E.M. Cioran and Slavoj Zizek: A Difficult Gnosis

“I am both wound and knife,” that is our absolute.

– E.M. Cioran, The Temptation to Exist

“The Hegelian Subject-Substance has nothing to do with some kind of mega-Subject who controls the dialectical process, pulling its strings: to be blunt, there is no one pulling the strings or determining the process – the Hegelian system is a plane without a pilot.”

– Slavoj Zizek, Interrogating the Real

Cioran is not for everyone. He either grabs hold of you are you toss his books into the flames glad that your fingers were not singed by the darkening embers of his fatal message. Like some ancient demon who crawled out of the fires of an alien world, Cioran infests our thoughts not so much with a knowledge about our lives as he does about the limits of this strange existence and its multifarious modes of being. In Zizek we find the interrogator not so much of the Real, but of the darkening contours of the Void without center or circumference: as self-reflecting negativity. Between Cioran and Zizek we discover a strangeness, a confrontation with inexplicable incongruities that merge into paradoxes and attain that shock of awareness which awakens us from our long sleep of unknowing.

“Almost all our discoveries are due to our violences, to the exacerbation of our instability. Even God, insofar as He interests us – it is not in our innermost selves that we discern God, but at the extreme limits of our fever, at the very point where, our rage confronting His, a shock results, an encounter as ruinous for Him as for us.”

– from The Temptation to Exist

If you have lived with Cioran as long as I have you realize the darkness is our only light, that one does not grow through some individuation of all those positive elements of one’s being, but instead one divests one’s self of all those positive crystallizations in the pure negativity of the Void, allowing all trace of what was formerly a life to vanish into the emptiness of absolute negation: extinction. Is this the ultimate form of nihilism? No. This is the self-reflecting negativity at the core of this struggle between the Void and the Real for Being; not its mirror reflection, but the crystal flamed integrity of its partial completion.

“Blasted by the curse attached to acts, the man of violence forces his nature, rises above himself only to relapse, an aggressor, followed by his enterprises, which come to punish him for having instigated them. Every work turns against its author: the poem will crush the poet, the system the philosopher, the event the man of action. Destruction awaits anyone who, answering to his vocation and fulfilling it, exerts himself with history; only the man who sacrifices every gift and talent escapes: released from his humanity, he may lodge himself in Being.”

– from The Temptation to Exist

Less than nothing, null and void, the identity dispersed among its fractures, under the folded weave of biological necessity we travel into the crack between the House of Being and the Real. Here the struggle begins and ends:

“However, the precise status of the transcendental subject is not that of what Kant calls a transcendental illusion or what Marx calls the objectively necessary form of thought. The transcendental I of pure apperception is a purely formal function which is neither noumenal nor phenomenal – it is empty… The parallel between the void of the transcendental subject and the void of the transcendental object – the inaccessible X that causes our perceptions – is misleading here: the transcendental object is the void beyond phenomenal appearances, while the transcendental subject already appears as a void.”

– Slavoj Zizek, Interrogating the Real

We inherit the great conflicts of the Greeks, the agon of the Mind, and its strange struggles to assert its strength against all comers. Those masters of the art of philosophical strife taught us to side with our dangers, to broaden the sphere of our diseases, to acquire existence by division from Being, through a ‘cut’, a wound. Knowing that at the core of our non-identity is a perfect vacuum, we learn as the universe itself learned, by struggle, fluctuation within this void, this emptiness, to create something, something new, something other… out of the fluctuations of this void the universe was born, the pulsing power of all warring things.

“When at every turn you confront us with “the absolute,” you affect a profound, inaccessible little ogle… all your labors result in no more than this. you murmur one poor word, the fruit of your reading, of your learned frivolity, of your bookish void, your borrowed anguish.”

 – from The Temptation to Exist

Like the Children of Hegel that we are, we parade our heresies before the delusional earth, neither expectant nor fully resolved to attain this becoming, this evolving absolute; no, instead, we breath to fast to be able to grasp things in themselves or expose their fragility. “Our panting postulates and distorts them, creates and disfigures them, and binds us to them.” Limning life we follow the traces into the truth of our extinction, a movement which changes us into generators of being, into artisans of gnosis-fictions, while our cosmogoinic verve exposes us to that greater forgetting, that aimless knowing that drifts between two thoughts, the thought of desire and the thought of death: acolytes of time, we become agents of decrepit universes, discoverers of ungrounded truths.

“What, then, is this new dimension that emerges in the gap itself? It is that of the transcendental I itself, its irreducible ‘spontaneity’: the ultimate parallax, the third space between the phenomenal and the noumenal, is the subject’s freedom/spontaneity, which – though not the property of a phenomenal entity, so that it cannot be dismissed as a false appearance which conceals the noumenal fact that we are totally caught in an inaccessible necessity…”

– Slavoj Zizek, Interrogating the Real

In the whirlwind of this regret we fly toward the paradox of our lives, knowing that we are already dead, that our thoughts are not our thoughts but ghosts of a world that has already gone extinct; yet, in this deadness we dream of life, the ultimate fragile thought on the far shores at the end of time. If we were able to ever grasp that thought or allow it to grasp us we would fail, we would lose the luminous freedom that allows us to know our own failure, we would become the very thing-in-itself, the lifeless, fruitless, automata: zombies or cyborgs without that sense of self-reflective negativity that makes us the other of that emptiness: the void of this divisive spin-whorl of a universe.

“In short, the direct access to the noumenal domain would deprive us of the very ‘spontaneity’ which forms the kernel of transcendental freedom: it would turn us into lifeless automata, or, to put it in today’s terms, into ‘thinking machines’.”

– Slavoj Zizek, Interrogating the Real

7 thoughts on “E.M. Cioran and Slavoj Zizek: A Difficult Gnosis

  1. If you’ll forgive a huge and unfair question — unfair only because I feel it’s probably the fundamental deadlock of contemporary theoretical research/development — but how might the Deleuzo-Guattarian/Spinozist/Nietzschean “vitalist” line of thinking be reconciled with Zizek/Hegel/Derrida’s “transcendental negatvitism”? On the one hand it seems possible to evade this disjunction without really dissolving it (I immediately think of Laruelle’s “generic use” of philosophical materials, “detached” from their positional mooring); on the other it seems to me that these two positions or gestures need to be made to stand face-to-face, and I feel a great deal of sympathy with your efforts to do this (to make-visible the stakes of theory today without getting locked into interpretosis) — I guess I just find myself wondering how you might approach thinking the two aspects of modern theory together. I find myself turning to Land, Negarestani and Malabou to try to break out of this deadlock; I see similar sort of operations in your work — again, just curious in what sense you might see these as effecting a ‘breakout’ from the knot theory seems to be stuck in today.

    In passing I did want to celebrate the extensive, diligent and perspicacious work you’ve been doing here. I look foward to seeing much more… 🙂


    • I agree with you in following the lead of Land, and Negarestani seems to be moving beyond Land into in his own search ( thinking of his latest lectures, etc.). I’ve been a little leary of Malbou, but do think the use she is putting to the ideas around ‘plasticity’ are fruitful… What’s tough is the sheer amount of intertextual and encyclopedic volume of data one needs to sort through these days…

      Sometimes I think we need to apply datamining concepts to all this information overload… haha put all of these texts into a multi-dimensional database then begin the process of inventing algorithms to filter the data based upon research needs… of late I’ve found that the ability to search concepts and notions backward and forward in kindle to be of great value… even pdf readers allow for complex searches. I also use find / grep routines within Cygwin on windows to allow for more complex filterings in my research… One of these days I’m going to have to create another blog about the more advanced techniques in research for philosophical and other forms of thought – heck I’m a software architect after all 🙂


  2. Thanks!

    Yea, I remember reading in Zizek’s Organs without Bodies where he describes Deleuze’s vitalism as the “pure flux of Becoming, its gradual “reification” into distinct entities” (28), and then goes on to see in this a Deleuzean involvement in the Hermetic tradition of Neo-Platonism. Zizek confuses Deleuze’s Spinozistic immanence with Plotinian emanationism, thereby bringing Deleuze under the banner of Idealism rather than materialism. At that point Zizek opts out with Badiou’s mathematization of the Real as ontology… but is not this, too, Idealism; just the idealism of numbers following a more Pythgorean/Platonic mode?

    Yes, it is true that Deleuze felt that in expressionist thought, being is not essentially substance, but unfolding power and dynamic process. This tradition has its roots in Neoplatonic schemas of emanation and in orthodox accounts of creation. In theological terms, the idea of an ultimate reality that is fundamentally will rather than substance is strongly suggested by scriptural accounts of creation, but was in some ways held back by the influence of classical Greek metaphysics, which tended to obscure the question of cosmogenesis by presuming the eternity of the world, and reality as an eternally perduring substance rather than a singular act of manifestation. Expressionism began to gain traction, however, in later attempts to use Neoplatonic ideas of emanation to understand creation. In this medieval and mystical vision, the divine plenitude was conceived of as flowing down from or expressed through a transdescendence in the orders of being, from those essential created forms Augustine called rations seminales (logoi spermatikoi) to the lowest orders of mineral and material substance.

    I think that it was Spinoza who brought this whole tradition to a head in his substance theories, and it is from this that Deleuze would later in Difference and Repetition and Logic of Sense refine many of these threads. Zizek on the other hand deals with the other side of the issue, the Void – both as Void-of-Self and as Void-of-Being with the resistance between the two being the Real.

    Deleuze and Zizek need a complementarity approach rather than a reconcilement of their disparate projects. One cannot reconcile them, but one can optimize there complementary affiliations.


  3. Hi Steven. I think Malabou is intoning the same approach as Turing did on the question of uncomputability. The question is “what to do with our brains now?” Science is entering the field of chaos. It could be the way replication is reasserting its tyranny, as Dyson puts it.


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