In English, we are currently reading a book called No Longer Human (I can never remember these literary conventions- ought I to underline that instead? Whatever.) that protaganist of which is a severely messed-up, depressed, guilt-ridden young man. Nor does he snap out of it at any point. The book ends with his being committed to a mental institution and then let out, to mope some more about his miserableness. Fine.
Our prof informed us that the book was largely autobiographical and that the author himself had attempted suicide three times, and then finally succeeded in hanging himself from a bridge with his lover. He spoke about the reverence that the Japanese still have for the author, going to visit the river over which he hung himself on the aniversary of his death and having all sorts of tributes.
I discovered that upon hearing all this, my respect for the author and for the book plummeted abruptly. At first I felt rather guilty, like I ought to be judging the book solely on its merits irrelevant of the author's personal junk.
But on further reflection, I think that this attitude is entirely valid. Here's why. A book is not simply a story, it is also a trip into the author's mind, values, and way of viewing the world. By reading a book, I am trying to learn about new and hopefully better ways to see adn think about certain things.
In my view, a suicide is a defeat. Not that every person who commits suicide is a rotten person or a failure, but that suicide itself means that you have failed the greatest challenge out there, the challenge of coping with the world. If this suicide was a result of your particular philosophy, I would label the philosophy a failure as well, because it did not pass the ultimate test of being able to arbitrate between the world and the philosopher.
So why shouldn't I have less respect for a book when the ideas behind it just plain didn't work? When the author looked at reality in a certain way and his way wasn't good enough for him to be able to deal with the world. Reading a book of a mindset that leads to a suicide is like learning the tactics that lost the battle- useful only to learn another way that does not do the job.