Philobiblon – Transylvanian Journal of Multidisciplinary Research in Humanities, vol. 1, no. 1, January 2015
“I was man and I no longer am now…”
(E.M. Cioran, The Twilight of Thoughts)
Abstract: A new philosophical and psychological concept is needed for the alienated and radically different human being according to the nihilist Romanian-French philosopher E.M. Cioran. This concept of the not-man describes a post-anthropological subject, which is “inhumanˮ from a psychological point of view, emphasizing estrangement and otherness in the definition of humanity. I have compared Cioran’s provocative and unusual term with Nietzsche’s analysis of the overman – the difference between the two conepts proceeding from two conflicting nihilist perspectives – and I also have identified the not-man in the novel of the Japanese writer Osamu Dazai, No Longer Human.
Keywords: Antihumanism, overman, nihilism, literature, existentialism.
1. Cioran’s Not-Man
In his first Romanian book, On the Heights of Despair (1934), Emil Cioran constructs, in his ambiguous and lyrical style, a definition of a new concept, the not-man: “There are among men some who are not far above plants or animals, and therefore aspire to humanity. But those who know what it means to be Man long to be anything but … If the difference between Man and animal lies in the fact that the animal can only be an animal whereas man can also be not-man – that is, something other than himself – then I am not-man.”
Cioran seems to be saying that there are undeveloped human beings, who are not at the level of mankind. The pride of being human is a symptom of the lesser men, who worship their deficit. Exaggerating, Cioran notes that these creatures are almost at the level of plants and animals. Those who know that Man is a dead end, a being unable to evolve, despise the phenomenon of man. An important question must be asked: if we renounced humanity, whereto would we head? Should we become theocentric instead of anthropocentric? Or if the way towards divinity is closed, should we go back to animality? We understand that the not-man is no longer human. But how could one define it? From a psychological point of view, the not-man is a stranger (alius), a spiritual mutation. For instance, the overman transcended the human nature and occupied a new territory (as we shall see later, Cioran claimed that the overman conquered the domain of deity). However, the not-man went beyond humanity but found no such domain: that is why from the perspective of mankind, the not-man is a subman, a being unable to find a proper home and essence, a punishable psychological outsider.
In another Romanian book, The Twilight of Thoughts (1940), Cioran further develops this definition of non-humanity: “Cynics are no longer supermen or submen, they are post-men. One begins to understand and even love them, when a confession addressed to one or maybe to no one escapes from the pains of our absence: I was man and I no longer am now…” One can ask: what do we become when we cease to be human? From a theological perspective we become demons, from a mythological perspective, we become Titans, from a psychological perspective we become psychopaths, from a philosophical perspective – nihilists.
These four metaphors can describe the psychological future of the human race. The not-man is the other, the alterity of man. If God created the man in his own image (Genesis 1.27), the not-man breaks from the pattern of the likeness: it is almost as if he was created by an acosmic God who no longer exists. We must note the not-man is not simply anti-human (a term we must use for the misanthropic anti-humanism of Lautréamont, who hoped for the destruction of the human race: “were the earth covered in lice like grains of sand on the seashore, the human race would be annihilated, stricken with terrible griefˮ), he rather is in-human. It is more likely that the not-man is the being of the future, who looks back at the history of mankind and analyses it from a non-human perspective. If “man will be erased like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea”, the not-man will be its successor. If the over-man were an alternate god, the not-man would be an alternate, estranged (alienus) man… [PDF]