Posted on December 17, 2009 - by David
In a previous post, I commented on the confusion caused by the lack of clear distinction between Durkheim’s concepts of egoistic and anomic suicide. In an effort to come up with evidence to make this argument, I spent several more hours poring over my notes on Suicide than I had originally intended. I feel a bit lazy doing this, but I believe it’s worth letting these quotes speak for themselves.
“Both [egoistic and anomic suicide] spring from society’s insufficient presence in individuals. But the sphere of its absence is not the same in both cases. In egoistic suicide it is deficient in truly collective activity, thus depriving the latter of object and meaning. In anomic suicide, society’s influence is lacking in the basically individual passions, thus leaving them without a check-rein. In spite of their relationship, therefore, the two types are independent of each other. We may offer society everything social in us, and still be unable to control our desires; one may live in an anomic state without being egoistic, and vice versa. These two sorts of suicide therefore do not draw their chief recruits from the same social environments; one has its principal field among intellectual careers, the world of thought – the other, the industrial or commercial world.” (258)
“Suicides of both types suffer from what has been called the disease of the infinite. But the disease does not assume the same form in both cases. In one, reflective intelligence is affected and immoderately overnourished; in the other, emotion is over-excited and freed from all restraint. In one, thought, by dint of falling back upon itself, has no object left; in the other, passion, no longer recognizing bounds, has no goal left. The former is lost in the infinity of dreams, the second in the infinity of desires.” (287)
“They [types of suicide ] are very often combined with one another, giving rise to composite varieties; characteristic of several types will be united in a single suicide.” (287)
“We know that they [egoism and anomy] are usually merely two different aspects of one social state; thus it is not surprising that they should be found in the same individual. It is, indeed, almost inevitable that the egoist should have some tendency to non-regulation; for, since he is detached from society, it has not sufficient hold upon him to regulate him.” (288)
“The obstacle, for example, against which the victim of insatiate desires dashes may cause him to fall back upon himself and seek an outlet for disappointed passions in an inner life. Finding there nothing to which he can attach himself, however, the melancholy inspired by this thought can only drive him to new self-escape, thus increasing his uneasiness and discontent. Thus are produced mixed suicides where depression alternates with agitation, dream with action, transports of desire with reflective sadness.” (288)
Durkheim seems to be saying, “They’re the same, but they’re also different.” He basically states that the two types have the same cause, and in the end of the book proposes one solution, (corporations or occupational groups), for both:
“But not only egoistic suicide would be combatted in this way. Anomic suicide, closely related to it, might be dealt with by the same treatment.” (382)
“In both cases the remedy is therefore the same.”
So, are these two types really variations of one type, and is there any value in attempting to distinguish between them?
I’ll try to answer this question when I consider Greenfeld’s concept of anomie and look at its manifestations in American society.
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