Cioran’s Delusion: The Autarky of Failure

“…we fall back on our defeats, we cling to them, failing to find their cause or their sustenance outside ourselves; common sense compels us to a closed economy, to the autarky of failure.”

E. M. Cioran,  All Gall is Divided

The only enemy Cioran had was himself, he allowed himself that one delirium. We all have our delusions, the illusory kernel of our hate and love alike. What he says of Nietzsche as well he says of himself:

A pamphleteer in love with his adversaries, he could not have endured himself had he not done battle with himself, against himself…1

Cioran did not seek to persuade others, only to strip himself of his own inheritance in the delirium of otherness and time. Step by step he erased the very origin of his own delusions till he like Beckett and Wittgenstein entered a state of absolute Silence.

There is no such thing as time, there is only that fear which develops and disguises itself as moments …, which is here, inside us and outside us, omnipresent and invisible, the mystery of our silences and our screams, of our prayers and our blasphemies.

…the descent to the depths demands silence, the suspension of our vibrations, indeed of our faculties.2

Cioran knew he had failed, no one can escape the delusory world of thought, erase its consequences. Condemed to memory he repeated the gestures of anathema till he effaced self and world alike. He allowed himself one vice, the company of fools and cynics:

The best of myself, that point of light which distances me from everything, I owe to my infrequent encounters with a few bitter fools, a few disconsolate bastards, who, victims of the rigor of their cynicism, could no longer attach themselves to any vice.

Thrown out of paradise by his father he would forever return to childhood as an exile, a victim of some accident of time and fate.

In later life, Cioran talked about his childhood with interviewers and wrote about it in his letters and his private journal. His early life, or rather his opinions and interpretations of it, shaped his philosophy. He was troubled by the fact that he was born in a marginal place whose role in history was so minor and abject that it was almost nonexistent. He felt that he was born with the “wrong” identity. The trauma of being born under humiliating historical circumstances marked his entire oeuvre, gradually rising from a personal level into an existential and metaphysical drama.

Cioran depicts himself as an energetic child, high-strung and hypersensitive but blissfully happy in the primitive world of his native village, driven out of that paradise by his father. These are his sunny memories of a splendid, timeless mountain village through which a robust little peasant boy, full of joie de vivre, moved aloof and alone, master of the universe. And then there are his troubled memories of a cursed mountain village in which history had wreaked havoc. There, a child of precocious sensibility, easily depressed, subject to fits of melancholy and absent-mindedness, and black humors that sent him sprawling on the floor in nervous spasms, he developed a double consciousness: of time and of its humiliations, its limits.3

His father being an orthodox priest would become for Cioran a goad to exile, to escape the father of the Father.

What else is to be expected of a career that began by an infringement of wisdom, by an infidelity to the gift of ignorance our Creator had bestowed upon us? Cast by knowledge into time, we were thereby endowed with a destiny. For destiny exists only outside Paradise. 4

History became for Cioran the fall into time, a realm in which the mere thought of a return to paradise became the knowledge of a mistake, a failure. Becoming human was for him the dark entry into a secret complicity, a corruption so severe that there would be no reprieve much less a redeemer. History was the hell from which no one can wake, a labyrinth of circles in which we continue to repeat our false gestures, seeking solace in our delusions as if faith and belief might absolve us of our failures:

Those moments when an essential negativity presides over our acts and our thoughts, when the future has expired before it is born, when a devastated blood inflicts upon us the certitude of a sagging, anemic universe, and when everything is dissolved into a spectral sigh answering to millennia of futile ordeals-such moments are the extension, the aggravation of that initial malaise without which history would not have been possible or even conceivable… (ibid.)

Like the heretics and Gnostics of old Cioran harbored a kindness toward the maleficent intelligence of History, a subtle rebuttal to the sybarites of rage and order:

A maleficent genius presides over history’s destinies. It plainly has no goal, but it is burdened by a fatality that replaces it, and which confers upon the future a simulacrum of necessity. … This suspect providence causes civilizations whose progress it governs always to depart from their original direction in order to attain the contrary of their goals, in order to decline with an obstinacy and a method which clearly betray the maneuvers of a dark and ironic power.5

The subtle influence from the far flung futurial gaze of this providential demiurge brought a sardonic smile to this ecstatic cynic, a slow burn of the flame and sword of thought which guide the undercurrents of our historical charades and superfluities.  Knowing we are all born under the sign of a fatal stigma he would confront it as the only war worth the struggle: “I have never stopped accusing my fate, for otherwise how would I have confronted it? To indict it was my only hope of accommodating myself to it and of enduring it.” (Drawn and Quartered)

Maybe in the end failure was not what we have come to expect, but is rather the only form of triumph against fate:

 Without the idea of a failed universe, the spectacle of injustice under all regimes would lead even an indifferent man to the straitjacket.

—Cahiers, 1957-1972

The old Gnostics believed the universe was a creation by catastrophe – a failed enterprise into which life had been thrown as an accidental rebel of a spurned thought. Renegades of a catastrophic thought we seek our silences in the interstices of a broken world, fragments of a fallen despair we know only the torments of a nostalgia – a secret path into paradise our only goal, a quest whose only termination is failure. In a letter to a friend Cioran yields us a mystery:

Am I a “renegade,” as you insinuate? “A man’s country is but a camp in the desert,” says a Tibetan text. I do not go so far and would give all the landscapes of the world for that of my childhood. Yet I must add that, if I make it into a paradise, the legerdemain or the infirmities of my memory are exclusively responsible. Pursued by our origins—we all are; the emotion mine inspire necessarily translates itself into negative terms, the language of self-punishment, of humiliation acknowledged and proclaimed, of an accession to disaster.6


  1. Cioran, E. M.. All Gall is Divided: The Aphorisms of a Legendary Iconoclast (Kindle Locations 371-372). Arcade Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  2. Cioran, E. M.. The Temptation to Exist (Kindle Location 413). Arcade Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  3. Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston. Searching for Cioran (Kindle Locations 456-459). Kindle Edition.
  4.  Cioran, E.M.. The Fall into Time. Quadrangle Books; First edition (1970)
  5. Cioran, E. M.. Drawn and Quartered. Arcade; 1 edition (November 13, 2012)
  6. E. M. Cioran. History and Utopia (Kindle Locations 97-101). Arcade. Kindle Edition.

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