Gombrowicz’s reply to Cioran’s ‘‘The Conveniences and Inconveniences of Exile’’

Giedroyc wanted me to reply to Cioran’s (a Rumanian writer) article, ‘‘The Conveniences and Inconveniences of Exile.’’ The answer contains my view of the role of literature in exile.

Cioran’s words reek of a basement coolness and the rot of the grave, but they are too petty. Who is he talking about? Who should one understand to be the ‘‘writer in exile’’? Adam Mickiewicz wrote books and so does Mr. X, quite correct and readable ones, both are ‘‘writers’’ and nota bene, writers in exile, but here all parallels end.

Rimbaud? Norwid? Kafka? Słowacki? (There are a variety of exiles.) I believe that none of them would have been too horrified at this category of hell. It is very painful not to have readers and very unpleasant not to be able to publish one’s works. It certainly is not sweet being unknown, highly unpleasant to see oneself deprived of the aid of that mechanism that pushes one to the top, that creates publicity and organizes fame, but art is loaded with elements of loneliness and self-sufficiency, it finds its satisfaction and sense of purpose in itself. The homeland? Why, every eminent person because of that very eminence was a foreigner even at home. Readers? Why, they never wrote ‘‘for’’ readers anyway, always ‘‘against’’ them. Honors, success, reknown, fame: why, they became famous exactly because they valued themselves more than their success.

And that which is a little Kafka, Conrad, or Mickiewicz in even the smaller caliber writer, that which is genuine talent and real superiority or real maturity, will in no measure fit into Cioran’s basement. I would also like to remind Cioran that not only émigré but all art remains in the most intimate contact with decay, it is born of decadence, it is a transmutation of illness into health. All art, generally speaking, borders on silliness, defeat, degradation. Is there an artist who is not, as Cioran says, ‘‘an ambitious being, aggressive in his defeat, embittered, a conniving conqueror’’? Has Cioran ever seen an artist or writer who was not, who did not have to be, a megalomaniac? And art, as Boy once correctly said, is a graveyard: for every thousand people who were incapable of ‘‘coming into existence’’ and who remained in a sphere of painful insufficiency, barely one or two is capable of really ‘‘coming into existence.’’ This dirt, therefore, this venom of unsatisfied ambitions, this tossing and turning in a vacuum, this catastrophe has very little to do with emigration and a lot to do with art. They make up an aspect of every literary café and truly it is a matter of indifference where in the world the writers who are not writers enough in order to really be writers, suffer.

And perhaps it is healthier that they were deprived of doles, applause, all those tiny caresses that the state and society lavished upon them in the good old days in the name of ‘‘supporting native creativity.’’ This family playing at greatness and distinction, the sympathetic noise created at one time by the condescendingly smiling press and the half-baked critics, deprived of a feeling for the scale of events, that process of artificially pumping candidates up into a ‘‘national writer’’ . . . didn’t all this reek of kitsch? And the result? Nations that at best were capable of producing a few authentic writers nurtured entire hosts of wonders in this incubator, and in this familial warmth, which was a mixture of spinsterish goodness and a cynical disregard for values, all hierarchy disintegrated. Is it surprising then that these hothouse creations, nurtured in the womb of the nation, wilt when out of the womb? Cioran writes about how a writer torn away from his people is lost. If that is the case, this writer never existed in the first place: he was a writer in embryo. Instead, it seems to me that theoretically speaking and bypassing material hardship, the immersing of oneself in the world, that is, emigration, should constitute an incredible stimulus for literature.

For lo and behold the country’s elite is kicked out over the border. It can think, feel, and write from the outside. It gains distance. It gains an incredible spiritual freedom. All bonds burst. One can be more of oneself. In the general din all the forms that have existed until now loosen up and one can move toward the future in a more ruthless way.

An exceptional opportunity! The moment everyone has dreamed of ! It would seem, therefore, that the stronger individuals, the richer individuals would roar like lions! Then why don’t they? Why has the voice of these people faded abroad?

They do not roar because, first of all, they are too free. Art demands style, order, discipline. Cioran correctly underscores the danger of too much isolation, of excessive freedom. Everything to which they were tied and everything that bound them homeland, ideology, politics, group, program, faith, milieu—everything vanished in the whirlpool of history and only a bubble filled with nothingness remained on the surface. Those thrown out of their little world found themselves facing a world, a boundless world and, consequently, one that was impossible to master. Only a universal culture can come to terms with the world, never parochial cultures, never those who live only on fragments of existence. Only he who knows how to reach deeper, beyond the homeland, only he for whom the homeland is but one of the revelations in an eternal and universal life, will not be incited to anarchy by the loss of his homeland. The loss of a homeland will not disturb the internal order of only those whose homeland is the world. Contemporary history has turned out to be too violent and borderless for literatures too national and specific.

And it is exactly this excess of freedom that inhibits the writer most. Threatened by the enormity of the world and the finality of its affairs, they grasp at the past convulsively; they cling desperately to themselves; they want to remain as they were; they fear even the slightest change in themselves, thinking that everything will then fall apart; and, finally, they cling convulsively to the only hope remaining: the hope of recovering the homeland. Recovering the homeland, however, cannot come to pass without waging a battle, and a battle requires strength and collective strength can be achieved only by giving up one’s I. In order to produce this strength, the writer must impose a blind faith, among other deficiencies, on himself and his compatriots and the luxury of objective and free thinking becomes a grievous sin. He does not know how to be a writer without a homeland or in order to regain his homeland, he has to stop being a writer, at least a serious writer.

Though perhaps there is yet another reason for this spiritual paralysis, at least where it is not a matter of intellectuals but artists. I have in mind the very concept of art and the artist, as it has come to be accepted in Western Europe. It does not seem to be that our modern beliefs concerning the essence of art, the role of the artist, the relationship of artist to society have tallied with reality. The artistic philosophy of the West derives from the elite in crystallized societies where nothing interferes with conventional language but there is nothing a man thrown outside the limits of convention can do with such a philosophy. The concept of art forged on that side of the curtain by the victorious bureaucracy of the proletariat is even more elitist and more naive. An artist in emigration, however, is forced to exist not only outside of his people, but also outside of the elite. He confronts the spiritually and intellectually inferior sphere far more directly. Nothing isolates him from this contact, he has personally to endure the pressure of a brutal and immature life. He is like a bankrupt count who sees that the manners of the salon are worthless if there is no salon. Sometimes this pushes people in the direction of ‘‘democratic’’ shallowness, into a kindly ordinariness or into a crude ‘‘realism’’ and sometimes it condemns them to isolation. We have to find a way to feel like aristocrats once again (in the deeper sense of the word).

Therefore, if there is talk about the disintegration and decadence of émigré literature, then this notion of the issue would be closest to me because here, at least, we liberate ourselves for a moment from the vicious circle of trivialities and touch the difficulties capable of destroying authentic writers. I do not deny at all that overcoming these problems requires a great determination and boldness of spirit. It is not easy to be an émigré writer, which means almost total isolation. Why should it be surprising, therefore, that overcome by our own weakness and the enormity of the tasks, we bury our heads in the sand and, organizing parodies of the past for ourselves, we flee the big world to live in our little one?

Yet sooner or later our thought must work its way out of the impasse. Our problems will find people to solve them. At some point, it is no longer a matter of creativity itself, but the recovery of the capacity to create. We have to produce that portion of freedom, boldness, ruthlessness, and even, I would say, irresponsibility, without which creation is impossible. We have to accustom ourselves to a new scale of existence. We will have to treat our most cherished feelings unceremoniously, with sangfroid in order to attain other values. The minute we begin to shape the world in the place where we happen to be and with the means at our disposal, the enormity of the task will shrink, the boundlessness will become delineated, and the turbulent waters of chaos will begin to recede.

GOMBROWICZ, Witold. Diary. Transl. by Lillian Vallee. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2012, pps. 48-52.

“The Philosophy of Insomnia” (Willis G. Regier)

The Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle Review. April 10, 2011.

Hegel wrote in his Elements of the Philosophy of Right that the owl of Minerva flies only at night. It hoots at insomniacs. I know. I’m one.


Bruises, red eyes, and research remind me that insomnia breaks down body and soul. Noisy neighbors, crying kids, overwork, bad food, sickness, pain, allergies, and rude visitors drive sleep away. So do naked thoughts and the words they wear: insomnias of insult, dread, worry, remorse, faux pas, frustration, revenge, and raw anxiety. Philosophy, in its immense universals, omits nothing (not even nothing). Thus there have always been tired philosophers of insomnia.

Insomnia has intrigued thinkers since the ancients, an interest that continues today, especially in Europe. What light does philosophy’s exploration of the dark of night shine on insomnia, particularly for that quintessential insomniac, the scholar?

Philosophy is no friend of sleep. In his Laws (circa 350 BC), Plato platonized, “When a man is asleep, he is no better than if he were dead; and he who loves life and wisdom will take no more sleep than is necessary for health.” Clement of Alexandria echoed, “There is no use of a sleeping man, as there is not of a dead man. … But whoever of us is most solicitous for living the true life, and for entertaining noble sentiments, will keep awake for as long time as possible.”

“The need of sleep is not in the soul,” he wrote, “for it is ceaselessly active.” In Beyond Good and Evil (1886), Nietzsche preached that the high goal of good Europeans “is wakefulness itself.”

Aristotle said all animals sleep. In the 20th century, the Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran added in On the Heights of Despair (first published in 1934): “Only humanity has insomnia.” Emmanuel Levinas, author of the erotic and metaphysical Totality and Infinity (1961), imagined philosophy, all of it, to be a call to “infinite responsibility, to an untiring wakefulness, to a total insomnia.” What scholar has not heard that call, sacrificing sleep, straining eyes, and risking health in pursuit of some bit of truth or transcendence?

The first thing you learn about insomnia is that it sees in the dark. The second is that it sees nothing. Nada, nichts, néant. TheFrench philosopher Maurice Blanchot said in The Writing of the Disaster (1980), “In the night, insomnia is discussion, not the work of arguments bumping against other arguments, but the extreme shuddering of no thoughts, percussive stillness.” [+]

“A liquidação tecnológica da palavra está em marcha”: Matéi Visniec no Brasil

Autor romeno naturalizado francês realizará palestras neste domingo em Porto Alegre dentro do 9º Festival de Inverno

Por Fábio Prikladnicki – Porto Alegre, Zero Hora, 27/07/2017

Se a tarefa de um dramaturgo é responder às grandes questões de seu tempo, o romeno naturalizado francês Matéi Visniec pode se dar por satisfeito. Sua mais recente peça publicada no Brasil, Migraaaantes, é inspirada na muito atual tragédia dos refugiados. Seus textos reescrevem a história e recuperam grandes personagens da cultura e da intelectualidade em uma chave não realista que muitos identificam com o teatro do absurdo. Visniec estará em Porto Alegre para realizar a palestra Teatro e Jornalismo: Tentativas de Compreender o Mundo, na qual abordará a relação entre sua vivência na imprensa e a criação teatral. Será neste domingo (30/7), às 15h, na Sala Álvaro Moreyra (Erico Verissimo, 307), com entrada franca, dentro da programação do 9º Festival de Inverno, que vai até quarta-feira (veja detalhes no roteiro da página 8). Leia, a seguir, a entrevista concedida pelo autor a Zero Hora por e-mail.


Migraaaantes trata de um tema bastante atual. Poderia comentar quais foram suas inspirações para escrevê-la? E você acredita que o dramaturgo tem o compromisso de abordar as grandes questões de seu tempo?
A Europa está sacudida neste momento pelo fenômeno da imigração. Trata-se de um movimento massivo de populações que batem às portas da Europa para escapar da guerra, dos massacres, das perseguições de todo tipo, do subdesenvolvimento, da miséria material (e por vezes cultural e sexual), da fome, das mudanças climáticas catastróficas. As migrações tornaram-se um fenômeno duradouro. Nada poderá parar essas milhões de pessoas em busca de dignidade e de uma vida melhor. Isso é fato, é uma constatação de todos os especialistas e da mídia. A questão agora está ligada às mudanças políticas, culturais, identitárias, sociais e de outras naturezas que esses movimentos vão gerar. O debate é rico, suscita polêmicas, engendra reações de fechamento e de medo. Uma coisa é certa: nada será como antes. As migrações são sinais de um mundo em mudança. Creio que o olhar do artista é importante na compreensão do que está ocorrendo. Todo mundo deve participar desse debate, deve esforçar-se para compreender o que está acontecendo à humanidade: os políticos, os sociólogos, os historiadores, os jornalistas, os especialistas em geopolítica, os pesquisadores, os cientistas, os climatólogos, os economistas. Nesse contexto de brainstorming, a voz dos artistas é importante, ela é mesmo peculiar. O teatro pode também participar desse debate, pois atrás do fenômeno das migrações se escondem dramas individuais e coletivos assustadores, tráficos de todos os tipos e redes de explorações infernais, escolhas políticas discutíveis do lado das grandes potências e formas de indiferença condenáveis… (leia a entrevista na íntegra aqui)

“Um grito de desespero: diálogo para uma filosofia da morte em Ivan Junqueira e Emil Cioran” (Rodrigo Michell dos Santos Araújo)

Estação Literária, Londrina, Volume 9, p. 81-94, jun. 2012
ISSN 1983-1048 – http://www.uel.br/pos/letras/EL

Resumo: Este artigo pretende estabelecer uma aproximação entre o pessimismo filosófico de Emil Cioran e a obra A sagração dos ossos (1994), de Ivan Junqueira. Busca-se investigar na obra do poeta um espaço propício para uma filosofia da morte e do morrer a partir da experiência de vida como agonia prolongada, que atravessa o pensamento do filósofo romeno. Neste sentido, à luz de uma filosofia pessimista é possível tomar a poesia de Ivan Junqueira como uma celebração e caminhar para a morte.
Palavras-chave: Morte; Desespero; Poesia; Filosofia.


The Book of Life: E. M. Cioran

From The Book of Life website

Towards the end of the twentieth century, a celebrated Romanian-French philosopher and aphorist was invited to speak in Zurich. He was introduced with rhetorical pomp and flattering comparisons to the likes of Kierkegaard and Schopenhauer. The speaker smiled, and immediately confounded his German interpreter by beginning his presentation with the words: ‘Mais je ne suis qu’un déconneur’ / ‘But I’m just a joker’.

A few of his critics might agree, but they would be wrong. For Emil Mihai Cioran is very much worthy of inclusion in the line of the great French and European moral philosophers and writers of maxims stretching back to Montaigne, Chamfort, Pascal and La Rochefoucauld.

Cioran was born in Rasinari, Romania, in April 1911. His father was a Greek Orthodox priest. Both facts were to be key in his later work. The writer’s Romanian origins are often taken as the source of a brooding, Romantic, fatalistic temperament while his father’s ecclesiastical calling finds echoes in his son’s unswerving preoccupation with themes of religion, sainthood and the dangers and joys of atheism… [+]

Related themes: Mono no aware, Wu-wei

“Conhecimento de si e sofrimento em Schopenhauer” (Joel Torres)

Revista Lampejo nº 4, 11/2013

Resumo: Considerando a filosofia de Schopenhauer, podemos afirmar que a origem do sofrimento humano se localiza na relação conflituosa que é o próprio indivíduo, caracterizado por aquilo que é sentido imediatamente e que de modo algum pode ser negado e o conhecimento, o qual, por sua condição mesmo, é sempre mediato e responsável, na reflexão, pelo saber de seu status de limitação e impotência frente àquilo que é dado ao sentimento. Assim, a individualidade, enquanto conhecimento e sentimento de si ao mesmo tempo, fundamenta a origem do que é, ao mesmo tempo, necessário, inexorável e irreconciliável no homem: o sofrimento.
Palavras-chave: Vontade. Sofrimento. Conhecimento. Sentimento. Consciência

Há pessoas que se veem condenadas a saborear apenas o veneno das coisas, pessoas para quem toda surpresa é uma surpresa dolorosa e toda experiência, uma oportunidade de tortura. Caso se diga que esse sofrimento tem razões subjetivas, que depende de uma constituição particular, pergunto: existe um critério objetivo do sofrimento?

Emil Cioran – Nos cumes do desespero

Que “TODA VIDA É SOFRIMENTO” (SCHOPENHAUER, 2005, p. 400), é uma máxima explícita em toda obra de Schopenhauer, e esta verdade se fundamenta sobre sua concepção de que o mundo é essencialmente Vontade1 , a qual se apresenta “como ímpeto cego e esforço destituído de conhecimento” (SCHOPENHAUER, 2005, p. 214), sendo ela, em si mesma, uma unidade que se expressa, ou melhor, que se objetiva, não no sentido de se tornar objeto, mas sim como aquilo que aparece como imagem, na multiplicidade dos fenômenos do mundo… [+]

“Winter in Paris” (Rob Doyle)

The Dublin Review nº 58, spring 2015

In late January, two weeks after the terrorist attacks, I took a trip to Paris with the vague intention of researching an essay on the Romanian writer E.M. Cioran, who lived in the city from 1937 until his death in 1995. What this research would consist of was not really clear. Cioran’s life in Paris was notable for the fact that, other than write books, he had done absolutely nothing of interest there. He had simply lived out year after year in the flat on rue de l’Odéon that he shared with his long-term partner, Simone Boué, where he finally became senile, fell ill, and died, inadvertently backing out of the suicide pact that he and Boué had made together. It seemed likely that my ‘research’ would be confined to loitering around Cioran’s grave at the Montparnasse cemetery, and staring up at his inaccessible apartment from the street below. Nonetheless, I had persuaded myself that spending time in Paris was the only way the essay would ever get off the ground.

On the morning of my trip, I woke at 4 a.m. and made it to the airport in good time to catch my 6.25 flight. When I showed my boarding pass at the gate, however, I was informed that I’d been queuing for the wrong 6.25 flight to Paris. This was Air France and I was Ryanair. I ran back the way I’d come, and for reasons unclear was instructed to pass through security all over again. Hurrying towards the Ryanair gate, I told myself that somehow it would all work out. I had never missed a plane, regardless of hangovers, stoned muddles and misfiring alarm clocks: it followed that I would not miss this one. When I reached the gate, sweating extravagantly, the airport worker in his high-vis jacket told me that the plane had been delayed – that was it out there on the taxiway – but the doors were all closed up and there was no way of getting on. I would have to book another flight and check in all over again. And no, there wouldn’t be any refund from Ryanair.

I ended up flying with Aer Lingus a couple of hours later, at a cost I’d rather not think about. The one consolation in all this was that Aer Lingus actually flew me to Paris, rather than to what Ryanair calls ‘Paris’, in reality a remote zone called Beauvais, which on previous visits seemed to me even further from Paris than Dublin itself. Looking out the window of the train that brought me from Charles de Gaulle to the Gare du Nord, I ruminated on how I had always prided myself on never having missed a plane, and now I had missed one. It seemed to me that, as I grew older, the stock of personal traits I could pride myself on was steadily diminishing – I had managed to slip up in almost every category where that had once been the case. Perhaps I had no option but to start taking pride in things I had done – accomplishments – rather than in things I had refrained from doing, such as missing a plane.

At Gare du Nord I boarded the Métro. As the crowded train was pulling out of the station, I looked out the window and saw four soldiers with machine-guns descending the stairs to the platform. The sight triggered a momentary panic: had the soldiers arrived because they knew something? Were they moments too late to board the train and shoot dead the jihadists that were now about to blow us up or flood the carriage with poisonous gas? The panic receded as I reminded myself that the chances of actually being caught up in a terrorist attack, in Paris or anywhere else, were slim. On the other hand, the very fact that I was thinking like this – having to remind myself that I was probably safe – demonstrated the efficacy of terrorism: I felt terrorized, therefore terrorism had achieved its goal. I recalled the five years I had spent living in London. Not once did I manage to take the Tube in that city without imagining, as we hurtled through narrow tunnels deep underground, the horror that would ensue if a bomb went off or a gas attack was perpetrated – the airless panic as bodies pressed against one another, everyone desperate to get out but knowing there was nowhere to go. I used to wonder how much heat my nervous system could take before the agony caused me to pass out: I told myself that it wouldn’t be so bad, that the body would automatically shut itself down to avoid intolerable pain, but I never really believed it.

As the train approached my stop, I noticed the unusual typography of the book being read by the young black guy sitting next to me. It looked very much like a book of aphorisms, and when I leaned over to check the title I was delighted to see that it was Cioran’s De l’inconvénient d’être né. Zoé, the friend in whose flat I would be staying, had told me that Cioran was not really taken seriously in France: his extreme pessimism and insistence on the wretchedness of life, humanity and everything else were considered a bit of a posture. ‘If that was really how he saw things, why didn’t he just kill himself?’ she asked in paraphrasis of the widespread French attitude.

The guy with the Cioran book was reading it bareback, as I thought of it, meaning without a pen in his hand. My own copy of The Trouble with Being Born back in Dublin was very heavily underlined, perhaps the most heavily underlined of all my books. I had read it numerous times, on each occasion happening to use a different-coloured pen to highlight the passages I considered particularly remarkable. The problem was, the whole book seemed particularly remarkable: the prose (in Richard Howard’s wonderful translation) was so consistently striking, its mode of attack so viscerally elegant, that, after the third or fourth reading, almost the entirety of the book had been underlined. These rampant, multi-coloured underlinings (which gave the impression of graffitied subway walls, like those we were now hurtling past), negated the very purpose of underlining in the first place. When a given text is uniformly excellent, it is futile to mark out the strong passages because one will end up, as I had done, underlining the entire thing… [+]