Cioran: conversación con François Bondy

¿Le gusta escribir?

Lo detesto y, además, he escrito muy poco. La mayor parte del tiempo no hago nada. Soy el hombre más ocioso de París. Creo que sólo una puta sin cliente está menos activa que yo. […] No se debería escribir sobre lo que no se haya releído. En Francia existe también el rito del libro anual. Hay que sacar un libro todos los años; si no, «te olvidan». Es el acto de presencia obligatorio. Basta con echar cuentas. Si el autor tiene ochenta años, ya se sabe que ha publicado sesenta libros. ¡Qué suerte tuvieron Marco Aurelio y el autor de la Imitación de no necesitar más de uno! 

*

Aparecida en la obra de François Bondy: Gespräche mit James Baldwin, Carl Burckhardt, Mary McCarthy, E.M. Cioran, Witold Gombrowicz, Eugène Ionesco, Karl Jaspers, Hans Mayer, S. Mrozek, N. Sarraute, I. Silone, Jean Starobinski, Viena, Europa Verlag, 1970

¿Cómo consiguió este apartamento en el sexto piso, con una magnífica vista sobre los tejados del Barrio Latino?
Gracias al esnobismo literario. Llevaba ya mucho tiempo harto de mi habitación de hotel en la Rue Racine y había pedido a una agente inmobiliaria que me buscara algo, pero no me había enseñado nada. Entonces le envié un libro que acababa de publicar, con una dedicatoria. Dos días después, me trajo aquí, donde el alquiler —aunque le cueste creerlo— es de unos cien francos, lo que corresponde a mis medios de vida. Es lo que ocurre con las dedicatorias de autor. La sesión de la firma en Gallimard, cada vez que aparece un libro, era algo que me aburría y una vez no llegué a firmar la mitad de mi contingente de libros. Nunca he tenido peores críticas. Es un rito y una obligación. Ni siquiera Beckett puede substraerse a él. Joyce nunca pudo entenderlo. Le habían dicho que en París un crítico espera siempre una carta de agradecimiento del autor, cuando ha hablado bien de él. Y una vez accedió a enviar una tarjeta de visita con sus saludos a un crítico que había publicado un estudio importante sobre él. Pero al otro le pareció demasiado lacónico y no volvió a escribir nunca sobre Joyce.

Comencemos por Rumania. Usted se crió en Transilvania, estudió en Bucarest y en esta ciudad publicó sus primeros escritos. ¿Tenia usted ya en aquel momento, como tantos intelectuales rumanos, de Tzara a lonesco, los ojos puestos en París?
En absoluto. En aquella época la francofilia de los rumanos presentaba rasgos grotescos. Con ocasión de la primera guerra mundial un ministro dijo muy en serio para justificar la entrada de su país en la guerra: «Que Rumania desaparezca no es tan importante, pero Francia no debe perecer». Recuerdo una revista francesa de derecho constitucional que en aquel momento tiraba mil doscientos ejemplares en Rumania y hoy ya sólo vende un ejemplar de cada número. Tuve un profesor admirable de filosofía, Todor Vianu (murió hace unos años, siendo representante de Rumania ante la Unesco), y leía sobre todo a filósofos y teóricos del arte alemanes: Georg Simmel, Wólfflin, Worringer. Georg Simmel sigue siendo para mí uno de los más grandes. Ni Ernst Bloch ni Georg Lukács reconocieron suficientemente todo lo que le debían. Su compañera, con la que había tenido un hijo, se ocultó durante el Tercer Reich y por un capricho del destino, al intentar llegar a Suiza, justo antes del fin de la guerra, fue detenida y deportada.

¿Había muchas personas en aquella época en Bucarest que hubieran optado por estudiar estética?
Millares. Como el Estado quería formar rápidamente un estrato de intelectuales, había cincuenta mil estudiantes en Bucarest. Volvían a los pueblos con sus diplomas, sin ganas ya de bensuciarse las manos, y se hundían en el tedio, la desesperación. El inmenso tedio rumano: era como un Chéjov muy malo. Además de los alemanes, yo leía también a los espiritualistas rusos, como Leo Chestov. ¿En Transilvania? Para todos los que vivían allí, seguía siendo el mundo de la monarquía imperial, que ni siquiera hoy se ha olvidado, ni allí ni en Yugoslavia. He oído incluso a comunistas hablar con emoción del emperador Francisco José. Mi padre era pope: para los intelectuales rumanos de la Transilvania húngara apenas había otras profesiones. Puede usted observar también la cantidad de intelectuales rumanos de hoy que son hijos de pope. Mis padres habían estado por un tiempo en escuelas primarias húngaras y a veces hablaban húngaro entre ellos. Durante la guerra, fueron desplazados por ser rumanos: mi padre a Sopron (Odemburgo), mi madre a Cluj (Klausemburgo). Mi padre fue primero pope en un pueblo de los Cárpatos y después párroco de Hermannstadt.

Su propia inclinación al misticismo, su odio del mundo, ¿proceden de la tradición ortodoxa?
Están más emparentados con la secta gnóstica de los bogomilos, los antecesores de los cátaros, cuya influencia fue intensa sobre todo en Bulgaria. En mi infancia yo era violentamente ateo, por no decir algo peor. Cuando recitaban la oración de la comida, me levantaba al instante y abandonaba la mesa. Sin embargo, me reconozco próximo a la creencia profunda del pueblo rumano, según la cual la Creación y el pecado son una y la misma cosa. En gran parte de la cultura balcánica, nunca ha cesado la acusación contra la Creación. ¿Qué es la tragedia griega sino la queja constante del coro, es decir, del pueblo, a propósito del destino? Por lo demás, Dionisos procedía de Tracia.

Es asombroso: sus escritos son profundamente pesimistas, pero su estilo es alegre, vivo, de un humor cáustico. También en la conversación sus ideas dan miedo, pero el tono es agudo, animado. ¿Cómo explica usted ese contraste?
Debe de ser algo heredado de mis padres, que tenían caracteres totalmente opuestos. Nunca he podido escribir de otro modo que con el desaliento de las noches de insomnio y durante siete años apenas pude dormir. Creo que en todo escritor se reconoce si los pensamientos que lo ocupan son diurnos o nocturnos. Yo necesito ese desaliento y aún hoy, antes de escribir, pongo un disco de música cíngara húngara. Al mismo tiempo, yo tenía una gran vitalidad, que he conservado y que vuelvo contra sí misma. No se trata de estar más o menos abatido, hay que estar melancólico hasta el exceso, extraordinariamente triste. Entonces es cuando se produce una reacción biológica saludable. Entre el horror y el éxtasis, practico una tristeza activa. Durante mucho tiempo Kafka me pareció demasiado deprimente.

¿Le gusta escribir?
Lo detesto y, además, he escrito muy poco. La mayor parte del tiempo no hago nada. Soy el hombre más ocioso de París. Creo que sólo una puta sin cliente está menos activa que yo.

¿Cómo se gana la vida?
A los cuarenta años, estaba todavía matriculado en la Sorbona, comía en la cantina de los estudiantes y esperaba que esa situación durase hasta el fin de mis días. Pero promulgaron una ley que prohibía matricularse a partir de los veintisiete años y que me expulsó de ese paraíso. Al llegar a París, me había comprometido con el Instituto Francés a escribir una tesis y ya había comunicado su tema —algo sobre la ética de Nietzsche—… pero no pensaba en absoluto escribirla. En lugar de eso, recorrí toda Francia en bicicleta. Al final, no me retiraron la beca, porque les pareció que llevar Francia en las piernas tampoco carecía de mérito. Pero leo mucho y sobre todo releo sin cesar. Me he leído todo Dostoyevski cinco o seis veces. No se debería escribir sobre lo que no se haya releído. En Francia existe también el rito del libro anual. Hay que sacar un libro todos los años; si no, «te olvidan». Es el acto de presencia obligatorio. Basta con echar cuentas. Si el autor tiene ochenta años, ya se sabe que ha publicado sesenta libros. ¡Qué suerte tuvieron Marco Aurelio y el autor de la Imitación de no necesitar más de uno!

¿Cómo se estrenó usted?
Con un libro aparecido en Bucarest en 1933. En las cimas de la desesperación, que contiene ya todo lo que vendría después. Es el más filosófico de mis libros.

¿Qué ocurrió con la Guardia de Hierro, la variante rumana del fascismo? Dicen que usted simpatizó con ella.
La Guardia de Hierro, de la que, por lo demás, nunca formé parte, fue un fenómeno muy singular. Su jefe, Codreanu, era, en realidad, un eslavo que recordaba más bien a un general del ejército ucraniano. La mayoría de los comandos de la Guardia estaban compuestos por macedonios en exilio: de forma general, llevaba sobre todo la marca de las poblaciones circundantes de Rumania. Como el cáncer, del que se dice que no es una enfermedad, sino un complejo de enfermedades, la Guardia de Hierro era un complejo de movimientos y más una secta delirante que un partido. En ella se hablaba menos de la renovación nacional que de los prestigios de la muerte. Los rumanos son generalmente escépticos, no esperan gran cosa del destino. Por eso la Guardia era despreciada por la mayoría de los intelectuales, pero en el plano psicológico era distinto. Hay como una locura en ese pueblo profundamente fatalista. Y los intelectuales a que he aludido antes, con sus diplomas en pueblos donde se aburrían a muerte, se incorporaban de buen grado a sus filas. La Guardia de Hierro estaba considerada un remedio para todos los males, incluido el tedio y hasta las purgaciones. Ese gusto por los extremos habría podido atraer también a mucha gente hacia el comunismo, pero entonces apenas existía y no tenía nada que ofrecer. En aquella época experimenté en mí mismo cómo sin la menor convicción se puede ceder a un entusiasmo. Es un estado que posteriormente he observado con frecuencia y no sólo en personas de veinte años, como aquellas entre las que me contaba yo entonces, sino, por desgracia, también en sexagenarios. Me ha decepcionado mucho.

¿Lo tildan con frecuencia de reaccionario?
Lo niego. Voy mucho más lejos. Henri Thomas me dijo un día: «Usted está contra todo lo que ha ocurrido desde 1920», y yo le respondí: «¡No, desde Adán!».

¿Cuáles son hoy sus relaciones con Rumania?
A la muerte de Stalin, todo el mundo se sentía aliviado, sólo yo suspiraba: «Ahora se alzará el telón y vendrán para aquí todos los rumanos». Y eso fue, en efecto, lo que sucedió. Vi llegar de repente a mi casa a los parientes más alejados y a compañeros de clase, que se pasaban horas contándome historias de vecindad y yo qué sé qué más. Entre ellos había un médico al que conocía desde el colegio y un día tuve un acceso de ira y le grité que se largara. Entonces me dijo: «¿No sabes que las células nerviosas no se regeneran nunca y no hay que malgastarlas?». Eso me calmó y seguimos hablando. Yo tenía un amigo íntimo que era un dirigente comunista. En aquella época yo le aconsejaba que se quedara aquí. En la calle me dijo: «Nadie es profeta fuera de su país», y volvió allí. Después pasó dieciocho años en un campo de concentración por desviacionismo. Pudo conservar el equilibrio mental reflexionando sobre problemas matemáticos. Hoy está libre y recibe una renta del Estado.

Usted está contra la historia, pero le fascinan sus problemas.
Observo su explosión. Hoy vivimos en un tiempo posthistórico, del mismo modo que hay un poscristianismo. El teólogo Paul Tillich, que abandonó Alemania en 1934, se puso a hablar en los Estados Unidos del poscristianismo y no chocaba a nadie. Se habla de ello incluso en los púlpitos. Pero después se puso a luchar contra la idea de progreso y entonces se escandalizaron. Ese era el único sacrilegio auténtico. Pero hoy ya no. Estamos presenciando la demolición de la idea de progreso. Incluso los pesimistas de aquella época, como Eduard von Hartmann, estaban apegados a la idea de progreso. Sus ideas representaban para ellos un progreso del pensamiento. Pero hoy esa idea está comprometida en otro sentido. Antaño se vivía con la certidumbre de un futuro para la humanidad. Ahora ya no es así. Al hablar del futuro, se añade con frecuencia: «Si es que quedan hombres entonces». Antaño el fin de la humanidad cobraba un sentido escatológico, iba unido a una idea de salvación; hoy se lo considera un hecho, sin connotación religiosa, ha entrado dentro de las previsiones. Sabemos que esto puede acabarse y desde entonces hay algo corrupto en la idea de progreso. Nada es ya como antes y aún en nuestros días veremos producirse un cambio inaudito, inconcebible, en el hombre. El cristianismo está perdido, pero la historia también. La humanidad ha seguido un mal camino. ¿Acaso no es insoportable ese hormiguear de hombres que ocupan el sitio
de todas las demás especies? Acabaremos convirtiéndonos en una sola y única metrópolis, un Pére-Lachaise universal. El hombre ensucia y degrada todo lo que lo rodea y en los próximos cincuenta años se verá afectado él mismo muy duramente.

¿En qué figura de la tradición se reconoce usted?
La de Buda sigue siendo la más próxima. El comprendió el verdadero problema. Pero tengo demasiado temperamento para dominarlo como él. Siempre habrá un conflicto entre lo que sé y lo que siento.

¿Nunca ha sentido la tentación de llevar, como su amigo Ionesco, esos conflictos a la escena?
Imposible. Mi pensamiento no se produce como un proceso, sino como un resultado, un residuo. Es lo que queda después de la fermentación, los desechos, el poso.

CIORAN, E. M., Conversaciones. Trad. de Carlos Manzano. Barcelona: Tusquets, 1997, p. 11-16.

“Thinkers and Liars”: review on Marta Petreu’s “An Infamous Past…” (Joseph Frank)

Thinkers and Liars

By Joseph Frank, New Republic 14/11/06 (Nov 16, 2006 – 8:51:00 AM)

In the aftermath of World War II, there was a great influx of refugees into the United States. Most came from countries where populations had been uprooted by the course of battle, or were escaping from a past that they were lucky to have survived. Some, however, were trying to put behind them a different kind of past–one in which they had collaborated with, or expressed sympathy for, the Axis powers that had been defeated. A notable case of this kind was that of Paul de Man, the distinguished professor of comparative literature at Yale University; another eminent instance was Mircea Eliade, the much-admired historian of religion who was chairman of the department of religion at the University of Chicago from 1957 until his death in 1986. Eliade had been a strong supporter of the Iron Guard movement, the Romanian equivalent of the Italian fascists and the German Nazis, but he attempted throughout his later career to conceal and deny his affiliation with its ideas and his service in the pro-Axis Romanian government of Marshal Ion Antonescu during the war.

Although Eliade’s history has attracted little attention in the United States, he appears, under a fictitious name, in Saul Bellow’s novel Ravelstein. It is well known that the character Ravelstein is a fictional portrait of the late Allan Bloom, a member of the faculty of the University of Chicago and the author of the best-selling book The Closing of the American Mind. Another professor at the university is a Romanian-born historian of religion, Radu Grielescu, with an even greater international reputation than that of Ravelstein, and obviously based on Eliade. The narrator of the novel, who may be roughly identified with the author, is married to a Romanian woman. (One of Bellow’s wives was in fact a Romanian mathematician–in the novel she is an astronomer–and his earlier novel The Dean’s December is set in Bucharest.) The couple are flatteringly cultivated by the highly civilized Grielescu, and a minor motif of the book is the futile protest of Ravelstein against what he correctly divines as the efforts of Grielescu to ingratiate himself with the narrator.

Both Ravelstein and the narrator are Jewish, and the former has gotten wind that Grielescu, during the 1930s and 1940s, had been a fervent intellectual spokesman for the ferociously anti-Semitic Iron Guard movement. Indeed, he had “denounced the Jewish syphilis that had infected the high civilization of the Balkans.” During the war he had served the pro-fascist Romanian government in its embassies in England and Portugal; and he lived in fear that his previous Iron Guard affiliations and sympathies would become known. “Grielescu is using you,” Ravelstein tells the narrator. “In his own country he was a fascist, and he needs you to cover this up here.” The narrator admits that he had never posed a direct question about his past to Grielescu, but refuses to believe that he could ever have been a genuine Jew-hater.

This episode in Bellow’s novel is cited in a recent French study, which has not yet appeared in English, titled Cioran, Eliade, Ionesco: L’oubli du fascisme, written by Alexandra Laignel-Lavastine, a historian of Eastern European history and culture. This revelatory book is an extremely erudite exploration of the careers of the three writers named in the title, based largely but far from exclusively on an analysis of the little-known (and, until fairly recently, mostly inaccessible) journalistic and periodical literature in Romanian of the 1930s and 1940s. All these men were natives of that relatively obscure and distant land, and all performed the astonishing feat of becoming world-famous figures.

Eliade’s books on the history of religion elevated him to a commanding height in the field, and he attained fame as a novelist both in his own country and in France. E.M. Cioran was widely hailed for his brilliantly disillusioned reflections on history and culture, written first in Romanian and then in French, and he was praised as one of the greatest contemporary stylists in his adopted language. Eugène Ionesco pioneered the vogue of the theater of the absurd, and his comic but also symbolically tragic plays were performed everywhere; eventually he was elected to the Académie Française. All three had a past that they wished to hide (though Ionesco’s concealments did not arise from any sympathy with the fascist tendency that the two others fervently championed). The aim of Laignel-Lavastine’s book is to investigate the truth about this past so far as it can be ascertained from the surviving documents and the testimony of contemporaries. It has now been supplemented by the appearance in English of a work exclusively devoted to Cioran, An Infamous Past, by the Romanian scholar and poet Marta Petreu, which was originally published in 1999.

Laignel-Lavastine begins with a sweeping depiction of the political and cultural atmosphere of the late 1920s in Romania, the period during which the three men she deals with came to maturity. The ideological climate of the time was defined in a series of articles by the twenty-year-old Eliade called “A Spiritual Itinerary”–a work that quickly became the lodestar of the new generation and promoted the young Eliade to the position of its leader. Sweeping aside all the ideas of the past that had been destroyed in the carnage of World War I, Eliade wrote: “The myth of indefinite progress, the faith in the aptitude and power of science and technology to establish widespread peace and social justice, the primacy of rationalism and the prestige of agnosticism, all this has been shattered to pieces in every area in which it has been contested.” This criticism of rationalism, materialism, and loss of religious faith was accompanied by praise of the “life-force,” and of the most extreme irrational experiences, as providing the source of a new realm of values.

All three men attended the University of Bucharest, the center of Romania’s cultural life, where they became acquainted and competed for attention in the animated discussions that took place in the cafés of the Calei Victorei, the main artery of the city. Every conversation there was a personal challenge, and in a volume of critical articles titled Non, Ionesco ironically depicts the various strategies employed to make an impression. A neophyte might imitate Cioran and speak “in response to everything or with complete irrelevance,” or “in a trembling voice, in which the emotion and acute interior tension were expressed as the phrases interrupted each other, cite a passage from Unamuno or Berdyaev.” Matters were not so intellectually effervescent, however, for others in the university, especially those of Jewish origin.

Of primary importance in this context is the endemic anti-Semitism of Romanian culture, which has deep historic roots. Encouraged by the rise of Nazism during the 1930s, the indigenous anti-Semitism of the Iron Guard made life for Jewish students at the university a continual torment. They were assigned special seats, continually insulted verbally, and assaulted physically. Often it was necessary for police to be called in to protect them as they left the lecture halls. There is a moving passage in a novel from 1934 by Mihail Sebastian, also a playwright and for a time a member of Eliade’s inner circle, in which the obviously autobiographical main character, who has been slapped in the face, remonstrates with himself: “Tell yourself that you are the son of a nation of martyrs … dash your head against the walls, but if you wish to be able to look yourself in the face, if you don’t wish to die of shame, do not weep.”

The reigning academic figure at the university, or at least the figure who exercised the most influence on the writers we are concerned with, was a philosopher named Nae Ionescu. He possessed a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Munich, and he was a charismatic orator capable of producing an almost hypnotic influence in his lectures to packed auditoriums. Depicted by Laignel-Lavastine as more or less an intellectual charlatan whose brilliant performances were cribbed and plagiarized from German philosophical sources, Ionescu nonetheless succeeded in obtaining an indelible grip on the finest minds of the younger generation. His lectures, according to Cioran, were only half prepared, so that “we were present face to face with the working out of his thought. He communicated this effort to us, the tension working in a reciprocal manner…. Such professors are rare.”

What did students absorb from the teachings of this spellbinding professor? He traced the crisis of modern man, which culminated for him in the emergence of the ideology of democracy, to the fusion of the philosophical subjectivism of Descartes with the mathematical method and scientific uniformization imposed by the Renaissance. To this individualist perspective he opposed that of the submission of the individual to the national collectivity–not the legal nation, but the organic one, the community of blood and spirit, which was, according to him, the only living and creative reality. Up to 1933, such proto-fascist ideas, which formed the common coin of a good deal of the German philosophy of the time, were not given any political application by Ionescu, who had been in favor of the restoration of King Carol II in 1930. But in 1933 he went to Germany and was much impressed by Hitler’s rise to power. On his return he protested, along with Eliade, the ban issued against the Iron Guard, one of whose members had recently assassinated the liberal prime minister. It was in 1933 that the philosopher also made personal contact for the first time with C.Z. Codreanu, the founder and leader of the Iron Guard, and apparently a powerfully impressive personality.

The Iron Guard was as vicious and brutal as other fascist formations–perhaps even more than some when it came to murderous violence against the Jews–but it differed from the others by containing, along with a strong nationalistic component, a religious one as well. It combined, according to Laignel-Lavastine, “the Führerprinzip [the cult of the Leader] with the Christian prototype of the apostle and the Balkan model of the haidouks, those who meted out justice on the highways, a type of Robin Hood of the Carpathians.” Each member of the Iron Guard was supposed to submit himself to a discipline that would transform his character, and–at least in theory–the movement was closer to some sort of religious sect than to a customary political formation. This made it much simpler in later years for Eliade, in his extremely untrustworthy memoirs, to sanitize his close association with the Iron Guard by describing it as “having the structure and vocation of a mystical sect rather than of a political movement.” In fact, the organization offered candidates for all the elections and participated in all the political campaigns. Still, as late as 1980, Eliade stressed the religious component of its ideology, which glorified terrorism and assassination as examples of personal self-sacrifice. The Iron Guard, he wrote, was “the sole Romanian political movement that took seriously Christianity and the church.”

II.

After sketching in this background, Laignel-Lavastine moves on to follow the careers of her three protagonists during this period. Cioran was born of a clerical family in what had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and as a lycée student was one of the few who took advantage of the well-stocked German library. As his notebooks show, he imbibed the very best of both old and new German philosophy, as well as Russians such as Dostoevsky and Shestov. In 1933, at the age of twenty-two, he began to publish articles in the anti-Semitic weekly Vremea, in which Eliade also regularly appeared. Cioran’s contributions were distinguished by an extreme cultural and ethical pessimism derived from Schopenhauer, as well as by an anti-rationalism absorbed from Nietzsche, Simmel, and Scheler. Petreu stresses the influence of Spengler, to whose thoughts on the decline of the West, she argues, Cioran remained indebted all his life. His writings were also characterized by an anguished concern over the status of Romania on the world scene. By what means could his country succeed in raising itself above the mediocrity in which it seemed to stagnate? How could it “emerge from a thousand years of sub-historical vegetative life,” as he wrote in 1936?

Like other students of Nae Ionescu, Cioran had begun to sympathize with the Iron Guard without accepting some of its ideological presuppositions; and he always refused to affiliate completely with a political movement. But a decisive moment in his life was a Humboldt fellowship to Germany in 1933, where he lived until the summer of 1935. He was tremendously impressed by the new dynamism that Hitler had imparted to German life, and compared it sadly to the inertia at home. “To tell the truth,” he wrote to a friend shortly after arriving, “there are things here that please me, and I am convinced that a dictatorial regime would succeed in conquering our native morass.” He admired Hitler more and more as time went on, and he expresses such admiration in no uncertain terms in the articles that he sent back for his Romanian readers. “There is no contemporary political figure,” he wrote, “for whom I feel a greater sympathy and admiration than for Hitler,” who had succeeded in infusing “a messianic inspiration to a domain of values that democratic rationalism had rendered banal and trivial.” Along with many others, he attended the popular courses of the philosopher Ludwig Klages, an anti-Semitic Nazi sympathizer, whom he compared to Ionescu, and placed on the same level as Heidegger. (Klages wrote a huge three-volume work to demonstrate that reason had always been a dissolving and corrupting force in human life.)

On returning home, Cioran performed his obligatory military service in the army, and then, starting in 1936, taught philosophy for a year in a lycée. During these years he published three books, two on religion and the third–the most scandalously provocative work that ever came from his pen–titled The Transfiguration of Romania. Here he raises the problem of the integration of minorities, and not only defends Romanian xenophobia but also attempts to develop a rigorously systematic and historical anti-Semitic argument to prove that the Jews are inassimilable. “The feeling of animosity toward strangers,” he declares, “is so characteristic of Romanian national sentiment that the two are forever indissoluble…. We have lived for a thousand years under their domination [that of strangers], and not to hate them, not to get them out of the way, would be proof of a lack of national instinct.”

As for the Jews, Cioran writes that “every time that a people becomes conscious of itself, it fatally enters into conflict with the Jews.” One can learn to live with other minorities, such as the Hungarians and the Saxon Germans, but this is impossible with the Jews “by reason of the particular structure of their mentality and of their inherent political orientations.” Cioran repeats the usual litany of anti-Semitic charges, but attempts to give them a logic and consistency they would not otherwise possess, linking them to essential characteristics of the Jewish mentality. (His book was written after Hitler had passed the Nuremberg laws in Germany.)

Most of Petreu’s book is devoted to a very thorough and quite critical analysis of this work, the only purely political tract that Cioran ever produced. His anti-Semitism and xenophobia were commonplace in Romanian thought, but Petreu views his political ideas as quite independent in the context of a period dominated by a conflict between “occidentalism” and “autochthony” (a reliance on native traditions). Cioran rejected both: neither a capitalist transformation along European democratic lines nor a re-affirmation of the national values embodied in rural life met with his approval.

Instead, he was in favor of increased industrialization and expressed considerable admiration for Lenin and the Russian Revolution, though of course abhorring its materialist ideology. Moreover, the transformation of Romania could only be nationalist, and it was here that he coincided with the Iron Guard, proclaiming in 1937 his confidence in the group’s “heroism which begins in brutality and ends in sacrifice.” He met Codreanu several times, but wrote to Eliade in 1935 that “no political doctrine receives my ultimate approval.” Cioran left Romania again in 1937, having applied for a study grant to Spain, the land of Unamuno. But the civil war made that impossible, and so he spent three years in France instead.

III.

Eliade, as already noted, found no difficulty at all in accepting the ideology of the Iron Guard, which he viewed in the light of his own preoccupation with religion and spirituality. The difference between him and Cioran, whose book The Transfiguration of Romania Eliade prepared for the press as a service to his friend, is clearly illustrated in a letter in which Eliade is full of praise for the section on the Jews and other minorities, but objects to Cioran’s contemptuous remarks about the Romanian village as containing nothing but “a biological reserve.” For Eliade, it was the source of national-religious values that had existed for centuries–and were again being revived by the Iron Guard. In a series of more than fifty articles between 1934 and 1938, he praised “the Captain,” as Codreanu was called, for inspiring such a movement and urged young intellectuals to join the cause. “The significance of the revolution advanced by Corneliu Codreanu is so profoundly mystical,” he declared, “that its success would designate the victory of the Christian spirit in Europe.”

Eliade’s adhesion to the cause, however, was by no means instantaneous. It was only in December 1935 that he decided that “the primacy of the spiritual does not imply the refusal of action.” In 1936 he began openly to support the Iron Guard; but his aim was “to provide its ideology with a more solid philosophical foundation.” One is reminded of Heidegger’s attempt to provide Hitlerism with what the philosopher considered a worthier intellectual grounding. Eliade carries on a continual battle against the ideas of the Enlightenment and traces the degeneration of Romania to its attempt to adopt such alien notions: “Being a foreign importation, the democratic regime concerns itself with matters that are not specifically Romanian–abstractions like the rights of man, the rights of minorities, and the liberty of conscience.” Far better a dictatorship like that of Mussolini, which is always preferable to a democracy because, if the latter goes to pieces, it will “inevitably slide toward the left” and thus toward communism.

An important event of these years for Eliade was the return of the coffins of two of his friends, both prominent Iron Guardists, killed fighting for Franco in the Spanish Civil War. A huge semiofficial demonstration was organized to honor their remains, and Eliade wrote three articles, one published in the journal of the Iron Guard itself, to consecrate the glory of their sacrifice. As usual, he endows this event with his own pseudo-religious aura. “The voluntary death of Ion Mota and Vasile Marin,” he wrote, “has a mystic significance: the sacrifice for Christianity.” By this time he had become an active partisan of the Iron Guard; and when the Guard fell out of favor with the government in 1938, leading to the arrest of Codreanu and several hundred of his most prominent followers, Mircea Eliade was among them.

The conditions of their detention in a camp, once an agricultural school, were far from onerous, and courses were organized by Ionescu and Eliade, who also managed to write a novel there, called Marriage in Heaven. His wife’s uncle was a general close to King Carol II, and since Eliade suffered from a tubercular condition, he was soon allowed to move to a mountain village and returned home early in December. Later that month Codreanu was killed, presumably while attempting to escape, and the Iron Guard movement was sternly repressed. Eliade had lost his university post, but he confided to Cioran that he “regretted nothing,” and he wrote a play, Iphigenia, that exalted the ideas of sacrifice and death for one’s country in words literally reproducing those he had used about the two Iron Guardists who had sacrificed themselves for Franco.

Life for Eliade in his native land was becoming difficult, and his correspondence reveals that he was seeking to go elsewhere. He made efforts in the direction of the United States and France with no success, and finally had to settle for a post as cultural attaché in London before Romania entered the war against the Allies. The English were quite well informed about his past, and classified him as “the most Nazified member of the legation,” possibly a spy for Germany. When he was transferred to Portugal, there was some discussion as to whether he should be allowed to leave the country, and he was filled with indignation at being stripped and searched before his departure. He spent four years in Lisbon, where the dictatorship of Salazar, which he called “a Christian form of totalitarianism,” was much closer to his political tastes than anything he could find elsewhere. While performing his tasks in the embassy, he also wrote a hagiographical but scholarly biography of Salazar, who deigned, much to his delight, to grant him an audience, and then entrusted him with a message to deliver to General Antonescu. Eliade’s trip to Bucharest in July 1942 was the last time he was to see his native land.

IV.

The third member of the trio was Eugène Ionesco, and the jacket of Laignel-Lavastine’s book contains a photograph taken in 1977 in Paris at the charming and peaceful little Place Furstenberg, just a few steps away from the swarming crowd at St.-Germain-des-Près. The picture captures the three exiles talking together in the friendliest fashion, and has aroused a good deal of criticism, because it would appear that all three were guilty in a similar fashion of the “oubli du fascisme,” the forgetfulness about fascism, indicated by the book’s title. The text makes clear, however, that Ionesco’s politics had always been fiercely hostile to the fascist temptation. Indeed, his famous play Rhinoceros (1959) is based on his horrified fascination with what he saw taking place as the members of his generation each yielded to the fascist spell.

The play depicts a small provincial village where the inhabitants gradually become transformed into rhinoceroses that destroy everything in their path. Ionesco’s journal records the process by which, as he wrote, “I saw how my brothers, my friends, gradually became strangers. I felt a new spirit germinating within them; how a new personality was substituted for theirs.” These new personalities were those of “the ideologists and semi-intellectuals” who mutated into “rhinoceroses”; a character called “the Logician” in the play, presumably based on Nae Ionescu, precipitates this transformation.

But Ionesco, too, possessed a past that he wished to keep hidden, though it was relatively anodyne compared with that of the other two. For one thing, there was the question of his family. Ionesco’s father was a Romanian lawyer with a French doctorate, and his mother was presumably French. But there appears to be some question about her origins: she may not have been a French citizen at all, and was probably of Jewish ancestry. None of this is mentioned in Ionesco’s autobiographical writings; but he spoke of his mother to Mihail Sebastian, whose friendship, unlike that of all the others, he continued to cultivate, and who comments that “I had long known that his mother was Jewish from hearsay.” This conversation occurred in 1941, just fifteen days after an Iron Guardist pogrom, horrifying in its slaughter, had taken place in Bucharest.

Ionesco taught French literature at the University of Bucharest, and became well known in the 1930s when his book Non was given a prestigious literary award. In it, he scathingly attacked the eminences of Romanian literature for their “ethno-linguistic nationalism and historicism.” Meanwhile, he was keeping a journal that nourished much of his later work, in which we see him rejecting the collectivisms both of fascism and communism. In 1938 he received a grant to study in Paris from the director of the French Cultural Institute who, a few months earlier, had given one to Cioran; but though the two lived in the same section of Paris and had common Romanian friends, they carefully avoided each other’s company.

At this time Ionesco was much influenced by Emmanuel Mounier, the founder of the journal Esprit, and a liberal Catholic who attempted to steer a middle course between left and right and fathered a doctrine known as “personalism.” It was anti-capitalist and highly critical of the weaknesses of liberal democracy, but it also stressed the importance of preserving the rights of the individual personality not as a political entity, but as a moral-spiritual one. Mounier has been sharply criticized for having contributed to the undermining of the respect for democracy that marked the prewar years in France; but what impressed Ionesco was his emphasis on safeguarding the moral responsibility of the individual. Both Cioran and Ionesco sent home articles describing their impressions of Paris: the former depicted the city and France itself as “a nation fatigued and worn-out, at the twilight of its history,” while the latter spoke of them as “the ultimate refuge of humanity.”

After the outbreak of the war in September 1939, Ionesco decided to return to Romania–a decision he bitterly regretted. He remained there until the summer of 1942, desperately trying to leave again without success. During this period the Romanian government was taken over by General Antonescu, who for five months shared power with the Iron Guard. They instituted a reign of terror “of an indescribable savagery,” particularly against the Jews, but also massacring other opponents and kidnapping former members of the government and prominent intellectuals to be executed. Antonescu, disturbed by the chaos, finally suppressed the Iron Guard with the help of German troops. Meanwhile new laws against the Jews were added to those already in existence, and applied to “converts” of the past and present as well as those clinging to their faith; all were excluded from teaching, as well as from any other professional office or occupation, except those with special permission from the head of state. Ionesco became frantic, as his notebooks reveal; and after several futile efforts to obtain passports and visas, he appealed to friends in several ministries for help. As a last resort, they arranged for him to become press attaché at the Romanian embassy in Vichy (France by this time had been defeated). As he put it, “I am like an escaped prisoner who flees in the uniform of the jailer.”

This is the second part of his Romanian past that Ionesco kept concealed: these Vichy years are never mentioned in his autobiographical writings. A full account of them is given in Laignel-Lavastine’s book, using the documents now available from his dossier in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bucharest and references in his letters of the time. It is quite clear, to cite the text, that this “was a strategy of survival”; and though he hated every moment of his duties, he performed them conscientiously enough to receive a promotion to cultural secretary in the spring of 1943.

Much of his time was given to encouraging the translation and publication of Romanian writers, and to maneuvering among French journals in the complicated maze created by the collaborationist, semi-collaborationist, and purely literary publications. Ionesco carefully avoided the first and preferred those that attempted to preserve a literary autonomy, even if it was necessarily limited. He also secretly employed as a translator, using a pseudonym, a Romanian-Jewish poet whose works had been illustrated by Brancusi and Victor Brauner. Very far from being lenient toward her subjects, Laignel-Lavastine does not omit other duties performed by Ionesco that might be considered “compromising”; but she concludes that his record is “in general quite honorable.” Still, those were years that he wished to forget.

V.

Cioran was also in Paris at the outbreak of the war and decided to return to Bucharest in the autumn of 1940, though he, too, eliminated these months from accounts of his life. The reason is quite simple: he arrived when the Iron Guard had practically taken over the government; and on the very day that it was committing the atrocities already mentioned, he spoke on the radio with ecstatic praise for the “Legion” (as the movement was also called). “Codreanu,” he said, had “instilled honor in a nation of slaves; he has given a sense of pride to a spineless herd.” He also published several articles along the same lines and, preparing his return to France, obtained an appointment as cultural attaché to the Romanian embassy in Vichy. Cioran took up his new post in March 1941, but broke all records for the brevity of his service, which lasted only two and a half months. Meanwhile, he managed once again to obtain a study grant with the help of his former benefactor, now at the Collège de France, and returned to live and write in occupied Paris.

During these years, he spent a good deal of time with another ex-Romanian intellectual of Jewish origin, Benjamin Fondane (actually Vecsler), who had become a fairly well-known literary critic and poet through his works in French. In a letter to his parents in 1946, cited by Petreu, Cioran writes that “[Fondane] proved to be more gentle and more generous than all my ‘Christian’ friends taken together…. In the long run, all ideas are absurd and false; only the people are there, regardless of their origin or religion.” When Fondane was finally denounced and arrested, Cioran went with Jean Paulhan to plead for his release. Surprisingly enough, they were successful in his case; but Fondane refused to leave without his sister, who had also been taken into custody, and they both perished in Auschwitz.

There can be little doubt that, as Laignel-Lavastine notes, “the arrest of Fondane shook Cioran profoundly,” and left an indelible impression on his ideas and his values. He later wrote an admiring essay about his friend, and in addition helped Fondane’s wife to re-edit his works after the war as well as to complete an important unfinished book on Baudelaire. He also wrote an article asking that Fondane’s name be included among those deported writers whose names were inscribed in the Pantheon. Laignel-Lavastine criticizes him for having called Fondane “Moldavian” rather than Jewish (as if this were not understood), and because other phrases might be interpreted as containing traces of his own previous anti-Semitism. But actions, such as his intervention for his friend’s release, speak louder even than such words; and this is not the only instance in which suspicion is cast on any genuine transformation of sentiment in Cioran.

No such problem arises with Eliade, because no transformation of any kind took place. Quite the contrary. Eliade kept a notebook throughout the war that is now deposited in the University of Chicago library, and which, since it was never intended for publication, he did not undertake to revise so as to blur and distort his opinions and actions. It is an astonishing document, revealing a self-adulation merging on megalomania and a fervent commitment to the triumph of Hitler, Mussolini, and Antonescu over the “Anglo-Bolsheviks.” Comparing himself with Goethe, whose genius he admired, Eliade concludes: “My intellectual horizons are vaster.” Despite the consolation of such reflections, he was terribly depressed by the course of the war. After the defeat of the Germans and their Romanian allies at Stalingrad (which he called “a tragedy”), followed by the invasion of North Africa and the British victory over Rommel, Eliade was upset to such an extent that he notes: “Insomnias, nightmares, depression.”

For him, the triumph of the Allies meant “the abandonment of Europe to the Asiatic hordes.” Even though Jews were being slaughtered right and left in his homeland, not to mention elsewhere–and Eliade’s diplomatic position kept him perfectly well informed–not a word about any such events appears in his pages. As the handwriting on the wall became more and more legible, he resolved not to return home, but to take another tack. “I have decided to ‘penetrate’ Europe more deeply and with more determination than I have done until now,” he writes. Several months later, he sees himself operating as “a Trojan horse within the scientific arena,” whose aim was “scientifically to validate the metaphysical significance of prehistoric life.” This is exactly how he behaved after Antonescu was overthrown and he was discharged from his position at the Romanian embassy. He had influential scholarly connections in Paris, particularly the cultural historian Georges Dumézil, and he used this influence as well as others to obtain temporary teaching appointments. He had begun to write his Treatise on the History of Religions in 1944 and his influential The Myth of the Eternal Return a year later; both appeared in French in the immediate postwar years, and launched Eliade on his way to international fame and a permanent post in Chicago.

VI.

The great value of Laignel-Lavastine’s book is her thorough investigation of the Romanian background, and in a much larger framework than the one provided by Petreu. The chapters devoted to the postwar years of her three protagonists, though of great interest in themselves and barely touched on by Petreu, deal with more familiar and easily accessible material. A good deal of criticism has been leveled against her book, but none, to my knowledge, has really undermined the factual basis of her indictment, even though she may be faulted on matters of detail.

A different question arises when she discusses the issue of whether Eliade and Cioran ever underwent any sort of “true transformation” of their earlier views, or only engaged “in a secret game of projections, calculations, and concealments.” This involves matters of interpretation on which opinions may differ. Such a question, as she concedes, applies only “very weakly” to Ionesco, who was more a victim of circumstances than of any ideological commitment he had reason to regret. In later years the picture on the book jacket of the three men engaged in friendly conversation could create a wrong impression, even though it approximates at least a modicum of the truth of what became their relation.

In the immediate postwar years, many of the Romanian intellectuals in Paris (not all, to be sure) clustered around Eliade, whose hotel room became “one of the principal rendezvous of the exile.” Ionesco showed up at such gatherings, as he told a friend, only in order “to escape from [his] undermining solitude,” while at the same time declaiming against this group as “an affair of Legionnaires [Iron Guardists] who have not repented.” Moreover, aside from the need to overcome the “painful isolation” that he felt, the Romanian political situation had changed entirely, and he now found himself more or less partially in agreement with his ancient enemies. A communist government had taken over Romania in 1947, and Ionesco could join the others in deploring this imposition of the collectivism–of the right or the left–that he had always abhorred.

All through his later life he actively supported democratic causes, affixing his name to petitions to support the Prague Spring, the Afghan resistance against Russia, and the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate, and joining movements such as Amnesty International. He was tireless in his support of Israel, thus bucking a strong current of French gauchiste opinion. He joined Arthur Koestler, Leszek Kolakowski, and Czeslaw Milosz, among others, in his anti-communism. He is depicted as thus “sliding to the right,” but doing so in defense of the values in which he had always believed: the liberty of man, humanism. As more or less of a gauchiste herself, however, Laignel-Lavastine cannot resist a dig at “the rather reactionary side of the old academician, which sometimes brings on a smile or a reaction of annoyance” when “his anti-communism becomes in the end a little ridiculous.” This is a nasty thrust that does her little credit.

Eliade’s remarkable career illustrates his skill and success at playing “the secret game of projections, concealments and calculations.” Reference already has been made to the falsification of the memoirs and journals that is illustrated all through the volume; but his Iron Guard past nonetheless caught up with him from time to time. His application for appointment to the French Center for Scientific Research, though sponsored by a formidable array of prominent scholars, was turned down because a renowned medieval historian of Romanian origin wrote a detailed letter about his early commitments. Similarly, safely installed in Chicago in 1973, Eliade was invited for a lecture in Israel by Gershom Scholem, whom he had met at colloquiums in Ascona, Switzerland, initially sponsored by Jung (whose political past is also very suspect). In 1972 a small Israeli journal of the Romanian emigration had published an article revealing part of Eliade’s connection with the Iron Guard, but without citing any written sources. Scholem was troubled, but Eliade wrote a letter piling lie upon lie, indignantly denying that he had ever published a line in praise of the Iron Guard and relying on the inaccessibility of the Romanian material at that time.

The invitation to Hebrew University was withdrawn, though Scholem, presumably incapable of believing in such duplicity, urged Eliade to visit him personally and offered to arrange an interview with the author of the article to clear up matters of disagreement. But Eliade prudently cancelled the trip, and never visited Israel then or later. Part of Eliade’s strategy was to cultivate friendships with prominent Jewish scholars and intellectuals, as Ravelstein/Bloom had rightly charged. Saul Bellow spoke at his funeral in 1986. His novel indicates that he may have had some regrets at having done so.

Nothing blatantly anti-Semitic can be found in Eliade’s postwar writings, but the prejudice is transposed into a much more scholarly key in his theory of religion. One of the cornerstones of his doctrine was that archaic man lived in a world of cyclical time, whose recurrences were marked by festivals of one kind or another in which “sacred time,” the time of religious experience, was re-created. The modern world has largely lost this ability to relive “sacred time” because the Hebrews (as Eliade now calls them) broke with the cyclical time of “the eternal return” by linking God with linear time. “The Hebrews,” he writes, “were the first to discover the significance of history as the epiphany of God,” and this discovery of history ultimately led to all the ills of the modern world. Daniel Dubuisson, a French analyst of Eliade’s views on mythology, concludes that this summary notion of history “especially invents a new accusation against the Jews, that of an ontological crime, a capital crime and without doubt unpardonable.” Eliade thus remained true to himself in this erudite disguise during his later years, when his worldwide fame reached its apogee and his death was mourned with sanctimonious reverence.

The most complicated case of all was Cioran, whose later writings are shot through with passages that may be read as implicit expressions of regret for his earlier convictions, but who never seemed able to repudiate them publicly. He was much more forthright in his correspondence and in private conversation. In a letter to a friend, Cioran declared in 1971 that “when I contemplate certain of my past infatuations, I am brought up short: I don’t understand. What madness!” This would certainly seem to indicate their rejection on his part. In conversation with the author of a book about the commandant of Auschwitz, he said: “What Germany did amounts to a damnation of mankind.”

There can be no question that, unlike Eliade, the issue of his previous fascism and anti-Semitism tormented the complicated, involuted, self-questioning Cioran, whose thought was always directed toward undermining all of mankind’s certainties, including his own. The analysis of the postwar Cioran given here is the most complex and controversial in Laignel-Lavastine’s book. He is depicted as both evading any overt responsibility for his past and also, “unlike Eliade,” weighed down by feelings “inseparable from a desire for expiation and a sense of diffuse guilt … [an] ‘oppressive sensation’ with which he admits sometimes awakening in the morning, ‘as if I bore the weight of a thousand crimes.'”

As in the case of Eliade, Cioran’s past sometimes came back to haunt him. Paul Celan, the great German poet of Romanian origin whose parents died in a Romanian camp and who had himself been deported to a labor camp, was also living in Paris and translated one of Cioran’s works, Précis de décomposition (A Short History of Decay), into German in 1953. The two saw each other from time to time, and Cioran came to the poet’s aid when Celan was fighting off accusations of plagiarism. Yet when a Romanian critic on his way through Paris laid out the particulars of Cioran’s past, Celan refused to have anything more to do with him. Despite this break, Cioran was deeply disturbed when he heard of the poet’s suicide. It is suggested that this relationship with a Jewish writer may also have been meant as the same sort of “cover” that Eliade exploited so successfully; but there is nothing to support such a suspicion except that, when Cioran was once asked whether he knew Céline, he mentioned Celan instead. One has the feeling here that, despite her own evident intention to be as fair as possible in stressing Cioran’s “ambivalence,” Laignel-Lavastine is pushing matters too far.

The same problem arises when she comes to Cioran’s attitude toward the Jews. When, for example, a new edition of his most anti-Semitic book, The Transfiguration of Romania, was published in Romania, he insisted that the chapter on the Jews be eliminated, along with a number of remarks about them scattered through the text: “I completely renounce a very large part [of the book] which stems from the prejudices of the past, and I consider as inadmissible certain remarks about the Jews,” he wrote to a friend. Nothing could be more explicit. Even more, in one of his later French books he included a section on the Jews called “Un peuple de solitaires” (“A Solitary People”) that was hailed as philo-Semitic. But Laignel-Lavastine believes this to be an illusion, because on comparing this text with what Cioran had written years ago, she finds that the image now given of the Jewish people and their history is much the same as that provided earlier–except that what had been evaluated negatively in the past is now given a glowingly positive spin. Moreover, Cioran continually identifies his own situation with that of the Jews, writing that “their drama [that of the Jews] is mine.” In 1970 he mused that “I lacked an essential condition fully to realize myself: to be Jewish.”

This obsessive self-identification with the Jews is interpreted as “the reversed expression of the same psycho-pathological phenomenon” that had earlier led to Cioran’s worst excesses. Perhaps so; but to glorify the Jews instead of vilifying them surely indicates some sort of change. Also, the objection is made that while Cioran often expresses regret about his errors of the past, he never does so except in general terms, without attempting to explain why they are now rejected. For Laignel-Lavastine, Cioran’s tantalizingly ambiguous relation to his past is hardly a genuine attempt to come to terms with the practical consequences of the ideas he once espoused and still, on occasion, seemed to toy with in a rhetorically half-amused fashion. She wonders whether, as was the case with Eliade, he was merely “translating into an acceptable language ideological motifs and attitudes [that are] ideologically disqualified in the West.” Petreu is much more affirmative on this issue, and cites someone who visited Cioran during his last days, when he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease: “From his hospital bed, desperately trying to overcome the symptoms of his disease, Cioran stumblingly told his guest: ‘I … am not … an … anti- … Semite.'”

Let me add my personal testimony at this point. During my years in Paris I met Cioran and saw him on a number of occasions, and we had a good many conversations (particularly but not exclusively about Russian literature, in which he took a passionate interest). Whatever the twists and turns of his troubled conscience, the brilliantly sardonic, self-mocking, and fascinating personality that I knew could not have been a conscious manipulator who would set out deliberately to deceive.

If there is a general criticism to be made of Laignel-Lavastine’s excellent book, it is that Cioran is pursued too relentlessly, perhaps in an effort to counteract his devoted admirers in France and elsewhere–the late Susan Sontag, for example, who introduced him to the United States. A lack of knowledge of the Romanian background allowed him to be seen innocently and too exclusively in the light of his soaring philosophical speculations. But if these are now shadowed by the political commitments that he himself later found incomprehensible, the reliable evidence of his genuine struggle to cope with his past deserves more sympathy. In Cioran’s case, compassion is not the enemy of truth.

Alain Finkielkraut comenta “Transfiguração da Romênia”

Finkielkraut: «Para Cioran, esse livro era uma vergonha»

Dois livros de Cioran, «Transfiguration de la Roumanie» et «De la France» são traduzidos pela primeira vez. Alain Finkielkraut comenta esses textos de juventude.

Le Figaro (02/04/2009)

Já se sabia sobre o autor de «A Derrota do Pensamento» que ele é um leitor apaixonado da obra de Cioran. Alain Finkielkraut considera esse romeno tornado apátrida um dos maiores escritores de língua francesa do século XX. À ocasião do lançamento [na França] de “Transfiguração da Romênia”, livro sulfuroso publicado em Bucareste em 1936, e traduzido integralmente pela primeira vez em francês, Finkielkraut esclarece as grandezas e as contrariedades de uma obra em parte fundada sobre a revogação de uma fascinação inicial pelo totalitarismo.

LE FIGARO LITTÉRAIRE – Qual foi a sua reação à leitura de «Transfiguration de la Roumanie» ?

Alain FINKIELKRAUT – Eu já tinha lido alguns trechos, notadamente os mais duvidosos, no ensaio demasiado crítico que Alexandra Laignel-Lavastine consagrou a Cioran, Eliade e Ionesco. Descobrindo a tradução integral de Transfiguração da Romênia, compreendi melhor o papel desse livro no conjunto da obra de Cioran. Os “redentores do passado”, que são muitos hoje em dia, denunciam uma espécie de disfarce. Cioran teria dissimulado um pecado original. Ele teria ocultado esse pecado para vender a um Ocidente ingênuo uma imagem aceitável. Pessoalmente, penso que não se trata de um disfarce, mas de uma conversão. Para Cioran, esse livro de juventude – eu diria, mesmo, de adolescência – é uma vergonha. É assim que Transfiguração da Romênia o acabou levando a desconfiar de si mesmo. A epígrafe do Breviário de Decomposição, tirada de Richard III, de Shakespeare, é reveladora: “I’ll join with black despair against my soul, and to myself become an enemy”. Cioran expiou os seus entusiasmos, converteu-se à forma elegante contra a força elementar, converteu-se ao ceticismo, ao desespero, e escreveu em francês. Ele escolheu a França não como cidadania, mas como língua, para se liberar do instinto. Em Transfiguração, ele escreve: “Seria necessário suprimir todos aqueles que não são consumidos pela consciência de uma missão”. No Breviário de Decomposição, ele mostra como podem tornar-se sanguinários os homens possuídos por essa crença.

LE FIGARO LITTÉRAIRE –Você fala de um pecado de juventude. Qual falta contra o espírito o teria levado a ceder à tentação fascista? O culto do irracional, o vitalismo niilista, o anti-humanismo, o historicismo? Ou talvez o desespero?

Alain FINKIELKRAUT – Para retomar o diagnóstico do próprio Cioran, eu diria que o seu pecado de juventude é a juventude como pecado. Em um texto do início dos anos 50, Cioran escreve: “Quando eu era jovem, toda a Europa acreditava na juventude. São os jovens que promovem as doutrinas de intolerância e colocam-nas em prática, são eles que têm necessidade de sangue, de choro, de tumulto e de barbárie.” A mim me parece que Cioran mete o dedo na grande infelicidade do século XX. Uma infelicidade profetizada por Dostoievski naquela conversa de Os Demônios em que Piotr Verkhovensky pergunta aos conspiradores o que eles preferem: caminhar por um pântano a uma velocidade de tartaruga, ou atravessá-lo a todo vapor. Um “colegial entusiasmado” responde: “Eu preferiria atravessá-lo a todo vapor”. Cioran era esse colegial entusiasmado. Ele cedeu igualmente ao historicismo. Ele comenta essa ilusão nos seus cadernos: “Não exija de mim que eu creia que a História possui uma finalidade e a Humanidade, um porvir. O homem passará de dificuldade em dificuldade, e será assim até que ele expire.” Por tudo isso, pode-se ver que toda a sua obra é uma meditação crítica sobre esse delírio inaugural.

LE FIGARO LITTÉRAIRE – Como você explica a aquiescência de Cioran ao preconceito anti-semita?

Alain FINKIELKRAUT – Na origem do seu anti-semitismo, eu vejo primeiramente a megalomania do cidadão de uma pequena nação, que diz a si mesmo: “Nós não somos nada e nós seremos tudo. Os outros falarão de nós custe o que custar.” Sem dúvida, a megalomania de uma pequena nação relegada às margens da história acaba nutrindo uma inveja em relação aos judeus, um pequeno povo situado em plena luz. É possível sentir essa inveja em ação. Assim, mesmo que Cioran tivesse simpatizado com essa organização monstruosa que foi a Guarda de Ferro, ele mantém uma divergência fundamental em relação aos legionários: ele não imputa o marasmo romeno aos judeus. Ele não cede à facilidade da paranóia. Eis um elemento muito importante para compreendê-lo. Alguns o acusam, entretanto, de não haver mudado após a guerra. Ele teria permanecido obcecado pelos judeus e se contentado em inverter os signos, passando-os do negativo ao positivo. Essa inversão mesma testemunharia a sobrevivência de sua hostilidade fundamental. Para mim, isso não é verdade. Eu penso que haveria nessa fascinação pelos judeus algo que poderia preparar Cioran a prestar homenagem aos judeus. É a persistência do nome judeu que nutria a sua fascinação. Ele disse: “Os judeus não são um povo, mas um destino”.

LE FIGARO LITTÉRAIRE – Contrariamente aos acusadores de Cioran, você acredita na sua sincera e profunda conversão. Como explica esse movimento?

Alain FINKIELKRAUT – Cioran rompe com a tentação totalitária quando se torna um escritor de expressão francesa e se inscreve, em pleno século XX, na linhagem dos moralistas clássicos. Os moralistas não são construtores de moral, mas pessoas que divulgam uma verdade dolorosa. Cioran junta-se aos moralistas a partir de 1941, através do texto pivotal intitulado “Sur la France”, que se descobre agora junto com Transfiguração. Trata-se de um livro escrito em romeno, mas o estilo já é francês, como se nota na tradução maravilhosa de Alain Paruit. No fundo, a resposta dos moralistas é a resposta daqueles que não se enganam com Rousseau. De um lado, está a idéia de estabelecer um regime perfeito que encontre uma solução política ao problema humano. E do outro, está uma lucidez inquieta que nos vacina contra essa tentação. O desespero de Cioran não o conduz necessariamente, de resto, a uma visão obscura da natureza humana. Eu me recordei de uma passagem extraordinária dos seus cadernos: “Ódio e acontecimento são sinônimos. Lá onde há ódio, alguma coisa acontece. A bondade, por outro lado, é estática. Ela conserva, interrompe, carece de virtude histórica, freia todo dinamismo. A bondade não é cúmplice do tempo, enquanto que o ódio é a sua essência”. Não se imagina Cioran fazendo esse elogio da bondade. E, no entanto, mesmo se ele foge da idéia de estabelecer um regime sem mal, permanece aquilo que Vassili Grossman chama de la petite bonté, la bonté sans regime (“a pequena bondade, a bondade sem regime”).

LE FIGARO LITTÉRAIRE – Para esclarecer os delírios de « Transfiguração », você mencionou a sobrevalorização da juventude. Ela se enche de anti-intelectualismo quando Cioran escreve numa carta: “A salvação não está nas bibliotecas”. Em vez de der tempo com os “redentores do passado”, não faríamos melhor se nos inquietássemos ao ver esse anti-intelectualismo novamente em cena?

Alain FINKIELKRAUT – O anti-intelectualismo é o grande mistério do século XX. A apologia da ação e da força vital, a vida como expansão, eis o fascismo por excelência. Mas encontramos, por outro lado, a mesma forma de hostilidade ao intelecto, que apareceu pela primeira vez entre os populistas russos quando diziam: “um par de botas vale mais do que Shakespeare”. Esse anti-intelectualismo que não é feroz, mas em aparência generoso, consiste em pensar que a história não é feita pelos intelectuais, mas pela luta dos homens entre si. O anti-intelectualismo contemporâneo é diferente. Ele surge não da imediatidade do instinto, como no caso do jovem Cioran, mas da imediatidade da técnica. No universo midiático do tempo real, nenhuma meditação é necessária, nenhum esforço mais, nenhum saber, nenhuma biblioteca, nenhuma ascese. Tudo está aí, agora. Esta forma de anti-intelectualismo é particularmente perniciosa porque não é uma ideologia que no-la propõe, é uma tecnologia que no-la oferece.

La escritura como expiación

Rafael Conte – El País, 23 Noviembre 2002

El breve relato que de un viaje a Ibiza realizó Emil M. Cioran (1911-1995) ayuda a comprender el misterio que impregna la obra del autor francorrumano. Su publicación en España coincide con la edición en Francia de un duro estudio sobre Cioran, Eliade e Ionesco, rumanos de nacimiento, fascistas en su juventud, y que luego intentaron inútilmente hacer olvidar su pasado.

Durante el mes de agosto de 1966, el gran escritor francorrumano Emil M. Cioran estuvo en la isla de Ibiza en el pueblecito de Talamanca, que ya había conocido anteriormente, le fascinó de nuevo y donde tuvo una especie de experiencia mística de la que dejó testimonio en estas breves páginas que ahora han sido recuperadas primero en Francia por su traductora al alemán Verena von der Heyden-Rysch y ahora traducido y prologado entre nosotros por Manuel Arranz. Ambos traductores insisten en sus presentaciones en la hispanofilia de Cioran, al que todo lo español le sedujo desde siempre, de lo que además pude ser testigo personal, pues le visité algunas veces en los años setenta en su domicilio parisino, llevado de la mano de su primera traductora al español (México), la escritora judeomexicana Esther Seligson. Estoy seguro de que si Cioran me abrió las puertas de su singular casa -un conjunto de chambres de bonne concatenadas, que parecía a la vez angosto y espacioso dada su austeridad y elegante sencillez, frente al Teatro del Odéon- con tal cordialidad, paciencia y vitalidad fue por tres circunstancias concretas: primero, por la introducción de la amiga y escritora citada, verdadera apasionada por la obra de Cioran, a quien veneraba desde hacía años; después, por el hecho de ser español, algo que al escritor, buen lector de Unamuno y Santa Teresa, le fascinaba, y que además era un frecuente viajero por nuestra tierra, que había conocido recién acabada la segunda gran guerra, cuando entró a través de la frontera pirenaica legalmente cerrada todavía, con pasaporte diplomático y montado en bicicleta ante el asombro de los funcionarios, y en tercer lugar, por un morboso detalle personal: por aquel entonces yo padecía una misteriosa enfermedad de quita y pon, diagnosticada como “vértigo Mènier”, sobre la que Cioran, a quien encantaban toda suerte de mareos, me interrogaba sin cesar.

La lectura de este nuevo texto inédito de Cioran -mencionado, aunque sólo de pasada, en sus póstumos Cahiers (1957-1972), publicados en 1997 por su compañera Simone Boué, inesperadamente fallecida poco después- ha coincidido con la lectura, el verano anterior, del segundo libro citado al pie de este comentario, un estudio universitario francés sobre tres importantes figuras de la cultura rumana de preguerra, que alcanzaron después -en el exilio y escribiendo en francés- celebridad universal: el moralista Emil M. Cioran, el historiador de las religiones Mircea Eliade y el dramaturgo Eugéne Ionesco, tres grandes figuras de la cultura de nuestro tiempo, que fueron fascistas en su juventud -al menos los dos primeros, el último sólo colaborador, diplomático de un régimen que sí lo era- y que después de la guerra ocultaron inútilmente las huellas de sus “pecados” juveniles, abandonando su patria y su lengua para proseguir sus respectivas carreras con el éxito que después todos hemos conocido. Bastaría con evocar a Ionesco (que fue un liberal “clandestino” en la Rumania de los Codreanu, Horia Sima y Antonescu, “legiones del arcángel Miguel” y criminales y antisemitas “guardias de hierro”, aunque al final fue un fiel servidor diplomático de ese mismo régimen en Vichy, ante la Francia del régimen colaboracionista del mariscal Pétain), llegando a ser uno de los fundadores del “teatro del absurdo”, miembro de la Academia Francesa y hasta autor en el catálogo de La Plèiade, instalado al final en un simple anticomunismo visceral; o como el gran antropólogo, folclorista e historiador de las religiones Mircea Eliade, quien llegó a soñar con un premio Nobel de Literatura que se le negaría mientras mentía sin parar -y sin vergüenza- sobre sus nazis, fascistas, racistas y antisemitas desbordamientos juveniles. O al mismo Cioran, instalado en un escepticismo total viendo el curso de la guerra -que había sido un admirador incondicional de Hitler y el nacionalsocialismo alemán-, quien luego se enterró bajo tierra, sólo habló en voz baja de sus “errores de juventud” echando balones fuera y se dedicó a labrar en una prosa francesa de raíces pascalianas, una “antimoral” brutal y negativa de primera e incomparable calidad, como si se tratara de una inacabable y melódica expiación perpetua.

La requisitoria de Alexandra

Laignel-Lavastine es brutal pero incontestable. Lo único objetable es que con sus enemigos muertos -esto es, a toro pasado- les niegue al final el derecho a cambiar, en la medida en que lo hicieron: menos, en el caso de Eliade, porque su fascismo se anclaba en sus aspiraciones mitológicas y orientalistas que le inspiraron hasta el final. O en los coqueteos del más liberal que fue Ionesco con las operaciones “culturales” de la CIA o la derecha francesa más ultraconservadora. Aunque en mi opinión, la obra de creación de Eliade -su narrativa fantástica- siga siendo válida, como la teatral de Ionesco. O como la “moralista-negativa” de Cioran, el mismo que intentó inútilmente salvar a Benjamín Fondane, y no pudo reconciliarse con Paul Celan, que es un ejercicio de hermosura y lucidez tan negro como deslumbrante. Y aquí vemos a Cioran extasiarse ante el mar de Ibiza y seguir purgando sus pecados: “Siempre he sentido veneración por lo que me faltaba. Mi pasión por Alemania… Siempre he desconfiado de quienes se me parecen… y que comprendo desde dentro”. O a quien dijo, pese a sus amores hispánicos, aquello de que “la Iglesia católica inventó a España para destruirla mejor” (Silogismos de la amargura).

Quizá el misterio que impregna toda la obra en francés de Cioran -la buena- se explique mejor leyendo este libro bajo este punto de vista. Pero también lo explica el misterio rumano en su conjunto, el de ese país que conserva en pie 12 monumentos al mariscal Antonescu, criminal de guerra y ejecutado al final de una guerra que perdió por apuntarse al bando equivocado, y de donde huyeron exiliados hombres y artistas como los citados, o estafadores como el antisemita Constantin Virgil Gheorgiu (el de La Hora Veinticinco) que terminó como pope ortodoxo, o que nos permitió albergar en la España de Franco al buen profesor Jorge Uscatescu, el excelente novelista e intelectual que fue Vintila Horia, al crítico Cirilo Popovici, a Horia Sima, sucesor de Codreanu, el fundador de la Guardia de Hierro, o en Europa al pintor Victor Brauner, al gran escultor Brancusi o al inventor del dadaísmo, el rumano Tristan Tzara. Anticomunistas desenfrenados casi todos, antisemitas y fascistas en su mayoría, conversos pocos (los jóvenes huidos, como Lucien Goldmann o Serge Moscovici), pero también hay que recordar que la mayor parte de legionarios y guardias de hierro militaron después en las filas del comunismo rumano posterior, y que, entre otras cosas y cuando la pesadilla terminó, se comportaron con Ceausescu de una manera tan ilegal como las suyas de antes, ya nadie cree hoy en las falsas tumbas de Timisoara, ni en sus riquezas acumuladas, ni en la ilegalidad de su “proceso” y asesinato, el de un “Neo-Conducator” que era como lo habían sido todos los demás y por eso estas historias me fascinan hasta el punto de que no puedo dejar de leerlas jamás, y que así siga.

Noir Cioran (Phillippe Sollers)

La scène se passe en Roumanie dans les années 1930 du XXe siècle, c’est-à-dire nulle part. Il y a là un fils de pope particulièrement brillant et agité : Cioran. Il souffre, il déteste son pays, il suffoque, il n en peut plus, il rêve d’un grand chambardement révolutionnaire, il est mordu de métaphysique mais son corps le gêne, il désire de toutes ses forces un violent orage. Le voici: c’est Hitler. A partir de là, crise radicale : Cioran appelle son pays à une totale transfiguration. Il a 22 ans à Berlin, la fascination a lieu, il s’engage : «Celui qui, entre 20 et 30 ans, ne souscrit pas en fanatique, à la fureur et à la démesure, est un imbécile. On n’est libéral que par fatigue.»

Le ton est donné, et l’embêtant est que cet enragé très cultivé est plein de talent. Il a besoin de folie, dit-il, et d’une folie agissante. Il fait donc l’éloge de l’irrationnel et de l’insensé, il a envie de faire sauter les cimetières, il nie, en oedipe furieux, le christianisme mou de son curé de père, il prend le parti de sa mère, pas croyante, mais qui fait semblant… [+]

Un caníbal en París

Rafael Narbona | Publicado el 08/04/2011 en El Cultural (España)

Emile M. Cioran (Rasinari, Tansilvania, 1911-París, 1995) cultivó el desarraigo, el nihilismo, la desesperación y una autocomplaciente megalomanía: “Durante toda mi vida he alimentado la extraordinaria pretensión de ser el hombre más lúcido que he conocido”. Es imposible leer estas líneas y no recordar a Nietzsche, planteándose en Ecce Homo: “Por qué soy tan sabio? ¿Por qué soy tan inteligente? ¿Por qué sé yo algunas cosas más?”. Cioran poseía una personalidad tan acusada como la de Nietzsche, pero no hay ninguna convergencia esencial, salvo la hostilidad hacia la metafísica cristiana y el desprecio por una burguesía que identifica la excelencia con el éxito material. Nietzsche se consideraba un reformista, un pedagogo. Su ataque contra la tradición judeocristiana y el igualitarismo democrático está orientado a restablecer los valores aristocráticos de la Antigüedad grecolatina. Cioran se limita a destruir la noción de valor, sin ofrecer ninguna alternativa. Desde su punto de vista, todo es perfectamente insignificante. El ser carece de sentido y cualquier valoración es arbitraria e irracional. Es indiferente actuar o permanecer inactivo. Al final, todo se perderá en el mismo vacío insustancial.

Cioran invierte el famoso apotegma de Spinoza, según el cual “un hombre libre en nada piensa menos que en la muerte”. No es cierto. Un hombre libre, racional y consecuente, sólo anhela “desnacer”. “Un hombre libre -prosigue Cioran- cultiva el desapego y entiende que el nacimiento es el más grave e intolerable de los males”. Nietzsche afirma que hace filosofía a martillazos, pero cuando finaliza su trabajo de demolición, rescata el amor fati del estoicismo: hay que amar la vida, incluso cuando nos trae el infortunio. Cioran no encuentra ninguna razón para amar la vida. De hecho, dedica muchas páginas al suicidio, sin ocultar su fascinación por un gesto que interpreta como una liberación: “El suicidio es el nirvana por la violencia”. El ser humano es una especie maldita y dolorosamente intrascendente. Pensar en Dios o en un alma inmortal es ridículo, pero no hay que afligirse por nuestra finitud. “No haber nacido -fantasea Cioran-, de sólo pensarlo, ¡qué felicidad, qué libertad, qué espacio!”. Cioran reconoce que ha cometido todos los delitos, menos el de ser padre. Al igual que su compatriota Ionesco, escribe en francés. Se ha comparado su estilo con el de Paul Valéry, pero en Cioran hay más intensidad, más apasionamiento. Su prosa está más cerca del espíritu irreverente y clarificador de los libertinos. En cierto sentido, recuerda al marqués de Sade, pero aplacado por la lectura de Lucrecio y Schopenhauer. Aficionado a los burdeles, Cioran no denigra el placer, pero se niega a transformarlo en un nuevo Absoluto. Hijo de un sacerdote ortodoxo, fantasea con ser el hijo de un verdugo, pero no repudia su infancia, un período de felicidad adánica, primordial, que empezó a resquebrajarse a los 17 años, cuando aparecen las crisis de insomnio. En esa época, comienza a estudiar filosofía en la universidad de Bucarest y en 1934 publica su primer libro: En las cimas de la desesperación. El título es grandilocuente y la prosa enfática, pero las grandes ideas de su pensamiento ya están formuladas con intolerable nitidez. Su nihilismo no es una pose filosófica, sino una actitud existencial que malogra su carrera como docente: “Un día me sorprendieron intentando enseñar a mis alumnos que todo está viciado, incluso el principio de identidad”. Sólo dura unos meses en el Instituto Andrei – Saguna de Brasov. Será su primera y única ocupación laboral.

Antes de marcharse a París en 1937, la influencia del profesor Nae Ionescu le pondrá en contacto con los círculos nacionalistas que admiran a Hitler. Su estancia en Berlín entre 1933 y 1935 sólo acentúa su entusiasmo por el nazismo. “Sueño con una Rumanía con el destino de Francia y la población de China”. Años más tarde, describirá su militancia política como una etapa de ofuscación caracterizada por “el extraño furor de la sumisión”, un sentimiento que también afectó a Mircea Eliade. Ambos se alistaron a la Guardia de Hierro y soñaron con una Rumanía imperial. En 1946, Cioran rectifica: “Ahora estoy inmunizado contra todo, contra todos los credos del pasado, contra todos los credos del futuro”. Superar el virus nacionalista no afectará a su pasión por España y sus escritores (Santa Teresa, San Juan de la Cruz, Unamuno): “Si Dios fuera un cíclope -escribe-, España sería su único ojo”.

A partir de 1937, disfruta de una beca de doctorado en la Sorbona, pero no acude a clase ni trabaja en la tesis. Se dedica a leer compulsivamente y a recorrer Francia en bicicleta. En 1949 aparece su primer libro en francés: Breviario de podredumbre. La crítica reconoce de inmediato su importancia. El nihilismo de Cioran es más implacable que la náusea de Sartre. El ser humano no puede esperar nada: “Nuestro destino es pudrirnos con los continentes y las estrellas, pasear como enfermos resignados, y hasta el final de las edades, hacia un desenlace previsto, espantoso y vano”.

Cioran sostiene que las certezas se desvanecen cuando pensamos a fondo las cosas. Esta perspectiva no impedirá encadenar un libro tras otro: La tentación de existir, La caída en el tiempo, El aciago demiurgo, Del inconveniente de haber nacido. A pesar del reconocimiento, vive en una relativa pobreza, reivindicando su condición de apátrida y su existencia parasitaria, al margen de cualquier oficio o profesión: “Sólo una prostituta sin clientes es más perezosa que yo”. Pese a su obsesión por el suicidio, Cioran murió a los 84 años, con la mente abatida por el Alzheimer. En Breviario de podredumbre, había citado entre sus héroes a Kleist, Nerval, Weininger, egregios suicidas “que obtuvieron en la muerte la conclusión justa de su amor contrariado o satisfecho”. Sin embargo, aguantó el ultraje de la edad y la pérdida progresiva de su lucidez mental. ¿Acaso fue un impostor? Amante de las paradojas, nunca pretendió dejar un legado. Su escritura sólo refleja las contradicciones de un hombre que jamás se preocupó de complacer a los demás y que no ocultó sus pasiones más turbias: “A veces quisiera ser caníbal, no tanto por el placer de devorar a Fulano o Mengano como por el de vomitarlo”. Cioran fue un ogro exquisito y adorable que ahora se pasea por la eternidad con una flor marchita en el ojal. Desde luego, yo le echo mucho de menos y creo que no soy el único.

Cioran (L’Éxpress.fr)

LES ECRIVAINS DU BAC

Cioran

Par Jean Montenot (Lire), publié le 01/04/2011 à 09:00 — L’Éxpress.fr

Né en 1911 en Roumanie, le philosophe a composé une oeuvre pessimiste dont les titres donnent le ton : Précis de décomposition, De l’inconvénient d’être né… Marqué par son enfance et des insomnies terribles, il doit à la discipline de la langue française ses aphorismes hors de mode. 

Un Cioran peut-il en cacher un autre ? La “redécouverte” du passé roumain un peu trouble d’Emil Cioran a jeté une ombre sur cet écrivain admiré en France pour son style qu’on se plaît à rapprocher de celui des moralistes français des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles. Avant d’être le chantre du scepticisme, Cioran fut en effet une étoile montante de la Jeune Génération intellectuelle d’une “Grande Roumanie” à peine née des découpages des traités et déjà en train de s’effondrer sous le poids de ses propres contradictions. C’est dans ce contexte qu’il a eu ses “moments” d’égarement fanatique, proférant des convictions qui ne sont pas du meilleur aloi, fascisantes, xénophobes, antisémites même.

Ce “Cioran roumain” a longtemps été éclipsé par la personnalité affable et discrète de l’écrivain exprimant dans un français sobre et concis tout le tragique et le dérisoire de l’existence humaine. Le retour de ce méchant fantôme a déclenché post mortem autour de Cioranune petite agitation médiatique et littéraire, réveillant les sycophantes de la bien-pensance, sempiternels chiens de garde du passé vu du présent, plus soucieux de juger que de comprendre. La noirceur et le pessimisme de ses écrits – difficile dans le cas de Cioran d’éviter ce terme galvaudé – n’expliquent cependant pas le succès – certes tardif, mais croissant – d’une oeuvre qui, à bien des égards, se situe hors du temps et des modes. Il suffit de rappeler les titres des essais et des recueils d’aphorismes qui ont fait sa réputation, puis sa notoriété d’écrivain français pour s’en convaincre : Précis de décomposition,Syllogismes de l’amertumeLa tentation d’exister, La chute dans le temps, De l’inconvénient d’être néEcartèlement, Aveux et anathèmes, L’élan vers le pire, Chance de l’échec. Autant dire un programme pour neurasthéniques composé de bréviaires pour dépressifs ! Pis, ce Schopenhauer transylvain séduit (et agace) d’autant plus qu’il semble avoir pris plaisir à s’abaisser lui-même : “Le plaisir de se calomnier vaut de beaucoup celui d’être calomnié1.” Par-delà les légendes, il faut retracer l’itinéraire de ce penseur qui s’étonnait que “la perspective d’avoir un biographe n’ait fait renoncer personne à avoir une vie2”.

Paradis perdu

Comme la plupart des écrivains, Cioran est d’abord un exilé de son enfance. Quelque chose s’est brisé en lui, répète-t-il, quand il a dû quitter Rasinari, son village natal, pour aller au lycée de Sibiu. Dans une notule des Cahiers, parus après sa mort, il décrit ainsi ce moment-clé : “Un de mes souvenirs les plus précis et les plus déchirants de mon enfance. J’avais neuf ou dix ans ? On m’emmena à Sibiu, dans une voiture charrette. Je me trouvai derrière sur la paille. J’aperçus la coupole d’une des églises de la ville. Mon coeur se serra. On m’arrachait au paradis de ce village natal que j’idolâtrais3.” Reconstruction ex post sans doute, mais tout être humain vit de ces passés recomposés. Toute la suite, toutes les contradictions de la suite – aussi bien le vitalisme affecté et un peu ampoulé des “écrits politiques” de la jeunesse que la rhétorique de l’effondrement et l’esthétique du désespoir de la maturité – peuvent être interprétées comme des répliques de ce séisme initial qui chassa le jeune Emil du vert paradis de l’enfance.

Et pourtant, il n’y avait sans doute rien que de très banal pour un fils de protopope (un archiprêtre ou un archidiacre de l’Eglise orthodoxe roumaine) que d’aller étudier au lycée de la ville où son père exerçait son ministère. Pendant la Première Guerre mondiale, l’autorité de Budapest, dont la ville a dépendu jusqu’en 1920 et qui se méfiait des velléités indépendantistes des élites roumaines locales, déporta par précaution quelques notables, dont le protopope Cioran.

A Sibiu, placé chez deux vieilles filles saxonnes et germanophones, le jeune Cioran se frotta à la culture allemande, se pliant à la condition ordinaire des ressortissants des “petites nations” des Empires centraux d’avoir à vivre “entre deux civilisations”. Bachelier en 1928, il s’inscrivit à la faculté des lettres et de philosophie de Bucarest. Lecteur boulimique, il y approfondit sa connaissance de la philosophie allemande – “toute la sotte philosophie allemande” confia-t-il par la suite – puis étudia Bergson. Séduit par la doctrine de l’élan vital, il rédigea un mémoire de licence, primé magna cum laude, sur “L’intuitionnisme contemporain”, mémoire qui lui valut de décrocher une première bourse d’étude comme pensionnaire de la fondation Humboldt à Berlin en plein avènement de l’hitlérisme.

L’ennui et l’insomnie

Mais à cette description extérieure de la formation de Cioran, il convient d’ajouter deux expériences fondamentales qui permettent de comprendre en quoi la perte du monde primordial a pris pour Cioran le sens d’un “exil métaphysique 4”. Il y a d’abord l’expérience radicale de l’ennui qui se traduisit par le sentiment de la vacuité de toute chose et de l’inutilité de toute action : “Plus ou moins brusquement, chez soi ou chez les autres, ou devant un très beau paysage, tout se vide de contenu et de sens. Tout l’univers demeure frappé de nullité. Et rien ne nous intéresse, rien ne mérite notre attention5.” Cioran décrit l’ennui comme une sorte de démantèlement de l’être sous l’effet destructeur du temps dès lors qu’il n’est plus envisagé que comme une suite d’instants déconnectés les uns des autres : “Dès l’enfance, je percevais l’écoulement des heures, indépendantes de toute référence, de tout acte et de tout événement, la disjonction du temps de ce qui n’était pas lui, son existence autonome, son statut particulier, son empire, sa tyrannie. […] Je n’étais plus que fuite d’instants rebelles à remplir encore leur fonction propre6.” Il prit pour lui ou presque le mot de Saint-Simon à propos du Régent : “Il était né ennuyé7.”

La deuxième expérience fut l’insomnie chronique dont il souffrit très tôt, “une expérience extrêmement douloureuse, une catastrophe8”. L’insomniaque est exclu, retranché des vivants, en dehors de l’humanité. “Qu’est-ce que l’insomnie ? A huit heures du matin, vous en êtes exactement au même point qu’à huit heures du soir ! Il n’y a aucun progrès9.” Le monde humain devient après une nuit d’insomnie un monde de spectres. Cioran y voit la cause principale des suicides. Bref, une expérience du Néant, si l’on se paie de mots pompeux, assurément de l’empêchement de vivre. C’est la raison alléguée par Cioran pour expliquer pourquoi il n’a jamais pu travailler, ni faire une carrière, vivant d’expédients jusqu’à un âge avancé en éternel étudiant (une fois installé en France, il s’étonna de se voir refuser l’accès au restaurant universitaire : il avait à quarante ans largement dépassé la limite d’âge).

L’insomnie eut pour effet une fatigue qui s’ajoutait à une grande fatigue de vivre congénitale : “La fatigue est la spécialité de ma famille” (à Constantin Noica, 29 décembre 1979). Mais cette cruelle et atroce maîtresse des jours et des nuits lui fit aussi “comprendre des choses que les autres ne peuvent pas comprendre10”. Elle est, ajoute-t-il, “la plus grande expérience qu’on puisse faire dans sa vie. C’est la plus terrible, toutes les autres ne sont rien à côté.” C’est à l’insomnie aussi qu’il doit d’avoir formé son regard sur le monde : “C’est pendant ces nuits infernales que j’ai compris l’inanité de la philosophie11.” L’ennui et l’insomnie sont des condiments essentiels de l’oeuvre de Cioran. Sans ces conditions psychologiques et métaphysiques, sa vision paradoxale de l’être demeure inintelligible.

Les chimères d’une jeunesse roumaine

Avant de devenir l'”apatride métaphysique12″ qu’il a affecté d’être, “citoyen de nulle part” – si ce n’est de la langue française : “On n’habite pas un pays, on habite une langue. Une patrie, c’est cela et rien d’autre13” -, Cioran s’est fait depuis Berlin et Munich le zélateur d’une Allemagne se relevant sous la férule de Hitler. Revenu à Bucarest, il continue de rêver (sans y croire tout à fait d’ailleurs, c’est l’un des paradoxes de son “engagement”) à un redressement de ce genre pour ce peuple roumain – “cette foule d’ancêtres qui se lamentent dans mon sang14” – qui semble n’avoir d’autre destin que de subir.

Il sympathisa avec l’idéologie de la Garde de Fer, mouvement mystico-politique, antisémite, dirigé par Corneliu Codreanu. Cet illuminé, qui se croyait mandaté par saint Michel et se faisait appeler le “Capitanul”, voulait régénérer la Roumanie. Cioran n’est pas le seul. Avec lui, un groupe de jeunes intellectuels prometteurs (dont Mircea Eliade et Constantin Noica) donna, à des degrés divers, dans les lubies de Codreanu. L’enthousiasme apparent de Cioran pour la politique et l’histoire peut paraître difficile à comprendre quand on sait que, dès son premier livre intitulé Sur les cimes du désespoir (1933) – une sorte de journal intime ou de Confession d’un enfant du siècle -, il exprimait le pessimisme radical dont il ne s’est jamais dégagé. Mais à y regarder de plus près, il y a un lien entre le vide intérieur et l’adhésion provisoire aux mirages de l’époque : “Il y a en moi plus de chaos que l’âme humaine ne devrait en supporter […]. Je suis la contradiction absolue, le paroxysme des antinomies et la limite des tensions ; en moi, tout est possible, car je suis l’homme qui rira au moment suprême, à l’agonie finale, à l’heure de la dernière tristesse15.”

A cela s’ajoute un anti-intellectualisme certain : “La jeunesse de notre époque ne peut plus espérer se sauver par la bibliothèque.” C’est aussi l’avers d’une déception profonde à l’égard de la philosophie : “J’aime la pensée qui garde une saveur de sang et de chair, et je préfère mille fois à l’abstraction vide une réflexion issue d’un transport sensuel ou d’un effondrement nerveux. Les hommes n’ont pas encore compris que le temps des engouements superficiels est révolu, et qu’un cri de désespoir est bien plus révélateur que la plus subtile des arguties, qu’une larme a toujours des sources plus profondes qu’un sourire.”

Bien plus tard, Cioran devait écrire à son frère Aurel qu’il a plus appris de la rencontre des quelques bergers-philosophes de son enfance que de la lecture des grands systèmes : “Plus on est primitif, plus on est proche d’une sagesse originelle que les civilisés ont perdue. Le bourgeois occidental est un imbécile qui ne pense qu’à l’argent. N’importe quel cioban [berger] de chez nous est plus philosophe qu’un intellectuel d’ici16” (à Aurel, 6 avril 1972). Preuve si besoin était que la fiction commode des “deux Cioran” ne saurait empêcher d’en saisir l’unité : “Ma vision des choses n’a pas changé fondamentalement ; ce qui a changé à coup sûr c’est le ton. Le fond d’une pensée, il est rare qu’il se modifie vraiment ; ce qui subit en revanche une métamorphose c’est la tournure, l’apparence, le rythme17.” Cette remarque de la préface à la traduction allemande par Paul Celan du Précis de décomposition vaut mutatis mutandis pour l’ensemble de l’oeuvre de Cioran.

Une nouvelle Roumanie

Transfiguration de la Roumanie (1936), le livre le plus contestable de Cioran, est un appel à la naissance d’une nouvelle nation roumaine qui, “liquidant un héritage historique maudit”, se débarrasserait de la “gredinerie générale”, d’une “hérédité monstrueuse”, “hallucinante”. Le “miracle d’une autre Roumanie” qui ne soit pas médiocre, résignée, une Roumanie enfin à la hauteur d’un destin exige un “saut”. Et Cioran voit dans “l’exaltation jusqu’au fanatisme” le remède urgent qui, seul, peut sauver cette patrie. D’où des formules effrayantes : “Une Roumanie fanatique est une Roumanie transfigurée. La fanatisation de la Roumanie est la transfiguration de la Roumanie18.” Citons ces propos pénibles : “Je tiens l’hitlérisme pour un mouvement sérieux parce qu’il a su associer directement les problèmes inséparables de la justice sociale à la conscience historique de la nation”, et à propos des Juifs : “Nous ne pouvons pas nous rapprocher d’eux humainement car le juif est d’abord un juif et ensuite un homme. Phénomène qui se produit autant dans leur conscience que dans la nôtre.” Même s’il convient de tempérer ces formules par d’autres, on comprend pourquoi Cioran n’a guère tenu à s’étendre sur cette période. Cioran est sorti de son étrange délire, et son oeuvre française tient autant du repentir et du remords que de l’impérieuse nécessité de se guérir de cette ivresse de jeunesse. Ses multiples vaticinations contre toute forme d’idéologie ou de croyance politique ou religieuse y ont leurs racines : “Je suis immunisé contre tous les credo du passé, contre tout credo futur” (à Aurel, 8 septembre 1946). Même si l’oubli de soi que permettent l’action et le sacrifice aveugles pour des forces qui le dépassaient avait une dimension sinon thérapeutique du moins de dérivatif : un moyen de fuir un “moi” au bord de l’explosion.

Transfiguration de Cioran

Faute de réformer le monde, Cioran se réforme lui-même. Après avoir été pendant un an professeur de philosophie dans un lycée de Brasov, il se rendit à Paris pour y rédiger une thèse sur les “limites de l’intuition”, muni d’une allocation d’études sur trois ans de 1 000 francs par mois. Il s’installa au Quartier latin, vivant très chichement dans des hôtels peu coûteux et, pendant les vacances, sillonnant la France à bicyclette. Lors d’un bref retour en Roumanie (automne 1940-février 1941), il se fit nommer au service culturel de la légation roumaine auprès du gouvernement de Vichy, son éloge radiophonique19 du “Capitanul” défunt lui ayant fait entrevoir la possibilité d’une carrière diplomatique. Mais la chose tourna court : le chef d’Etat Antonescu s’était débarrassé, avec l’appui des Allemands, des légionnaires qui avaient tenté de le renverser. Cioran, démis de ses fonctions à Vichy en mai 1941, ne devait jamais retourner en Roumanie. Mentant un peu, beaucoup même, sur l’état d’avancement de ses travaux, il obtint la prolongation de sa bourse jusqu’en 1944. Dans le désastre général, Cioran tenta en vain de sauver Benjamin Fondane, écrivain juif roumain, preuve que les retournements essentiels commençaient à se produire en lui. “Comment ai-je pu être celui que j’étais20 ?”

Reste que le grand “saut” pour Cioran fut la décision d’écrire en français. Il aurait pu choisir l’anglais. Il s’était inscrit en 1941 comme auditeur libre aux cours d’agrégation d’anglais – il est vrai qu’il avait rencontré une angliciste, Simone Boué, qui devait devenir sa compagne. L’italien et l’espagnol l’attirèrent un temps. Il s’agissait de changer de langue pour tenter une mue rédemptrice : “Qui renie sa langue pour en adopter une autre change d’identité, voire de déceptions. Héroïquement traître, il rompt avec ses souvenirs et, jusqu’à un certain point, avec lui-même21.” Cioran entamait un dur combat contre lui-même.

Il a raconté plusieurs fois comment il a pris sa décision : “Je me trouvais dans un petit village près de Dieppe, en vacances, et je m’amusais à traduire Mallarmé en roumain. Et tout à coup je me suis dit : “Mais ça n’a aucun sens !” […] J’ai dit : “Non ! Je vais abandonner tout ça. Je vais me mettre à écrire en français22.”” En résulta son premier ouvrage : le Précis de décomposition, titre conforme à son contenu, mais pour Cioran ce fut surtout un précis de recomposition. Il affirma même être vraiment devenu écrivain quand il a commencé à comprendre combien la langue française lui imposait une discipline de pensée dont l’absence, dans sa langue maternelle, avait sans doute contribué à ses égarements. “Par tempérament, la langue française ne me convient pas : il me faut une langue sauvage, une langue d’ivrogne. Le français a été pour moi comme une camisole de force23.” Son oeuvre est le fruit de cette contrainte et de cet antagonisme surmontés.

Tombé du temps…

Cioran présente les sept dernières pages de son essai de 1964,La chute dans le temps, comme ce qu’il a écrit de “plus personnel” et “où [il a] exprimé ce qui [le] tenait le plus à coeur24”. Il s’agit d’un petit essai de phénoménologie toute personnelle de l’expérience temporelle. Cioran explique ne saisir chaque instant qui passe que sous l’angle de sa disparition non seulement possible, mais nécessairement programmée. “Ce que je distingue en chaque instant, c’est son essoufflement, son râle, et non la transition vers un autre instant25.” C’est ce vécu du temps qui le singularise et le distingue des autres : “Les autres tombent dans le temps ; je suis, moi, tombé du temps. A l’éternité qui s’érigeait au-dessus de lui succède cette autre qui se place au-dessous, zone stérile où l’on n’éprouve plus qu’un seul désir : réintégrer le temps, s’y élever coûte que coûte, s’en approprier une parcelle pour s’y installer, pour se donner l’illusion d’être chez soi.” Il n’y a pas de meilleure description de la condition cioranienne que ces pages où il tente d’éclaircir son rapport avec ce “faux jeton à l’échelle métaphysique26”, ce “succédané d’absolu” qu’est, à ses yeux, le temps. Cioran y philosophe certes, mais en refusant les facilités de l’abstraction. Ce rapport au temps, vu de ce Très-bas qu’il est devenu, a essentiellement à voir avec le renoncement à toute forme de destinée, et même de biographie ou de vie. La chute du temps est une forme de déchéance et l’homme déchu du temps est caractérisé par l'”insensibilité à son propre destin27″, il est “sans appui, en pleine irréalité ou en plein enfer. Ou dans les deux à la fois, dans l’ennui, cette nostalgie inassouvie du temps, cette impossibilité de le rattraper et de nous y insérer, cette frustration de le voir couler là-haut au-dessus de nos misères28”.

Conséquence même de son expérience d’avoir été jeté hors de l’Histoire, l’animal cioranesque se voit sombrer lentement : “Le spectacle de la déchéance l’emporte sur celui de la mort ; tous les êtres meurent ; l’homme seul est appelé à déchoir.” D’où vient cet appel, on ne sait. En revanche, il n’est pas d’échappatoire.

Alors triste Cioran ? Non pas ! L’acédie, les constats d’impossibilités et d’échecs, élevés au rang de principes ontologiques et de maximes de morale, sont comme contrebalancés, sinon contredits, par la joie de les énoncer dans une langue des plus claires. Bref, on ne peut s’empêcher de déceler dans le style de Cioran une sorte de jubilation, un peu comme s’il allumait constamment des contre-feux, afin qu’on comprenne bien que le refus de croire de ce sceptique radical atteignait aussi la conviction qu’il mettait à asséner ces vérités inutiles.

1. De l’inconvénient d’être né, in ?uvres, Quarto/Gallimard. 2.Syllogismes de l’amertume, in ?uvres, Quarto/Gallimard. 3. Note du 26 septembre 1970, dans Cahiers 1957- 1972, Gallimard. 4. De l’inconvénient d’être né, in ?uvres, Quarto/Gallimard. 5. Entretiens avec Fernando Savater, Entretiens. 6. De l’inconvénient d’être né, in ?uvres, Quarto/ Gallimard. 7. Entretiens, Arcades/Gallimard. 8. Op. cit. 9. Op. cit. 10. Op. cit. 11. Préface à Sur les cimes du désespoir, in ?uvres, Quarto/Gallimard. 12. Entretiens, Arcades/Gallimard. 13. Aveux et anathèmes, Gallimard. 14.Syllogismes de l’amertume, Gallimard. 15. Sur les cimes du désespoir, L’Herne, réédité en Livre de poche. 16. Cité par Patrice Bollon, Cioran l’hérétique, Gallimard. 17. Exercices d’admiration, in?uvres, Quarto/ Gallimard. 18. Transfiguration de la Roumanie, cité par Patrice Bollon, Cioran l’hérétique, Gallimard. 19. Le 27 décembre 1940, “Le profil intérieur du Capitaine”, Cahier de L’Herne. 20. Ecartèlement in ?uvres, Quarto/ Gallimard. 21. La tentation d’exister in ?uvres, Quarto/Gallimard. 22. Entretiens, Arcades/Gallimard. 23. Op. cit.24. Op. cit. 25. La chute dans le temps, NRF, Essais/Gallimard. 26. Op. cit. 27. Op. cit. 28. Op. cit.