Suicide as an art form and political act

Iris Chang’s last suicide letters

I promise to get up and get out of the house every morning. I will stop by to visit my parents then go for a long walk. I will follow the doctor’s orders for medications. I promise not to hurt myself. I promise not to visit Web sites that talk about suicide.

When you believe you have a future, you think in terms of generations and years. When you do not, you live not just by the day — but by the minute. It is far better that you remember me as I was — in my heyday as a best-selling author — than the wild-eyed wreck who returned from Louisville… Each breath is becoming difficult for me to take — the anxiety can be compared to drowning in an open sea. I know that my actions will transfer some of this pain to others, indeed those who love me the most. Please forgive me.

There are aspects of my experience in Louisville that I will never understand. Deep down I suspect that you may have more answers about this than I do. I can never shake my belief that I was being recruited, and later persecuted, by forces more powerful than I could have imagined. Whether it was the CIA or some other organization I will never know. As long as I am alive, these forces will never stop hounding me.

Days before I left for Louisville I had a deep foreboding about my safety. I sensed suddenly threats to my own life: an eerie feeling that I was being followed in the streets, the white van parked outside my house, damaged mail arriving at my P.O. Box. I believe my detention at Norton Hospital was the government’s attempt to discredit me.

Suicide of Evelyn McHale, 1923


Monk burning himself to death as a protest against South Vietnamese persecution against Buddhists.


I referenced it in fiction, but I couldn’t help thinking about it regardless. Recently I’ve found out that short stories have a way of revealing your own psyche. Why is suicide so fascinating? Apart from the pain and the “not being able to see the world as it exists without you” sort of thing, suicide seems enticing. Powerful. Political, beautiful and sad. It’s a far cry from the “emo movement,” but something that goes into years of protest, government, art, and literature. The most fascinating historical figures always seem to be either martyrs, suicide, or assassination victims.

Suicide isn’t an accident. It’s a direct action made by an individual against society and nature. It’s a cry for help crystallized in permanence. It’s illegal. It’s a taboo. It is condemned by religion and society. It is selfish, and it is cruel.

I often joked with my friends, that despite being ironically pro-gun control (and the daughter of a former LAPD officer,) I am fascinated by guns and would own many historical and powerful models if law unfortunately allowed it. I would never use them outside a shooting range, and would probably keep them behind glass to show to visitors and spectators. It is a twisted attraction to something so beautiful, violent, and deadly.

Perhaps the same attraction applies. But in the intangible world of politics, art, and activism, guns are only tools. Suicide can be a weapon.


About Amy

Amy is a freelance writer and artist based in LA. Her hobbies include romanticizing her world, having too many moody thoughts, and wandering through neighborhoods she's never been in.
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