This essay concentrates on a series of suicide plots in which the risk of one’s undoing does not indicate a refusal of one’s existing life as much as it performs a fantastic desire to live a different one. Willa Cather’s short story “Paul’s Case” (1905), Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise (1991), and Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman (2014) help us think about how suicide functions as a sustaining fantasy and a queer narrative strategy. In each, the main character’s retreat into suicidal fantasy is not limiting but productive: it creates a space of protection for otherwise damaged individuals, allowing them to imagine an alternative configuration as/at the end of their world. This essay thus makes the counterintuitive claim that the suicide plot should be read non-tragically. It considers how acts of self-annihilation force us to think about the binding narratives of gendered and sexualized person-hood. If these narratives most readily seem to forward a critique of the hetero and sexist norms for life, they also offer a compelling argument about how the use of death works to imagine new forms, narratives, and possibilities of living.
Suicidal Tendencies: Notes toward a Queer Narratology
Dana Seitler is professor of English and director of the Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto. She is the author of Atavistic Tendencies: The Culture of Science in American Modernity (2008) and Reading Sideways: The Queer Politics of Art in Modern American Fiction (2019). Her current project, “I’m Dying To! Ecstasy, Withdrawal, Biopolitics,” focuses on forms of refusal, renunciation, and pleasure in American literature and culture.
Dana Seitler; Suicidal Tendencies: Notes toward a Queer Narratology. GLQ 1 October 2019; 25 (4): 599–616. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-7767795
Download citation file: