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||E.M. Cioran (1911-1995)|
Romanian born philosopher, aphorist, and essayist, who moved to Paris on the eve of World War II and from 1949 published his writings in French. Cioran was an uncompromising pessimist and moralist, whose major themes were dread, despair, and the irrationality of existence.
"Music is the sound track of askesis. Could one make love after Bach? Not even after Handel, whose unearthliness does not have heavenly perfume. Music is a tomb of delights, beatitude which buries us." (Tears and Saints by E.M. Cioran, translated by Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston, 1995, p. 8)
Émile Michel Cioran was born in the mountain village of
Rasinari. The region is known for its natural beauty. Cioran's
childhood was happy but later he said in The Temptation to Exist (1956)
that, "Hating my people, my country, its timeless peasants enamoured of
their own torpor and almost bursting with hebetude, I blushed to be
descended from them." ('Introduction: Imagining Cioran' by Ilinca
Zarifopol-Johnston, in On the Heights of
Despair, 1992, p. xii) His
parents were deported by the Hungarians
during the First World War. Emilian Cioran
was a Greek Orthodox priest. Elvira Cioran, née
Comanici, was head of the Christian Women's League. Although Cioran
himself was genuinely interested in religion throughout his life, he
became painfully aware of the gap between his thinking and the Orthodox
faith after undergoing a spiritual crisis is Brasov. It has been
said, that Cioran can rightly be called a "mystic without a God." (Cioran: A Dionysiac with the Voluptuousness of Doubt by Ion Dur, 2019,
At the age of 10, Cioran left his native village. He studied at the "Gheorghe Lazar" High School in Sibiu (Hermannstadt). He then entered the University of Bucharest, where he studied philosophy and wrote a thesis on Henri Bergson. Along with Mircea Eliade, Eugene Ionesco, Constantin Noica, and other "angry young men", he participated in Romania's cultural Renaissance during the 1930s.
Pe culmile disperarii (1934, On the Heights of Despair), Cioran's first book, was born of depression caused by insomnia. In an interview Cioran said, that he stopped sleeping when he was about twenty. The nihilistic work, influenced by Nietzsche and Baudelaire, attracted wide critical attention and received the King Carol II Foundation Art and Literature Award. Its title refers to suicide notes published in Romanian newspapers of the period, opening with the words, "On the heights of despair, young so-and-so took his life . . . " ('Introduction: Imagining Cioran' by Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston, in On the Heights of Despair, 1992, p. xv)
In 1934-35 Cioran studied in Germany on a fellowship and then
taught philosophy at the Andrei Saguna High-School in Brasov. Schimbarea
la fata a României
(1936), Cioran's third book, was influenced by
Spengler's theories and dedicated to the issue of Romanianism. Cioran
argued that Romanian culture lacked greatness, and intellectuals were
unable to understand the "problems related to the agony of
civilizations." Especially this book, but also some other articles, in
which Cioran expressed anti-Semitic views and enthusiastically
supported Adolf Hitler's national socialism, haunted him the rest of
his life. "Of all politicians today, Hitler is the one I like and
admire most," Cioran declared in 1934. (Intellectuals and Fascism in Interwar Romania: The Criterion Association by Cristina A. Bejan, 2019, p. 56) At
the lowest point of his intellectual quest he suggested setting up a
concentration camp for Romanian politicians. "If a man has
not, by the time he is thirty, yielded to the fascination of every form
of extremism," Cioran defended later his early beliefs, "I don't know
he is to be admired or scorned, regarded as a saint or a corpse." (History and Utopia by E.M. Cioran, translated by Richard Howard, 1960, p. 3)
After winning a studend fellowship from the French Institute, Bucharest, Cioran left Romania for Paris, and settled there permanently. He wrote only in French thereafter. During the German occupation of France, he lived hand-to-mouth existence. Moreover, there was a risk, that he would be arrested and sent back to Romania to serve in the army. For a period Cioran studied at the Sorbonne, but eventually abandoned the idea of taking a degree. Instead he devoted himself to the task of learning French after failing to translate Mallarmé into Romanian. Cioran re-emerged as a writer with Précis de décomposition (1949, A Short History of Decay), which won the Rivarol Prize. From 1949 he worked as a part-time translator and manuscript reader for various publishing houses.
Cioran insisted, that when there is no hope, one is not threatened anymore, "you achive the ultimate freedom of the devil, which has a seductive perfume." Despite his nihilism, for a short period in his old age Cioran nurtured some kind of hope. He fell in love with Friedgard Thoma, a young German student. After learning that she had had a relationship with another man, Cioran was consumed with jealousy. Cioran's companion for most of his life was Simone Boue, an English teacher. From 1960, he lived on the Left Bank, on Odéon Street, in a modest attic flat, filled with books and manuscripts. In an interview he once said that "I write to rid myself of my obsessions, of my anguish". During the Communist reign in Romania, his books were not sold or published in translation, and all traces of his influence on the cultural scene in the 1930s was wiped away.
The first edition of Syllogismes de l'amertume (1952, All Gall is Divided), a collection of aphorisms in which he followed the model of Nicolas Chamfort, went unnoticed and sold only about 60 copies. It was not until the 1970s, when the second edition came out, the work was recognized as a classic in the best tradition of the genre, and Cioran also began to gain international attention. However, Susan Sontag had written already in Styles of Radical Will (1966), a collection of essays, that "Cioran is one of the most delicate minds of real power writing today." Coinciding with the publishing of Aveux et anathèmes (1987) Cioran felt he had written enough.
Cioran withdrew from literary and public society, but he did not move from Paris for the surrounding countryside and never stopped believing in the power of the word. In addition to his daily routine of reading and writing, he enjoyed walks through the Luxemburg garden. When the French Academy honored him with the Paul Morand Prize, he declined the award. Samuel Beckett helped him financially to complete De l'inconvénent d'être né (1973, The Trouble With Being Born). In the last period of his life, Cioran suffered from Alzheimer's disease. He died on June 20, 1995, in Paris. Three years after his death, a cleaning lady found 37 spiral notebooks in the basement of his house. They were sold at an auction for EUR 400,000.
Cioran was an admirer of Nietzsche, who preached the death of philosophy itself, and Schopenhauer, sharing his view that individual existence is really a mistake. An uncompromising thinker with a taste for paradoxes, Cioran used aphoristic, sarcastic language in order to convey his moral message. Although Cioran seemed to be convinced of the futility of philosophy, bulk of his writing was philosophical - more or less.
For further reading: Cioran: A Dionysiac with the Voluptuousness of Doubt by Ion Dur (2019); "Meine Mission ist zu zweifeln": Emil Cioran zwischen Skepsis und Mystik by Ulrike Bardt and Werner Moskopp (2017); The Fall out of Redemption: Writing and Thinking Beyond Salvation in Baudelaire, Cioran, Fondane, Agamben, and Nancy by Joseph Acquisto (2015); Eremiten i Paris: Emil Cioran och pessimismen som levnadskonst by Tobias Dahlkvist (2013); Searching for Cioran by Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston (2008); 'Emile Cioran', in Memoirs of a Nomadic Humorist by Branko Bokun (2007); 'Found in Translation: The Two Lives of E. M. Cioran; or How Can One Be a Comparatist?' by Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston, in Comparative Literature Studies, V ol. 44, Number 1-2 (2007); An Infamous Past: E.M. Cioran and the Rise of Fascism in Romania by Marta Petreu (2005); Essays on E.M. Cioran, ed. Aleksandra Gruzinska (1999); The Temptations of Emile Cioran by William Kluback and Michael Finkenthal (1997); Cioran, ou, le dernier homme by Sylvie Jaudeau (1990); 'Cioran, E(mile) M.,' in World Authors 1950-1970, ed. John Wakeman (1975); Styles of Radical Will by Susan Sontag (1969)