Interview with Renzo Rubinelli: the Italian reception of Cioran

My aim is to carry out an exegesis of Cioran’s thought so as to evince how the issue of time is the basis of all his meditations.  To Cioran, time is destiny. The curse of existence is that of being “incarcerated” in the linearity of time, which stems from a paradisiacal, pre-temporal past, toward a destiny of death and decay. It is a tragic worldview of Greek origin embedded  in a Judeo-Christian conception of time, though deprived of Ă©scathon. But can we be sure that Cioran dismisses each and every form of salvation?

Renzo Rubinelli

In this interview, Italian philosopher Renzo Rubinelli shares with us some of his intuitions on the works and life of Emil Cioran. Profound connaisseur of Cioran’s thought (to which he dedicated his bachelor’s degree in Philosophy), having moreover met the Romanian-French author in person, Rubinelli talks about fundamental themes such as Cioran’s view of Time as Destiny, his philosophical passions and obsessions, besides his own wanderings and encounters with that who would be defined, by Time magazine, as the “king of pessimists”.

Renzo Rubinelli was born in Verona and graduated from the Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, in 1988, with a degree in Philosophy.  His undergraduate thesis, Tempo e destino nel pensiero di E. M. Cioran (“Time and destiny in E. M. Cioran’s thought”) was directed by Italian philosopher Emanuele Severino and was published by Italian publishing house Aracne, in 2014. Rubinelli has contributed to Nuova Italia Editrice, participated in several conferences on Cioran and published countless articles in academic and nonacademic reviews such as Il Sole 24 Ore, L’Arena di Verona, Il Giornale di Vicenza, Bresciaoggi, Il Gazzettino, Verona Fedele and the Romanian philosophical review Alkemie. Rubinelli also works as a manager for Retail e Profumeria and runs the Azienda agricola Rubinelli Vajol, specialized in the production of Amarone (a typical dry wine from the region of Valpolicella). He lives in Valpolicella, near Verona.

EMCioranBR: Mr. Rubinelli, first and foremost I would like to thank you for granting us this interview. It is a privilege for us to read about your rapports with Cioran – his thought and works, the man himself… Our first question: how did you discover Cioran?

R.R.: First of all, I would like to thank you for this interview, Rodrigo. We have not personally met, but I must say I appreciate the effort you make out of pure passion, in favor of the promotion of Cioran’s thought in Brazil and worldwide. It is not a big deal, but since you ask I feel pressed to exhume some old memories. The first time I laid my eyes on a book by Cioran, thus getting to know of his existence, was at university, in San Sebastiano, Venice, in the great hall of the Institute of Philosophical Studies. It was 1986, I believe. A researcher, whose name was Moro, as far as I can remember, was coming down the stairs (he was giving a course on McLuhan), and he held a copy of Il demiurgo cattivo (The new gods, as translated by Richard Howard), which had recently been published by Adelphi. The title did not not actually appeal to me, and I must say that I found it strange for a McLuhan specialist to be interested in a book with such an old-fashioned title. Months later I asked Professor Severino about the possibility of undertaking, under his direction, a thesis about the subject of Destiny. He promptly accepted it and provided me with a list of authors: Rensi, Untersteiner, Spengler, Nietzsche. Then I came to read in a magazine an article on Squartamento (Drawn and quartered) written by Severino himself, and which contained the following quote from Mahabharata: “The knot of destiny cannot be untied. Nothing in this world is the result of our own acts”, claimed Cioran. “Here is my author”, I thought to myself. I thus suggested to dedicate my research to Cioran and the subject of Destiny, which Severino enthusiastically approved of. Thus began a journey of study and of life, which ended up leading me to meet the author himself, his Parisian and Romanian family, his homeland.

EMCioranBR: Could you tell us a little about the Italian reception of Cioran’s works? It is known that Cioran has many well-known readers in Italy, where his books are published, as you have mentioned, by Roberto Calasso’s Adelphi. Franco Volpi, for instance, was one of his readers. There is a comment in his book Il nichilismo (“Nihilism”) in which Volpi regards Cioran as the representative of a “gnostic fashion of nihilism”. Can it be said that there has been established in Italy a tradition of Cioran studies – even though a recent one, since we are dealing with a rather up-to-date author? Who are the main Italian commentators of Cioran? What are the main works dedicated to his life and works ?

R.R.: Cioran’s first book to be published in Italy was Squartamento (Drawn and quartered) launched by Adelphi in 1981, even though some other titles had already been published in the previous decade by right-wing publishing houses, even if they had not had much repercussion. It was precisely thanks to Adelphi, and to Ceronetti’s wonderful introduction, that the name of Cioran became well-known to the Italian readers. Roberto Calasso is a great cultural player, but he is a rather arrogant person and, I must say, ungallant as well. My encounters with Cioran and Severino, two giants of thought, allowed me to understand how the true greatness is always accompanied by genuine humbleness a gentleness. Virtues which Calasso, in my opinion, lacks – and I say so based on the personal experience I have had with him in more than one occasion. Unfortunately, Volpi left us too early due to a banal accident while riding his bicycle on the Venetian hills (northeast of Italy), not far away from where I live. His intelligence illuminated us for a long a time. In 2002, he wrote a piece on Friedgard Thoma‘s book, Per nulla al mondo, releasing himself once and for all from the choir of censors, who had soon made their apparition. I enjoy recalling this marvellous passage: “Under the influence of passion, Cioran reveals himself. He jeopardizes everything in order to win the game, reveals innermost dimensions of his psyche, surprising features of his character… Attracted by the challenge of the eternal feminine, he allows secret depths of his thought to come to surface: a denuded thought before the feminine look which penetrates him…”
“Gnostic nihilism” is without a doubt an appropriate definition for Cioran. But what is “nihilism”, after all? The term suits Cioran first and foremost from a theoretical standpoint, as I shall explain later on. The emphasis should lie on the adjective “gnostic” more than anything else. The gnostic idea of Caduta nel tempo (The fall into time) feeds all of Cioran’s works from beginning to end, without exception.
There are in Italy many brave young minds who dedicate themselves to Cioran’s thought: Rotiroti, Carloni, Pozzi, Bulboaca, Vanini, Di Gennaro, Cicortas, Scapolo, Chelariu. Their works are all extremely valuable, but if you want to know my preferences, I would mention the works of Carloni, Rotiroti and Bulboaca.

EMCioranBR: You are the author of a book about Cioran: Tempo e destino nel pensiero di E. M. Cioran (Aracne Editrice, 2004). According to Mihaela-GenĆŁiana StăniƟor, it moves between Emanuele Severino’s eternity and Cioran’s nihilism. It holds a beautiful title which, by the way, seems to synthesize the essence of Cioran’s thought, besides echoing the title to one of Cioran’s own books, the collection of essays of his youth period published as Solitude et destin. What does existence mean to Cioran? What is Man according to him, and Man’s rapport with time? Would you say his is a tragic thought or rather a metaphysical nihilism?

R.R.: My book undertakes a theoretical exegesis of Cioran’s thought so as to evince how the problem of Time is the basis for all his meditation. The connective “and” of the title becomes the supporting verb for the thesis I intend to sustain: Time is Destiny. The curse of existence is that of being “incarcerated” in the linearity of time, which stems from a paradisiacal, pre-temporal past, toward a destiny of death and decay. It is, to sum up, a tragic worldview of Greek origin embedded in a Judeo-Christian conception, though deprived of all Ă©scathon. But can we be sure that Cioran dismisses each and every form of salvation? There are two polarities which communicate in my book: Severino’s absolute eternity and Cioran’s explicit nihilism. From Severino’s point of view, one might as well define Cioran’s thought as the becoming aware of nihilism inherent to the Western conception of Time. And in Cioran’s mystical temptation, on the other hand, one may find a sentimental perception of Being which seems to point to the need, the urge, the hope, so to speak, for an overcoming of Western hermeneutics of Becoming and for an ulterior word that is not Negation. The book starts with an account of my three encounters with Aurel, Cioran’s brother, in the years of 1987, 1991 and 1995, and of my two encounters with Emil, in 1988 and 1989. The book also includes all the letters which Cioran wrote to me, plus countless photographs. After the first part, there comes a bio-bibliographical inquiry on his Romanian years, a pioneer work of exhumation at a time when there were no reliable sources on the matter.

EMCioranBR: Cioran made friends with people from different nationalities. Could it be said that he was no less fascinated with Italy than he was with Spain? Leopardi, for example, is one of the poets he cherished most. What are your views on the elective affinities between Cioran and Italy?

R.R.: I would not go as far as to say that Cioran’s fascination with Italy equaled that which he held with Spain. Cioran loved Spain in a visceral way, while Italy did not interest him so much. Except for Leopardi, obviously, of whom he had framed and hung, on a wall in his apartment, the manuscript of the poem “L’infinito”. And he loved Venice as well…

EMCioranBr: You have personally met Cioran. Could you share your impressions on him? There seems to exist a certain myth Cioran: the depressive man, the suicidal, the enraged misanthropist, the solitary madman and God only knows what else… What was your impression of the actual man of flesh and blood? What could you say about the relation between the author and his works?

R.R.: I have always refuted the common-places, the clichĂ©s ascribed to the character of Cioran. None of that is true: misanthropist, madman, depressive, suicidal, furious, funambulist– all of which are intolerable words, tipically empty labels of badly written newspapers, which have been employed to the present day to describe Cioran. Reading his books, I have had the unmistakable feeling of an authentic gentleman, a man like you and me, who happened to have an exceptional gift, that is to say, the extraordinary ability to drive toward the Essential with a crystal-clear style. Thus, I wanted to meet him in person, with the feeling that he would be available and willing to receive me. And thus it happened. He was quite an easy-going man, comitted, someone who partook in other people’s miseries, great or small.
It all started in the summer of ’87. I wanted to visit the countries in Eastern Europe, those which were indeed oltrecortina. Almost no one would dare to go there. Before setting off to Romania I talked to Professor [Mario Andrea] Rigoni, Cioran’s translator and friend, asking him to tell Cioran about my travel plans and to ask whether he had any wishes concerning his family in Romania. I promptly received my mission assignment from Paris: to send his brother two kilos of coffee. Well, I spent three memorable days with Aurel, who introduced me to all the sights of their childhood and shared so many things with me. I also got to meet Constantin Noica, who even wrote me his own suggestions regarding my thesis on Cioran (one can find the two manuscript pages in my book). Then, months later, I showed Cioran the photographs of all those places from his childhood, and we looked at them together in his mansard on Rue de l’OdĂ©on. Simone BouĂ© and Friedgard Thoma were also there. Cioran’s reactions before the images were explosive: he became euphoric, thrilled as a child, even ecstatic, I must say. That was a delightful afternoon. But he seemed different in the next meeting. It was summer, Simone was in Dieppe and Cioran was in Paris all by himself. I wanted to introduce them to a friend of mine who had recently sustained a thesis on his thought, it was a historical-political approach: I meccanismi dell’utopia in E. M. Cioran (“The mechanisms of utopia in E. M. Cioran”). Evidently, he became interested, otherwise he would not have invited my friend. Cioran even wrote him a beautiful letter, which proved that he was indeed interested. He then received us and served us some delicious sandwiches which he had provided especially for us. He seemed more fatigued and aged than in the previous encounter. The heat of July and the absence of his companion made the atmosphere less lively than in the first time. This time the conversation was held in German and my girlfriend would translate everything.

EMCioranBR: In Brazil, Cioran is not studied at universities so much. The Philosophy departments seem rather aloof when it comes to the inclusion of his thought as an object of study, probably due to the non-traditional, hybrid, marginal character of his works (halfway between philosophical and literary discourses). As if his works held no philosophical relevance, no value at all in terms of philosophical reflection. Would you say the same goes in Italy?

R.R.: “Cioran is a philosopher who refutes philosophy”, that’s what I affirm energetically in my book, in harmony with that which Constantin Noica (whom I met in PaltiniƟ, in 1987) had wrote in a letter to me. Indeed, it is impossible to understand Cioran not having in mind the problem of Time, and that is a philosophical concept par excellence. All these aspects that I only mention here are explained thouroughly in my book.

EMCioranBR: Do you have a favorite book by Cioran, or more than one? Any favorite aphorisms as well, or maybe any that comes to mind?

R. R.: My favorite book is without a doubt the Quaderni 1957-1972 (Notebooks). Secondly, I would say it’s  L’inconveniente di essere nati (The temptation to exist), and, thirdly, La caduta nel tempo (The fall into time). But I also find the others just as beautiful, in such a way that it is impossible to get sick with reading them. My favorite aphorism remains the one with which, it has been 27 years, I finished my thesis, and which is contained in Drawn and quartered. This is the one:

Abruptly, a need to testify to the recognition not only of beings but of objects, to a stone because it is a stone… How alive everything becomes! As if for eternity. Suddenly, nonexistence seems inconceivable. That such impulses appear, can appear, shows that the last word may not reside in Negation.

EMCioranBR: Why read Cioran?

R.R.: Cioran is a school of synthesis, of limpidity, of sobriety, of autheticity, of essentiality. But also to feel the proximity of a friend, of someone like us, sincere and endowed with the great gift of irony. With Cioran one can laugh tastefully, especially while reading his Notebooks.

EMCioranBR: Mr. Rubinelli, I once again thank you for granting us such an enriching interview. I hope and wish that the exchanges between Italy and Brazil may be deeepened in the future. Any closing words?

R.R.: To finish, I would like to quote two aphorisms which are close to one another in Cioran’s Notebooks:

25 [December 1965]. Christmas. Happiness as I conceive it: to stroll in the fields, to do nothing but admire, to consume myself in pure perception.

And a little before:

“To lose oneself in God” – I do not know of any expression more beautiful than that.

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