Monday, October 12, 2015

Chapter 11- Writing About Suicide

This chapter reviews a graduate course called "Literary Suicide," run by Jeffrey Berman in 1994 at the University of Albany. He opens with a bold and beautiful claim: "it is possible to create the pedagogical conditions in which students write about traumatic subjects and achieve important insight into their lives." He goes on to explain the general success of his course, naming personal writing/journaling as the corner stone of this success. In fact, when he has taught the class two years earlier without the journal element, he found the class had seemingly less complete and less valuable interactions with the texts, which comprised the work of Woolf, Hemingway, Plath and Sexton. But in 1994, according to Berman, "students, by contrast, viewed [them] not simply distant authors writing about a theoretical problem, but as fellow human beings who were struggling bravely to transmute personal conflicts into art." In a final anonymous questionnaire, the class unanimously declared their experience of diary writing as valuable. In this way, Berman seems to argue for a relationship between understanding of the self and understanding of others and their work. 

In 2011, The American College Health Association reported that 31 percent of college students "have felt so depressed in the last year that they found it difficult to function" (NAMI). Furthermore, according to the National Alliance on mental illness, "seven percent of college student have 'seriously considered suicide' within the past year." And finally, the number one reason people claim to not seek help for depression and other mental health issues is the stigma surrounding it. As an advocate for reeducation of mental health, any class that can potentially give students insight into depression is valuable, and this goes hand in hand with suicide. Any class that encourages the deromanticizing of fictional suicide engages in important scholarly work. Writers' suicides seem to be particularly romanticized, as is their alcoholism and general mental health. My brain flashes a mental image of my creative writing TA in my study abroad program: a tall, blonde, talented poet with a whiskey bottle stuck to his hand and a cigarette permanently resting between his lips, rumored to have a Hemingway complex. No poem is worth that pain, but someone somewhere down the line made him think it was so. 

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