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the Complete Review
the complete review - manifesto

Tractatus Logico-Suicidalis

Hermann Burger

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To purchase Tractatus Logico-Suicidalis

Title: Tractatus Logico-Suicidalis
Author: Hermann Burger
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 1988 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 173 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Tractatus Logico-Suicidalis - US
Tractatus Logico-Suicidalis - UK
Tractatus Logico-Suicidalis - Canada
in: Tractatus logico-suicidalis - Deutschland
Tractatus Logico-Suicidalis - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Wakefield Press
  • On Killing Oneself
  • German title: Tractatus logico-suicidalis
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Adrian Nathan West

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Our Assessment:

A- : fascinating disquisition (if/though difficult to separate from the author and the circumstances)

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Hermann Burger's Tractatus Logico-Suicidalis is basically a collection of 1046 suicide-focused aphorisms, observations, quotes, and claims, presented as a study in 'mortology' (so Burger's coinage): "the doctrine and philosophy of the total predominance of death over life". The text is introduced, however, in a prologue of sorts, recounting an episode from mid-January 1988, in a remote and desolate Swiss village where the locals grow concerned about a person who seems to have gone missing, with: "evidence of a capital crime committed by the missing person against the missing person himself"; i.e. they worry that he has committed suicide. Finding the unsigned manuscript of this Tractatus Logico-Suicidalis in the desk drawer in his hotel room certainly does nothing to reässure them.
       A local doctor learns more from the missing "lowlander's psychiatric counselor" and explains to the locals that, while this Tractatus Logico-Suicidalis is an: "exhaustive manifesto of 1,046 mortologisms", based on the author's own traumatic experiences and psychological issues:

one who expounds so exhaustively on the subject of self-murder is hardly in a position and may not even desire, to carry out this unhinged act.
       The missing author does (re)appear, and identifies himself, as Hermann Burger, and the mix-up is cleared up -- he was, indeed, not a suicide (and can then get on with his writing).
       In the text-proper then is also noted:
247. No one need die after reading our Tractatus, because the tension of expectation vanishes into nothing -- into mortology.

248. Not every suicidal opus is contagious.
       It's also noted that authors such as Goethe -- whose: "Werther unleashed a wave of suicides all round" -- and Thomas Bernhard, this: "poeta doctus suicidalis" with his fiction filled with "suicide-orgies", never: "took the step themselves". Yet Burger was to take his own life just a year later, a fact that then hangs very heavily over this text.
       Tractatus Logico-Suicidalis is an obsessive('s) engagement with death and suicide: "Death is the strongest addictive substance of all," Burger writes, and: "Suicide is the one and only absolute act a person may commit without ifs, ands, or buts".
       He suggests:
539. Suicide is never a way out, it is an abyss -- it is not grounded, it is the absence of all ground.

540. Still less is suicide the solution to a problem. It blows all solutions to bits and pieces.
       He takes suicide also as empowering:
450. I and I alone am master of this highest of all sufferings: death, killing, and being killed. Me, not some malignant tumor.

451. I am the most malignant tumor of all.
       Burger only occasionally uses Freitod, one of the German terms for suicide -- comparing it also to Freispruch ("an acquittal") -- but this way of seeing the act as a 'voluntary death' allows him also to suggest:
189. Voluntary death is an affirmation of dignity and humanity, against the blind progress of nature -- freedom in its most extreme form, the last freedom we can ever know.
       But, he continues, in fact: "there is no voluntary death, just as there is no natural death". (Among other German terms for suicide the most commonly used is Selbstmord -- literally 'self-murder' --, and he also considers the act as such.)
       Repeatedly, there is rather disturbing romanticizing of the act -- "His example is so courageous, so momentous, that we must ask why every suicide that comes to light fails to inspire a wave of imitators" (though, in fact, it is well-documented (e.g.) that reports of suicide do lead to an increase in suicides) -- as Burger also suggests:
243. In view of the nuclear and ecological disasters, the looming omnicide, that the world faces, the suicide's solution is an artistic and revolutionary act: he anticipates -- pars pro toto and for mortology's sake -- a fate the entire world must sooner or later undergo. This resolute step puts him leagues ahead of the chronically healthy clinging hungrily to life.
       Burger takes suicide seriously; he is amusingly dismissive of simplistic explanations and excuses:
154. I cannot bear to live anymore is not a theory, it's just pissing and moaning.
       So also:
675. Frequently, we find the most wretched suicide notes accompanied by whole file folders full of attempts to document the path down which none may follow. Frankly, this is a dilettantish approach to suicidalism.
       Yet, in a sense, this Tractatus Logico-Suicidalis is nothing but such a collection of attempts .....
       Still, Burger understands that:
343. We seldom understand a suicide, because his reasons are not objectively transparent and his existential pain cannot be shared.
       Burger invokes and quotes from suicide-literature -- both by authors who merely treated the subject (Bernhard, Goethe, Cioran) as well as those who went through with the act (Jean Améry, Kleist, Trakl). He ranges from Camus and his claim that suicide is the: "one truly serious philosophical problem" to Kafka to the terminally ill Fritz Zorn's approaching-death account Mars (Burger suggesting: "If we defined a terminal illness such as cancer as organically assisted suicide, then Fritz Zorn, author of Mars, may also be considered a suicide").
       Burger devotes significant space to the example of constantly death-defying and -challenging 'parasuicidarian' Harry Houdini -- suggesting, however, that even his death can ultimately be considered suicide, Houdini's insistence on performing despite a doctor's "unequivocal diagnosis", a ruptured appendix that killed him: "call it suicide with organic assistance".
       Tractatus Logico-Suicidalis is not merely a disquisition about death, but a call to engage with the subject -- which Burger sees as the subject of all subjects (and which becomes here, in every sense, all-consuming). So, early on, he even clamors: "We must found schools for suicides, exitus institutes !" while the final summing up has him state (and then essentially underline):
1044. I die. Therefore I am.

1045. Quod erat demonstrandum.

1046. Finis.
       Central to the book is also the dichotomy:
67. Death is private, a path down which none can follow, but also public, because each death is simultaneously the end of the world.
       Burger's own suicide, so soon after publishing this, colors every aspect of a text in which it is already practically impossible to separate work and author (Burger presenting himself in the opening section not just by name but giving his passport number) and forces the question of whether, as intellectual exercise (or whatever kind you want to see it as), it was a success or failure.
       His suicide also makes some of the poignancy then all the more pointed -- not least:
145. Every suicide leaves behind the insipid sense that he could have been saved, if only ...
       Burger's suicide gives the text a greater immediacy, and it makes it difficult not to read it (also) as the author wrestling with (or, it must be said, wallowing in ...) his many demons. Both as such, or read (if you can) extra-autobiographically, as it were, Tractatus Logico-Suicidalis is a fascinating -- and discomforting -- addition to the body of suicide-literature, grappling with that greatest of all issues, death itself.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 November 2022

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Tractatus Logico-Suicidalis: Reviews (* review of collected works-edition): Hermann Burger: Other books by Hermann Burger under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swiss author Hermann Burger lived 1942 to 1989.

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© 2022-2023 the complete review

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