Dissident Editions


latest additions
and subtractions

latest poems

February 2007

 

POETRY

poems of the month

orpheus in soho

a seriously sexy man

fish

measuring my face

old clothes

modern iranian poems

my hero

face at the bottom of the world

perhaps (maybe)

the diogenes sequence

i am and am not:
      fragments of rumi

the zen of no-enlightenment

the iraqi monologues

the sexy jihad

the smell of possibilities

ultimate leaves

rejoice in the dog

post-millennium maggot

confession from belgrade

dispatches from the war against the world

albanian poems

french poems in honour of jean genet

the hells going on

the joy of suicide part 1

book disease

foreground trouble

the transcendental hotel

cinema of the blind

lament of the earth mother

uranian poems

haikai by okami

haikai on the edge

black hole of your heart

jung's motel

the second coming (rebus)

gloss on rilke's ninth duino elegy

wine and roses

jewels and shit:
poems by rimbaud

villon's dialogue with his heart

vasko popa: a shepherd of wolves ?

the rubáiyát of
omar khayyám

genrikh sapgir:
an ironic mystic

the love of pierre de ronsard

imagepoem

 

BETWEEN POETRY AND PROSE

400 revolutionary maxims

nice men and
  suicide of an alien

vacuum of desire: a 'gay' correspondence

anti-fairy tales

the most terrible event in history

the rich man and the leper

disgusting

art, truth and bafflement

 

ESSAYS & MEMOIRS

helen's tower

extortion through e-bay

schopenhauer for muthafuckas

never a pygmy

against money

'original sin' followed by
crippled consciousness

a gay man's guide to soft-willy sex

the holosensual alternative

tiger wine

the death of poetry

the absinthe drinker

with mrs dalloway in ukraine

love  and  hell

running on emptiness

a holocaust near you

happiness

genocide

a muezzin from the tower of darkness

a holy dog and a
dog-headed saint

an albanian ikon

being or television

satan in the groin

womb of half-fogged mirrors

tourism and terrorism

diogenes
the dog from sinope

shoplifting

this sorry scheme of things

the bektashi dervishes

combatting normality

fools for nothingness:
atheists & saints




Nuadú, God of War

field guide to megalithic ireland

megalith of the month

houses for the dead

ireland and the phallic continuum

irish cross-pillars

irish sweathouses

the sheela-na-gig conundrum

french megaliths

'western values'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worse than not helping someone
to have a better life
is not helping someone to have
a better death.


- Swami Vrhka Baba

 

 

 


The Suicide Adviceline:
Quit while you're ahead.




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

more poems by
Anthony Weir on

PoemHunter.com

Home - =- - Blog - -= - Reviews - =- Feedback - -= - About

 


"...cast a cold eye on life, on death..."


from

BOOK IN PROGRESS:


a journal of poems for a later age
more or less in order of composition

by

Anthony Weir

part five

__________________________


"If the immediate and direct purpose of our life is not suffering,
then we are the most maladapted species on the planet."

- Schopenhauer

_____________________

 

THREE POEMS FROM THE BROCHURE OF DISASSOCIATEDNESS

1. JUST ANOTHER RAPE

I am nobody.
As the lightning flashed
the city showed itself as greasy ruins,
and lush landscape was revealed
as desert mask.

I am the restaurant that closed for lunch.
I am the tedious
foreword to an unwritten
and unpublishable book.
As bombs explode
I am not even the most minor item
in the most odious newspaper,
not even the most minor character
in the cheapest work of fiction.
As bombs explode and people weep
and politicians pretend to grieve,
and the prices of insurance
rise, I mumble forth my benediction:
The best of Man is his ruins.

In pain-waste of ruin the lost jerk and squirm
and dissolve into nothing but ruin
and pain-waste of human connection
to world and to human...

Sperm doesn't care
whose cock it dribbles from.
Shelves in the food-halls
of terrible towers
are stacked with prices and corpses:
"Le bonheur est dans le prix."
As famine hobbles and crawls
I am the nothing around which spins
the vainglory which I despise.
What I experience as suffering
is just the knowledge that
(like the spat sperm which forced me into life)
I'm floating in the sea of suffering,
and my contempt is nothing
but a drop of slime
upon the infinitely deep and crumbling
well-shaft of time.

 

2. HOMO NEQUAM FRUGI
translated from the English by the author

When I was young my main
ambition was to be wise.
Now I realise
that wisdom resides in understanding
the worthlessness of wisdom.
O to live the unexamined life of stone or tree!

Those who believe in gods or a god and paradise
think they're not animals,
and freely force themselves to be
the zombies that the mummy-lords decree.

Pity our intelligence, our demon-bride
which has evolved just enough to wreck
and slaughter everything that we evolved from
- but not enough to bless or even tolerate the planet.
The nearest that we get to rationality is suicide.

God knows:
wisdom is the opposite of love
(which is elaborate appropriation)
- and the instrument
most suitable for the operation
of writing poems
is a spade.

I saw God again
the other day
behind the slaughterhouse of right and wrong
in an old fur coat the colour of jade
digging up bones.

Either all life is sacred or none is:
any betweenthought
is mere theology
the opposite of wisdom.

I spoke to a turd
another day.
No reply.
That turd was smart
rejected art.

The paradox of truth
is that the invention of the concept
makes false all that is human.
The nearest that we get to rationality is suicide.

To be fatherless
is a privilege.
To live alone
is not to be disappointed
by people
but to be less disappointed
by oneself,
to be beyond affinitive election.
O, the solipsistic maze of introspection!

Little that man creates
is not contemptible.
Time is the absence of bliss.
"Who will save me from Existence ?"
Only myself, denying the monotony
of unwished-for echo and abyss.

Tout lasse, tout casse, tout passe - Pascal

 

3. CODA
for Suchoon Mo

Great is Death
We are his
urgent breath
his eager pus
Thinking
we're in the thick of life
we do not see him
blinking
in the thin of us.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

EPISTOLARY POEM
to Suchoon Mo

All beasts are perfect. We
are failed animals.
The more we talk of human dignity
the more contemptible we are -
and angels are infantasy.

Yours ever creeping
beneath normality,

NUK TAE /ANTHONY

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

HERO

The body:

limp as a discarded condom
avoided by all except perverts
shrouded by ripped veils of rain
rags of old sunlight
dirty bandages of darkness
which was once faster than light
but is now shot to hell.

In paradise
all is not well.

 

 

SAVAGE TRANSPARENCE

One poem shows another up
for him or her who's lost both gullibility
and guilt, and may be conscious
much too conscious of too much...
feeling the futility
of trying to express the feelings of futility
best expressed in music such
as Beethoven's late quartets.
Though poems take up less room
and cost far less to buy than paintings,
poetry's as pointless as a journey into space.
And mind is a subtle variety of shit.

O Buddha of ice, O Buddha of dung,
The Buddha of blood congeals on my tongue...

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

AFTER A POEM ENTITLED "SLAVE BOY"
by Yusuf ibn Harun al-Ramadi (died 1022 CE)

They shaved his head
to make him unattractive,
for his beauty made them
mean.

They kicked out the night.
They abandoned him to dawn.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

THE EXTINCTION CLUB

Optimists are either
cynical or brain-dead.
And life isn't holy.
Holy's a book
that the religious read
- and wrote - those who made
and make life unholy by
their rules of hypocrisy
and their unholy god.

 

 

"OUTRAGE"

The phrases innocent civilians
and sanctity of human life
were not much mentioned in London,
Paris, Lisbon or Madrid
during the 400 years
of global Christian terrorism
(latterly called colonialism)
which included the buying, beating, maiming,
starving, burning, rape, castration and infecting of
innocent civilians,
ordinary unChristian Africans:
the Holocaust of 15 million slaves
on whom our bullying, unstoppable
Enlightenment was built.

Where then, and where now
are the monuments
to the admission of our guilt ?

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

APOLOGIA
ON READING A WEB-PAGE OF POEMS BY PHILIP LARKIN

Hardest of all is to write when you've something to say:
meaning takes over the words and tramples on play
of assonance, rhythm and ambiguity -
I wish I hadn't anything to say.

My greatest love is a dead dog (last of three),
my best friend grieves with and shares his food with me: sadness
is what we share - we are linked grief, grief is our greenness,
it is surely not - or not just - slovenly ?
Yet life still brings expectancy,
as culture with defining power
saddles us with false desire.

I have frequently turned back
because I lack
the guts to get out:
vasectomy was just a let-out.
And life is a toad
and toads to some are beautiful.
Life is a load
and loads can be plums as well as earth.
We, mostly hypocritical,
have only fabricated worth.

I am a shiver up the spine of God
a blackhead on the mask of Man
knowing like a blister what is wrong
and knowing that I never can
more than guess at what is right.
For most this must be miserable darkness.
For me it is miserable light.

I am a shiver up the spine of God
waging my little bleak Jihad
against conformity, religion, progress, the insanity
of optimism and the myth of the superiority,
of the 'humanity' of Man.
Mostly we are merely hypocritical.
Little that we do is not contemptible.
I only do what my blind heart can.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

HAS THE WORLD BECOME TOO KNOWABLE ?

There are people who have been so reduced
they chewed their shoes:
they were the rich ones who at one time could afford
the better shops
and ignored the gaudy piles of plastic flip-flops.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

MEEK AND MUCK ARE DIFFERENT FORMS OF THE SAME WORD
after Suchoon Mo

If someone argues to win
break wind

If someone accuses you
cry like a child

If you are taken to court
piss in your pants

and talk to both God and Satan

The meek shall inherit the earth

But first: the mad

Let us try to be less human

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

FROM THE UNDERBELLY OF THE ÜBERMENSCH

Beauty is not truth, nor truth beauty -
for human truths are rarely beautiful.
Beauty connects what is phenomenal
with what is numinous, epiphenomenal.
The ayatollahs of the work-ethic
have subverted truth, corrupted beauty,
turned altruism into sleaze,
have placed us all beyond the Pale
of evolution and revelation:

Hell is where there are more people than trees.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

WHEN ALL THE WORDS HAVE STRUTTED PAST
THERE'S JUST THE TRAMPLED TRUTH

Desire is the destruction of the world.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

FAITH IS THE SOFTWARE OF HYPOCRISY
"There's a Bible in the drawer - don't be afraid."

Religions are the measuring-spoons
of our cruel credulity.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

OBSERVATION
after Bardhyl Londo

When God outlawed suicide
It was not to protect us
But to keep us from escaping.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

FOR MY MOST-APPRECIATIVE AUDIENCE

Since at least the unreliably-reported
death of Christ tens of thousands have thought they were
living at the end of time.
And now, it seems, that end is nigh.

It will be possible quite soon to take a boat
across the North Pole - as a quarter
of the planet's land-mass drowns beneath the sea,
and economists discuss the Pensions Crisis.

Why am I composing poetry when soon
there will be nobody to read it ?

Nobody reads it, anyway - so I might as well continue to write poems:
for myself and nobody.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

THE GRACEFUL DEAD

Of course we got it wrong.
Neanderthals
were more intelligent than we.
They understood that the perpetuation
of mere cleverness leads to
disaster. So they gracefully
died out - and left us to turn
the planet of marvellous diversity
into a gasping globe of pain.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

APRIL 2006
in memoriam Sarah Teasdale

What do I care in the cold winds and languor of spring
That my face and my frame are not I ?
They are just furniture, but my poems are what I feel,
I am a vacuum, they are a cry.

Why should I care ? My life will soon finish
And the world that was will be holocaust, flood and drought.
My heart is a birth-wound, my mind a protest, a shout,
And only at death will their pain and their noise diminish.

Through the years I have learned
How few men and ideas are worthy of trust.
I have seen my greatest love
Murdered, trampled in the dust,
And fears I never knew before
Burrow into my heart's core.
Hope little. Ask for less.
Who dares to talk of happiness ?

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

THE SHADOW OF A SHADOW OF A WOUND

Because I'm terrified of letting go
all my cerebration is uneasy
dialogue with suicide. Time
seems tight. When time becomes
too tight it's time to die - to glory
in the only letting-go. My inmost thoughts
are homeless: every door a gate to hell.

Time tells us nothing but 'I told you so'.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

THE BEAUTIFUL NO

Despite our constantly braying Yes
there is, all around us, the vast, apparently silent No
and the No is all we are not
and is beyond us.
And the addled old man with the beard
who wears the same clothes for a month
and rarely has shower or bath - he
is in love with the No that is everything he is not,
for he knows (as sage Mr Stevens
of Connecticut seemed to) that the mind
can never be satisfied, but only be swallowed up
by the beautiful No that it tries to
expunge and deny.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

AFTER THE ALBANIAN OF PJETËR BUDI (1566-1622)

Unhappy, hapless man
Ever engaged in evil,
Lost in self-regard:
A helpmeet of the devil...
You make neither the most beautiful
of heavens, nor the most beautiful of hells
- but anything that sells.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

ON READING A COMMENTARY ON THE VISION OF THE PROPHET DANIEL

To the invisible
nothing is divisible.
The visible is
infinitesimal.
I am infinitesimal
amongst the visible,
but not quite invisible.
My vision goes beyond
the visible and I see
misery.

The cross we don't
quite die on is Desire:
we call it Throne.
Crucifixion is our home
if there is no eternal fire.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

PEOPLE CALLED SIOUX - a holocaust poem

Was Shel Silverstein just being crass
in the lyric sung by Johnny Cash -
or was he being amazingly, subversively,
unamericanly ironic ?
The boy was not a boy, but a lot of men and women
their name not Sue but Sioux,
and ethnically cleansed by some of American
Democracy's many land-grabs and pogroms
carried out by racist rednecks
and Ulstermen with bombs.

(many more than 9 million aboriginal Americans were killed "in every which way" by Europeans)

TOP OF PAGE

 

INFINITE BANALITY

A world obsessed by communication
and nothing to communicate
but misinformation
disinformation
and infinite banality

which is why motors rule the world
and ear-plugs don't.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

THIRD WORLD POVERTY

Money cannot close the gap.
It is the gap.
And armies have not the sense
to eat each other
nor their civilian victims.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

SWIMMING-POOLS

Lawn-sprayers
Washing-machines
Water-closets
Dishwashers
Car-washes
Bathtubs
and showers

use water
like there's no tomorrow.

And lo!
there is no tomorrow.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

CIDES

for Margie Cronin

After
birth
is mostly
-cides:
bactericides
insecticides
herbicides
rodenticides
but too rarely
spermicides
and all too rarely
suicide.
Thus almost all of us
with soap, detergent, bleach
and endless showering
are war-criminals.

 

TOP OF PAGE

LET THEM PLAY THEIR MUSIC,
LET THEM PLAY IT WRONG

What can one say about the treasons of hope ?
(We are destruction and noise of destruction.)
God is the gap between us and natural selection,
so Men demand saviours, while women just cope.

Madness is not what you
believe, but how you respond to
whatever you believe.

I will kiss shadows where you
fear the dark. (Man fears while
animals take care.)
Birth
left me homesick (for dark earth ?)
but glad
to be unpalled by patrimony - so
I can piss lovingly upon each blessed sod
upon the lovely hills
and call it music, call it god.

(We will never run short of idols.)

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

COAT-TRAILING
for Margie Cronin

Jean Genet said:
"the author of a beautiful poem
is always dead".

But beautiful poems
are also always dead
whereas a poet once lived
in his head.

Great poetry now is what
people can't bear to read.

Great poets are dead and dutiful.
The dead are always beautiful.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

DEVIANTS

In just one respect they tend to deviate.
In other ways they earnestly collaborate,
conform depressingly.
The same is true of dissidents and poets.

Almost every day I feel that I'm
the only person who's awake,
while other people are sleepwalking
the world to nightmare:
the long, bad time for poetry
now born of its dung.

The trickle of blood is time
("O ancient, crimson curse!")
Surviving birth was my third crime.

Although the "Nuclear Winter"
would have been the gentler way
to kill the world we fundamentally resent,
the Bible-blood of history
and very recent history has shown
that war is justifiable
only to unreason and testosterone.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

HOW CAN AN IRISH POET FOLLOW YEATS ?
(in honour of Christopher Marlowe)

They danced for joy
as the towers were burned
the Towers of Ilium:
the sack of Troy.

Instead of Troy, shall Washington be sack'd ?
And is bin Laden the new
Odysseus ? or yet
the new Æneas,
the falsely-justifying hero
of societies not founded
on the principles of greed and debt ?

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

UNDERSTANDING MÖBIUS

The meaning of catastrophe is
the catastrophe of meaning.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

TO AMERICA

(spoken)  That land's not your land
nor is it anyone's land
from Alcatraz to Ellis Island.
That land was stolen
but not from those folks
who never claimed it
who had respect for wolves and bears.

All land is stolen from the planet
and the earth is now bereft.
As the Frenchman said:
property is theft.

(sung)   This world's not your world.
This world's not my world
from the Antartic to Baffin Island.
This world's the sun's world
the world of nature
and man is alien,
the vile dictator.
Man's rule knows no democracy.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

FOOD TURNS INTO SHIT.
THE MIND IS SHIT ALREADY.

In the miasma of greed
called civilisation
failed abortions are
the smallest minority
completely ignorant of each other.
Don't invade a country
whose poetry you'll never read.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

MEMORY

The past a dim-lit sadness
The future a white dread

Why can't I discard my memory
as I discarded friends -
or memory drop me
as many acquaintances did ?

Now my only friend
my treasured enemy
is my mercifully-bad memory.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

MISTAKE

If the human brain is as wonderful
as we are constantly told it is -
why are we not living in Paradise ?
Why are we the only stupid species ?

The Fundamentalists have an answer:
Original Sin.
But of course a little thought
with our marvellous brains reveals
that the sin is not ours - but God's
(without the snake).
To put it more scientifically:
we are (like the dinosaurs)
one of the blind alleys, evolution's
latest apocalyptic mistake
.

 

 

POETRY IS ONLY CRAP
(so many write it, but only a gullible few read it)

Cheese is one of the corpses
of milk - the blood, the body -
Time turns to crust and Jesus
- lording it over the arsenals like Constantine -
treasures his tiger-bone, offers disciples
milked bile of bears.

Cheese is abortion of cow-love;
human love is a golden calf of banality, sentimentality
somewhat like religion and nationality.

Yesterday turns into pious curds
of hypocrisy oozing tomorrow
like there were no tomorrow
so words are no reality
(except as kinds of capsule):
words are only words.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

THE DIOGENES MUSEUM

Uniquely, what Man puts into life
is Death - while seeing his 'soul' as sanctum
and not slaughterhouse.

Trapped in our private catastophes of comfort
we only seem to live:
comfort, even more than consciousness,
makes criminals of us all,

hovering like pale moths between madness and sanity.

Madness is what fashion-doctors say it is;
sanity: what business makes us buy;
consciousness: the madness of not being
but wanting to be: new rot in new wood.
We are no more alive
than the machines that are our only progress.
Hope is the most addictive of afflictions.

The only problems are human - and
the human problem is the problem of scale.
The outer darkness is much more inviting
than the inner one. What people call
'the miracle of life' is really the costly accident of existence,
a consuming hotel.

Why should we need reasons for suicide
when life for those whose consciences are open
is the only Hell ?

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

AT THE AGE OF 65 I WANT TO BE A TERRORIST
homage to Andrey Tarkovsky

Between the bomb
and the mall is the
programmed brain.

All control is remote -
so revenge is the fastest
food on earth.

Because education
is designed to prevent
us from asking Why ?

I want to go out at night
and burn to the ground
all the schools in the world

at the end of which
all the why-askers will be able to do
is watch paint
dry
and crack
and flake off
into hell.

 

 

VIOLENCE IN ITHAKA

Engendered by
violence in Ithaka
I have always been longing
for the barbarians
the halting hairy
ones who would bear
me gently away to my dark
father Hades' divan.

Death is the Second Coming

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

WRITTEN WHILE WAITING FOR A TRAIN

(floating + sinking) - breathing = dying
(with or without a little, or a lot of, pain).

 

__________TOP OF PAGE__________

click here for a single-page printable version of
the joy of suicide
without pictures or navigation-bars.

______________________


"We hear that suicide is the most cowardly of acts, that only the unhinged commit it, and similar inanities; or the senseless assertion that it is 'wrong', though it is obvious there is nothing in the world a man has more right to than his own life and person."

- Schopenhauer

 


Clues to Future Suicide
Contained in Poets' Words



A glib newspaper article by
Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) July 25, 2001 8:17 am EST :

The writings of poets of various nationalities who committed suicide contain words and language patterns that give clues about their eventual fate, researchers said on Tuesday.

Using a computer program that examines word usage in written texts, the researchers analyzed 156 poems written by nine poets who committed suicide and 135 poems written by nine poets who did not. They found that the suicidal poets gravitated toward words indicating their detachment from other people and preoccupation with themselves. The study appears in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine.

"The key finding is that we were able to distinguish features of people's mental health by the language they use," said James Pennebaker, a University of Texas psychology professor who conducted the research along with University of Pennsylvania graduate student Shannon Wiltsey Stirman.

"The words we use, especially what often appear to be the unimportant words, say a lot about who we are, what we're thinking and how we're approaching the world," he added.

The researchers looked at the works of John Berryman (1914-1972), Hart Crane (1899-1932), Sergei Esenin (1895-1925), Adam L. Gordon (1833-1870), Randall Jarrell (1914-1965), Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930), Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), Sarah Teasdale (1884-1933) and Anne Sexton (1928-1974), all of whom took their own lives.

It compared their works to poets matched as closely as possible by nationality, era, education and gender. All the poets were American, British or Russian.

The comparison group included Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-present), Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918), Denise Levertov (1923-1997), Robert Lowell (1917-1977), Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938), Boris Pasternak (1890-1960), Adrienne Rich (1929-present) and Edna St.Vincent Millay (1892-1950).

The poets who committed suicide used many more first-person singular self-references such as "I," "me" and "my" and fewer first-person plural words than did the non-suicidal poets.

"Issues of identity, isolation and connection to others is revealed in pronoun usage," Pennebaker said in an interview. "One of the most telling words of all is the word 'I.' People who are suicidal or depressed use 'I' at much, much higher rates, and there's also a corresponding drop in references to other people."

The suicidal poets also generally reduced their use of communication words such as "talk," "share" and "listen" over time heading toward their self-inflicted deaths, while the non-suicidal poets tended to increase their use of such words.

The suicidal ones also used more words associated with death, but surprisingly the amount of words with negative emotion (for example, "hate") or positive emotion ("love") did not vary significantly between the groups.

Pennebaker said previous research has found that suicide rates are much higher among poets than among other literary writers and the general public, and that poets are more prone to depression and bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness.

"As a group, no one would call poets a particularly bubbly, chipper group," Pennebaker added.

He said the patterns of language used by the poets who eventually took their lives could serve as "linguistic predictors of suicide" in current poets. "This is not some kind of causal relationship. We're not saying that if you use 'I' a lot, then you'll commit suicide. It's just simply a marker of greater risk," Pennebaker said.

 

A great Hope fell
You heard no Noise -
The Ruin was Within.

- Emily Dickinson

 

Das Bewusstsein unserer Sterblichkeit macht unser Dasein erst menschlich.

- Max Frisch



Primo Levi, survivor and chronicler of Auschwitz,
poet, novelist and suicide.
See http://www.giotto.org/piccolomini/levi.html

 


One of many definitions of a Fascist might be:
a person who claims that it takes more guts to keep on living
than to commit suicide.

 

 

The Romans had no word for suicide,
only 'the rational ending of the self'.

 

from Scientific American
INSIGHTS
June 2005 issue

In the 'underworld' of assisted suicide and euthanasia, Russel Ogden examines the means and methods thereto - even as he is shunned by academia and chased by the law.

by Diane Martindale

RUSSEL OGDEN: EXPLORING THE END


In the Netherlands, where assisted death is legal, 2.4 percent of yearly fatalities result from euthanasia (mercifully ending someone's life as painlessly as possible), and 0.3 percent from assisted suicide (helping a person take his or her own life).
On why he studies the subject: "I want to provide the data so activists on both sides of this debate can inform their activism."

In 1990 David Lewis, a Vancouver man living with HIV, went to a local newspaper and announced that he had assisted eight friends, all suffering from AIDS, in committing suicide--an act of murder in the eyes of Canadian law. For many people, the news simply affirmed what they had long suspected was happening in the AIDS community. But to Russel Ogden, a criminology graduate student at Simon Fraser University looking for a research project, it was an opportunity to go where no scientist had ventured before.

"I had a population in my backyard that had been living with euthanasia issues for some time," recalls Ogden, who is believed by many to be the first researcher in North America to have formally studied the practices of underground assisted suicide and euthanasia. In 1994 Ogden published his master's thesis, which documented the inner workings of this illicit network. The findings shocked the nation and branded him one of Canada's most controversial researchers.

In the decade since, Ogden has faced legal and ethical roadblocks. The authorities have repeatedly pressured him to identify his informants. Such brushes with the law have convinced him to hide his research: he now keeps his data hidden in several locations around town. And at 42, the Vancouver-based Ogden should by now be a well-established scientist. Instead he is still chasing his Ph.D. long-distance at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands--Canadian universities have shut him out. Lack of the usual academic credentials, however, has not stopped Ogden. He wants to know who asks for assisted death, who provides it and how it is done.

Such grisly details were revealed in Ogden's first study, in which 17 individuals, including doctors, nurses, counselors, social workers and that many of these deaths were not the "good deaths" often described in proeuthanasia books, which tend to romanticize the process. Of the 34 euthanasia cases, Ogden found that half were botched and ultimately resulted in increased suffering. In five situations, suffocation was unsuccessful. In one instance, the individual who assisted in the suicide had to resort to shooting the patient--in another, to slitting his wrists with a razor blade. These failed attempts often led to the acts of euthanasia taking several hours or longer to complete; in one case, it took four days for the person to die.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Unregulated euthanasia has occurred under conditions akin to back-alley abortions.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

These people were first- or second-timers, "not serial death providers," Ogden remarks. "They weren't sure what they were doing." He concluded that the lack of medical knowledge, as well as the unavailability of suitable drugs and ignorance of lethal doses, contributed to the additional suffering. "This study showed that without medical supervision and formal regulations, euthanasia is happening in horrific circumstances, similar to back-alley abortions," he declares.

In February 1994 news of Ogden's study spread quickly, eventually making its way to the coroner's office. Ogden soon found himself staring at a subpoena demanding that he reveal the names of his informants, each potentially facing prosecution. Ogden refused, never wavering on his promise to his participants, and chose to risk jail time.

Amid the battle, Simon Fraser University abandoned him, leaving Ogden to conduct his own defense. He successfully argued that his research passed Canada's Wigmore criteria, a set of common law privileges that excused him from disclosing his confidential sources. The coroner eventually dropped the charges.

With a tarnished reputation in Canada, Ogden went to the University of Exeter in England in 1995, where he resumed his studies of assisted death in AIDS patients--with assurances that the university would stand behind him and his research subjects. So for three years he interviewed nearly 100 physicians and nonmedical death providers in the U.K., the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands--the last is one of only three countries where national law allows doctors to assist in dying.

(Oregon has a state law permitting physician-assisted death.)

Ogden discovered that although the methods used for dying are similar (most involve drug overdose), attitudes toward assisted death are quite different. In Europe, people have a more passive and deferential approach, allowing a dear one to make the decision, usually after the person has lapsed into unconsciousness or has severe dementia, Ogden explains. "In the U.S. and Canada, there is a big push for assisted suicide where patients make the decision of when to die and take the drugs themselves; it's more individualistic and autonomous."

Ogden's study, however, abruptly ended: In 1998 Exeter reneged on its promise, citing concern over institutional liability.
Fearing legal intervention, Ogden did not risk publishing his data without protection and thus left the university and his work behind. Ogden returned, without his Ph.D., to Vancouver, where he began teaching criminology as well as shifting his studies to the NuTech movement, a loose coalition of right-to-die activists from several nations. Since 1999 he has collected hundreds of interviews and reports from NuTech and may be the only outsider to have been invited to its secret meetings.

NuTech's approach is to take medicine out of assisted death, with methods that are simple, painless, inexpensive and
impossible to trace. Suffocation devices, such as the "debreather," a modified piece of scuba diving equipment, and the "exit bag," a plastic bag equipped with Velcro straps, are commonly used. Most popular, Ogden has found, is the plastic bag in conjunction with helium gas. "This is the quickest way to go; used properly, you're unconscious after the second breath and dead in about 10 minutes," he reveals. Such methods are more efficient and reliable than lethal drugs, but suffocation devices remain unappealing and undignified to people. Most still want something they can drink. In that case, death providers recommend black-market Nembutal, a liquid barbiturate used by veterinarians to put down animals.

NuTech is at the forefront of what Ogden calls the "deathing counterculture," in which nonmedical death practitioners offer referrals, consultations and house calls. "They are taking the place of physicians to deliver virtually undetectable death assistance," says Ogden, who notes that the most famous death provider, Jack Kevorkian, began his career as a pathologist, not a personal physician, and did not see patients. What is more, he has found that this counterculture is growing in direct response to the lack of supporting legislation. But Ogden sees problems with NuTech: no medical or counseling personnel to ensure mental competence, no informed consent and no exploration of treatment alternatives. Hence, the NuTech practice will be difficult to regulate and protect from abuse.

Opponents do not see how Ogden's research can be of any benefit, especially because there is no way to verify if participants' responses are truthful. "Most people who study this want to show that assisted suicide is occurring quite commonly, therefore we should just bite the bullet and legalize it," says Margaret Somerville, director of the Center for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University, who argues that assisted death and euthanasia reduce the respect for life. Still, Ogden's work has informed public and political debates, as is his intention. ("I want to provide the data so activists on both sides of this debate can inform their activism.") For example, in Ottawa, Senate committees in Parliament have repeatedly relied on his data for their reports and recommendations.

Ogden expects to receive his doctorate for his NuTech work soon, but beyond that, his future is uncertain. Without a university position, he will have a hard time securing government funding. Thus far he has covered the cost of his research partly with settlement money he received after filing grievances against both Simon Fraser and Exeter.

Despite his years of research, Ogden has not experienced one thing he feels is critical: witnessing covert assisted death. "It's one thing to be told what's happening and it's another to actually see it. To my knowledge, I would be the first researcher to do this," he says. More controversy would surely follow.

******

COMMENT by JOHN KAMINSKI

Ridiculous. You'd think some school would help him. It is the nature of the establishment to tend toward repression and away from superficial social stigma, primarily generated by the warped church. This is very valuable research.

COMMENT by BOB TRUBSHAW

I don't think I'll take the risk of publishing his dissertation... ;-)

The 3% figure for the Netherlands is interesting - that's around 5,000 people per year (population of the Netherlands: around 16 millions) or about one person every two hours...

 



SUICIDE WHILE THE BALANCE OF HIS MIND WAS TEMPORARILY RESTORED


Another motive for suicide is a variant of that guilt which haunted the survivors of the Nazi death-camps: guilt at simply having shelter and incredible availability of food - through no merit of one's own - while so many do not.

The very unscientific study reported above entirely begs - of course - the question of the motive or reason for suicide. Suicide, like cannibalism and infanticide, is a great taboo in the present near-totalitarian World-Order, so these two highly rational (or explicable) behaviours frighten the highly-bred and nervous horses of reason.

Suicide also comes in different qualities: messy, dramatic, neat, quiet, ambiguous (Camus ? Tchaikovsky ?), invisible, pathetic - and world-shaking: Jan Palach, the Czech student who set himself on fire in 1968; the World Trade Center kamikaze pilots.

To group "suicides" together in a lumpen-category is rather like putting "gays" together in a tight, invented ghetto of unknowing.

One can commit suicide out of shame (for one's family), guilt, grief, despair, the feeling that one has had enough, the knowledge that one should never have been born, or the awareness of the wrongness of being.

Terminally-ill and suffering people may pull the plug out of their expensive life-support machines or ask others to do so. For the rest of us, it is a simple matter of a few sleeping-pills and a strong, air-tight plastic sack.

'Aboriginal' people often will themselves to die when they are herded into 'civilisation' where they appear (and are made to appear) useless. They will also drink themselves to death in a long, slow cultural suicide. 'Depression' is the 'black magic' or 'bad medicine' that the totalitarianism of 'normality' puts on the despairing for threatening the 'normals' by seeing the world as it is.

The more angry might combine various ideological and personal motives and become hunger-strikers - as not so long ago in Turkey.) Suicide-bombers seek eternal bliss through martyrdom, out of sheer lifelong frustration, and humiliation by the whole world - including their Arab 'brothers'.

The suicides of (for example) Primo Levi and John Berryman are hardly comparable. Nor are those of Sylvia Plath and Vladimir Mayakovski. And what is suicide, anyway ? Why did Dmitri Shostakovich never kill himself ? If ever there was good reason, his, like Mayakovski's would have been among the best.

The deepest sadness is the knowledge that happiness is just the embracing of shallowness. Suicide is the only conclusion of utter grief, not 'merely' of suffering. Utter grief is the honest result of honest seeing.

Those who talk of objectivity are careful to apply it only to a very narrow sector of their awareness - otherwise they might be forced to act with compassion - which involves, amongst other cans of worms, a serious consideration of the justifiability of suicide and the rightness of 'depersonalisation' or 'derealisation' - 'conditions' that many take drugs both to counteract and induce.

In some societies suicide has been more acceptable than others. In Japan especially the practice is considered most honourable and is known as Jiketsu, which translates as 'taking control'. 'taking responsibility or 'self-determination'.

Chinese women commit suicide in order to revenge-haunt, as malign ghosts, their oppressors. China is the only county where the suicide rate is higher for women than for men.

In Ancient Greece and even 19th century Europe, suicide to redeem one's honour was not only acceptable in the ruling class, but de rigueur - as, famously, in the case of Tchaikovsky. Berserks and battle-suicides were an important element of the Nordic world-view (like suicide-bombers today), which also accommodated, as do many non-universalist religions, ritual murder. Universalist religions also practise ritual murder, but under the category of Punishment for Heresy. In Ancient Greece infanticide (not just of females) by exposure on hillsides was also widely practised - as was, we should remember, another modern bugbear: pædophilia.

In the insanely-inanely-optimistic West we should realise that our horror and condemnation of suicide is the product of the three mono-theisms which hate nature. Western optimism is the lynch-pin of Humanism - itself a secularised form of Christianity, as Professor John Gray of the London School of Economics has pointed out. Humanism (up to a point) is Enlightenment Christianity: no childish stories, nice pictures or dancing in the aisles. But it has inserted a new Mystery: the Myth of Progress. Armed with this and military-economic power, as the earlier empires were armed with The Book and military-economic power, we are squelching or have already squelched all other societies (not to mention all other species) with our hypocritical sentimentality, our unquestioning subservience to the Technological Imperative, our terrible machines and our insane, greedy, planet-destroying optimism. No wonder al-Qaïda has risen up in opposition like so many Dragon's Teeth!

Among the 'lower' animals suicide is not unknown. There is the tragic case of the octopus trained to perform tricks for food. When his circus disbanded, he simply put into a tank and ignored. Unnoticed, his tricks produced no reward. Unstimulated, his colour slowly ebbed away (a sign of mood-deteriorations in octopi as well as humans), and, after performing his tricks to no effect a final time, he stabbed himself to death with his beak.

Jonathan Dollimore suggests that the will to live and the wish to die "share the same obscure origins", quoting Byron:

"...life's strange principle will often lie
Deepest in those who long the most to die."

This certainly seems to fit my case - or is it just that I haven't the guts to make the right decision and take the appropriate action ?

Suicide can also be ritual self-murder. For some it is the ending of utter and unending fatigue.

For others it is the closing of the door on immanent and overwhelming evil.

The most interesting suicide is suicide of Self - for it can be studied while it proceeds. The death of the body occurs soon enough and appropriately afterwards.


Emile Durkheim's classic work, Suicide: A Study in Sociology, first published in 1897, looked at an area of behaviour which had always been considered the province of psychology: how can we understand or describe the state of mind that leads a person to end their own life ? In doing so, he showed that it was a proper area of sociological study.

He did this principally by demonstrating that the annual rates of suicides in different societies were extraordinarily stable. It was almost as though some sociological god decreed every year that only so many people in each country would kill themselves. How, Durkheim argued, could this be explained by reference to psychological factors ? 'Why did a definite number of people kill themselves in each society in a definite period of time ?'

There were many reservations about Durkheim's thesis but perhaps the most disturbing was the one introduced in the early nineteen-seventies by the British sociologist, Max Atkinson. Instead of taking suicide statistics at their face value (as Durkheim had done), Atkinson went to look at coroners' records in order to discover how official death-certifiers determined suicide. He showed that while some deaths were regarded as obviously suicides, others were unlikely to be so designated. A death by drowning was more likely to be called a suicide if the victim had folded his or her clothes neatly on the beach before stepping out into waves.

Catholic countries like Ireland had very low suicide rates, not because the population was happy - quite the contrary - but, since suicide was a Mortal Sin, 'misadventure' tended to be the verdict to avoid shaming whole clans. We now know that Ireland, with its lonely rural males struggling to survive both economically and socially, had an extremely high rate of suicide. Religious minorities in Europe such as Muslims will also tend to show suspiciously low suicide rates.

More recently, a computer-analysis of suicide notes has suggested that long suicide notes which rambled on about the unfairness of life and the writers' existential state were more likely to be associated with failed suicide attempts. On the other hand those who had suceeded in killing themselves favoured shorter, practical or laconic messages - 'I've left the car-keys on the kitchen table...'

"With time, I have learned not to look for anything in life
but the ecstasy offered by Oblivion."

Isabelle Eberhardt,
quoted by Sven Lindqvist in Desert Divers.



TIME AND DOG

Time flies
Time heals
The poor in spirit
The meek shall inherit
Time lies
Heavy
Time lies
All the time
Time feels
Nothing
We lie
All the time
We feel
Only feeling

Nothing feeling
Nothing doing
Apart
Apart
Throw discretion to
Gone to the dog
Give him a bad name
And hang him
Nearer my Dog to thee
Pure in heart
Timeless humility

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

THE NEAREST TO JOY

The nearest to joy
I have known
since I was a boy
on my own
in an attic of junk
was seeing the joy
in my teacher, my dog
as he gnawed at a bone
or romped in a field
or played tug-of-war with a brush.

the suicide site

 

back to part four



"...horseman - pass by !"


DOWNLOAD OVER 150 MORE POEMS
AS A PRINTABLE, INDEXED e-BOOK

 

 


"ΑΠΟΘΑΝΕΙΝ ΘΕΛΩ" - The Cumæan Sybil

 

top of page feedback
more recent writing