The New York Times, June 22, 1995
E. M. Cioran, a Romanian-born writer known for his essays on philosophy and culture and his emphasis on despair, emptiness and death, died on Tuesday in the Broca Hospital in Paris. He was 84 and had lived in Paris since 1937.
Mr. Cioran (pronounced TCHAW-rahn) has been widely read by modern writers and thinkers. Susan Sontag called him a practitioner of “a new kind of philosophizing: personal, aphoristic, lyrical, anti-systematic.” And Edmund White, writing in The New York Times Book Review in 1991, said that Mr. Cioran “has contemplated suicide for decades, esteems extremists, fanatics and eccentrics of all sorts and has instituted vertigo into his daily life.”
Mr. Cioran himself once wrote: “However much I have frequented the mystics, deep down I have always sided with the Devil; unable to equal him in power, I have tried to be worthy of him, at least, in insolence, acrimony, arbitrariness and caprice.”
Norman Manea, a Romanian who is currently a writer in residence at Bard College, said yesterday: “He was a brilliant rebel and a challenging misanthrope who tried again and again to awake us to the nothingness of human existence.”
Mr. Cioran’s hair-shirted world view resonated in the titles of his books: “On the Heights of Despair” (1933), “Syllogisms of Bitterness” (1952), “The Temptation to Exist” (1956), “The Fall Into Time” (1964) and “The Trouble with Being Born” (1973).
He was widely admired for the elegant French prose style that he employed in his pessimistic reflections. He himself said sourly that he was “obsessed with the worst.” The French poet St.-John Perse once wrote that Mr. Cioran was “one of the greatest French writers to honor our language since the death of Paul Valery.”
Mr. Cioran’s first major work in French was published by Gallimard in 1949 and he later used French in writing a dozen books of short stories, essays and aphorisms.
The source of his world view, he said in an interview published in 1994, was severe insomnia that began plaguing him as a youth and led him to give up his faith in philosophy after years of studying it. He gave this account:
“I lost my sleep and this is the greatest tragedy that can befall someone. It is much worse than sitting in prison. I went out of the house at about midnight or later and roamed through the alleys. And there were only a few lunatics and me, all alone in the entire city, in which absolute silence reigned.
“Everything that I thought in consequence and later composed was ‘born’ during those nights. Because I could not sleep at night and roamed about, I was naturally useless during the day and could therefore practice no profession.”
“Seven years of sleeplessness” ensued, he recalled, “and my vision of things is the result of this years-long wakefulness. I saw that philosophy had no power to make my life more bearable. Thus I lost my belief in philosophy.”
The readership for his writings, despite their gloom, has grown in recent years, in France and elsewhere. Gallimard paid him homage early this year by publishing his complete works in a single volume, “Oeuvres” (“Works”).
Mr. Cioran lived reclusively in a simple Left Bank apartment, frequenting the area around the Luxembourg Gardens and avoiding the company of other literary figures. He rejected two French literary awards, the Prix Rogier Namier and the Grand Prix Paul-Morand.
Emil M. Cioran was born in Rasinari, a village in central Rumania. His father was a Romanian Orthodox priest. He studied literature and philosophy at the university of Bucharest, where he devoted himself particularly to the philosophy of Kant, Fichte, Schopenhauer, Hegel and the French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941). Mr. Cioran wrote a thesis on Bergson’s thought, and earned a degree in 1932. When his first book, the essays entitled “On the Heights of Despair,” was published in 1933 in Bucharest it won the Prize of the Royal Academy for young writers.
His writings were banned in Rumania under the Ceausescu Government, but in 1989 he and the playwright Eugene Ionesco were made honorary members of the Romanian Writers’ Union.
Correction: June 24, 1995, Saturday An obituary headline on Thursday about the philosopher E. M. Cioran referred incorrectly to his work. In addition to his books of philosophy, he wrote short stories and essays. He was not a novelist.