"Stay is more than a must-read — it’s a cultural necessity."
"As a suicide attempt survivor, I found this book most enlightening. It provided me with a platform on why not to attempt to take my own life again. Hecht’s approach to attach the survivor with society is quite powerful. She has accomplished what she sets out to do from page one: to convince the person contemplating suicide to 'consider the arguments (for not taking one’s own life) and choose to stay. After that, anything can happen. First, choose to stay.'”
The Christian Century:
The distinguished poet Jennifer Hecht is a kind of philosopher and a first-rate historian of ideas. In her previous book, Hecht traced the vicissitudes of the meaning of doubt in our culture, and in these beautifully written pages she jogs our collective memory about the topic of suicide.
Hume’s claim that suicide adds to the common good contradicts Hecht’s main point: that the ramifications of suicide are long and destructive. As the old adage goes, “I have a right to do what I want as long as I am not hurting anyone else.” This belief prompts the conclusion that we are morally entitled to take our own lives. Hecht, however, marshals many facts in support of her axial position that suicide not only devastates families but “causes suicide.” She pins this well-established fact on the board: “A suicide by a parent while a child was under the age of eighteen tripled the likelihood that the child would commit suicide.”
Hecht is wise to remind us of the mysteriously powerful impulse to imitate those with whom our lives are inextricably bound up.
This gift of a book is as much about the issue of pain in life as it is about not ending your life because of the pain.
Hecht has the wisdom to understand that life is not an argument. She is simply intent on providing people who are at the razor’s edge a reason to endure, a reason to stay. She writes: “I do not mean to pass judgment on those who have committed suicide. I mean instead to express to the suicidal person who has rejected suicide that you deserve gratitude from your community and from humanity.”
This tender and well-reasoned book is sure to save lives.
"The week after my friend’s funeral, I read David Brooks’ article on suicide in the New York Times where he describes Jennifer Michael Hecht’s book “Stay: A History of Suicides and the Philosophies Against It.” With my friend’s death still haunting me, one passage in particular stood out:
'Suicides happen in clusters, with one person’s suicide influencing the other’s. If a parent commits suicide, his or her children are three times as likely to do so at some point in their lives… People in the act of committing suicide may feel isolated, but, in fact, they are deeply connected to those around. As Hecht put it, if you want your niece to make it through her dark nights, you have to make it through yours.'
Or rather: if you want your Ranger buddy to survive, you have to accept help and fight through your own battles."
Stay “has inspired me more than anything I’ve read in a very long time. Full of life and spirit and hope, and deeply moving, it communicates a generous love of suffering, flawed humanity. I cannot praise it highly enough and feel grateful to have read passages like this, which confirm all I hold dear: ‘None of us can truly know what we mean to other people, and none of us can know what our future self will experience. History and philosophy ask us to remember these mysteries, to look around at . . . the surprises life brings – the endless possibilities that living offers – and to persevere. . . . Bear witness to the night side of being human and the bravery it entails, and wait for the sun.’”
"In her eloquent and affecting book Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It, Jennifer Michael Hecht presents two big counterideas that she hopes people contemplating potential suicides will keep in their heads. Her first is that, ‘Suicide is delayed homicide.’ Suicides happen in clusters, with one person’s suicide influencing the other’s. . . . Her second argument is that you owe it to your future self to live."
“The author of the best-selling Doubt offers a history of suicide and of arguments against it. . . . Even Camus, who found the search for meaning as absurd as pushing the same boulder up a cliff every day, urged his readers to ‘imagine Sisyphus happy,’ and to live.”
"Preventing Suicide: Are the Best Barriers Physical or Philosophical?"
March 8, 2014
Simon Wessely, THE LANCET
Hecht’s starting point was the anguish she felt after the suicides of two friends But what she has written is less a plea from the heart, but one from the brain. She has produced an intellectual history of the morality of suicide…
She focuses on two themes. The first is the harm that suicide does to those left behind. She quotes a line from Arthur Miller’s After the Fall to telling effect – “a suicide kills two people Maggie, that’s what it’s for.” …
As a society we now routinely endorse measures that seek to erect physical barriers to suicide – literally… “But what”, writes Hecht…”about a conceptual barrier, a secular argument for why suicide is morally wrong?...We need such an argument to counteract the belief that suicide is morally neutral, even the right of every individual.” ... Hecht assembles many scholarly references to support the notion of suicide contagion. Much of this is well known, but no less interesting for that.
[H]er discussion of the need for responsible media reporting is certainly persuasive.
Simon Wessely is President Elect of the Royal College of Psychiatrists
“Suicide and Communal Values: Ethical Implications for Psychiatrists,” by Ronald W. Pies, MD
January 27, 2014
[T]he ethical status of suicide is not a question that psychiatrists can ignore, any more than we can ignore human values in general.
Recently, the moral status of suicide has been scrutinized by the poet and philosopher Jennifer Michael Hecht in her book Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It. …In essence, Hecht argues that suicide cannot be evaluated solely in terms of "personal autonomy," as some modern ethicists might claim; rather, we must hold suicide up to the clarifying light of communal values.
Hecht argues that "when a person kills himself, he does wrenching damage to the community." In general, I agree -- and this damage, arguably, may be counted among the "moral harms" of deliberate self-destruction.
As physicians, we have ethical and legal responsibilities to protect our suicidal patients from self-harm. [T]he communitarian argument made by Hecht is compelling.
As an ethicist, I largely agree with Jennifer Hecht, that suicide's communal damage is a compelling reason to urge our suicidal loved ones to stay, and respectfully to suggest that life isn't too hard to bear -- only, as Hecht poignantly puts it, "almost too hard to bear."
Dr Pies is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Psychiatric Times, and a professor in the psychiatry departments of SUNY Upstate Medical University and Tufts University School of Medicine. He is the author of the Ethics of the Sages, and Everything Has Two Hands: The Stoic's Guide to the Art of Living.
"By examining how people in other times have found reasons to stay alive when suicide seems a tempting choice, Hecht makes a powerful case. An anchor for those struggling to find meaning."
The Catholic Herald
New! Rich conversation.
Heated Interview! Interview with Call Ins
On Suicide and the Military: "To Live Is an Act of Courage", in The American Scholar.
On Suicide and College Students: "Stopping Suicide," in The Chronicle of Higher Education
Stay “is rigorous and deeply rewarding, both accessible and challenging.”
Suicide as a concept has been praised, defended, and vilified in various contexts throughout history as poet and scholar Hecht (Doubt: A History) painstakingly illustrates in this nuanced and unsettling work, whose title acts as a rallying refrain throughout. Hecht's scrutiny of "despair suicide" begins with the personal—the destabilizing deaths of two poet friends in quick succession. Though the word "suicide" wasn't invented until the 17th century, the discussion carefully follows attitudes from myth, religion, philosophy, and literature as Hecht welcomes the voices of an impressive cast of thinkers. Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy is examined as well as the thinking of Socrates, John Milton, and Anne Sexton. While the statistics are harrowing—one suicide can influence others as research emphatically shows—the book's conclusions are hopeful. Gratitude is owed to those who reject suicide, according to Hecht, not only by the community but also by one's "future self" who may be days, months, or years away. Like death, life can inspire, because one's "ideas matter."
“A history not only of suicide, but how we think about suicide. . . . Hecht proposes her own argument against suicide in the secular, modern world, presenting a humanist call for life.”
Advance Praise for Stay
“The title of this book is an imperative against the departure that is suicide,
and its contents provide a learned, illuminating look at the history of what
is perhaps the darkest secret in all of human behavior.”
— Billy Collins
“Jennifer Michael Hecht addresses the problem of suicidal nihilism
with intellectual sophistication and poetic subtlety. An impassioned defense of life
and rejection of self‑slaughter (as Hamlet termed it), Stay is an important book.”
— David Lehman, Editor, The Oxford Book of American Poetry
“In this moving and meaningful book, mythology, poetry, history, and
personal reflection all combine to persuade us to stay right here, among the living.”
— Alan Wolfe, author of Political Evil
“The perfect vehicle for an informed conversation about the
virtues and vices of suicide, this book will literally save lives.”
— Stephen Prothero, author of The American Bible:
How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation
Worldwide, more people die by suicide than by murder, and many more are left behind to grieve. Despite distressing statistics that show suicide rates rising, the subject, long a taboo, is infrequently talked about. In this sweeping intellectual and cultural history, poet and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht channels her grief for two friends lost to suicide into a search for history’s most persuasive arguments against the irretrievable act, arguments she hopes to bring back into public consciousness.
From the Stoics and the Bible to Dante, Shakespeare, Wittgenstein, and such twentieth-century writers as John Berryman, Hecht recasts the narrative of our “secular age” in new terms. She shows how religious prohibitions against self-killing were replaced by the Enlightenment’s insistence on the rights of the individual, even when those rights had troubling applications. This transition, she movingly argues, resulted in a profound cultural and moral loss: the loss of shared, secular, logical arguments against suicide. By examining how people in other times have found powerful reasons to stay alive when suicide seems a tempting choice, she makes a persuasive intellectual and moral case against suicide.
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