Tag Archives: suicide
My first op-ed for Al Jazeera appeared this week. A shout-out to their editorial team, and especially to Naz, for a seamless experience.
It is five years and several months later that, not yet having achieved his end, he notes “in a passing remark” that
6. (…today on the twenty-second of January, 1989, which means it’s taken me ten days to bring myself to admit it, to decide thereby to put an end to the suspense I’d created, because on January 12 Dr. Chandi told me over the phone that my T4 count had dropped to 291, from 368 to 291 in one month, which suggests that in another month, the HIV virus will have ground my T4 count down to – I’m doing the subtraction at the bottom of the page – 214, thereby placing me…close to the catastrophic threshold that’s supposed to be staved off by AZT, if I choose to go with that instead of the Digitaline….) [E 197-8; F 215-6; emphasis added]
The passage, whose English translation first adds, then subtracts a set of parentheses to and from the French text, itself enacts “a sort of parenthesis of time that recalls the parenthesis: namely, that time passes without passing, like a parenthesis, in parentheses, the measure of time remaining here an absolutely heterogeneous measure…. What will happen will have opened another time. Absolute anachrony of a time out of joint” [Derrida, Demeure, 61]. Moreover, the disjointed narrative here links the disclosure that the January 11 deadline was not met to the prospect of suicide (“the Digitaline”), which holds out the seduction of an agency that could determine the limit of its own life expectancy, choosing the day of death’s arrival. This ultimate self-imposed deadline is likewise deferred – that decision, if it comes, will come later, always later. As his physician reminds him when Herve broaches the question of suicide, “each person’s relationship with his illness changes constantly in the course of this illness, and…it’s impossible to know beforehand how you’ll feel about these things when the time comes (et qu’on ne pouvait prejuger des mutations vitales de sa volonte)” [E 137; F 152]. For the time being, Herve continues counting days (“it’s taken me ten days”) and T4 cells (“I’m doing the subtraction at the bottom of the page,” cette page) – adding and subtracting with survival itself at stake.
The unsettling passages on the antigen tests and their devastating results have as their pretext the account of what happened a year earlier, in January 1988, on the occasion of another set of blood tests, these for seropositivity. That account, which arrives belatedly in the sovereign disorder of the narrative sequence, emphasizes the agonizing wait for the results, another parenthesis of time dictated by the non-coincidence of the procedures themselves and the diagnostic knowledge they eventually yield.
After we’d had our blood samples taken…we saw one boy come out again absolutely in shock…paralyzed at the news written all over his face…. It was a terrifying vision for Jules and me, which projected us one week into the future, and at the same time relieved us by showing us the worst that could happen, as though we were living it at the same time, precipitously, second-hand…. Suspecting [prevoyant] that our results would be bad and wishing to speed up the process…Dr. Chandi had already sent us to the Institute Alfred-Fournier for the blood analyses that are done after a seropositive result, specifically to ascertain the progress of the HIV virus in the body…. Looking over my lab slip, the nurse asked me, “How long have you known that you’re seropositive?” I was so surprised I couldn’t answer her. The results of the blood analysis were to be sent to us in about ten days, before the results of the seropositivity test would be known, in that precise interval of uncertainty [d’incertitude ou de feinte incertitude]…. [On the morning we went to find out the results of the seropositivity tests] he told me my blood workup wasn’t good; that they’d already seen the bad news [le signe fatal] there even without knowing the results of the other test. At that instant [a ce moment] I understood that a calamity had hit us, that we were beginning a period of rampant misfortune from which there would be no escape. I was like that poor boy devastated by his test results. [E 130-32; F 145-47]
Neither does Blue spare us the related task of accounting for the other crucial incommensurability it renders: that between the time of its recorded testimony and the time of the experience to which it testifies, with which it cannot coincide. Blue‘s blind address to the blind summons us to hear the difference as the spoken soundtrack reverts to the past tense:
The virus rages fierce. I have no friends now who are not dead or dying. Like a blue frost it caught them. At work, at the cinema, on marches and beaches. In churches on their knees, running, flying, silent or shouting protest. It started with sweats in the night and swollen glands. Then the black cancers spread across their faces – as they fought for breath TB and pneumonia hammered at the lungs, and Toxo at the brain. Reflexes scrambled – sweat poured through hair matted like lianas in the tropical forest. Voices slurred – and then were lost forever. My pen chased this story across the page tossed this way and that in the storm. [Blue, 7-8]
It calls us as well to register the prophetic cadences of the outraged witness:
How did my friends cross the cobalt river, with what did they pay the ferryman? As they set out for the indigo shore under this jet-black sky – some died on their feet with a backward glance – did they see Death with the hell hounds pulling a dark chariot, bruised blue-black, growing dark in the absence of light, did they hear the blast of trumpets? David ran home panicked on the train from Waterloo, brought back exhausted and unconscious to die that night. Terry who mumbled incoherently into his incontinent tears. Others faded like flowers cut by the scythe of the Blue Bearded Reaper, parched as the waters of life receded. Howard turned slowly to stone, petrified day by day, his mind imprisoned in a concrete fortress until all we could hear were his groans on the telephone circling the globe. [Blue, 16]
We all contemplated suicide
We hoped for euthanasia
We were lulled into believing
Morphine dispelled pain
Rather than making it tangible
Like a mad Disney cartoon
Transforming itself into
Every conceivable nightmare [Blue, 17]
In a journal entry dated August 1993, written contemporaneously with preparations for the release of Blue, Jarman alludes to the temporal asymmetry between perception and attestation in experiential rather than conceptual terms: “The stinging eyedrops are in, the reading chart which has a flaw – as if you read with your good eye first you can remember the letters, to whose benefit? My illusions…. Eleven o’clock and still waiting for the dragging minutes to pass…. I feel less and less like fighting, giving up, giving in. Writing blind now…. Yawning void” (Smiling, 224). For the blinded Jarman, of course, visual perception belongs to recollection, as the editor’s preface to the posthumously published Smiling in Slow Motion confirms: “In the final diary he wrote without vision, his semi-legible scrawl only possible from his memory of the scratch of nib on paper” (Smiling, np).
(In his Memoirs of the Blind, Derrida poses “a thoughtful question: what would a journal of the blind be like? A newspaper or daily of the blind? Or else the more personal kind of journal, a diary or day-book? And what about the day, then, the rhythms of the days and nights without day or light, the dates and calendars that scan memories and memoirs? How would the memoirs of the blind be written?” . Smiling in Slow Motion answers Derrida’s questions by and for example, in chronicling the rhythms of Jarman’s final days and nights without day or light.)
In his journal of the blind, as in his film without images, Jarman attests that he has finally seen enough. “The blind man thus becomes the best witness, a chosen witness. In fact, a witness, as such, is always blind. Witnessing substitutes narrative for perception. The witness cannot see, show, and speak at the same time, and the interest of the attestation, like that of the testament, stems from this dissociation. No authentification can show in the present what the most reliable witness sees, or rather, has seen and now keeps in memory” (Memoirs of the Blind, 104). Nearing the end of his journey without direction, with no prospect of an afterlife beyond the horizon, Jarman finds that no image can show in the present what he has seen and now keeps in memory. In place of the “pandemonium of image,” he bequeaths to his viewers an imageless archive: one that preserves a time that was “all awry,” along with its own fundamental incommensurability, as testimony, with the awful devastation of AIDS.