“Cioran – Breaking off Identity. A New Beginning” (Cornel Moraru)

Journal of Romanian Literary Studies, 1, Arhipelag XXI Press, Tîrgu-Mureş, 2011, p. 17-24.

Abstract: The paper attempts to focus on a deep modification in Cioran’s thinking that is simultaneous with his decision of writing only in French. In this moment of linguistic conversion a genuine “identity rupture”, also marked by a slight change of his name: from Emil Cioran to E.M. Cioran. In order to illustrate correctly this moment the author analyzes thematically the first two books published by Cioran in France: Tratat de descompunere and Silogismele amărăciunii.

After the literary work of his youth, the so-called “Cioran’s second birth” follows (Patrice Bollon), the author starting to write only in French. This is not only an act of abandoning oneself and abandoning a past that he wanted to forget forever. There is also a profound existential change, in the quest for the real identity – always deeply hurt and put to trial – in a method of expression absolutely other, that signifies for him a new difficulty and a new exigency of being. Beyond the tragedy of adopting a foreign language at the age of 37 (“linguistic commotion” as Gabriel Liiceanu calls it), it is the exact inner impulse that he needed that moment in order to surpass a crisis that seemed insuperable. Reaching a period of surfeit according to the old method of thinking, Cioran was conscious that only through another language “one can gather strength, can renew”. When he tried in vain to translate Mallarmé’s poetry, he came up against the expressive limits of Romanian language. Cioran chooses the French language after a frenzied five years specialization in English and in spite of the fact that he mastered German perfectly, that he had learnt as a pupil in Sibiu. That was a normal thing keeping in mind that he was living in Pascal and Montaigne’s France in the past ten years and decided that he would never leave it. This moment meant breaking off identity and intellectual:

“Yes, that was the moment when I began to write Précis and I soon realize it is a very difficult experience. One can change the language in the 20’ies, but at 35-36 years old that I had … I thought I knew French perfectly and it was then when I realized I didn’t. But I didn’t give up. I knew I was not coming back to Romania again. And I realize that, if one really wants to change the language, he/she has to give up his/her mother language. This is a fundamental thing. Otherwise it doesn’t work. One cannot keep on speaking Romanian and writing French. It is an incompatibility. Passing to another language can be done only by giving up one’s own language. One has to accept this sacrifice.”1

It was a sacrifice with happy endings that soon appeared. Now on Cioran not only writes in a new language but begins to write differently – totally differently from his former writings. Even the Romanian translations of his French books, from Tratat de descompunere (A Short History of Decay) to Mărturisiri şi anateme (Anathemas and Admirations) show this difference. We do not necessarily refer to the style. If there is a problem regarding Cioran’s style, this has no direct link to the language the philosopher uses. It is more a question of temperament and the intensity of ideas. The intensity remains the same, but the temperament disciplines itself in the new method of expression. Cioran admits that he adopted a language that did not fit him at all from a temperamental point of view (a language for lawyers and logicians, as he says). But this is the exact thing that totally changed him. It is the time when the fear of ridicule and improvisation increases. He understood that he had to be more cautious and careful to what he says or how he says, in other words to write more accurate: he rewrote four times his first book, the others at least two times. Reaching full maturity, he is more and more afraid of what he – truly – calls “snugness of delirium”. There are moments when Cioran begins to speak persistently about himself as the other, showing an extroverted nature. In the long run, the reflexivity relies on a kind of super-ego (the ego’s ego, as he says somewhere). It is more like an impersonal ego than a profound one, analyzed by some critics. Furthermore the main issue is “how to escape the absoluteness that represents you?” Convinced that such a change is not entirely possible and also convinced of the failure of philosophy generally speaking (both “the concept” or “the ecstasy” does not seem to him anymore current and the great systems are nothing but “radiant tautologies”), Cioran adopts the method of an “emotional Eleatism”, seemed to come from Eminescu’s Glosa. Especially the aphoristic writing in the first texts published in exile soon brought him the fame of a master, an expert and a remarkable moralist (or “immoralist” as Maurice Nadeau wrote in a review to Précis de décomposition). The thinker astonishingly folds on the forces and  intuitive energies of the new language that he awakens in a creative way. But he does not  have too great illusions. He is aware of the fact that we live in a “pleonastic universe where the questions and the answers are equivalent”. No matter which are the themes and the ideas, the instinct of a metaphysician does not leave him. “The emotional Eleatism” corresponds to a method of dense, unmistakable writing: that écriture for which only the new language could give prestige. All these point to an author to whom one cannot “put a label”. His books keep on being some existential experiences in the right sense of the word. The only urge is to think together with Cioran (and even against him), on a continuous reflection that has as main goal awakening to consciousness. In opposition to the lyricism present in Romanian writings, now one can feel a huge effort of purification and ascesis of language. From a while, the man himself gave those who knew him the impression that he is quasi-timeless2, as well as his works.

Thus the work in its final form gives the strong impression of a thematic unity. The outstanding A Short History of Decay represents a new starting point, but also the concise synthesis of an already formed thinking. The same questions and revelations will be resumed and enhanced forever. But it is useless and this is not Cioran’s way to search for an absolute metaphysic principle to arrange them. The allergy to abstractions and concepts taken for granted represents the emotional issue where the work endlessly takes its “food”. It would be a mistake to make Cioran a systematic thinker who he thought he wasn’t.

Under these circumstances, the thinker does not refuse himself to any comprehensions and rational interpretations, in spite of the fact that we consider difficult to follow him on his own way. At least on a first level of reading, we can identify and describe the main themes and ways of meaning in E.M. Cioran’s works. These are circle-like routes, generally  redundant, but unconventional and always challenging. But we do not cherish illusions: a certain blocking is going to appear as much as we try to avoid it. In its intimate level, Cioran’s thinking closes in a tragic space, without any emergence. Because it has no genealogy, it also hasn’t the power to regenerate itself and to spread – beyond the already critic point – to other spaces of experience and knowledge. It is part of a horizon of agonizing eschatological expectation. This apocalyptical horizon of the existence beyond the existence and of the history beyond the history represents Cioran’s transcendence. The entire self reflexive “poetological” effort takes place in the proximity of the radical evil, in the attempt stricken by a serious heresy to find the being’s no return way of access and salvation. Cioran’s “negative exercises” do not either take precisely to a place, to a haven, or stop at least for a moment, from their dash and desperate fury.


Because we spoke about a new beginning, let’s stop a little on Cioran’s first books that brought him an unexpected prestige.

Paradoxically the breaking off identity (young Cioran’s identity) resumes the old one, that with the philosophy, that was done in dramatic terms “after a personal catastrophe …, loss of sleep”. In other words, abandoning philosophy corresponds – especially now – to an overdose of consciousness, but also to a such intense lyricism that overflowed the limits of any knowledge. Young Cioran followed Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, refusing the thinking of a system or prefab concepts. But it is more than a refusal in his attitude; it is a revolt of metaphysic nature. The truth is that he had no choice. He finds himself convicted in front of the inevitable, the experience of useless sounding at the edge of the absoluteness. The themes of his work are themes of vivid thinking, of free existential commitment, an enlightened mind’s themes who writes in a simple, natural way, with common simple words, as he used to say. Now, in the new Parisian context, Cioran harshly accuses the excess of technical terms in philosophical reflection. This is not the goal of philosophizing – to fabricate concepts that actually pauperize the spirit. Cioran always speak with a reckless frankness in the name of the lyrical and autobiographic ego, that he cannot ever separate from, not even in his late writings (in spite of the above mentioned impersonal instance: “the ego’s ego”). This monologue does not have a beginning or an end; it is a performance of fervours and continuous verbal outbreaks. According to his sayings, it happened that Cioran wrote many books not only one.

This way of thinking, in a continuous ebb and flow makes the identification of themes difficult. However, there are some successful attempts of thematic analysis of Cioran’s writings. According to Simona Modreanu, Cioran’s fundamental themes are structured on “two great semantic fields – the divine and the human – although their interferences are permanent and multiple”3. Among all the following stand out: obsession of the essential (a super theme), Gnosis and the Bad Demiurge, Time and Falling into History, the issue of suicide, melancholy (“time becomes sensitiveness”), musical ecstasy, the ego’s relations to the world (“the art of dual personality”). It is not a complete description, we can add many more. Specific for Cioran’s lack of categorial thinking, there is a fluctuation of reflection around some obsessions that became real constants of the spirit from book to book. These metaphysic constants – sort of inborn ideas of emotional nature – can also be called themes; it is not their existence that counts, but the strain they bring about: the so called devastating “Cioran effect” some exegetes speak about4.

In order to make things easier, we will say that Cioran’s every book is organized around a dominant theme. In A Short History of Decay, beyond the celebration of “breaking off philosophy”, the negative frenzy reaches all the forms of existence. The book should have been entitled – the author says – Exerciţii negative (Negative exercises). Cioran’s nihilist enthusiasm thus arrives to new extreme solutions. The theme of decline and temporal dissolution corresponds to a paradoxical principle of universal decreation, according to which the laws of life “are generated by decomposition”. This irreversible process culminates in apocalypse. All the existent ideologies, doctrines and religions (some “blood-stained farces”) are subdued to a merciless test of disillusion. Awakening to consciousness and the theme of lucidity keep up this, however, deceptive exercise of “defascination” as it will be called in another book. The man himself is seen as a supreme expression of the idea of exhaustion.  This has to perpetuate his “calling to tiredness” and dramatic inner tearing “into nothingness or into the ridicule of being alive”. Nothing good waits for him in the future, he is a human being convicted to failure: “Man adventured outside the predestined roads, outside the instincts and he ended up in a blind alley. He burnt the stages … in order to catch up with the end; animal without a future, got stuck in his own ideal, get lost in his own game. Because he wanted to surpass ceaselessly, he stood stock-still; he has nothing to do but to summarize his follies, to expiate them and to do some more …” A whole chapter is dedicated to the “faces of decline”, another to the “second hand thinker”, obsessed by the “holiness and grimaces of the Absoluteness” (the title of a chapter) till the grotesque (a metaphysic grotesque). All these are nothing but variations on the same theme, easy to be traced from the first to the last page of the book: the theme of the world’s decomposition and its ephemeral nature… [PDF]