THE MAN WHO WROTE HIMSELF TO DEATH
by David Arthur Walters
Once upon a time there lived an unknown author with a bad case of writer’s block who suddenly realized that writing is indeed futile, so he wrote himself to death.
His name was George Harvey. He was often seen walking around the neighborhood with a silly smile on his face and with a blood-red covered book in his hand entitled SUICIDE, authored by one Emile Durkheim. That very book was found on his desk after his death, opened to a well-worn page wherein he had underlined a few sentences as follows:
“One does not advance when one walks toward no goal, or, which is the same thing, when his goal is infinity…. To pursue a goal which is by definition unattainable is to condemn oneself to a state of perpetual unhappiness. Of course, men may hope contrary to all reason, and hope has its pleasures even when unreasonable. It may sustain him for a time but it cannot survive the repeated disappointments of experience indefinitely….Shall action as such be considered agreeable? First, only on condition of blindness to its uselessness….”
On that page’s margin George had scrawled in red, “So much for God! So much the search for Wisdom! Well, then, I shall proceed because of my spite for futility!”
Since George lived alone, his death was discovered though the sense of smell. His decaying body was found slumped over his desk with a cheap ballpoint pen in the hand that had apparently written these words just before its master’s demise:
“Because of your rejection I die triumphant by my own hand, writing myself to death for the sheer hell of it. You will find my manuscript ‘The Wonderful Futility of a Meaningless Life’ in the refrigerator. It is with the greatest pride in my contempt for the futility inspired by my fellow man that I present proof….” the note trailed off.
After his body was found, the police were obliged to make a few cursory inquires even though George had apparently died of natural causes – notwithstanding the suicide note which was obviously the work of, as the police psychologist said, “a nutcase.” And indeed he had died of natural causes: overwork, junk-food and heartbreak are natural to modern man. When the police inquired, George’s next door neighbors knew next to nothing about him or for that matter about each other. They lived in a building where it was considered either an imposition or downright dangerous to say anything to a resident let alone look one in the eye.
Nevertheless Sally, who lived across the hall from George, said she had actually spoken to him on at least two occasions. Once, upon being asked by him what she had done on New Year’s Eve, when she replied ‘nothing’, he had said that was a shame as he was doing nothing too, so they should have gotten together. She said she cut the conversation short there as she thought he was being too forward. She said it occurred to her that a loner like George might fit the profile of a serial killer.
Sally reported that George approached her on another occasion at a magazine rack in the Seven-Eleven store across the street, whereupon she averted her eyes and gave every sign she was too occupied to be engaged. But George persisted, so she asked him how he was. He said that he was very angry because an editor had sent him several letters rejecting his articles, and that the editor had said nothing further about George’s work but had instead quoted at length someone named Chesterton. George told Sally he had a laundry bag full of rejection slips, everyone of them being the standard unsigned form, but this particular editor had taken it upon himself to quote some other author’s snide remarks that had no relevance to the work he had submitted.
Sally extended the courtesy of asking who the said Chesterton was. George said Chesterton was a pompous ass who wanted to fill up the world with facetious remarks. He then said that he, George, wanted to bomb the editor’s offices. At that point Sally broke off the encounter and never spoke to George again. In fact, she carefully avoided him thereafter, always looking for him through her door’s peephole into the hall before leaving her apartment, crossing the street whenever she saw him coming, and other such precautionary tactics.
That was all the information that could be gleaned from the neighbors. No friends or relatives could be located, if there were any. George’s body was unclaimed and quickly disposed of given its decomposed state. His manuscript, which had filled his entire refrigerator with shelves removed, was burned along with the rest of his personal effects. Surely he would have been pleased by that, for he knew all along that his writing and his life were futile. That is why he wrote, why he overcame his writer’s block, why he wrote himself to death.
All that remains of George Harvey is a few memories – of his silly smile as he strolled along clutching his blood-red book on suicide, of his dislike for Chesterton and his hatred for the editor who quoted Chesterton, and the stink of his carcass. Even those memorable remnants of George shall soon vanish from the face of the Earth. That is, unless this tale survives. And I believe it should survive, for it is the only account of the first known case of suicide by writing.
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Note: This short-short story has caused a few readers to publicly express concerns about my sanity. During my historical research into the culture of suicide, I encountered a true account of artistic nihilists who were painting their masterpieces and destroying them before anyone could see them, then destroying themselves as well