“Cioran’s clinamen. A Case Analysis of a Philosophical Influence” (Daria Lebedeva)

PhD dissertation supervised by Prof. Dr.Hab. Agata Bielik-Robson. Graduate School for Social Research, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology,  Polish Academy of Sciences., Warsaw, 2012. [Full text]

Table of Content:

  1. The role of influence in becoming a philosopher: the case of Emile Cioran

1.1. Harold Bloom’s clinamen tested on the writings of Emile Cioran

1.2. Emile Cioran as a philosophical writer

  1. The tacit influence: Arthur Schopenhauer in Cioran’s works.

2.1. A non-pessimistic pessimist or the basic points of Schopenhauer’s philosophy.

2.2. The uniting points: the issues of suffering, endless struggle, and means of salvation in music.

  1. The explicit influence: Friedrich Nietzsche in Cioran’s works.

3.1. Twilight of the Idols to Nietzsche like On the Heights of Despair to Cioran is a prolegomena to philosophy.

3.2. The similar background; the issues of truth, knowledge, history and progress, religion and faith, morality and pessimism.

  1. Anthropology by Cioran: the dialogue with Feodor Dostoevsky.

4.1. Anthropological sketching: anti-utopian, suffering man in Cioran and Dostoevsky.

4.2. The commandment “love your neighbour” in reverse. (The meditations upon tragic   heroes and morality in support of this thesis).

  1. Samuel Beckett as Cioran’s companion in life and in prose.

5.1. The ambiguity and uselessness of words: silence as a paradoxical dream of the writer.

5.2. Existential impasse: “I shall have to speak of things of which I cannot speak”.



If the part includes all features of the whole, so follows this analogy, the philosophical works of Emile Cioran, a Romanian-French modern thinker, essayist and moralist, reflect the grand currents and – more specifically – moods of the philosophical thought of the twentieth century. It must be emphasised that a multi-national and multi-labelled scholarship exists on Cioran: every researcher has featured one side and has exalted it as a dominant one, thus, a number of un-synonymic labels appear: pessimistic, nihilist, skeptic, gnostic and deconstructivist. I have intended to observe all of the probable labels-definitions and to unite all of them under the preposition that the explanation is hidden in the external factor, such is philosophical influence.

The key point is that the multi-sided, ambiguous peculiarity of Cioran’s work is a result of the philosophical influence, of the personal reading, of the adopted philosophical themes and ideas. Apropos, the very process of personal reading of the past tradition fits aptly the format and spirit of twentieth century philosophical thought.

The main purpose of this work is to retrace the process of becoming a thinker by analysing the outcomes of philosophical influence in the case of Emile Cioran. As it follows, there are two grand issues: the philosophical influence and works of Emile Cioran. The starting point and the guiding theme for both is an adopted concept of clinamen from the theory of influence in poetry invented by the American literary critic Harold Bloom. The thinker does not work in isolated conditions and a new piece of work does not appear to be foundationless; it overtly presupposes the previous impulses that have pushed the author to create. Thus, the process of influence is an investable prerequisite for creation. In Bloom’s regard, clinamen is the brightest illustration to the beginning of the creation; what stimulates a newcomer to write is nothing but a challenge dropped and the content of tradition inherited. Leaving aside the psychological connotations of a newcomer, an ephebe, using Bloom’s expression, to react, to struggle with the giants of past traditions, I focused on the focal function of clinamen as a swerve from the inspired sources, an independent step, whatever it might be.

On behalf of Cioran this is not an univocal case, and clinamen is twofold: philosophical and literary. Where the philosophical influence is the mainstream movement.

The main tool of methodology is comparative analyses. The aim of the usage of this philosophical method is warranted by the presupposition to figure  out not merely the points in common between Cioran and the philosophers that greatly influenced him, but to emphasise the differences, i.e. the personal interpretation of the adopted ideas and concepts.  In line with the task of comparative analyses – to understand the whole – the prima facie aim henceforth concerns the evaluation of the details in the given context in order to figure out their connection with the whole perspective. In the case of inquiry into the esprit of Cioran’s works, the role of the clinamen, an interpreted philosophical influence, exceeds the limits of the research question and serves as a vector to the comparative analyses.

Comparison as the method, therefore, means a conjunction of some chosen details – which for instance unite two or more inquired philosophers – and ordering the details in accordance with the whole perspective. The differences – in other words details which do not fit the model – still are methodologically useful for the primary reason that they constitute a list of distinguishing marks between one philosopher and another, even if they are members of the same tradition. The differences also signify the contribution that a philosopher has made to the tradition.

The main theses are consequently the following. The multi-sided, ambiguous, eclectic philosophical prose of Cioran arises as a direct consequence of the diverse ramifications of responses to the large number of read and underwent philosophical and literary exemplars. The more complicated, the more protean personality of a thinker, the more difficult it is to trace out the roots of their influences.

Cioran has proved himself worthy of being undoubtedly called a modern writer. Thus, qua bearer of this status, Cioran masterfully operates with the nihilistic, pessimistic, ironic and gnostic tools and combines them into an amalgam of personally-marked, idiosyncratic creation. The indebtedness to philosophers such as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche is presented in the accentuating of the problems of suffering as an unalterable principle of reality for humanity and  preconditions Cioran’s pessimistic verdicts and conclusion-making on human life and the destiny of the world. Nietzsche is proclaimed as the most influential philosopher on Cioran. However, belonging to a Nietzschean circle has been rigorously denied by Cioran, especially in later interviews. The matter of fact is that the major ideas are in a way adopted and deepened by Cioran: nihilism, the hostile position towards the achievements of the Enlightment, Christianity as  a religion, morality as a vector stimulating man’s way of life. By picturing the nature of man, Cioran has gone further, and his view is much closer to Feodor Dostoevsky. The hopes for man’s breeding, a preparation of the conditions for superman to be born, Cioran surely calls naïve and detached from the real state of affairs. Human nature is corrupt, morality is not practicable, this is the second grand thesis uniting Cioran with Dostoevsky. Since not because of its slippery ground as a rebel of weak men against strong ones, since for all men of any psychological organisation and personal ambitions, human nature is rotten and sick by a rancour, not love, as Christian ethics insists on, to ones’ neighbour. Man finds himself trapped into existential snares, the very structure and rules of the real world play against him, abandoning him from any drops of hope, leaving a future of suffering. As a last pessimistic accord, there is an idea of the nullation and uselessness of words, even more, of a language that neither helps man to know another or himself. Here Cioran goes in line with Samuel Beckett.

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