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

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Quote of the Day: Emile Cioran

Fate’s Mask

However far our thought ventures, however detached it is from our interests, it still hesitates to call certain things by their names. Where our supreme terrors are concerned, the mind evades them, spares and flatters us. Thus, after so many ordeals, when “fate” reveals itself to us, our mind bids us see it as a limit, a reality beyond which any quest would be pointless. But is it really that limit, that reality, as our mind pretends? We doubt it, so suspect does our mind seem to us when it seeks to bind us here and impose a destiny upon us. We realize that there cannot be an end, and that through it is manifested another force, this one supreme. Whatever artifices and efforts our mind produces to dissimulate it, we end nonetheless by identifying it, by naming it even. Then what seemed to accumulate all the claims of reality is no longer anything but a face? A face? Not even that, but a disguise, a simple appearance used by this force to destroy us without colliding with us.

“Fate” was only a mask, as everything is a mask that is not death.

– E. M. Cioran, The Temptation To Exist

E.M. Cioran – The Irreparable Uniqueness Of Things

“Existence is legitimate and valuable only if we are capable of discerning, at whatever level, even that of the infinitesimal, the presence of the irreplaceable. If we fail, we reduce the spectacle of process to a series of equivalances and simulacra, to a play of appearances against a background of identity. We imagine ourselves clearsighted, and doubtless we are, but our perspicacity, by dint of making us waver between the futile and the funereal, ends by plunging us into fruitless ruminations, in the abuse of irony and the complacencies of denial. Despairing of ever being able to confer upon our imprecise animosities the density of venom, and, moreover, weary of laboring over the invalidation of Being, we turn to those who, engaged in the enterprise of praise, superior to the shadows, dare consent to everything, because for them everything counts, everything is irreparably unique.”

– E.M. Cioran

E.M. Cioran’s Revenge: The Triumph of Failure

“Cioran’s work must be understood in the pervasive climate of disappointment with political utopias. In his critique of the liberal, decadent West and the totalitarian aberrations it had led to, Cioran capitalized on the experience of the century and voiced the “spirit of the age,” gaining recognition as “prophet” of the era. He snatched his personal victory from the jaws of Europe’s defeat. In this “triumph of failure” lies Cioran’s “revenge,” and the secret of his self-reconstruction.”

– Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston, Searching for Cioran

Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston tells us that E.M. Cioran was in “spite of appearances… a profoundly autobiographical writer.” [1] Through indirection and attack, and a dialogical critique of self and society, he created a unique blend of the personal and aphoristic which invoked the sign of prophet as cynic: and became the legendary “Recluse of Saint Sulpice”. From his lonely haunt in Paris he would castigate, harangue, – and with bitter and cynical delight, spit on the face of  humanity, spewing forth in book after book the aphoristic gloamings of a philosophy of despair that would take no prisoners and offer no reprieve. For Cioran writing was both a wound and a cure, a tribulation that one must undertake against all the pain of existence. Each book was a way of overcoming the the darkest impulses within us that would lead us to that ultimate despair of suicide, for, as he memorably put it: “un livre est un suicide différé” [a book is a postponed suicide]. [2]

I came to Cioran out of my own despair having come to a point in my own life when there was nothing left but suicide or the pen. There is something to the disquieting obstinacy of an intrepid spirit that seeks out a self-aggrandizing and ruthless self-examination of the darkest torments and self-doubts of the mind, then begins to ponder the ineluctable corruption at the heart of time in regards to all that is most decadent and monstrous; to know, to understand, to conquer those tendencies that would deign kill all that is most vital within us, and lead toward a bleakness at the heart of existence out of which shines the gall of a corrupted god. It is against this deadly spirit of negativity that all great writer’s must come to terms if they would continue beyond a merely parenthetical life; a life lived in brackets(i.e., no life at all; a haunted life, spectral and ghostly and invisible in its non-existence).

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E.M. Cioran: The Delusions of our Sadness

“However much I have frequented the mystics, deep down I have always sided with the Devil; unable to equal him in power, I have tried to be worthy of him, at least, in insolence, acrimony, arbitrariness, and caprice.”

– E.M. Cioran, Anathemas and Admirations

On rereading Edmund White’s essay on E.M. Cioran’s book Anathemas and Admirations I was reminded of my fascination with the power of the aphorism. White in his usual ironic self-riddling minimalism said of the late Cioran, he is “a Romanian who’s lived in France since 1937, admires Buddhism of the most unconsoling variety, has contemplated suicide for decades, esteems extremists, fanatics and eccentrics of all sorts and has instituted vertigo into his daily life. Instead of accumulating wisdom, he has shed certainties. Instead of reaching out to touch someone, he has fastidiously cultivated his exemplary solitude.”  He is another member of that small  band of epicurean pessimists who will – as Dylan Thomas, said, “not go gentle into that good night”

Cioran exemplified the dictates of Schopenhauer’s musings when he said: “Unless suffering is the direct and immediate object of life, our existence must entirely fail of its aim.” That other disciple of suffering, Friedrich Nietzsche said it this way: “The discipline of suffering, of great suffering – do you not know that it is this discipline alone which has created every elevation of mankind hitherto? That tension of the soul in misfortune which cultivates its strength, its terror at the sight of great destruction, its inventiveness and bravery in undergoing, enduring, interpretating, exploiting misfortune, and whatever of depth, mystery, mask, spirit, cunning and greatness has been bestowed upon it- has it not been bestowed through suffering, through the discipline of great suffering?”

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