This panel explores the aesthetics of suicide, from its status as a body performance through artistic representations to depictions by the modern news media, social media, and scientific charts and graphs. Papers are invited that consider the aesthetics of suicide around the world
Suicide is receiving increasing anthropological attention in South Asia (Staples 2012), as well as around the globe (Staples & Widger forthcoming). This panel explores the aesthetics of suicide: the various ways in which different visual portrayals of suicidal behaviour shape popular or scholarly understandings, and how such portrayals relate with the aesthetics of bodies, societies, and their problems more generally. While suicide is often understood as a problem of the mind, it is primarily a problem of the body. All suicidal acts begin and end with the material body: non-fatal self-harm may be destructive of only one part of the body; self-inflicted death may destroy the totality of the body. But in either case, it is the physicality of the act that defines such behaviour. How do acts of self-harm relate to other kinds of body modification, and interplay with notions of beauty and disfigurement? But the aesthetics of suicide extend well beyond the body. Rich traditions of suicide representations exist across art forms. Both old and new forms of news media, from television to Twitter, have the power to rapidly disseminate depictions of suicide, most recently leading to political revolution in Tunisia. Graphic depictions of suicide rates have since Durkheim been used to say something about the wellbeing of nations, encouraging forms of humanitarian assistance. In what ways might images of suicide and suicide's images create suicide as human problem, across different places and epochs? Papers are invited that explore the aesthetics of suicide from these or similar angles.