Tractatus Logico-Suicidalis: On Killing Oneself

Tractatus Logico-Suicidalis: On Killing Oneself

Hermann Burger

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Translated, with an introduction, by Adrian Nathan West / November 2022 / 5.375 x 8, 200 pp. / 978-1-939663-88-7

“Suicidology is the science of self-murder. Suicidography is the vision of a life reduced to a chain of causes that lead in the final instance to self-extermination.”

In the tunnel-village of Göschenen, at the northern foot of the St. Gotthard Pass, a man named Hermann Burger has vanished without a trace from his hotel room, suspected of the cold-blooded act of self-murder. What is found in his room is not a suicide note, however, but a 124-page manuscript formulating a philosophical “suicidology” entitled Tractatus Logico-Suicidalis: an exhaustive manifesto comprising 1,046 “thanatological” aphorisms (or “mortologisms”) advocating suicide.

This metaliterary “grim science of killing the self” studies the predominance of death over life, drawing inspiration from such traumatic experiences as the breakup of his marriage, a dismissal from his post as a newspaper culture editor, years of endogenous depression, the erosion of friendships, and the sexual disgrace of impotence, but the aphoristic text presents something more complicated than a logical conclusion to life experience (though an icy logic indeed informs its execution). Referencing such authors as Ludwig Wittgenstein, Emil Cioran, and Thomas Bernhard, Burger’s unsettling work would be published shortly before the author would take his own life through an overdose of barbiturates.

“Hermann Burger is one of the truly great authors of the German language: a writer of consummate control and range, with a singular and haunting worldview.”—Uwe Schütte

Hermann Burger (1942–1989) was a Swiss author, critic, and professor. Author of four novels and several volumes of essays, short fiction, and poetry, he won numerous awards for his work. He first achieved fame with his novel Schilten, the story of a mad village schoolteacher who teaches his students to prepare for death. At the end of his life, he was working on the autobiographical tetralogy Brenner, one of the high points of twentieth-century German prose.


“Burger’s ludicrous self-regard gives even his grimmest work (that would be Tractatus Logico-Suicidalis: On Killing Oneself) a comic edge. It would be a desservice to cal a self-described “mortologist” life-affirming, but […] there’s something exhilarating about seeinf despair turned into moving, desperate art.”
—Andrew Martin, Bookforum

“Tractatus Logico-Suicidalis is a fascinating—and discomforting—addition to the body of suicide-literature, grappling with that greatest of all issues, death itself.”
—M. A. Orthofer, The Complete Review

“[W]ritten with a pessimism that would have made Cioran clutch his pearls and a crankishness that would have made Bernhard blush.”
—Ryan Ruby, e-flux

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