“The irony and obsessions of Cioran’s philosophy” (Marius Nica)

MULTICULTURAL REPRESENTATIONS. Literature and Discourse as Forms of Dialogue
Arhipelag XXI Press, Tîrgu Mureș, 2016 [Full text]

Abstract: The paper deals with some of the main characteristics of Cioran’s philosophical work and suggests a clear point of view on the so-called pessimistic attitude on life the writer is believed to have constructed. Moreover, the problem of religion is brought forward and we analyse the degree to which Cioran may be called an atheist. His inner experience of unexpected amplitude has nourished texts which are no longer the image of the author, but become an objective expression of the mindset that generated them. Thus, the paper tries to identify and stress out the manner in which the philosopher from Rășinari understood and tackled life.
Keywords: philosophy, pessimistic, atheist, irony, scepticism

He ridiculed death and God by playing with the concepts, twisting them, separating them, compelling them to shocking linguistic and logical angles which have, however, represented the very zest and everlasting originality of his work. Taking his obsessions to new limits, he crossed over norms and useless fixations. Not only did he aspire towards it, but he also witnessed his “failure” throughout his entire life – a person’s failure in the system, a failure that takes the person out of the system. His entire work appears as a duty, as an immense and heavy duty which he had, not only to the world, but also to himself – a duty to the man that Cioran was. In his first book, Pe culmile disperării [On the Heights of Despair], we can find the following quote: “if the difference between the man and the animal is the fact that the animal cannot be but an animal, whereas the man can be unhuman, which is something other than himself – in this case I am unhuman” (4, p. 107). This stands as a brief self-description, but not in the least irrelevant; because, what else did Cioran’s writing manage to turn him into if not a non-human, a different kind of human, a different kind of existing in this world? An existence which is not an existence; a becoming which is not a becoming; a failure which is not a failure; and still, there is something meant to embody all this puzzlement and this is Cioran. He identified himself with philosophy as a fragment, with religiousness as denial of the divine, with love as despair and struggle and, last but not least, with existence as scarcity.

The writing – lyrically acknowledged – is not the result of an exaggerated sentimentalism or of an overly feminine nostalgia full of inversions and structures or words used with the sole purpose of shocking the audience; nor is it the result of a twisted desire for aesthetic refinement. Cioran’s entire work is nothing but feeling; supreme and authentic feeling. The verb is exhilarating, instinctual, and masculine and it generates emotions free of any sentimental contextualizing. The reader feels hit as if by an obvious denial of everything that is bland, mushy and lacking in consistency. As an immediate result of a unique experience, the phrase becomes an incantation as it is perceived as total objectification of a subjective process. “My experiences became books, as if they had written themselves” (2, p.25) – states the philosopher once. And this cannot be translated except through the necessary objectification of experience. The subjectivity of Cioran’s writing was called a subjectivity “almost impossible, one that consumes the personal self […], a demonic one“ (Gerd Bergfleth). Truly, this demonic nature determines without the shadow of a doubt not only the self or the conscience, but also “the positions of his own subjectivity”. This inner existence, of an unsuspected magnitude, is able to create such work that, in the moment of its birth, it ceases to belong to its author, its creator, and instead it becomes an objective expression of the states of mind that had generated it. “The writing”, noted down the philosopher from Rășinari, “is only valuable when it objectifies a feeling, because beyond the expression there is life, and beyond the form there is content. I would like to write something in blood and I would like to do that without the thought of any poetic effect, but in the practical and material sense of the word” (1, p. 19).

Emil Cioran is able to see beyond this world, beyond religion and beyond any philosophy. He suggests a new and challenging perspective on what is given, without limiting himself to immediate plans, but proceeding towards much more profound perceptions, doubled by interpretations which alter the phenomenon significantly. There is no doubt regarding Cioran’s religiousness. Unequivocally, Cioran was a religious man, but his religiousness manifested itself in a negatively-upward trend (if I may use such a concept). His entire mysticism is subordinated to a terrible fear of getting lost in the divine and of obliterating the human being with all their qualities. Cioran does not deny the existence of God, but the existence within God. He discredits any form of transcendental absolute in the desire of the “earth” of living to the fullest; of an immediate and sheer biological elation. “There are moments when the agony of a worm seems to me a more certain reassurance than all the skies. No matter how much the saints would want to, they cannot unearth me to such a length so that I lose the memory of the earth. And not only once, did this memory crush the heavenly melancholy” (3, p. 81).

Cioran cannot see an incompatibility between the human being and the divine one, but he does possess the intuition (to what extent is it a happy one, I do not know) of the annihilation and “wearing off” of vitality and biological opportunities which occur when man declares his full availability towards God. “Drifting” among the heavenly melancholy is in this situation a sort of dissipation, an oriental fusion with the divine; the former is no longer capable of a valid control of his being’s motivations, thus, annihilating even the last categories specific to human nature. It is true that Cioran might have wrongly interpreted the dogma of the Orthodox tradition; therefore, making inaccurate analogies and irrelevant judgements from this perspective. However, I will leave this aspect of the discussion for the theologians to decide and I will draw the attention on the fact that I do not attempt at determining the truth in the work of the Rășinari born philosopher, but at briefly interpreting some of his trains of thought.

Perhaps many people consider Emil Cioran to be a Godless writer, or a writer who lacks any divine support. But here I come to argue all that: he is more impregnated with the divine than many of us will ever be! On the reversed scale which I proposed in the analysis of Cioran’s work, which I continuously support, God plays an important and (without being afraid of false affirmations) decisive role in the philosopher’s life. I do not claim that Cioran was an unfathomable Christian, but the bond which he had with Christianity and the interest which he displayed towards it make me recognize in the writer a mystic in the true sense of the word. If he had thought religion to be an irrelevant phenomenon lacking in consistency, then certainly Cioran would have behaved like any other Atheist and he wouldn’t have given it any importance or consideration. But when the philosopher is crying out the name of divinity from the depth of his being with unbearable suffering and when holiness becomes an obsession for him, then you can’t but accept the writer’s belief in Orthodoxy, and in religion in general; for, only so profound belief would have been able to create a book as Lacrimi și sfinți [Tears and Saints] and only from the uncertainty such belief poses was it possible for someone so strong to be born; someone so powerful to be able to kill God but to also resurrect Him. Emil Cioran states at some point that “between the passion for ecstasy and the horror of the void the entire mysticism revolves” (3, p. 91); therefore, what else was Cioran’s relationship with God but a “reversed” mysticism in which the author becomes in his turn a …saint?! It may seem like a far-fetched statement, I admit, but I will try to explain. He experienced both extremes, but he shifted their order and determinations: at sense level, everything is related to experience, last and necessary; he also felt the horror of the void which divinity suggests in the absence of any natural and instinctive perceptions. And here’s why, in his own way, Cioran is also a saint and, as much as he would have objected to this distinction, it must be acknowledged that he considered his whole life, the “failure” of his life, to be an ascendance, but one which was lived on a different level, one which had a completely different set of perception criteria and experiences. And, similar to the saints he laments, Cioran’s sincerity is limitless and it ends up determining the entire repertoire of his mystical “delirium”.

As a result of this limitless sincerity, the philosopher goes beyond a so-called false intellectual prudence, he “toys” with prejudice, subjecting them to direct confrontation, as far as ideas are concerned, with an acute and painful perception of reality. In a letter addressed to Bucur Tincu, Cioran was confessing: “I have undoubtedly given up any sentimental philosophy, any senseless and scattered preoccupations which only lead to complaining about life and to pathetic exclamations. “Empty” things start to possess a bright breath of life if you continuously preoccupy yourself with them” (1, p.24). Cioran’s aphorisms have the role of deconstructing some mentalities and stale unproductive conceptions, which immediately result in a naked presentation; a surrender of everything is fake and stereotypical in the human nature. “It is great”, the author was saying, “to witness the imbecile silence of the people who are learning, instead of living philosophy […]” (1, p. 30). It can be felt in this attitude, more or less aware, an almost messianic embracing of the act of writing, of the condition of prophet of failure, as this might determine a great deal of effort, of breaking, of bursting, or of intellectual compromise… [PDF]