A keen stylist and rigorous thinker, concerned with the most fundamental issues of being, E. M. Cioran has often been compared with such writers as Beckett and Borges. Though he might have been better known had he written fiction or plays rather than his very particular essays and aphorisms, Cioran’s books reach across great distances: those within the self as well as those between people.
Cioran insists that he’s not a writer; his fifteen books would appear to prove otherwise. Even his titles provoke a look inside: A Short History of Decay, The Temptation to Exist, The Fall into Time, The New Gods, The Trouble with Being Born, Drawn and Quartered, and History and Utopia. Of this last, which was originally published in 1960, he says, ‘I wanted to make an apology of utopia, but when I read different utopias, I said this isn’t possible.’ Among the other books in French, Syllogismes de l’amertume (1952) bears special note; it was his second book, but the first of aphorisms. At the time of the interview he was working on a new collection of aphorisms, provisionally called Ce maudit moi and later published as Aveux et anathèmes (1987).
A native of Rumania, son of a priest, Cioran is not a systematic thinker. Rather his mind advances with that ‘patience to go in circles, in other words, to deepen,’ as he described in The New Gods. At seventy-two he could almost be a survivor of himself, though his fatigue seems more existential than physical. Yet Cioran’s ready humor pierces even the gravest considerations with the wit of the condemned. Or as he once wrote, ‘In the blood an inexhaustible drop of vinegar: to what fairy do I owe it?’
Known to be very private, Cioran has never given an interview to the French literary press, being too close to home, or to the American press (except for some moments with a Time magazine correspondent years ago). The following interview took place over two mornings in midAugust, 1983, in his Latin Quarter apartment where he has lived since the early 1960s, though he has been in Paris since before the Second World War.
Jason Weiss You’ve said that Sartre and others, by using a German style of discourse, did some harm to philosophical language. Can you elaborate on this?
E. M. Cioran Well, first I’ll tell you that when I was quite young I myself was affected by this German jargon. I thought that philosophy wasn’t supposed to be accessible to others, that the circle was closed, and that at all costs one had to use this scholarly, laborious, complicated terminology. It was only little by little that I understood the impostor side of philosophical language. And I should say that the writer who helped me tremendously in this discovery is Valiry. Because Valiry, who wasn’t a philosopher but who had a bearing on philosophy all the same, wrote a very pure language; he detested philosophical language. That jargon gives you a sense of superiority over everybody. And philosophical pride is the worst that exists, it’s very contagious. An any rate, the German influence in France was disastrous on that whole level, I find. The French can’t say things simply anymore… [PDF]