Emil Cioran

By Kuba Kaliński (transl. Nena Argent, Kuba Kalinski)
Emil Cioran On the Summits of Despair
Emil Cioran
Biographical note
Emil Michel Cioran was born in 1911 in Romania, in the region that, at the time, belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He died in 1995 in Paris. His father was an Orthodox priest. He studied philosophy, wrote a thesis about Bergson, whose ideas he later completely rejected. In the 1930’s he aligned himself to the fascist movement for a few years. From 1941 to the end of his life, he lived in Paris. He was a loner, had no social life, and lived with his French companion Simone Boué. He wrote a few books in Romanian and several in French. He primarily wrote laconic aphorisms, but also authored essays. Cioran is considered to be agnostic. Amongst the thinkers who influenced him were Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Shestov. His Romanian friends included Eugène Ionesco, Constantin Noica, Mircea Eliade, and Paul Celan, amongst others. In Paris, he knew Samuel Beckett and Henri Michaux.

Subjective Viewpoint: A Delayed Suicide

  1. Just before morphine, Cioran is the final cure for suffering. If solace isn’t found with him, all that remains are pharmaceuticals or madness. I’ve used this drug repeatedly, although its effectiveness decreases over time, as with any drug.
  2. I met him on a bookshelf in my father’s library; I was about sixteen. His book “On the Summits of Despair” struck me as pretentious, obnoxious, silly – I didn’t finish reading it. Cioran fell into oblivion for many years.
  3. Changes in perception and judgment, modifications of writing styles or ideas, even changes that are contrary and reflect antithetic viewpoints, raise the question: which of the two conflicting perspectives is more accurate? The point of view of a young man or an old man, rich or poor, healthy or sick, man or woman – they often happen to be contrary. Yet both may be justified.
  4. I don’t think I was foolish in my youth and am now wise because I appreciate Cioran. I don’t think I was smart and am now a fool because Cioran became one of my most cherished authors. Cioran himself is an example of profound changes in perspective. Thanks to him, I observe changes in myself; such extreme changes that often it’s difficult to find my own identity. I’m not an essentialist. A man who rejects Cioran in his youth, and a man pondering suicide twenty years later (we have a polite euphemism for that: depression) who appreciates him, are two different people. Perhaps not a single atom is the same as the ones that comprised my body twenty years ago. Having the same name in a passport seems a gross exaggeration.
  5. In the second half of his life Cioran himself believed that some of his writings from his youth were pretentious, extremist and just plain stupid.
  6. Cioran surprised me on YouTube. I knew him through books about despair, god, suffering, madness, but on YouTube he appeared to be witty, although invariably bitter.
  7. A writer who writes “I suffer” mocks suffering.
  8. He is one of a few writers from the past century, who was able to write about god. He never descended into cheap sentimentality or infantilism of the parochial-Vatican. God is a monstrosity; to get rid of him seems impossible. God is a mocker, laughing at his botched work. To confront him with his infinite guilt – the creation of man – is a task for someone who’s not afraid to look him in the eye.
  9. Cioran was a Romanian; he began writing in French in mid-life. He mainly employed aphorisms, rarely bothering to eulogize with long arguments. He belongs to the race of individualists who doesn’t descend to persuasion. One of his collections of essays written in Paris was titled “Exercices d’admiration”. Those essays were devoted to writers and thinkers he respected. This website is a distant echo of his exercise.
  10. To be right is to be close to wisdom or holiness. To persuade others is the first step towards tyranny.
  11. Cioran is also excellent material for analysis of the Jungian shadow. His shadow revealed itself in the 1930’s. Praise for fascism, both German and Italian, and toward Hitler himself, are inexcusable and utterly unacceptable. If you threaten and fight against a good god, the devil will appear in your speech one day.
  12. Cioran’s ideas more closely resemble self-help therapies for the chronically depressed than an objective description of the world. His pessimism, similar to the pessimism of Beckett, Houellebecq, and others, is a virus circulating through the bloodstream of European thought. But it doesn’t threaten to be its ruination. The infinite stream of naked, joyful bodies of young people is the eternal answer to gloomy old men.
  13. The lack of sexual subject matter in Emile Cioran books remains a mystery. Did he derive joy from it? Is there any connection between his pessimism and lack of sexual satisfaction or no correlation at all?
Emil Cioran - Tears and Saints
Tears and Saints
Emil Cioran - Notebooks
Emil Cioran - On The Heights of Despair
On The Heights of Despair
Emil Cioran - History and Utopia
History and Utopia
Emil Cioran - The New Gods
The New Gods

Emil Cioran - quotes & fragments

Criticism is a misconception: we must read not to understand others but to understand ourselves.

We feel safer with a madman who talks than with one who cannot open his mouth.

One does not inhabit a country; one inhabits a language. That is our country, our fatherland – and no other.

Write books only if you are going to say in them the things you would never dare confide to anyone.

No one can enjoy freedom without trembling.

The limit of every pain is an even greater pain.

Tyranny destroys or strengthens the individual; freedom enervates him, until he becomes no more than a puppet. Man has more chances of saving himself by hell than by paradise.

Great persecutors are recruited among martyrs whose heads haven’t been cut off.

The fact that life has no meaning is a reason to live – moreover, the only one.

You are done for – a living dead man – not when you stop loving but stop hating. Hatred preserves: in it, in its chemistry, resides the “mystery of life.”

The ideally lucid, hence ideally normal, man should have no recourse beyond the nothing that is in him.

Is it such a great evil not to know how to read and write? In all frankness, I cannot think so. Indeed I will go further and say for certain that when the last illiterate has disappeared from the planet, we may dress in mourning for mankind.

Once you see that everything is unreal, you can’t see why you should bother to prove it.

It is written in the Zohar: “When man appeared thereupon appeared the flowers.” I suspect they were there long before him, and that his advent plunged them all into a stupefaction from which they have not yet recovered.

Philosophers write for professors; thinkers for writers.

Cioran on Christians

Imbued with their fits of conscience, the Christians, gratified that another should have suffered for them, loll in the shadow of Calvary. If they sometimes busy themselves retracing its stages, what advantage they manage to derive from doing so! With the look of profiteers, they bloom in church and, when they leave, scarcely dissimulate that smile produced by a certitude gained without fatigue. Grace and a suspect one which spares them from making any effort. Carnival “redeemed”, braggarts of redemption, sensualists caressed by humility, sin, and hellfire; if they torment their conscience, it is to procure themselves sensations. They procure others by tormenting yours. Once they detect scruple, division or the obsessive presence of a sin or a transgression, they will never let you go, but oblige you to exhibit your agony or advertise your guilt, while they watch like Sadists the spectacle of your confusion. Weep if you can: that is what they are waiting for, impatient to get drunk on your tears, to wallow, charitable and grim, in your humiliations, to feast on your grief. These men of conviction are so greedy for suspect sensations that they seek them everywhere, and when they no longer find any in the world outside, rush upon themselves. Far from being haunted by the truth, the Christian marvels at his “inner conflicts”, at his vices and his virtues, at their power of intoxication, gloats over the Cross and, an Epicurean of the horrible, associates pleasure with sentiments which generally involve nothing of the kind: has he not invented the orgasm of repentance?