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E. M. Cioran–The Undiscovered Atheist by Rocket Kirchner

Rhythm in a door

Image by zeze57 via Flickr

by Rocket Kirchner
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
Rocket Kirchner (blog)
Rocket Kirchner (youtube channel)
March 4, 2013

I first got turned on to the work of E. M. Cioran when a life long Atheist friend of mine was vacationing in Paris and stumbled on his work in a bookstore there. My friend was a brilliant guy and a librarian, and thought that he had exhausted all of the works of every Atheist worth his or her salt until he read Cioran. He just could not believe that he had never heard of this philosopher before. Of course in our usual all night beer drinking Christian verses Atheist debates, naturally he thought he had found THE smoking gun to smoke out my faith. Until he found out that Cioran takes a scorched earth policy and has as much contempt for his own Atheism as its Theistic counterpart.

Well, naturally I was intrigued and had to start reading this guy. I was floored right off the bat. Who is this guy? How is this man of contradictions after contradictions rolled within more contradictions in his rapier savage usage of words that confound all categories could I ever hope to get a handle on him? One part of me wanted to stop reading him, on the other hand I could not stop reading him. At first one might put the book down and call him a nihilist, only to pick it back up and find the most life affirming statement one has ever heard. What did he just say? He said that he would give anything to go back in time be a slave building the pyramids if only to lose himself in something so much greater than himself. Or how about this one: “The only sin I have never committed was being a father”. Cioran is undiscovered precisely because the waters of the mind he has charted are undiscovered. When he penetrates ones cerebral cortex he rides down Niagara falls in the barrels of your skull. This is tough medicine for us all. And that is exactly why all of us need to be smacked down hard by this Titan. It clears out the sinuses so to speak.

Just when you think he is a man of the Enlightenment, he says, “If I had the choice between the French Enlightenment and Outer Mongolia, I would take Outer Mongolia”. “Whatttt”??? is the response from the left bank Parisian community. Then he turns right around and says that it is, “Time for Diogenes the Cynic to challenge the Son of God”. Cioran has no problem with Fascism and Christendom, it is Christ personally who he hates. Usually with humanitarian Atheists it is the other way around. No, to this cranky brilliant Romanian he takes no prisoners. His aphorisms could be easily dismissed as mere rants if he wasn’t such a genius in the way he stabs you.

After reading a great deal of Cioran’s work I just could not find if there was anybody that he found was worth his time. Then I found one. He says that only the Cynics, the Saints, and the Insomniacs see clearly because they have gone past the twilight of the mind as civilization goes from logic to epilepsy. Cioran was a recluse and lived out his days eating food off of the tables of the leftovers at university cafeterias, and existed in a rotting garret in Paris, stating that the only thing worth believing in is “breathing”. Cioran’s work breathes, but as Micheal Tanner said, “In the end he suffocates us all”.

Suggested links:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/nov/11/insomnias-philosopher/?pagination=false

http://www.nytimes.com/1995/06/22/obituaries/e-m-cioran-84-novelist-and-philosopher-of-despair.html

http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/The-anguishes-of-E-M–Cioran-5980

Emil Cioran & Petre Tutea interview w/ Gabriel Liiceanu (English subs)

rodericusignatius·Jul 21, 2006

Prominent members of the Romanian Generation of the 1930′s, Emil Cioran (1911-1995) and Petre Tutea (1902-1991), talk about each other in this interview by Gabriel Liiceanu.

Cioran comments on Tutea’s Marxist past before converting to Christianity, while imprisoned. Tutea, on the other hand, analyzes Cioran’s struggle to find God and believe in Him — although never fulfilling his religious quest — and refutes his characterization as an atheist. Tutea brings forward Cioran’s fierce pessimism and his Schopenhauerian influences.

see

A Protest Against Real Distress: Religion and Revolutionary Struggle by Charley Earp

Rocket Kirchner: Kierkegaard Reconsidered

from the archives:

Exclusive: Peter Hitchens’ Rage Against God: How Atheism led me to faith by Rocket Kirchner

Alain de Botton: Religion for Atheists, interviewed by Chris Hedges

Jewish Marxist Atheist has vision of Jesus

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18 Responses

  1. [...] E. M. Cioran – The Undiscovered Atheist by Rocket Kirchner [...]

  2. I discovered Cioran in around 2007, and was similarly floored. I wrote an essay on his philosophy for a graduate class on Existentialism here:

    http://www.hyperboreans.com/heterodoxia/?p=179

    The professor had not heard of Cioran himself either, and said my paper’s grade would depend on whether I argue for his inclusion among the pantheon of existentialists.

    • Thanks, Zammael.

    • Zammael , great ! the Romanian intellegensia is the future. I am reading Tutea now . Amazing !

    • Zammael, here is a short presentation synopsis from my lecture at the University here called ”Kierkegaard reconsidered”. i like your work on Cioran. have you read ”Searching for Cioran” by Johnson?

      http://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/rocket-kirchner-kierkegaard-reconsidered/

      • Thank you for the link and yes I’ve read Zarifopol Johnston’s wonderful, yet tragically unfinished biography. I largely agree with her interpretation, but since it was incomplete I wonder if it could be used in a dialectical argument from a philosophical interpretation where Cioran was a Schopenhauerian flavored existentialist in his Romanian youth, only to crystallize as a more embittered LaRochefoucauldian cynic in his French work?

        I hope my essay was at all helpful in adding to the clamor of Cioran studies.

        • Zammel , the great insight of her book , is that Cioran was a man split between 2 worlds . the way she explains the metamorphis of his name is evidence of that . I think Cioran went beyond LaRoachefoucauld. The New Athiesm today so entraaped in the feedbakc loop of its own hyper rationalism needs to be smacked down by the discovery of Cioran .

          • Joseph Bottum wrote this in his essay on Cioran, Words of Nectar & Cyanide:

            the polished libertine La Rochefoucauld was, in fact, the true demon of cynicism: saturnine, satanic, and sleek. In comparison, Emil Cioran seems more like a saint: an idealist of despair, an innocent of cynicism.

            He is right that Cioran came off as a great forger of La Rochefoucauld, but he’s probably wrong to say that La Rochefoucauld wanted to be clever. It is Cioran who desired so, and yet he pulled it off by transcending that impulse.

  3. Fascinating stuff.

    Thank you Rocket for bringing this to our attention. You mentioned Cioran to me once and I did find something by him that I saved and must look at again, as I was unable to devote the necessary time to do it justice then.

    The video is compelling; Tutea’s reference to the “metaphysical anxiety” of all intellectuals juxtaposed to Cioran’s entanglement in denial is a rich contrast. Their relationship is particularly intriguing for its mutual emphasis on sincerity.

    The paradox of a man wrestling with a metaphysical ideal he cannot bring himself to acknowledge is curiously Judaic and Buddhist at the same time. It strikes me that what is most impressive in both these unique individuals is their quality of existential philosophical passion that is so profoundly subtle and intellectually seductive.

    I’d like to learn more about Sontag’s discovery of his work.

    • David , Sontag discovered Cioran in 1969 . i am presently reading Johnson’s difinitive called ”Searching for Cioran ”. wow ! there was a whole scene of these young Romanian intellectuals like these 2 and Eliade ( who wrote the definitve 3 volume set on relgion since the stone age) . a true masterpeice.

      pretty much everyone of them knew what it meant to be Romanian in ethnicity , nationalism , spirituality , etc. but Cioran . Johnson points out in her book on him that he lived in deliberate exile in order to become a ”man in fragment ”.

      and yet … Cioran admitted to her that he could never really escape Romania . Herein lies the tension that is Cioran –a split man in the 20th century of old eastern Europe , yet living in Paris . the first half of the century in the old country , the second half in the new.
      Having read Cioran for 20 years it seems that Tutea is right that he may not be an atheist , but one who wrestles with God .

      his early work ”Tears and Saints ” is very paradoxical . very Kierkegaardian .

      these guys are the last existentialists ! how does the world end ? not with a bang , but with a whimper . that is what happened to 20th century thought . now we are stuck in 21st century hyper rationalism . sad sad sad.

      Susan Sontags understanding of the historical imoprtance of e.m. cioran is amazing . read her work on him .

  4. Tutea’s hope for his friend Cioran was beautiful and generous, loving and kind.

    Here is a link to a letter to Cioran from Tutea in 1990. All kinds of interesting!

    http://www.filozofianuantelor.org/pagini/content/view/65/119/

  5. Rocket, never heard of this man until now. I followed all 3 links you provided, and his despair was similar to Job’s before he understood the forces involved.

    • Ray, he says in his ”Farewell to Philosophy” that all of Philosophy cannot compare to one cry from Job, to whom Cioran calls ”the Biblical Prometheus”.

      The book to read by Cioran is ”A short history of Decay”. i have been reading that same book for almost 20 years.

      Susan Sontag who discovered Cioran said that he ranks in the same category as Kierkegaard and Neitzche. Now that is a high compliment. Other than Camus, Cioran is my fav atheist. check out the dialogue video between him and the brilliant christian thinker Tutea. these are the real big boys in my book!

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