An American Babushka in Moscow:  Further notes on killing ourselves – In Memory of Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain

Yesterday I wrote about the fact that the suicide rate in America had gone up twenty five percent over the course of the last sixteen years, and then drew out some capitalist social relations which could explain this drastic increase.  First and foremost is the psychopathology of capitalism itself which tells people they are independent individuals and as such, must live their lives accordingly i.e. without any help from the government or society at large.  To this we can add the essential nature of capitalist social relations of product which alienate one human being from another by forcing them to swim around in ferocious feeding freezies.    Like ugly and foul smelling weeds dozens of fears grow in their hearts: fear of hunger, of homelessness, of being alone, of being abused or killed or imprisoned.  Sometimes they pick the seeds and leaves from the noxious weeds to make their Balm of Gilead.  In the absence of such potions, or perchance when these potions have taken control over their minds and bodies, they plunge into dark despondency and open their arms to embrace the total annihilation of being.

And just hours later, the image of Anthony Bourdain appeared across a vast field of colorful screens..  He was not exactly a poster boy for suicide – or was he?  He washandsome, fit, famous, popular, free, and seemed to enjoy life to its fullest. Certainly he did not have to worry about where he would sleep the night or how he would pay the bills.  As for food, he made his living eating itBourdain hosted CNN’s “Parts Unknown,” a travel/food show,  wrote a best-seller about his time as a chef, and received numerous awards and nominations for his work throughout the late 2000s and 2010s.

But this morning the reporters spoke of his “unhappy soul”.   ( Speaking to The Guardian in January 2017, Bourdain reflected on his high pressure life running kitchens.  He noted the “psychotic rage” he felt year after year, and how that rage led to his  “being awful to line cooks, abusive to waiters, bullying to dishwashers.”   “I was an unhappy soul, with a huge heroin and then crack problem. I hurt, disappointed, and offended many, many, many people, and I regret a lot. It’s a shame I have to live with.”

I feel the need to say a few more things in passing.  First, people committed suicide before Capitalism ever came into being; however, the reasons they did so are worth noting.  First, now as well as then, people killed themselves because they had lost through death or rejection, their lovers.    From time immemorial storytellers have told and writers have written great tales about such lovers.  In many of those stories, fromPyramus and Thisbe through Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette, and encompassing a variety of similar love tales from around the world, people kill themselves when, for one reason or another, they lose the one they love.

Moreover, the one who is lost need not be a lover: it can be a relative, a child, a parent.Aegus, mythical king of ancient Athens, drowns himself in the sea after believing that his son, Theseus had died.Evenus,  in a state of sadness and anger over the abduction of his daughter Marpessa at the hands of Idas, drowns in the river that now bears his name,

Rejection, whether by someone of the same or opposite sex, also acts as a motive behind several  acts of suicide. A few notable examples are that of Aminias, who stabs himself after being spurned by Narcissus, and Soloeis who drowns in a river after the Amazon Antiope rejects his advances.

Shame and humiliation are also powerful reasons for suicide.  In Greek mythology, rape and incest often drove males and females to suicide. Archippe, virgin companion of Artemis, killed herself after being raped by Theogene.  Perhaps the most famous woman in Greek mythology to commit suicide is Jocasta, who killed herself when she learned that her husband was also her son.  The Nymph Alea commits suicide by drowning in the sea after being raped by her sons.

Then there are all those in Greek mythology and in the actual world who have sacrificed their lives for others.  These  suicides are committed for higher purposes and ends, which are primarily but not necessarily universally, of benefit to others: the mother who gives life to her child knowing that she will perish in the process, the fireman who sacrifices his life so that others may live, the revolutionary and yes, the Japanese suicide pilots of WWII.

So people, in other cultures and in other times, and even in our own time, do kill themselves for  and reasons other than failure to thrive under capitalism.  However, despite the universality of suicide, what makes suicide different under capitalism than at any other time in any other place, is the psychopathological conditions from which it emerges.  Aside from the loss of a loved one, the individual dies not because of any connection he has had to another, but because of his absolute disconnection to anyone or anything.  He dies not because he has lost someone he/she has loved, but because there is no one to love or be loved by.  He will die because it is so very hard to live.

So, today I mourn Anthony Bourdain, who according to his own words, suffered from the guilt and shame he felt forthe mistreatments he had heaped upon those who worked under him (and probably by those same and/or other mistreatments that had been heaped upon him).  Perhaps the lesson his death teaches us is that capitalism twists all our psychic trunks into grotesque forms.  And it is so sad that this great chef, this man who showed us the people and cuisines of the world, who had “walked with kings” and never lost the “common touch”,  yet still was driven to drugs, and suicide no less than the poorest and most despondent Americans.He might have been a man who committed cruelties against others, but he was not a psychopath who did so without conscience.  Like a character in a Greek Tragedy, his shame and his guilt haunted and tortured him to death.    As anyone could tell who watched him, he was a man who drank in the humanness of others with every dish he ate and every conversation he had.

I wanted to preface the second bit of information I wanted to impart to my readers with the famous quote “There are lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics.”  (Paraphrase of Mark Twain who paraphrased Benjamin Desraeli).  It would seem, according to one of the flimsy and contradictory compilations of statistics, that it is Russia that has the highest rate of suicide in the world.  But propaganda is, as noted above, painted with statistics as much as lies.

Mary Metzger is a 72 year old retired teacher who has lived in Moscow for the past ten years. She studied Women’s Studies under Barbara Eherenreich and Deidre English at S.U.N.Y. Old Westerbury. She did her graduate work at New York University under Bertell Ollman where she studied Marx, Hegel and the Dialectic. She went on to teach at Kean University, Rutgers University, N.Y.U., and most recenly, at The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology where she taught the Philosophy of Science. Her particular area of interest is the dialectic of nature, and she is currently working on a history of the dialectic. She is the mother of three, the gradmother of five, and the great grandmother of 2.




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