Saturday, August 25, 2007

No guts, no gory

If, as certain depressive Frenchmen suggested, the only question of any real significance is whether or not to kill yourself; and if your considered answer is that you should, then you might as well bone up on how to do so.

Perhaps you’re chronically down on life. Perhaps you quite enjoy your life at the moment but don’t have children and keep the kind of company whose habits are likely to kill them off soonish, and you’d prefer to quit while you’re ahead rather than tick out your life in the misery of an unattended old age, or be found half-eaten by Alsatians. Perhaps it’s just the unbearable lightness of the coffee they serve on the Left Bank. Whatever your reasons for wanting to leave this vale of tears behind, a good way to begin is to determine the least attractive forms of self-extermination, and then industriously not choose those.

As a first step, I recommend a little book by Christopher Ross called Mishima’s Sword: Travels in Search of a Samurai Legend. It’s the fascinating account of the author’s quest to locate the sword used by the celebrated and controversial Japanese writer Yukio Mishima to commit suicide in 1970, using what is far and away my least favourite option: seppuku, also called hara-kiri (or, if you’re a certain kind of provincial roughneck Occidental, harry carry).

Seppuku is a formal and culturally complex form of suicide; it has its origins in the samurai warrior’s unswerving loyalty to his feudal lord, and is tied to the Japanese concept that the belly is the seat of sincerity; to expose your entrails is, therefore, to express your deepest sincerity, courage and honour.

We’re talking quite plainly about self-disembowelment, which is unpleasantly enough achieved by sticking a knife in your own belly and making a cut long and deep enough to spill your entrails on the floor. Then the fellow you’ve brought along as your trusted second performs the duty called kaishaku, which is to say ending your suffering by cutting off your head with a carefully calibrated swordstroke, which should ideally not send the severed item hurtling across the room like a basketball, but instead leave a mere flap of throat skin attached, so that the head topples neatly onto the chest like the deepest of bows.

In Mishima’s case his second, a man called Masakatsu Morita, goofed the decapitation. (If you have a delicate constitution I entreat you to skip this paragraph.) After Mishima had cut his belly very deeply and was crouching over his own guts spilled on the floor, the trembling Morita’s stroke missed its mark not once or twice, but three times—landing first hard across Mishima’s back, then on the carpet, and then crunching through his neck and chipping the blade against his jawbone, at which point someone else in the horrified audience took over and ended the writer’s unspeakable pain, which had caused him to bite almost right through his tongue.

No, seppuku is not for me. Nor is leaping off a skyscraper, or opening my wrists in a warm bath, or jumping in front of a train, or sticking my head in the oven. I’m looking for something as non-violent as possible, which rules out listening to Himesh Reshammiya until the spirit shrivels, or watching television until brain death occurs. I’m thinking of something more enjoyable, like eating myself into a coma or perhaps going out in a blaze of glory choking on a huge piece of sushi.

But it’s more likely that I’ll still be here until the bitter end, thinking about it but not actually doing it. That’s most pleasant of all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope you're doing well. In my limited understanding of your world, you wouldn't produce a column like this unless you were.