Parkland Survivor Sydney Aiello Takes Her Own Life

Tragedy piled on top of tragedy.


CBS News (“Parkland shooting survivor Sydney Aiello takes her own life“):

On the day a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Sydney Aiello escaped with her life. However, the grief of losing 17 of her classmates and teachers, as well as the long-lasting effects of enduring such a traumatic event, weighed heavily on her. And this weekend, at the age of 19, Aiello took her own life.

Now, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas community is mourning yet another loss.

Sydney’s mother, Cara Aiello, told CBS Miami that her daughter struggled with survivor’s guilt and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in the year following the tragedy. And while she reportedly never asked for help, she struggled to attend college classes because she was scared of being in a classroom.

Sydney was also a close friend of Meadow Pollack, one of the students who was shot and killed in the Parkland shooting. Meadow’s father, Andrew, became one of the most visible of the Parkland victims’ parents when he delivered a searing and emotional speech at the White House just a few days after the shooting, arguing for an increase in school safety rather than changes to America’s gun laws.

While the nation’s attention turned to budding young activists like David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez, however, other Parkland survivors were suffering in silence. And the Aiello family’s tragedy is an all too painful reminder that trauma effects teens deeply, often quietly, and for years.

Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina died in the shooting, told CBS Miami he worries that more traumatized Parkland teens will take their own lives. So, he has focused his grief and his efforts into suicide prevention.

“It breaks my heart that we’ve lost yet another student from Stoneman Douglas,” Petty said. “My advice to parents is to ask questions, don’t wait.”

I’m afraid I have nothing non-banal to add. It’s sad whenever someone takes their own life, let alone a seemingly healthy 19-year-old. And there’s certainly something particularly tragic about someone surviving one horror only for the pain of that day to be too much to bear.

I never met Aiello and have no idea what else was going on in her life. But teen suicide is an epidemic in this country, not just for survivors of school shootings. A Washington Post report (“Teen suicides are on the rise. Here’s what parents can do to slow the trend“) from earlier in the week:

At a time when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting a spike in suicide rates among 10- to 14-year-olds, educators are leaving nothing to chance.

“When talking about adolescent suicide, half the time we’re talking about kids who are depressed, and half the time we’re talking about kids who are impulsive,” says Ken Ginsburg, an adolescent developmental pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and co-founder of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication. “Kids this age can’t articulate their pain as clearly as older teens, their peers are less mature and don’t know how to recognize the signs, and they don’t want to snitch.”

Put this all together, and it’s easy to see why parents can be the last to know their child is suffering, says Christina Conolly, director of psychological services for Montgomery County Public Schools.

Adolescent children are far less likely to commit suicide than adults, but they have not been immune from a nationwide increase in suicides over the past two decades. The CDC reports that from 1999 to 2017, the suicide rate among boys ages 10 to 14 grew from 1.9 suicides per 100,000 people to 3.3. Among girls, suicides roughly tripled from 0.5 per 100,000 to 1.7. Researchers recently reported in the journal Pediatrics that while 50 percent of parents are unaware that their 11- to 17-year-olds are having suicidal thoughts, younger teens are more likely than older teens to deny their pain.

To plug the gap on the issue, Conolly implemented the Signs of Suicide Prevention Program in every middle school in her district this year. Students learn to recognize the signs of depression, care for struggling friends and report concerns to adults.

While educators and even parents are more educated in mental health issues than ever before, one suspects that modern life is simply more stressful for teens. I can’t imagine going through those years in an Instagram world.

FILED UNDER: Guns and Gun Control, Health, Obituaries
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    James, you’re right, there is nothing to add except to say rest in peace Sydney.

  2. Jay L Gischer says:

    The reasons for suicide are usually complex and multi-causal. I think that both external circumstances and internal processes bear some responsibility, and we probably will never disentangle them fully.

    So, for instance, I hold suicides among trans people to be due, in part, to the hostile attitude toward them the community holds, and yet I know that there are other trans people who face the same hostile attitude and don’t commit suicide.

    Likewise here. The shooter, and probably some of the fallout of that shooting, bears some part of the responsibility for this, and yet other factors might be in play. Some people simply have a physiology that makes them more vulnerable to suicidal processes.

    We do need to do better with teen suicides, though. If we see a surge in something like this (as with spree killings!) there’s probably an extrinsic factor in play. We would do well to try and at least figure out that factor, and see if we can’t mitigate it.

  3. EddieInCA says:

    Dr. Joyner –

    When your wife passed suddenly and tragically several years ago, I sent you an email, privately, to share with you my own experiences of losing my wife tragically and suddenly almost 20 years ago.

    Whether you remember or not is irrelevant. But the gist of my email was that experiencing a close death changes us in ways we don’t expect. I still occasionally suffer depression, anger, and despair , even though its been almost 20 years ago, when those feelings of loss enter my brain. I didn’t witness my wife’s death. But I became a different person after that event. Thoughts entered my brain that would have NEVER entered there before. I contemplated suicide many times.

    I can’t imagine what nightmare these kids are living through – every day. Those have have channeled their new-found feelings into activism are probably dealing with the survivor’s regret and fear much better because it’s an outlet to vent, rage, and constructively advocate for change.

    However, those without a platform will suffer in silence.

    I hope that those who need it will seek out professional help.

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  4. Mister Bluster says:

    Peace, Love and Tears…

  5. SC_Birdflyte says:

    From his prison cell, Cruz has reached out and killed again.

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  6. James Joyner says:

    @EddieInCA: Yes. I appreciate the note but, alas, never responded to most of those reaching out.

    I was fortunate not to suffer the loss of anyone very close to me until relatively late in life and then lost my father and wife in consecutive years and my mother just three months ago. My INTJ wiring is such that I likely under-reacted in all instances, channeling my energies into missions (getting my my dad’s affairs settled so my mom didn’t have to, dealing with the myriad issues needed to make sure the girls were okay with just one father, and now clearing and selling mom’s house) rather than dealing with the emotions. And, with the exception of feeling sorry for myself a few times in my distant youth, I’ve luckily never had suicidal thoughts—and even those were more “I’ll show them” than real.

    Clearly people are just wired differently. Tragedies don’t hit everyone the same and things that some of us would think of as no big deal are devastating for others.

    I think we’ve gone a long way in recent years to de-stigmatizing mental health issues. But not far enough.

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  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    She didn’t commit suicide, she was murdered. It just took a while longer.

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  8. EddieInCA says:

    James Joyner says:
    Friday, March 22, 2019 at 14:47

    @EddieInCA: Yes. I appreciate the note but, alas, never responded to most of those reaching out.

    I understand completely. I was close to a zombie for well over 14 months, and really learned who my friends were during that time. I didn’t have kids to take care of, so I was stuck in my own head. I have a great deal of respect of how you focused on your children above all else.

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  9. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Another life taken by the NRA.
    RIP…my heart breaks for you Sydney.

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  10. Gustopher says:

    Sydney’s mother, Cara Aiello, told CBS Miami that her daughter struggled with survivor’s guilt and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in the year following the tragedy. And while she reportedly never asked for help, she struggled to attend college classes because she was scared of being in a classroom.

    I don’t want to blame anyone here (mother, daughter, the daughter’s friends), but this is a big giant warning sign.

    We’ve stigmatized mental health issues in this country, and a lot of people don’t know when or how to ask for help. There’s a belief that people just need to be stronger and tough it out, and that doesn’t always work.

    This, despite the fact that 13% of Americans are on antidepressants. It isn’t talked about, and it isn’t acknowledged in daily life. It’s kept hidden as if it is a shameful thing, and that makes it harder for people to know that they can ask for help.

    This is, alas, one of my little hobby horses. There was a junior engineer at a job I had about a decade ago, who was faking physical illness so he could have time to deal with a mental health issue (they were changing his medicines and it went badly) without having it blow back and affect his career. He was probably right to have done so, although it all fell down as his flu wandered into week four, everyone learned about it in vague hushed tones and he had to deal with humiliation on top of everything else. And he got passed over for a well deserved promotion. Twice. A minor consequence in the grand scheme of things, but not good.

    And this is someone who is taking care of himself.

    This was also what made me decide that I should just overshare about my own anxiety issues whenever possible, to try to do my part to destigmatize mental health issues. I’m senior enough, and good enough at my job that I’ve faced basically no consequences for it, which has made it easier for me, but I think it’s worth doing even if it’s a little hard.

    Coming out of the closet with mental heath issues — particularly mental health issues that are under control — makes it easier for other people to get the help they need initially, and deal with crises with minimum added problems. I’d encourage everyone who is in a position to be open (without major negative consequences) to do so.

    It’s how we can change society so people like Ms. Aiello know to ask for help and know that help can be effective.

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  11. James Pearce says:

    I understand looking at the world and wanting to have no part of it, but I’ve chosen non-conformity over non-existence.

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  12. CSK says:

    @James Pearce:

    Well, goody for you. You certainly outdid yourself in self-righteous smugness today.

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  13. Neil J Hudelson says:

    @James Pearce:

    Sydney’s experience of watching her friends get murdered, and yours of getting called mean things at an internet forum that you visit freely on your own accord, are certainly similar.

    It’s very brave of you to keep trudging along.

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  14. Guarneri says:

    “We’ve stigmatized mental health issues in this country, and a lot of people don’t know when or how to ask for help. There’s a belief that people just need to be stronger and tough it out, and that doesn’t always work.”

    That certainly used to be true. I’m not so sure it holds today. And one of the causes was the generally poor quality of the mental health care profession. Someone suffering from issues may not be able to recognize the issue and find competent help, although I’d lay odds they know there is an issue. It requires the people around them to be supportive and to motivate them to seek assistance.

    Unfortunately, I see the usual ghouls are out seeking to capitalize this for political purposes.

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  15. James Pearce says:

    @CSK: You smash on me for “self-righteous smugness” but not the guy who said “From his prison cell, Cruz has reached out and killed again.”

    And not the guy who said, “She didn’t commit suicide, she was murdered. It just took a while longer.”

    And definitely not the guy who says “Another life taken by the NRA.”

    No, smash on the guy who expresses empathy.

    Face it. Our society demands an oppressive level of conformity and the freaks and weirdos who have no refuge are told to “call this toll-free number.” Why not give them a refuge instead? Maybe then it won’t just be the most splenetic of us who survive.

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  16. James Pearce says:

    @Neil J Hudelson:

    It’s very brave of you to keep trudging along.

    When my suicide note is found scrawled on a screenshot of your comment, will you still think you’re so hilarious?

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  17. Monala says:

    @James Pearce: you know why you’re being taken to task? Because your remark doesn’t sound like empathy, it sounds like judgment. It sounds like you’re saying you’re better than Sydney because you chose to live, unlike her.

    The comments you highlight are judgmental, but they are not judging Sydney, they’re judging the killer and the NRA.

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  18. Monala says:

    @James Pearce: if you want to see what actual empathy looks like, read EddieinCA’s comment above.

  19. Monala says:

    @James Pearce: Legitimate question here, no judgment or criticism of you, James: are you reaching out for help with this comment?

  20. CSK says:

    @James Pearce:
    You may have intended–though I’m dubious about that–to express empathy, but what you in fact very heavily implied was that you, a superior, stronger human being, choose to live as opposed to a weak-willed 19-year-old, who killed herself. In what way was that empathetic?

    You may call it empathy. I call it smug self-righteousness. And let me add that it is also sanctimonious.

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  21. Just nutha... says:

    @Guarneri: If anyone would recognize a ghoul, it would be you, sure enough.

    I’m trying to be a better person today, so I struck that through. If I was succeeding at being a better person, I would have used the backspace key, I guess.

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  22. Gustopher says:

    @Guarneri:

    That certainly used to be true. I’m not so sure it holds today. And one of the causes was the generally poor quality of the mental health care profession. Someone suffering from issues may not be able to recognize the issue and find competent help, although I’d lay odds they know there is an issue. It requires the people around them to be supportive and to motivate them to seek assistance.

    There’s a lot to unpack here, but I would start by saying that we are better than we were twenty years ago, but we still have a long way to go. Electing Obama didn’t solve all the racial problems in this country, and getting some mental health coverage in every insurance plan hasn’t solved all of the mental health problems.

    Mental health is one of the less understood branches of medicine, and the right treatment for each person is going to be different. But “poor quality of the mental health profession” is pretty close to accurate. Some of the early pioneers were the rough equivalent of phrenology, with the added wrinkle that just having someone listen can be effective for some patients (or can appear to, as an acute problem can just go away), so it sets up an expectation to keep doing the same thing that helped that patient with everyone else.

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction are a radically different approach, and are semi-evidence based.

    Medicines are better than applying leeches, but not always that much better. We don’t know who will respond well to what medicines yet, not without just trying one after the other.

    We are still pretty early in this entire specialty, and I’m betting we are doing some things very wrong even now, although better than before.

    “I’d lay odds they know there is an issue.” — this is a first step, but unless they can see a path to managing or reversing that issue, it can quickly lead to despair.

    “It requires the people around them to be supportive and to motivate them to seek assistance.” — it does, but the person may also not be capable of seeking assistance, or recognizing when they aren’t getting the right assistance. And the people around them may not be better.

    I don’t know what Ms. Aiello’s issues were, and whether there was more going on than survivors guilt and ptsd. Afraid to go to class becomes unable to go to class, which becomes afraid that she will never be able to go to class, which becomes a spiral of despair where it seems like her life is ruined at 18. And that’s just a bit of focused anxiety.

    I think a large part of that last jump, to life being over at 18, is that we stigmatize mental health issues, and so don’t know about the successful cases in our lives. You see the crazy man on the street defend Milosevic in front of The Hague, rather than the person who manages their depression, and has a mostly successful and fulfilling life.

    (I swear, I actually watched a man defend Milosevic in front of The Hague of his fantasies. He wasn’t just a lawyer, but he was also a child psychologist, and he really wanted to make sure his client got the help he needed)

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  23. wr says:

    @James Pearce: “No, smash on the guy who expresses empathy.”

    Dude, “Too bad the chick couldn’t take it, but hey, I’m a cool and wacky non-conformist” doesn’t sound like empathy to most people. Is it possible you really are this unaware of how you come off?

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  24. EddieInCA says:

    James Pearce says:
    Friday, March 22, 2019 at 16:12
    I understand looking at the world and wanting to have no part of it, but I’ve chosen non-conformity over non-existence.

    What. The. F**K. Is. Wrong. With. You???

    This is how you espouse empathy, you sanctimonious prick?

    She was a 17 year old girl who watched her best friend shot. She escaped by pure luck. Had she been in another part of her classroom, she easily could have been dead.

    Michael is correct. She was murdered by the people who fetishize guns in this country.

    I’m gonna stop, because I didn’t even read the comments below, but I’m sure others have taken you to task.

    Get help, man. Seriously. Get help. Because you’re sorely lacking in the humanity department.

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  25. Gustopher says:

    @James Pearce:

    And not the guy who said, “She didn’t commit suicide, she was murdered. It just took a while longer.”

    There’s a touch of smugness in that, but also much more than a touch of accuracy.

    And, part of that goes to the NRA issue — we have an industry that is devoted to maintaining access to weapons of mid-level destruction (way more firepower than you need to defend yourself), but nothing similar trying to ensure that victims of gun violence get the help they need.

    Ms. Aiello wasn’t some non-conformist iconoclast, she was brutally assaulted, put through hell, and wasn’t able to be put back together again — maybe she didn’t get enough help, maybe she couldn’t have been helped, maybe she started out as suicidally depressed and the shooting was just an unfortunate added stressor.

    If someone was shot through the liver, and their liver slowly failed over the next few years, it’s still murder even if it takes two years to die. This is the same thing, at least morally.

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  26. de stijl says:

    @James Pearce:

    It isn’t all about you.

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  27. I am reminded that trolling is attention-seeking behavior. Turning a thread about a suicide that came about as a result of a mass shooting into a thread about oneself is about as attention-seeking as one can get.

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  28. James Pearce says:

    @Monala:

    Because your remark doesn’t sound like empathy, it sounds like judgment.

    And yet I feel like if I had the opportunity to say that to Sydney Aiello, she would know exactly what I was trying to say and be comforted by it.

    are you reaching out for help with this comment?

    No, honestly no. I’m fine. I’ve been honest and up front about my depression and suicidal thoughts, but I’ve read Camus.

    “By the mere activity of consciousness I transform into a rule of life what was an invitation to death–and I refuse suicide. I know, to be sure, the dull resonance that vibrates throughout these days. Yet I have but a word to say; that it is necessary.”

    @CSK:

    though I’m dubious about that

    I think you’ve identified the problem…your bad faith.

    @Gustopher:

    Afraid to go to class becomes unable to go to class, which becomes afraid that she will never be able to go to class, which becomes a spiral of despair where it seems like her life is ruined at 18.

    This is a very astute observation and what I had in mind when I mentioned the concept of refuge.

    @wr:

    doesn’t sound like empathy to most people

    Yeah, well, I don’t consider the half dozen commenters primed to see my comments in the worst light to be “most people.”

    @EddieInCA:

    This is how you espouse empathy, you sanctimonious prick?

    Is this how you do it, by telling people they lack in the humanity department?

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  29. Teve says:

    @EddieInCA: I’m not going to search back through a thousand comments to find it, but sometime last year, quite a while after I stopped reading him, I commented that every James Pearce comment is of the form “x is wrong”, where x is either democrat, woman, or black person. I take it this time x was the woman.

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  30. James Pearce says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I left one short comment and here comes the pile-on, same folks all clambering over each other to miss the point.

    You should release my comment that got stuck in the mod queue before you start calling me a troll.

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  31. de stijl says:

    @James Pearce:

    Joyner, Matacnos, Taylor:

    Please make this go away.

    @James Pearce:

    I’ve read Camus, too…. It’s fiction. You’re not special. Calm down.

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  32. An Interested Party says:

    When my suicide note is found scrawled on a screenshot of your comment, will you still think you’re so hilarious?

    I highly doubt that someone who is as full of himself as you are would ever take his own life…I mean, after all, the world would lose so much if you weren’t around…

    And yet I feel like if I had the opportunity to say that to Sydney Aiello, she would know exactly what I was trying to say and be comforted by it.

    Oh yes, but of course she would…

    Is this how you do it, by telling people they lack in the humanity department?

    I think he was espousing reality more than empathy…

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  33. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    The subject adds nothing to the conversation and routinely subverts and disrails the conversation.

    You are trading your hard earned even-handedness and well written pieces to be way-laid by someone who pretended to be someone he wasn’t for two years in the comments.

    He subverts every thread. He always makes it about himself. If he added any non-solipsistic commentary whatsoever, I would not offer this. I’m pretty even handed.

    He is unrepentantly toxic. Talk amongst yourselves about him. You own the joint, the topic should not be “Should he be here?” but “Does his presence harm us?” (Hint- yes, it does.)

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  34. Areopagitica says:

    My thoughts, prayers, sympathies, and condolences to Ms. Aiello’s loved ones.

    She endured horrors that pierce the heart like shards of glass.

    The starless darkness her soul was surrounded by must have been an unending torment.

    @James Pearce: Are you an Existentialist?

    That may be the fount from which a miscommunication or misunderstanding may be springing from.

    Camus disavowed ‘Existentialist’ to identify himself but he shared the core belief that human life is devoid of a telos.

    The compos mentis individual must prevail over this purposelessness by making a conscious and deliberate decision to live in spite of this axiomatic absurdism.

    This presupposes that the moral agent is able to reason lucidly.

    The intrinsic nature of a psychological disorder such as clinical depression may deprive the individual of the ability to reason logically while in the midst of their depressive state.

    A suicidal depressive disorder is not a surrender to the pressures of societal conformity or an analytical denial of the Absurd.

    I am presupposing that your original intent was a good faith declaration.

    This may be mistaken on my part.

  35. de stijl says:

    @Areopagitica:

    You are a good person to have around and we need more of your input here. I like the cut of your jib.

    I am presupposing that your original intent was a good faith declaration.

    LOL. I literally laughed out loud. Cliche be damned, I did laugh loudly.

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  36. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Sad that a life so full of promise should end so young. RIP.

  37. James Pearce says:

    @de stijl:

    I’ve read Camus, too…. It’s fiction.

    The Myth of Sisyphus isn’t fiction, dude.

    You weren’t even involved in this conversation until you popped in to complain about me.

    @Areopagitica:

    The intrinsic nature of a psychological disorder such as clinical depression may deprive the individual of the ability to reason logically while in the midst of their depressive state.

    In general, sure, but it’s not clear to me that Sydney Aiello suffered from what would be called “clinical depression.”

    We know she was diagnosed with PTSD, which is a different beast. She may not have been able to “reason lucidly,” it’s true, but –back to Camus– “Dying voluntarily implies that you have recognized, even instinctively, the ridiculous character of (the habit of living), the absence of any profound reason for living, the insane character of that daily agitation, and the uselessness of suffering.”

    The uselessness of suffering…

    (But no, I don’t think of myself as an existentialist.)

  38. Areopagitica says:

    @de stijl: Thank you….I think? 🙂

  39. Areopagitica says:

    @James Pearce: PTSD can cause profoundly impaired judgement.

    “ you have recognized, even instinctively

    Recognition takes some degree of cognition.

    Cognition, which again, could be clouded by PTSD, a depressive disorder, or a myriad of other psychological conditions.

    I’m not persuaded Camus gets you where you are seeking to go with your thesis.

  40. Areopagitica says:

    @de stijl: Camus composed non-fiction as well.

  41. James Pearce says:

    @Areopagitica:

    Recognition takes some degree of cognition.

    Sure, but it’s “recognition” in English. I don’t know what word Camus used. I felt all those things but needed to read Camus to put words to them.

    And I’m much older than Sydney Aiello.

    I’m not persuaded Camus gets you where you are seeking to go with your thesis.

    That’s fine, but probably something you should take up with Camus. All I know is that “The struggle itself is enough to fill a man’s soul” got me through a lot of dark days and in order to stay alive, I had to develop a philosophical taboo on self-annihilation.

  42. de stijl says:

    @James Pearce:

    The Myth of Sisyphus isn’t fiction.

    The Myth of Sisyphus is, in fact, fiction. Definitionally. It’s right there in the title. Crikey, you are really bloody dense!

    Yeah just go on about how opt-in maltreated you are here. I weep for you, you poor little faultless innocent lamb. Blah blah.

  43. de stijl says:

    @Areopagitica:

    Camus also didn’t actually kill an Arab. He wrote a book about it and the protagonist’s antecedents and then the repercussions. But unless history got this really wrong, Camus never actually shot someone for … I was going to say reasons, but that’d be wrong.

    L’Etranger was a crap book. It’s cool to have a blank protagonist, but you have to deliver and Camus did not, which was probably his point. Existentialists are slippery! Meaninglessness is a hard sell and difficult to capture. IMO, Camus utterly failed. If my French were better and I could read the original I might have a different opinion, but Meursault….

  44. de stijl says:

    @Areopagitica:

    We’re in a thread where Camus and The Myth Of Sisyphus are being bandied about.

    If I were 17 I would be so psyched!

  45. de stijl says:

    @James Pearce:

    I’m not persuaded Camus gets you where you are seeking to go with your thesis.

    Pearce, dude you so got faced there. Wow, that may be the coolest put-down ever.