“The evil demiurge” (E. M. Cioran)

The Hudson Review, vol. 20, no. 2 (Summer, 1967), pp. 189-200. Translated by Frederick Brown from CIORAN, E. M., “Le mauvais démiurge”, Le mauvais démiurge. Paris: Gallimard: 1969.

Man, apart from a few anomalies, does not have a bent for the good; what god would prompt him to it? To perform the tiniest act untainted by evil, he must overcome himself, do violence to himself. Whenever he succeeds, he provokes, he humiliates his master. And if he happens to be good not by effort or stratagem but by nature, he owes his goodness to some lapse on high, for he stands outside the cosmic scheme, he was not foreseen in any divine plan. It is difficult to understand what place he  occupies among beings, if indeed he is one. Perhaps he’s a ghost.

Good is what was or will be; it is what never is. A parasite of memory or of anticipation, either defunct or potential, it could not be present, nor survive on its own: so long as it is, consciousness has no awareness of it, apprehending it only after it vanishes. Everything goes to prove its unsubstantiality. It is a great, unreal force, a principle which, at the very outset, aborted: a failure, an immemorial collapse whose effects come to light with the unfolding of history. In the beginning, in that pandemonium which set the world inching toward life, something unmentionable must have occurred which, even now, pervades our malaises, if not our reasoning. How can we not presume that existence was fouled at its source, existence and the very elements? He who does not feel compelled to entertain this hypothesis at least once a day will have sleep-walked through life.

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It is difficult, it is impossible to believe that the good god, the “Father,” was implicated in the scandal of creation. Everything leads us to absolve him, to find its author in a god devoid of scruples, a tarnished god. Goodness does not create: it lacks the imagination needed to fashion a world, even a slapdash one. A mixture of goodness and wickedness may, if it comes to that, foment an act or a work. Or a universe–but ours, in any case, is far more readily traced to a suspect god than to an honorable one… [Pdf]