When men can no longer bear the monotony and the banality of ordinary existence, they will find in each experience of the absolute an opportunity to commit suicide. The impossibility of surviving such extraordinary states of exaltation will destroy existence.
—E.M. Cioran, On the Heights of Despair
I may have said once or twice that I’d like to unmake or destroy the universe. But I don’t see how that casts me as a misanthrope. It’s just the grandiose aspiration of an ordinary pessimist.
—Thomas Ligotti (Interview)
I’ve read E.M. Cioran for decades, and for all his dark thoughts he did not go the full measure of its black mapping; no, he held back, he still dreamed the impossible dream of a childhood paradise, a place of refuge and comfort. No, Cioran still held out hope in his hopelessness, sought in the darkest abyss of existence for a glint of that secret portal into bliss and mystic delight. Failing this he was obliterated and ruined by its temptations till the end. Knowing that paradise is another hopeless dream he ended in the futility of all who hope, their hopelessness turning and spinning among its afterglow like children lost in a garden dreaming only to discover it is a pure and absolute nightmare land.
Once again, I’m rereading Cioran from the beginning for my book on Ligotti, seeing him through that author’s eyes (a fantasy of my own deep seated revisioning). His books:
On the Heights of Despair
The Book of Delusions
The Transfiguration of Romania
Tears and Saints
The Passionate Handbook
A Short History of Decay
All Gall Is Divided
The Temptation to Exist
History and Utopia
The Fall into Time
The New Gods
The Trouble with Being Born
Drawn and Quartered
Anathemas and Admirations
Cahiers 1957–1972 (“Notebooks”), Gallimard 1997
Ligotti’s quotes on Cioran in the Interviews:
“The Medusa” is my E.M. Cioran story: Thomas Ligott
The last great literary hero of mine was William S. Burroughs, and he’s been dead for some time now. I’m really very cynical about art with a capital “A” versus popular art. If you stand a certain distance away, which is the only place to stand, it all looks much the same. I patronize popular art in the form of movies and television. I have favorite movies and TV shows. But no movie or TV show will ever be able to provide me with the near fathomless pleasures I’ve derived, for example, from the stories of Jorge Luis Borges and Dino Buzzati, the essays of E. M. Cioran, or the poetry of Giacomo Leopardi. However, in the end, it’s all just entertainment.
To name only non-horror authors: Raymond Chandler, Philip Larkin, Vladimir Nabokov, Bruno Schulz, Dino Buzzati, Hagiwara Sakutaro, Thomas Bernhard, William Burroughs, Jorge Luis Borges, E. M. Cioran, Sadeq Hedeyat, S. I. Witkiewicz, Roland Topor. These are some of the authors whose complete works, and most secondary works on them, I’ve bought and read.
I just finished reading an essay called “The Last Messiah” by the Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe. It was written the 1930s and is the only work by Zapffe to be translated into English. In Zapffe’s view, human beings in general and human consciousness in particular are a mistake of nature and that the human species should stop reproducing as soon as possible in order to put an end to the tragic horror of our lives as conscious beings who spend all our time deceiving ourselves that life is worth living. This is a very concise statement of the sort of attitude that I find in authors who have most attracted my interest, including Schopenhauer, Lovecraft, E. M. Cioran, and certain Buddhist writers.
Thomas Bernhard very much resembles E. M. Cioran, whose philosophical essays are an assault on the highest level of the pure crumminess of all creation, a position that has led some commentators to classify him as a latter-day Gnostic— minus any god. Like Bernhard, Cioran is a consummate stylist, which is a vital quality for any writer whose essential attitude is that of negation. Readers with put up with the sloppiest, most puerile, and intellectually commonplace writer if only he brings them comforting lies. If you have nothing but bad news to offer, then you had better write in a sterling and entertaining manner. Both Lovecraft and Poe have been criticized for writing badly, which in their case means writing in an overly melodramatic style. It’s true that their prose is high-strung to hysterical. It’s also true that if they had not written in this way, nobody would be reading them today. The quality of their writing is precisely the reason that their works have endured. The darkest vision of life requires the most dazzling pyrotechnics of language. Of course, neither Lovecraft nor Poe is in the same literary class as Shakespeare, but Shakespeare’s plays are more tricked up soap operas than a vision of . . . anything. This qualifies in the eyes of some as that wise man of no opinions mentioned above or at least in a league with Stephen Dedalus’s artist-god who stands above creation paring his fingernails. How lofty and yet how human! It must be nice.
As for Cioran, he condemned the whole of Creation, in so many words, as a flaw in the natural order of nothingness. I couldn’t agree more.
These days I read only nonfiction, if I read anything at all. I recently reread all of E. M. Cioran’s works. That took a while. I’ve read a number of works relating to consciousness studies and, of course, mental illness. Those are very technical and hard on the brain, so I often search out video or audio lectures or interviews by the authors of these works on the Web. In the past year I read On Suicide: A Discourse on Voluntary Death by Jean Améry and Persuasion and Rhetoric by Carlo Michelstaedter. Both of these authors killed themselves, but their books would still be interesting if they hadn’t. I still read works by and about Buddhists.
…since the nineteenth century more and more have been allowed by the world to appear in greater numbers. At the moment I can’t think of anyone who qualifies as a mutant making an appearance since the death of E. M. Cioran, or at least anyone has written in English or been translated into English. But my standards for this sort of thing are pretty high.
The Conspiracy Against the Human Race is a pessimistic book, though it has often been found to be comical, even by those who did not endorse its views. Every pessimistic writer desires to write something that will cause a violent reaction in the reader’s mind. E. M. Cioran has written of composing a work that would cause the universe to explode. This is obviously a metaphorical ambition. But it was also my ambition, in addition to writing a self-help book for the terminally desperate and those who were tired of trying to pretend that being alive was all right.
Romanian-French writer E. M. Cioran wrote, pleasure simply prepares pain. I may have said once or twice that I’d like to unmake or destroy the universe. But I don’t see how that casts me as a misanthrope. It’s just the grandiose aspiration of an ordinary pessimist.