be.

One Response to “It matters where you put the “not.””

  1. Marta says:

    I just Google Scholar’d the relationship between self-harm and suicide out of curiosity and came across the term “focal suicide,” which refers to forms of self-mutilation (though considering that most references I’ve found to this seemingly elusive concept also tend to mention things like intentional eye-gouging, I don’t think that it describes Oskar’s tendency specifically).
    The Wikipedia article on self-harm also has some information on methods of classification that I find interesting…it says that one psychiatrist, Karl Menninger, divided self-harm into six categories. The mildest ones — (6) conventional and (1) neurotic — include things like hair-trimming, nail-biting, and compulsive skin-picking (and, based on what i know of compulsive skin-picking, probably Oskar’s condition as well), while the most severe ones — primarily (4) psychotic — include things like eye removal, self-castration, and self-amputation. The article also mentions similarly organized scales, with the mildest ends including tattoos and piercings and the most severe including similarly gruesome acts to the ones I named above. The fact that all of these behaviors have been considered as behavioral manifestations of essentially the same compulsion on a broad spectrum indicate to me that perhaps my instinct on this does make some sort of sense. Totally awesome post. I’d also be interested to know how you feel about Aaron and Ahmed as they relate to Unamuno’s idea.