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This paper explores the notion that the writing of history has played a role in the making of modern suicide, and that it can have its uses in its “unmaking.” Examples of the making of modern suicide come from the writings of nineteenth century doctors concerned with formulating new medical truths of suicide, and who came to describe well-known historical “suicides” (e.g., that of Cato) in terms of pathology as part of this project.
The medicalized suicide that was formed in the nineteenth century has come to dominate how the problem is conceptualized and managed. The author’s own experiences of working in a community mental health team and his involvement in suicide prevention are drawn on here, and a critique is offered of the “regime of truth” centering on the “compulsory ontology of pathology” that seems to govern so much thinking in this area.
It is argued that the writing of history can provide useful tools when seeking to “denaturalize” particular ways of thinking and acting that have come to be taken as necessary, real, and true. The paper draws on the work of Michel Foucault, and examples are given of how the writing of the history of self-accomplished death can be a form of critique. Histories that seek to map the establishment and circulation of new “truths” of suicide—and the formation of objects, concepts, and subjects in relation to these “truths”—offer possibilities in terms of problematizing unquestioned contemporary assumptions and practices, enabling us “to think against the present.”