“A Bouquet of Heads”, by Emil Cioran

Source: The Hudson Review, Vol. 15, No. 4 (Winter, 1962-1963), pp. 491-503. Translated from the French by Marthiel Mathews. [Pdf]

Canny Old Socrates

IF HE HAD GIVEN US any precise notion of the nature of his demon, he would have squandered a good part of his glory. His canny caution stirred as much curiosity about him among the ancients as among moderns, and moreover allowed the historians of philosophy to dwell ponderously on a problem having nothing whatever to do with their real preoccupations. Socrates reminds us of another case: Pascal. The Demon and the Abyss: for philosophy these are two fetching weaknesses, two pirouettes…

The Wrong Side of a Garden

When the problem of happiness replaced the problem of knowledge, philosophy had deserted its proper domain and taken up a suspect activity: an interest in man. … It was now completely absorbed in questions it would not have stooped to before, and it tried, with an air of great seriousness, to answer them. “How can we keep from suffering?” This, first and foremost, was the question to be answered. Philosophy had entered a phase of weariness: gradually turning away from its impersonal concerns, its desire to know, it gave up speculation. In place of disturbing truths, it set up comforting ones…

Saint Paul

We can never blame him enough for making Christianity an inelegant religion. For foisting off on it the most detestable traditions of the Old Testament: intolerance, violence, provincialism. With what indiscretion he meddles in things that are none of his
business, about which he knows absolutely nothing! His pronouncements on virginity, abstinence and marriage are simply nauseating. In shaping our religious and moral prejudices, he fixed the norms of stupidity and multiplied the restrictions that
still paralyze our instincts…


It’s not enough to have faith; beyond that, you must suffer it, like a malediction. You must see in God an enemy, an executioner, a monster; you must project onto Him everything inhuman you are capable of, or dream of, and yet love Him in spite of that. The Church has made Him out dim-witted, degenerate, lovable. Luther protests: God, he maintains, is neither the “blockhead,” nor the “meek in spirit,” nor the “cuckold” we have been given to worship. He is a “devouring fire,” madder, “more terrible than the devil”; he thrives on torturing us. Not that Luther’s respect for Him is timid…

The Pleasures of the Abyss

When a believer finds that he is intolerant of any solution, of any attempt to shut off the processes of knowledge, when he develops a distaste for conclusion, when he feels like this, all he can think of is to punish himself for having yielded to the blandishments
of salvation. That is why he invents sin, or turns toward his own “dark night.” The latter, too effective to have been merely invented, lays hold of his faith, unsettles it, and turns it into an eclipse of the Light…


Certain witnesses-they are rare, it is true-make him out a saint; others, more frequently, a phantom. “There was so little of the living creature about him when he was alive,” wrote Aksakoff the day after Gogol died, “that afraid as I am of corpses-I can’t bear the sight of them-I didn’t feel anything like that when I stood in front of his”… [+]

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