“Encounter with the Void” (E. M. Cioran)

downloadThe Hudson Review, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Spring, 1970), pp. 37-48. Translated by Frederick Brown from CIORAN, E. M., “L’indélivré”, Le mauvais démiurge. Paris: Gallimard, 1969.


THE MORE WE PONDER Buddha’s last exhortation: “Death is inherent in all compound things. Work relentlessly for your salvation”–the more we are disturbed by the impossibility of feeling ourselves an aggregate, a transitory, if not fortuitous combination of elements. We can conceive ourselves thus easily enough in the abstract; but concretely we experience physical revulsion, as if gagging on some indigestible evidence. Until such time as we have conquered this organic reaction, we shall continue to suffer that bane, essentially a jinx, which is the appetite for existence.

We unmask things and stigmatize them with the name of appearances, but to no purpose, for we admit automatically that they conceal being. We will cling to anything sooner than tear ourselves free from this fascination which lies at the source of our acts and very nature, from this primordial effulgence which blinds us to the non-reality inherent in all things.

I am a “being” metaphorically; if I were one in fact, I should remain one forever, and death, devoid of meaning, would cease to hold sway over me. “Work relentlessly for your salvation”-in other words, do not forget that you are a fugitive assemblage, a compound merely waiting to come undone. Indeed, salvation would have no meaning unless we were provisional, to an absurd degree; if there existed in us the slightest factor of duration, we would long ago have been saved or doomed, in either case exempt from questing, from horizons. If deliverance matters, then our unreality is an authentic boon… [Pdf]