E.M. Cioran
October 4, 2011 6:28 AM   Subscribe

Cioran's literary elitism is unparalleled in modern literature, and for that reason he often appears as a nuisance for modern and sentimental ears poised for the lullaby words of eternal earthly or spiritual bliss. Cioran's hatred of the present and the future, his disrespect for life, will certainly continue to antagonize the apostles of modernity who never tire of chanting vague promises about the "better here-and-now." ... If one could reduce the portrayal of Cioran to one short paragraph, then one must depict him as an author who sees in the modern veneration of the intellect a blueprint for spiritual gulags and the uglification of the world. Indeed, for Cioran, man's task is to wash himself in the school of existential futility, for futility is not hopelessness; futility is a reward for those wishing to rid themselves of the epidemic of life and the virus of hope. Probably, this picture best befits the man who describes himself as a fanatic without any convictions--a stranded accident in the cosmos who casts nostalgic looks towards his quick disappearance. - Tomislav Sunic


"On Being Lyrical" - from On The Heights Of Despair (1934)

The Book of Delusions (1936)

"A People of Solitaries" - from The Temptation To Exist (1956)
posted by Trurl (29 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
So he killed himself?
posted by LogicalDash at 6:31 AM on October 4, 2011

>So he killed himself?

"It is not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late."

posted by gracchus at 6:37 AM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

"Hope is killing us." - Derrick Jensen
posted by Trurl at 6:39 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I tried reading "A Short History of Decay" a number of years ago, but just couldn't get through it. I felt pretty defeated, like the author was sitting in the room with me, laughing quietly to himself, muttering over and over and over: "Cioran idiot."
posted by googly at 6:46 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

So which is harder, suicide or writing and publishing a scholarly book?

If this Cioran guy said it was the former, well, maybe that'll console my writer friends a little.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:50 AM on October 4, 2011

Cioran idiot.

(eyes narrow, ears go back, a venomous hiss)
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:52 AM on October 4, 2011

and he also befriended another famous absurdist playwright, the Irish/French writer Samuel Beckett, best known for his play Waiting for Godot. Beckett would later end their friendship because he found Cioran too pessimistic.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:05 AM on October 4, 2011

Philosophy is the sport of the depressed.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:11 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Artaud, on the other hand, did apparently die of a drug overdose, and his works are similarly severe and grotesque.
posted by Nomyte at 7:15 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

So which is harder, suicide or writing and publishing a scholarly book?

Well, the former only requires perishing, while the latter requires publishing and perishing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:37 AM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

"Life inspires more dread than death -- it is life which is the great unknown."

This guy could maybe have used some better anti-depressants.
posted by bukvich at 7:40 AM on October 4, 2011

Metafilter: Everything is pathology, except for indifference.

Metafilter: that taste for devastation, for internal clutter, for a universe like a brothel on fire

Metafilter: merely a fracas on an unmapped terrain

Metafilter: Schisms and heresies are nationalisms in disguise.

It's a pity Cioran didn't live to have and account; he would have brightend up the place.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:48 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are three articles (in descending order of comprehensiveness and quality) on Cioran from First Things:

"Words of Nectar and Cyanide" by Joseph Bottum, an "appreciative introduction"

"Portrait of the Philosopher as a Young Man" by Zbigniew Janowski an assesment of Cioran following the publication of An Infamous Past: E.M. Cioran and the Rise of Fascism in Romania by Marta Petreu

"ETO: Aphorisms and E. M. Cioran" by Edward T. Oakes, S.J. on reading Cioran's aphorisms in August.
posted by Jahaza at 7:56 AM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's a pity Cioran didn't live to have and account; he would have brightend up the place.

I first read his name in a Jim Harrison story in high school but only got as far as reading the titles of his books before I was too depressed to go any further.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:04 AM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Come to think of it I've still only gotten as far as the titles only now they strike me as terrific. He's kind of like Anthony Powell in that his bibliography reads like it was dreamed up by a novelist.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:08 AM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well, the former only requires perishing, while the latter requires publishing and perishing.

That's funny, in my discipline it's publish or perish.
posted by Nomyte at 8:21 AM on October 4, 2011

That's funny, in my discipline it's publish or perish.

Look at history; no matter how much you publish, perishing is, like for all people, an academic's lot.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:26 AM on October 4, 2011

Uh oh, looks like GenjiandProust has a bad case of the Ciorans. Someone get him some Wodehouse, stat!
posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:41 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wodehouse, stat!

I confess that as I was putting this post together, I recalled an early episode of The Osbournes in which Sharon tells a mopey Jack, "Cheer up, ya miserable fuck."
posted by Trurl at 8:47 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Flagged as the heaviest opening paragraph I've seen on the blue in quite a while.
posted by mhoye at 8:59 AM on October 4, 2011

Meh. Another writer who needed Prozac. So what?

...he was very talented?

By the way, fans of Cioran should check out Thomas Ligotti's Conspiracy Against The Human Race.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:33 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been wanting to read Cioran for a while (and that Ligotti book). I love that stuff. Depression makes me happy.
posted by perhapses at 9:46 AM on October 4, 2011

Thanks, Trurl, for introducing me to Cioran. Looks like he's taken the implications of atheism to their logical conclusion.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:56 AM on October 4, 2011

"At bottom, Cioran’s main theme, the theme that he returns to again and again, the theme that more than any other has endeared him to leftist intellectuals ..."
Not this one. I don't disagree with Kimball's take on Cioran, a writer I've tended to regard as the literary equivalent of late Pink Floyd, but I'm struck by Kimball's desire to make a lefty-by-proxy out of Cioran because Cioran's weird and troubling philo-semitism, his distrust of reason, his love of being contrary for its own sake, his vitriol, his love of dramatic poses, and his dislike of democracy and bourgeois liberalism, reminds me of nothing so much as the quasi-Straussian American right of the last few decades, from Bloom to Breitbart, including Kimball.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:03 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's a fairly fluid difference between neoconservatism and liberalism, though, no? Neoconservatives used to be famous for liking American liberal democracy so much that it ought to be not only vigorously defended, but spread by force to other countries. Of course, after 9/11, not mention after W and his cronies, people now associate neoconservatism with heavy doses of paranoia and religion, but it wasn't always thus.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:11 AM on October 4, 2011

Something about philosophy...and philosophers...

Cioran was an antiphilosopher, an antimoralist, perhaps because in his youth he had read such a wide variety of European philosophers, and all the elegant, ironic French moralists, He wrote: "Everything I have undertaken, everything I have expatiated upon all my life is inseparable from what I have lived. I invented nothing. I've been the one and only secretary of my own sensations."

People will write volumes about Emil Cioran, and even more people will read those volumes. Irony is not the sole province of the anti-intellectual Right.

...after some reflection, I think maybe we can take solace in knowing that others share our agnosticism. If all the existentialists were never to have written about it, some of us may be wandering around thinking that we were the only ones.
posted by Xoebe at 11:41 AM on October 4, 2011

I was just unpacking my Cioran books, and as I looked at all of them, slim even in the aggregate, I wondered if I really had room on my shelves for them any more. I love Cioran, but I reached a certain point where his pessimism did not make me feel better, it made me feel worse. I don't know if that's because my own outlook changed, the world seemed more like Cioran's world where we're all just living, or I had reached my fill. I kept the books, for now, but I'm still considering what to do with them.

Now, Thomas Bernhard I still re-read.
posted by OmieWise at 12:02 PM on October 4, 2011

What is interesting is that in the opening statement of Cioran’s Securitate file, which justified him being shadowed by the secret police, he is described as someone engaged in activities hostile to the regime due to his idealistic philosophy. And, looking at these quotes, they were not even that far off the mark – if you play with every sense of that word:

Where are my sensations? They have melted into... me, and what is this me, this self, but the sum of these evaporated sensations?

Existing is plagiarism.

We cannot sufficiently blame the nineteenth century for having favored that breed of glossators, those reading machines, that deformation of the mind incarnated by the Professor—symbol of a civilization's decline, of the corruption of taste, of the supremacy of labor over whim. To see everything from the outside, to systematize the ineffable, to consider nothing straight on, to inventory the views of others! All commentary on a work is bad or futile, for whatever is not direct is null. There was a time when the professors chose to pursue theology. At least they had the excuse then of professing the absolute, of limiting themselves to God, whereas in our century nothing escapes their lethal competence.

Only what has been conceived in solitude, face to face with God, endures — whether one is a believer or not.

There was a time when time did not yet exist... The rejection of birth is nothing but the nostalgia for this time before time.

Suffering makes you live time in detail, moment after moment. Which is to say that it exists for you: over the others, the ones who don't suffer, time flows, so that they don't live in time, in fact they never have.

True moral elegance consists in the art of disguising one's victories as defeats.


So yes, Cioran the idealist. GIven how generous that term is, you could probably apply it to every other quote though, if you tried hard enough. (Also - thank you for the post – he was born cca 10 kilometers from where I live, and his writings were one of the truly subversive pleasures growing up).
posted by miorita at 1:42 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Discovering Cioran and reading all of his books pulled me out of a very bad emotional state a couple of years back. It's probably not a response to existential despair that works well for everyone- I've noticed that reviews of Cioran's books often warn against reading him if you're depressed- but for me when I was in that state, I found a great comfort and relief in finding that others had had thoughts like that, and expressed them so eloquently. (He was an amazing writer- I can't think of any other philosopher who was as good a stylist as he was.) He was also a major catalyst towards my getting into Buddhism seriously- he clearly admired Buddhism greatly, and there's a fair amount of commentary on Buddhism and influence from it in his writing, but he never became a Buddhist himself- his comment on that was "My faculty for disappointment surpasses understanding. It is what lets me comprehend Buddha, but also what keeps me from following him." Which I identify with in a lot of ways, even though I've moved more in the direction of actually being a Buddhist than I think he could bring himself to do. So his writing is very important to me in a lot of ways, and it's hard to know where to begin in talking about him. To offer a few fragmentary observations (which seems appropriate in discussing him, really):

One thing I think Cioran doesn't get nearly enough credit for is his sense of humor- he could actually be very funny at times, though it was (unsurprisingly) a pretty dry, dark, and usually self-deprecating humor. One example was his one-line summary of the history of Christianity ("For two thousand years, Jesus has revenged himself upon us for not having died on a sofa") and in the self-deprecating department there was this bit from "The Trouble With Being Born": "Every misanthrope, however sincere, at times reminds me of that old poet, bedridden and forgotten, who in a rage with his contemporaries declared he would receive none of them. His wife, out of charity, would ring at the door from time to time..." (Cioran could pretty safely be called a misanthrope himself, of course, and he knew it.) And then there was this near the end of "The New Gods", which made me burst out laughing when I first read it:

"I imagined myself more exempt from vanity than others: a recent dream was to disabuse me. I had just died. A coffin of planks was brought. 'You could have put a little varnish on it, even so!' I exclaimed before belaboring the undertakers with my fists. An uproar ensued. Then came the awakening, and shame."

I think all of this gives his writing a certain humility that it would likely have been insufferable without, as this sort of extreme pessimism can slip into a particularly off-putting sort of arrogance- like the writer sees himself as one of the few strong enough to face the terrible truth about reality, unlike all the other deluded sheeple out there- but Cioran, I find, avoids this. He periodically turns his doubt of everything on his own doubt, and he makes fun of himself and his own view of existence. Titles like "The Trouble With Being Born" are both a genuine expression of how he feels about existence and so over-the-top blunt in their expression of that feeling that they're actually kind of funny, and it seems clear that he was fully aware of that.

Another element of Cioran's writing which isn't necessarily obvious at first but becomes more clear as one delves into it, is the "idealist" quality miorita describes above. He was pretty clearly an example of a person with a deep religious impulse who couldn't believe in anything, and much of his work reflects that, I think- his extreme pessimism seems to have been a product of it, in many ways. (This was one of the things about his work which was most resonant for me on a personal level.) Some of this impulse seems to have been redirected towards music, the one subject he was entirely positive and life-affirming about- somewhere he describes listening to Bach and thinking that there was the refutation of his philosophy. And there are these little moments of mystical experience scattered throughout his writing, like this almost lyrical description of experiencing something like satori:

"I was walking late one night along a tree-lined path; a chestnut fell at my feet. The noise it made as it burst, the resonance it provoked in me, and an upheaval out of all proportion to this insignificant event thrust me into miracle, into the rapture of the definitive, as if there were no more questions- only answers. I was drunk on a thousand unexpected discoveries, none of which I could make use of... That is how I nearly reached the Supreme. But instead I went on with my walk."

In general, I think his view of life wasn't as completely and absolutely negative as it might seem at first- in the end, I think the thing which summed up his view of life best, (and mine, really) might be the last aphorism in "The New Gods": "We are all deep in a hell, every moment of which is a miracle."
posted by a louis wain cat at 7:01 PM on October 4, 2011 [7 favorites]

« Older Tacit racism and sexism   |   Dr Ralph Steinman, father of dendritic cells and... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments