Hunter Thompson Requim
~I'm reviving this file for the release of the GONZO DVD~
REQUIM FOR HUNTER S. THOMPSON
Fear & Loathing in the Limbic System
By Iona Miller, 2/2005
“Alas, poor Hunter; who knew him well?”
The natural philosopher sees death not only from
the viewpoint of life but through the sockets of the skull.
“Because suicide is a way of entering death and because the problem of entering death releases the most profound fantasies of the human soul, to understand a suicide we need to know what mythic fantasy is being enacted.” ~ James Hillman, Suicide and the Soul
Suicide and the Soul
THERE IS ROOM AT THE TOP. The peak position of the falsely so-called “liberal” press has been abdicated by king-of-the-hill Gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson, who has gone out the way he came in – with a bang.
Hunter had seemingly, at least in the opinion of some, engaged early on in potentially suicidal drug use, but in the end he abandoned that arc for the certain and permanent trajectory of a bullet. His consciousness must have winked out through the deeply bored black hole. Did he finally reach escape velocity beyond the event horizon?
But is this a fitting end for “our” story of this hunter whose journalistic lens was larger than life? The mercurial Thompson was a whistleblower for shadow government shenanigans long before “conspiracy theory” took on cult proportions because so much of it has proven frighteningly true. Along with the rest of the underground press, such as Mother Jones, he offered a psychedelicized vision that was more than “credible.” His point of view was intuitive and intrusive, infused with his imaginal point of view ~ “in-credible.”
In suicides, everyone always asks “Why?” Surprisingly, people asked me ‘why?’ as if your humble narrator could possibly know, or perform a psychological autopsy. We are virtually helpless at understanding and articulating our own inner lives, much less anyone else’s. This amplification has a ritualistic aspect, because we start off knowing that we cannot know.
Our limbic system, which determines how actively we engage the environment, is conditioned by our early developmental history. The amygdala, the seat of “fear and loathing”, our emotional sentinel, is calibrated by subjective perception of what it is like to be in the world, safe or toxic. Was his trajectory set as a child? [See endnote.]
Why? Is at the root of all natural philosophy and even Plato implied in Phaedo that philosophy is essentially the pursuit of death and dying. When we ask about death we begin to practice philosophy, the study of dying. Plato called philosophy death’s rehearsal, dying to the world. One approaches death by dying in soul daily for renewal. We die to our illusions of invulnerability and immortality. Our modern manic busyness is arguably a defense against this very thought of death.
I began to wonder about Thompson’s death, though as a therapist and philosopher, I have learned not to question such choices. It doesn’t mean we ignore them either as Freud’s obsessions with Eros and Thanatos show. Suicide is a choice some souls make. The question is not ‘why?’ but ‘what is the relevance to the soul?’ Confirmation, rather than prevention, is the soul’s goal. Hunter’s behavior rarely conformed; why should it in death?
James Hillman says that, “Living in terms of life’s only certain end means to live aimed toward death. This end is present here and now as the purpose of life, which means the moment of death – at any moment – is every moment. Death cannot be put off to the future and reserved for old age.” Freud taught that Thanatos is ever-present. Castaneda claimed it as ally, as advisor. The soul needs death and death resides in the soul permanently.
Hunter’s outer suicidal behavior may have been typical of men of his caliber [no pun intended], but its inner meaning is likely as complex as this pathfinder man. Thompson’s friends have given many answers on “Why?” and raised as many questions. I have not read them yet, though it seems his health was deteriorating. But what does this say of psychological health, if anything? Burnout? Flame out? If you were Hunter watching the end of the era of democratic revolutions and the entrenchment of brainwashing corporate feudalism, wouldn’t you feel depressed, too?
One thing is clear – this was no mere dramatic plea for help. He declared his narrative to be tragedy in no uncertain terms, perhaps raising his personal tale to mythic from merely iconic domains. Or, is the tragic attribution a social label only? Did he engage in some confused suicidal logic before taking final action? Do we painfully wonder what, if anything, could cause us to make the same choice? What experience, what suffering?
Somewhere between despair and hopelessness, the dark call of suicidal thoughts can raise its icy voice. “End it all now.” “Stop the pain, forever.” Clinically, we become alarmed when an individual has a well-conceived plan, or is appearing to become a threat to themselves or others. Existentially, suicide is about experiencing unbearable suffering, a problem on the inside with no other acceptable solution outside.
Suicide is a psychological fact. But the issue is not for or against suicide, but the realization that it has meaning for the soul. James Joyce called suicide a “psychosemantic fallacy.” The psychosomatic nature of the soul is a riddle. Look at the word: suicIDe - Freud’s id or primitive instinct rears its primordial head. We more often are lived by than live our myth, which is beyond personal motivation.
Myths mirror what may be ‘wrong’ but necessary. Process is not always progress. The soul needs the death experience, whether through depression, collapse, degeneration, trance, isolation, intoxication, exaltation, failure, psychosis, dissociation, amnesia, denial, pain and torture, or transformation. They can be symbolic or concretely enacted. Now Hunter is firmly grounded. At the end, the legend became most human through the common denominator of pain.
Some might feel that ‘soul’ is too metaphysical or romantic of a term to apply to Thompson. Perhaps, sadly he has qualified, but substitute ‘psyche’ if it is more comfortable. Suicide is an active demonstration of independence from society, law, spirituality, and the life of the body. In this case, a meaning that can no more be denied than Death.
The soul has its own radically independent reality, a satiation with all mere life has offered, an exhaustion of possibilities. Did declaring Abby Hoffman’s suicide “bipolar” explain it away? Ultimately, does ‘why?’ even matter? The answer is just what turns the suicidal person into “anti-matter,” no matter what the means. It no longer matters; you no longer matter. Death can be chosen.
The Mythic Edge
The suicidal crisis takes place as the experience of death, the archetypal background of death is met in the soul, its meanings, images and emotions ~ its meaning to psychic life. Death is the soul’s first concern. From the moment we are born we continuously enter death as death inexorably penetrates us. The transforming soul lives by perishing, and there is purpose even in pathology.
Death is always meaningful. The meaning of the choice is different for each individual and the circumstances. Most often suicides’ misgivings about further life are never spoken; they never emerge from the hellish bowels of the psychophysical pain of a continuosly-tormented soul that can no longer scream. When it comes to ending life, the health of the soul is as important as the health or lack of it of the body. Can we get inside the problem to understand its meaning?
The root metaphor of suicidal injunction goes back to “Thou shalt not kill”. But at this point legal and theological musings have tunneled out of view. Theology dreads suicide since it feels our own lives are not ours to take, so it is a monstrous pride. But how could that be the case under the distorting existential lens of say, clinical depression, crippling drug abuse, or sociopathy. Death by suicide eliminates the possibility of repentance. But do we have to repent? Perhaps death is simply death – fade to black, turn into compost.
Thompson had terminal cancer. My state, Oregon has a ‘right to death’ law, which allows the terminally ill to die with dignity and some choice in their timing vs. pain management. When it becomes too much, they can opt for a medical solution with the aid of an M.D.
It is to the individual soul that we must resort for the justification of a suicide. Who is to say that in illness, for example, the heroic route to the bitter end is the only obvious choice? Does it violate the hierarchy of the promotion of life? Or will life go on merrily, anyway? However, suicide does violate the root metaphors of society, law, church, and life. Life is lodged in the soul.
Is promoting life the same as prolonging life, as it has come to be in our culture? I recall a conversation I had in his 90s with American master artist, Morris Graves. When the painter’s heart failed, everyone insisted he get a pacemaker, but he bemoaned its relentless pile-driving beat, beating the life both into and out of him the rest of his days.
Long before his last breath, Graves was ready to make a transition to a more metaphysical state. He had expressed that rarified world in his work and often spoke of its deep meaning to him. When psychic growth stops, we are essentially dead. Death had become an old friend. One often sees that in older people. They don’t want to leave their families but are ready to part with the skin bag. Death will not be denied and medicine cannot cure it.
The Mything Link
In suicide, we must look to the complex context of the situation and presume most of it is internal and shall remain opaque. An analyst would compare the state of his conscious mind at the time with the pressures and drives of the objective unconscious – the archetypal substructure of behavior. Experience, suffering and context conspire to weave a shroud around the soul whose time is up, whose personal thread has run out. That life is wrapped up.
Hillman says, “Philosophy would tell us that we build towards death from day to day. We build each our own ‘ship of death’ within ourselves. From this standpoint, by making our own deaths we are killing ourselves daily, so that each death is a suicide. Whether from a lion, a precipice, or a fever, each death is of our own making. …In this view suicide is no longer one of the ways of entering death, but all death is suicide, and the choice of method is only more or less evident, whether car-crash, heart-attack, or those acts usually called suicide.”
Rather than an anti-life impulse, “it may be a demand for an encounter with absolute reality, a demand for a fuller life through the death experience.” Without “fear and loathing”, the automatic gut and limbic system reaction, suicide would become ‘natural’. The taboo is there because it is a possibility, a choice for each psyche. Death is important to individuality, and as that individuality grows so often does the possibility of suicide.
We can’t say Hunter was either ‘soulful’ or ‘soulless’. The roots of individuality are not only in neurological correlates, but also in pathologies. Individuality requires courage, and has always been invoked in suicidal arguments – the courage to not be. As a somewhat shamanic character, leading us into weird initiations, he always stood against the collective stream bidding us find our own individuality.
Some would have considered his addictive lifestyle a death wish, and him a dead man walking. Some are driven to suicide, hounded by it, drawn to it by dead loved ones, mystical visions or simple fixation. But here we are, pondering his particular fate. The real courage is to choose oneself, one’s individual truth.
He certainly brought meaning to his times in a rather kaleidoscopic way. Was he done searching our collective souls? Searching his soul? The creatively gifted, psychologically sensitive and schizoid may be more keenly aware of their own evil, their own shadow sides. Society mirrored this back to Thompson, and his persona transcended his message, much like the media stars of today. But, organic death doesn’t undo the fundamental accomplishments of the soul.
He was far more interesting himself than any one of his stories. Had he endured too much loss or emptiness; had he entered an existential vacuum, lost his guiding star, had life become a cage of commitments, were his nights sleepless, had he tired of what comes next? Paradoxically, suicidal thoughts reawaken intense emotion, fantasy and dreams of mythological destiny and the transpersonal. Is it a cure for chronic identification of the soul with outer events, places, and people?
Was he a wee bit bipolar, compulsive, ‘possessed’ ‘troubled’, ‘lost’ or simply already ‘immortal’? What we do know is that he lived full bore, he wasn’t one, and he was unique. If that bored chamber got him in the end, it is lucky that he didn’t climb down its throat!
If he ever spoke to your soul, reflect on that participation. Make peace with it in your own way. Understanding is an individual, not collective phenomenon. Life and death go together, and are defined by one another. The soul endures many death experiences yet physical life goes on.
The soul favors death to usher in change, and the old self image dies in every phase of growth and transformation. Viewed this way, even a suicidal impulse can be seen as a drive for transformation, perhaps of a delayed life, which did not transform as it went along. It is an urge for hasty transformation, an experimental attempt to breakthrough forcibly into another realm. Death is continuous, the final truth, the end of desire.
Is the soul perishable is a question best left to others. The soul of depth psychology and philosophy is not the soul of theology. His last secret will never be told, since secrets belong to the soul. Did Thompson perish with his body – his throbbing visibility? If he did, he left his lifeblood as our legacy in his dried ink. Have a heart for this lonely Hunter.
Endnote: Fear Factor: We all have fears, but some of us experience periods of time when we feel overwhelmed by either vague or specific fears and anxieties. The autonomic system is regulated by emotions as well as thoughts, not to mention the fight/flight responses of sympathetic arousal. One of our greatest burdens is the paradox of life/death. Once the struggle of a suicidal crisis is resolved in the choice for death, a profound calm settles over the person. The soul has preceded the physical body into death.
Among all the upsetting notions humans can experience, perhaps the fear of death is at the top of the list. Our mortality is a difficult prospect to contemplate; yet the evidence clearly surrounds us. Death always stands at the ready or rides piggyback with us, ready to be our advisor, whispering in our ear, making its presence known. Even denial cannot keep the natural foreboding at bay.
Confrontations with death aroused superstitious and spiritual feelings in our ancient ancestors that led from increasingly elaborate burial procedures, to shamanic practices to assuage unknown powers, and eventually to the growth of the world’s major religions with their notions of finer planes of existence and the varieties of afterlife.
Coupled with powerful experiential episodes, such as mystic transport with and without shamanic plants, near-death experiences and grave illness, strong beliefs arose within the heart of humanity. They were shared with others becoming fixed ideas, philosophies and organized religions. Historically, perhaps more wars have been fought over competing ideologies than over territory.
Fear of death or powerful subjective experiences can also lead to idiosyncratic spiritual ideas and practices. Again neural networks come into play as the bases of memory, pain, coping, and creativity.
The focus sharpens when one loses self-esteem and self-identity through loss of confidence and “control” in the performance of the body or perceptions of the mind. This can create a strong sense of conviction, destiny, fate or even mission, which will be aggressively defended.
The temporal lobe plays a key role in emotional stability. It interprets and integrates input to give it meaning, in the deeply emotional rather than intellectual sense. Of course not every unusual experience, religious impulse, or bright idea comes from faulty electrical action and cascading seizures, or they would lose all meaning.
Iona, thank you very much for sending me this requiem for Hunter Thompson. I could not believe it when i heard it and my friends and I have not been able to stop talking about it. These are beautiful words and great ideas that you wrote and i believe the already immortal Hunter will not be hurt or helped by the way of his death. It's easy to wonder why and how he and others could commit suicide but I feel that many of these are automated responses programmed into us by our society and education systems. There are many cultures on the planet that view suicide differently and i am in no position to say if its right or wrong. Actually i've been working hard to break myself of trying to put things into either category. Hunter is a great man and a gifted writer and i feel that everyone who had even a small attachment to him will not judge him.That being said i really enjoyed reading your email and again, after reading many of your posts, you may be one of the smartest people I know. Keep blowing my mind, please. your friend from the tribe, Jerry
I enjoyed reading that. Very well thought out. I'm guessing that Hunter like Hemingway before him looked into the abyss and made a decision concerning physical pain, immediate relief or stretch it out a bit and endure, the results would be the same. Or maybe it just comes to "My work is done. Next?" –George
May I forward you mythopoetic Thompson eulogy to my Seers and Seekers e-group?
Hi Iona, Tnx 4 the "mythic living" invite. Scanning it, I c it fits surprisingly well into my own HST view: that he fell into the trap of his own myth, being pulled into the Great American Artist myth, Hemingway et al, where the only way to go is by yr own hand. Totally wrong, of course, as it largely disqualifies a great life-work, in effect saying that "these opinions lead to self-destruction".
Anyway, here's my HST obit. Feel free to pass it around should u find it of merit.
HOMAGE A DR THOMPSON - THE HUNTER SHOT HIMSELF
The drug-survivor's dead
from an overdose - of lead
His rambling writing hard work’s done
- making speaking truth sound fun
Gonzo's gone, but not forgotten
- he raised a writing-style to bare the rotten
Burned up, worn out, paranoid
- the prize for methods he employed
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro
- the Hunter surely proved this to be so
We are left his legacy
of fighting weird, to stay free
- Ole Ullern