Emil Cioran  

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"Between the demand to be clear, and the temptation to be obscure, impossible to decide which deserves more respect" --Emil Cioran, [...]

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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli
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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli

Emile Cioran (8 April 1911 – 20 June 1995) was a Romanian philosopher and essayist. In his early books written in Romanian, Cioran proposed a philosophy of despair, showing a morbid obsession with death, but expressed in a deeply lyrical manner. He wrote mostly on nihilist themes of Schopenhauerian and Nietzschean provenance, with some contemporary influences like Giovanni Papini and Nicolai Berdiaev.

Contents

Major themes and style

Professing a lack of interest in conventional philosophy in his early youth, Cioran dismissed abstract speculation in favor of personal reflection and passionate lyricism. "I’ve invented nothing; I’ve simply been the secretary of my sensations", he later said.

Pessimism characterizes all of his works, which many critics trace back to events of his childhood (in 1935 his mother is reputed to have told him that if she had known he was going to be so unhappy she would have aborted him). However, Cioran's pessimism (in fact, his skepticism, even nihilism) remains both inexhaustible and, in its own particular manner, joyful; it is not the sort of pessimism which can be traced back to simple origins, single origins themselves being questionable. When Cioran's mother spoke to him of abortion, he confessed that it did not disturb him, but made an extraordinary impression which led to an insight about the nature of existence ("I'm simply an accident. Why take it all so seriously?" is what he later said in reference to the incident).

His works often depict an atmosphere of torment, a state that Cioran himself experienced, and came to be dominated by lyricism and, often, the expression of intense and even violent feeling. The books he wrote in Romanian especially display this latter characteristic. Preoccupied with the problems of death and suffering, he was attracted to the idea of suicide, believing it to be an idea that could help one go on living, an idea which he fully explored in On the Heights of Despair. He revisits suicide in depth in The New Gods, which contains a section of aphorisms devoted to the subject. The theme of human alienation, the most prominent existentialist theme, presented by Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, is thus formulated, in 1932, by young Cioran: "Is it possible that existence is our exile and nothingness our home?" in Tears and Saints.

Cioran’s works encompass many other themes as well: original sin, the tragic sense of history, the end of civilization, the refusal of consolation through faith, the obsession with the absolute, life as an expression of man's metaphysical exile, etc. He was a thinker passionate about history; widely reading the writers that were associated with the period of "decadent". One of these writers was Oswald Spengler who influenced Cioran's political philosophy in that he offered Gnostic reflections on the destiny of man and civilization. According to Cioran, as long as man has kept in touch with his origins and hasn't cut himself off from himself, he has resisted decadence. Today, he is on his way to his own destruction through self-objectification, impeccable production and reproduction, excess of self-analysis and transparency, and artificial triumph.

Regarding God, Cioran has noted that "without Bach, God would be a complete second rate figure" and that "Bach's music is the only argument proving the creation of the Universe cannot be regarded a complete failure".

William H. Gass called Cioran's work "a philosophical romance on the modern themes of alienation, absurdity, boredom, futility, decay, the tyranny of history, the vulgarities of change, awareness as agony, reason as disease".

Cioran became most famous while writing not in Romanian but French, a language with which he had struggled since his youth. During Cioran's lifetime, Saint-John Perse called him “the greatest French writer to honor our language since the death of Paul Valéry.” Cioran's tone and usage in his adopted language were seldom as harsh as in Romanian (though his use of Romanian is said to be more original).

Legacy

After the death of Cioran's long-term companion, Simone Boué, a collection of Cioran's manuscripts (over 30 notebooks) were found in the couple's apartment by a manager who tried, in 2005, to auction them.

However, a decision made by the Court of Appeal of Paris stopped the commercial sale of the collection; the trial is still taking place in France. Amid the manuscripts, which were mainly drafts of works that had already been published, an unedited journal was found which encompassed his life after 1972 (the year in which his Notebooks end). This document is probably Cioran’s last unpublished work.

An aged Cioran is the main character in a play by Romanian dramatist-actor Matei Vișniec, Mansardă la Paris cu vedere spre moarte ("A Paris Loft with a View on Death"). The play, depicting an imaginary meeting between Vișniec and Emil Cioran, was first brought to the stage in 2007, under the direction of Radu Afrim and with a cast of Romanian and Luxembourgian actors; Cioran was played by Constantin Cojocaru. Stagings were organized in the Romanian city of Sibiu and in the Luxembourg, at Esch-sur-Alzette (both Sibiu and Luxembourg City were the year's European Capital of Culture).

Major works

Romanian

  • Pe culmile disperării (literally On the Summits of Despair; translated "On the Heights of Despair"), Editura "Fundația pentru Literatură și Artă", Bucharest 1934
  • Cartea amăgirilor ("The Book of Delusions”), Bucharest 1936
  • Schimbarea la față a României ("The Transfiguration of Romania”), Bucharest 1936
  • Lacrimi și Sfinți ("Tears and Saints"), "Editura autorului" 1937
  • Îndreptar pătimaș ("The Passionate Handbook”), Humanitas, Bucharest 1991

French

  • Mon pays/Țara mea ("My country”, written in French, the book was first published in Romania in a bilingual volume), Humanitas, Bucharest, 1996
  • Précis de décomposition ("A Short History of Decay"), Gallimard 1949
  • Syllogismes de l'amertume (tr. "All Gall Is Divided"), Gallimard 1952
  • La tentation d'exister ("The Temptation to Exist"), Gallimard 1956 | English edition: ISBN 978-0-226-10675-5
  • Histoire et utopie ("History and Utopia"), Gallimard 1960
  • La chute dans le temps ("The Fall into Time"), Gallimard 1964
  • Le mauvais démiurge (literally The Evil Demiurge; tr. "The New Gods"), Gallimard 1969
  • De l'inconvénient d'être né ("The Trouble With Being Born"), Gallimard 1973
  • Écartèlement (tr. "Drawn and Quartered"), Gallimard 1979
  • Exercices d'admiration 1986, and Aveux et anathèmes 1987 (tr. and grouped as "Anathemas and Admirations")
  • Cahiers ("Notebooks"), Gallimard 1997
  • Œuvres (Collected works), Gallimard-Quatro 1995
  • Des larmes et des saints , L'Herne | English edition: ISBN 978-0-226-10672-4
  • Sur les cimes du désespoir, L'Herne, | English edition: ISBN 978-0-226-10670-0
  • Le crépuscule des pensées, L'Herne,
  • Jadis et naguère, L'Herne
  • Valéry face à ses idoles, L'Herne, 1970, 2006
  • De la France, L’Herne, 2009
  • Transfiguration de la Roumanie, L’Herne, 2009
  • Cahier Cioran, L’Herne, 2009 (Several unpublished documents, letters and photographies).

See also




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