When the poet Anne Sexton committed suicide in 1974, a memorial service was held for her at the City College of New York, where her contemporary Adrienne Rich happened to be teaching. Rich didn’t know Sexton very well, but something about the death made her very angry. She had known Sylvia Plath at Radcliffe and watched the reactions of young female poets to Plath’s death, which amounted, she later recalled, to “an imaginative obsession with victimization and death, unfair to Plath herself and her own struggle for survival.” Seeing the writing on that wall, Rich produced an incandescent eulogy for this woman she didn’t know. The key part of it, the ranting part, begins, “We have had enough suicidal women poets, enough suicidal women, enough of self-destructiveness as the sole form of violence permitted to women.”
Her argument came to mind yesterday, when a Vice photo spread by Annabel Mehran crossed my social media feeds. Entitled “Last Words,” it’s terrible work, not simply for its depiction of suicide proper, but rather for the sheer laziness of it, its failure to engage the subject matter fully. The seven photographs show models playing women writers, some more famous than others, in the act of killing themselves.
I went a little scorched earth on Vice at New York magazine.
VICE has now removed the offending photo spread, but still.