“Wakefulness and Obsession: An Interview with E.M. Cioran” (Michael Jakob)

Wakefulness and Obsession: An Interview with E.M. Cioran
Author(s): MICHEL JAKOB, E.M. Cioran and Kate Greenspan
Source: Salmagundi, No. 103 (SUMMER 1994), pp. 122-145

E.M. Cioran, born in 1911 in Rasinari, Rumania,arrived in Paris in 1937 and has produced over many years what Susan Son tag has called “a new kind of philosophizing [whose foremost exemplars are Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein]: personal…, aphoristic, lyrical, anti-systematic.” His books include The Temptation To Exist, A Short History Of Decay, The Fall Into Time, The New Gods, and The Trouble With Being Born. The Nobel Prize-winning poet St.-John Perse has written that Cioran is “one of the greatest French writers to honor our language since the death of Paul Valéry.”

I: Emile Cioran, I am quite conscious of the difficulty of conducting a discussion with you, that is, of seeking a dialogue with someone who does not believe in dialogue and for whom – I hope I am quoting you in some measure correctly – each encounter represents a kind of crucifixion. But in spite of this reservation and in the spirit of it, I should like to try and to begin with something that lies far in the past, with Rumania, with your growing-up between nations, between Rumania, Hungary, and Germany… Is anything of your childhood still present to you?

I: It is quite extraordinarily present to me. I was born in a village in the Carpathians, twelve kilometers distant from Sibiu-Hermannstadt, and loved this village intensely. When I had to leave it at the age often to go to the gymnasium in Sibiu, my world collapsed. I will never forget the day, or, rather, the hour in which my father brought me to Sibiu: we had rented a horse-drawn wagon for the purpose and I wept during the entire journey , wept incessantly, for I had a sort of premonition that Paradise had been lost. This village in the mountains, you see, had for me as a boy an enormous advantage: after breakfast I could simply disappear until midday and an hour after lunch I disappeared again. I wandered through the mountains, went simply everywhere, and this state of affairs lasted until, as I said, my tenth year. There was another “advantage”: when my parents, as Rumanians, were deported by Hungary during the war, we children, my sister, my brother, and I, stayed with my grandmother and with her we were really completely free. It was an ideal epoch for me. During this time I loved the peasants, the shepherds, more than anything. I had a real passion for them and when I had to leave that world, I had the clear premonition that something irretrievable had been destroyed. I wept and wept; I will never be able to forget it as long as I live. Sibiu was just twelve, or at the most fourteen, kilometers from my native village of Râsinari, but I knew quite certainly that a catastrophe had occurred. [Pdf]