“Cioran and Gnosticism” (Ciprian Sonea)


Abstract: This study presents Cioran’s relation with Gnosticism that is marked by the fragmentary and contradictory style of Romanian thinker. This is caused by the specific ambivalence signaled by the Romanian essayist, ambivalence that is affirmed by the vitalist standpoint, and negated by the nihilist standpoint. The theoretical contradiction is a repercussion of Cioran’s way of approaching to the essence of life marked by the irrational and to the knowledge that is both, at the same time, a privilege and a hex. Therefore, from the nihilist point of view, that of an apologist of decomposition and desperation, Cioran can rightfully be associated with Gnosticism. On the other hand, many of his ideas describe, at the same time, an Agnostic outline. From the vitalist and fervent point of view, Cioran is represented as a strong enemy of gnosis. When he defames existence and history, he can be considered a Gnostic, and when we take into account the fervor for our world delusion and appearances, he is situated at the opposite pole of Gnosticism.

Keywords: Cioran, Gnosticism, creation, demigod, knowledge, nihilism.

Many of Cioran’s exegetes consider him an exponent of Gnosticism. Moreover, Gnostic ideas and several references to the Gnostic representatives, and their doctrines, are to be found in excerpts of his work. That is why, even if halfway, such labelling can be considered legitimate. This happens because of the specific ambivalence signalled by the Romanian essayist, ambivalence that is affirmed by the vitalist standpoint, and negated by the nihilist standpoint. This situation is similar in the case of other religious forms, to which the thinker adheres, in his fragmentary, paradoxical and contradictory style. But, first and foremost, this very principle of antagonistic determination may be a Gnostic one. This instance is similar to the one depicted in a Romanian folk legend that showcases Gnostic features, often mentioned by Blaga, “Fârtate şi Nefârtate”, in this particular case what the former ties together and builds, the latter unties and does backwards. In a similar fashion, Cioran situates himself in a place where he pays tribute to Gnosticism and is in an ultimate contradiction with it.

1. Therefore, from the nihilist point of view, that of an apologist of decomposition and desperation, Cioran can rightfully be associated with Gnosticism. The thinker himself has stated in The Trouble With Being Born that “when you get in touch with the extreme truths of the Gnostics, you would like to go, if possible, even further, and utter something that has not been uttered before, something that solidifies, or turns history into dust; something that belongs to a cosmic Neronism, to a insanity at the material level”.

In spite of the particularities belonging to different Gnostic systems, generally speaking, and without any exhaustive expectations, Gnosticism is characterized by the faith in two Gods: a good one, creator of the souls and of the spiritual world, unfamiliar and unknown to the ones belonging to our world, and the demiurge as an embodiment of evil and incompetence (in Marcion’s case identified with the God of the Old Testament). The latter is the creator of our material world and of the bodies in it, an inferior world that is evil and incomplete. The creation of the material world is an accident that occurred in the world of the spirits, or a consequence to the fight between the two exponential principles, good and evil (e.g. Manichaeism). History becomes a representation of the exile from the world of the spirits, and it is placed under the providence of the demiurge. Consequently, the man is permanently possessed by a feeling of estrangement. Only true knowledge (gnosis) can help the man overcome the ignorance that surrounds him, in the form of bodily imprisonment, and reach his own salvation. As a specific example, in the Valentinian gnosis, deliverance could be reached if one knew where the souls were, in their original state, what became of them, what world they belong to, respectively what was the meaning of birth and rebirth. Knowledge has a redeeming effect and discovers: the origin of the World, of Evil, of Christ’s drama, of the One embodied, and is meant to send forth and save the people, and bring God’s victory, that leads to the end of History and the destruction of the Universe. The true nature of man is spiritual, is of divine origin, but it’s incarcerated in the body. Initially, he used to dwell in the divine world, but later was thrown into the material world. The creation of the actual world is a “sinister tragedy”, and is the work of “a demiurge or a demonic Being, true embodiment of the Evil”. From this perspective, the birth represents a “fall into matter”, and “the rebirth”, a liberation from the material, and an elevation into the spiritual.

The Gnostic perspective is aligned to Cioran’s theory of the evil demiurge, and the body of consequences stemming from it. In The new gods, the author considers existence it its entirety the work of “an evil god”, “without scruples”, “immoral”, “inferior”, “agitated”, “event instigator”, “miserable”, “cursed”. The world is wicked from its very beginnings, a hypothesis that comes to contradict the Christian teachings, according to which, at the beginning of the world all things were very good. Cioran says that the Christian belief of the good God, the Father participant in the scandal of creation, is completely inadmissible. The good God is not the creator because on one hand, a world dominated by death, illness, suffering, cannot be created by a good divinity. Henceforth, for Cioran, the evil is not an absence of the good, as stated by the Holy Fathers, but an evidence that governs everything that is alive. Moreover, Cioran considers that the good God cannot participate at genesis, because the good is not able to create, due to anemia and lack of dynamism. Every creation has at its origin a satanic principle, because tension is reflected only by evil, by its action, contradiction, and fertility, while the good represents calmness, anemia and inactivity. In Cioran, l’hérétique, the exegetes Patrice Bollon observes that the author of The new gods, speaks about the aspiration of our souls towards heavens. With Cioran, and implicitly with Gnosticism, the good God shows indifference towards this world, history, as a whole, being placed under „the eye of the Evil”… [PDF]