Cioran – A Dionysiac with the voluptuousness of doubt
by Ion Dur (Technical University of Cluj-Napoca, Romania; Baia Mare Northern University Centre, Romania)
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Crossing towards a seismic posterity, a book about the nonconformist Cioran (Cioran - A Dionysian with the voluptuousness of doubt, Vernon Press, 2019) will, of course, awaken a legitimate interest in the English language. If we add that the author, the prestigious professor Ion Dur, comes from the country of Cioran (Romania) and from the Doctoral School of Philosophy in Baia Mare and the Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu (both Romanian), and that he is the initiator of debates dedicated to the philosopher, organized in Sibiu since 1991 (a prestigious international Symposium), we understand the importance of this editorial gesture, aiming - restitutive and repairing - “to recompose another hypostasis” of Cioran the man and the moralist, who, we are warned, must necessarily resemble the original, even ignoring his will.
Unfortunately, Cioran has been subjected to repeated deformations, caused by various ideological grids, the context of his reception deviating from a hermeneutical reading test to a passionate, spicy, spirited, sensational and intentional media show. The Sibiu researcher descends into the interwar period, honestly searches the archives, confronts editions, reads manuscripts, detects errors, resets accents, analysing an “anamorphous” path. And finally, through resignation, he gives us the chance to know Cioran as he was. Noting that “the need for a critical edition of Cioran's works is acutely felt”, as he forcefully states, hr is thus reiterating an old wish.
Certainly, The transfiguration of Romania, seen over the years as “a divagation” by Cioran himself, remains - in the eyes of the Sibiu professor - a “pamphlet of Romanian inertia”, written “with too much literature” (coefficient of poeticism); in other words, “a sanguinary story”. The book, exalting subjective living under the sign of excesses, inevitably sustained an inflamed and adjective reception. Cioran's retractions, eliminating “pretentious and stupid pages”, are placed under the imperative of “ideological comfort”. Curiously, Cioran censures it, distancing himself - by adjustment - from a “delusional work”, as he personally states, one in which he invested fever and passion, offering “suggestions” for the grandeur of Romania.
Descending into the spirit of those times with the help of press excerpts, Ion Dur takes part in the convulsive show of its reception. In the post-war segment, the critique of this work was orchestrated by ideological command, bringing the “party artillery” into work. And after Cioran's disappearance, by a long posthumous trial, with both Romanian “witnesses” and those conveyed by Philippe Cusin in France unravelling his youthful adherence to an obscured “Fascist past”. Predictably, the disappearance of the moralist provoked the account, sparked virulent reactions, the exegetical rebellion being maintained by its own controversial, arrogant and contradictory creation. From the ramparts of the Ego, Cioran looks contemptuously down upon all this; whether he speaks about the unequivocal meaning of religion, or he rebukes, in heavy sentences, the “Wallachian failures”, in his unmistakable laconic, fragmentary, lyrical style, etc. And it is regrettable, writes Ion Dur, that the most passionately commented Cioranian book (id est: The transfiguration ...) was marketed “without critical guides”, as the exegetes extracted from it choice “pieces of evidence” for their various accusations. All the more so since the final “authorized version” (Humanitas, 1990) is “seriously amputated”, rightly leading Ion Dur to advocate for a Cioran true to his own ideas, “in his natural dimensions”.
The transfiguration of Romania, with the initial manuscript title of The theory of Romania, therefore has three variants! Professor Dur painstakingly accounts for every word that did not pass into the princeps edition and/or was suppressed by the Humanitas publishing house, the latter offering “too many hooks” and eliminating the chapter on National Collectivism, recovered by the exegete in the Addenda of Cioran - A Dionysian with the voluptuousness of doubt. We cannot, however, overlook a thought-provoking observation. The book in question expresses the “passion and regrets of a desperate love” lived apocalyptically; and the final line in the manuscript (“I do not think I do not believe in Romania”), cut by Cioran, and on which Ion Dur draws attention, speaks for itself, the double negation constituting a “productive tautology”. The conversion of the negative, dreaming about the affirmation of the Romanian being, and the “re-existence” of Romania, tempted Cioran the reformer, examining the phenomenon of “Wallachian nothingness” in a harsh indictment, denouncing our historical and psychological “faults”. An idolatry “a rebours”, creation ex nihilo involving a future in which he did not believe, as he will repentantly confess in My country. But The transfiguration of Romania pushed the Cioranian (individual) salvation solution to the national scale, postulating a borrowed Messianism.
Contemplating, consumed by remorse, “the dregs of former madness” and his juvenile involvement, glorifying with the “loving hatred” of those years (considered to be “someone else's years”), a Messianic-totalitarian vision, old Cioran is disillusioned with “the imperialism of life”, the fever of living, subjectively colouring pages already animated by the “ecstasy of doubt”. However, he remains a great vital, tormented by “demoniac insurgency”. Even as he craves abstraction in intemporality and wants to project himself, through his writing, “beyond history and becoming”. But he knows too well that “a book must be a danger.” And The transfiguration of Romania brings, through the years, this passionate message, connected to the fever of becoming and the will to transform. It strongly condemns a “mediocre, quiet, resigned” Romania, an echoing country, drained of dramatism and cultivating, under the banner of defeatism, a spectacular indifference.
These Cioranian vituperations, with pamphlet accents, accuse - on the one hand - the Romanian feeble propensity for creating history, its fatalistic defensiveness and weak tension of willpower. On the other hand, Cioran observes that any destiny is a definitive datum, and the preconditions of small cultures are determined, pre-written in the orthogenetic of cultures. If this is the case, rebellion, in the name of a delusional love of apocalyptic experience, frozen by the taste of becoming, cannot change anything. Our fate is pre-written, that specific impulse works, and the indictment signed by young Cioran seals our destiny under the eternal sign of powerlessness. However, a correction of orbit seems possible and becoming is still an innuendo, since the essayist warns us that stiff nationalism and a closure in locality miss the “sense of a nation.”
Thus, the Cioranian precept, launched in his feverish, seduced by Messianism youth, invites - correctively - to a separation from the minor fate of the nation, as the latter would only exist as “a threat”. In other words, as an “aggressive ethos” in History. Advocating a “conscious love of power” and scourging “the nuisance of his own past” which was not at all flattering, the essayist was in fact tormented by a painful and, as will be seen later, insoluble problem: what must remain or, on the contrary, what must become of a nation driven by the impetus of acquiring a different destiny, of going out into History.
In essence, belonging to a generation who, wishing to force History, was frenetic, the “provincial” Cioran passionately confessed that excesses “are in his nature”. The inflamed, scandalous rhetoric of youth banks upon emotional intensity; the tone counts because Cioran, with his exaggerated sensitivity, would not have written even one line “at normal temperature”. But the “calumniator” knew too well that “everything that is formulated is degraded in intensity.” In other words, his feelings are reflected on the page in a regime of supportive despair; when formulated, it becomes tolerable. And writing, fed by the “sources of violence and sadness,” gives him the chance of postponed suicides, trying to trick death, as Ion Dur notes.
The real Cioran, such as he was, a “lazy performer,” is to be found in his letters. Because, as Cioran himself warns, “most often the work is a mask”; but neither does the epistolary himself, even when quite transparent, deny the mask. However, it is hard to believe that he wishes to be mystifying in letters addressed to his brother or his family. Always excessive, having to protect an uncomfortable past, Cioran the cornered metic, the rejeté, remains a secret writer. Stylistic sublimation, aphoristic pregnancy, negationist fury subside in the “straitjacket” of a loaned idiom. If he denies the fever of youth when, worn by a “wind of madness”, he criminalized Wallachian fatalism and dreamed of a heroic ethos, the old Cioran paradoxically flaunts delayed peasant nostalgies. He fantasizes himself as a “shepherd's help”, a forester in the Shanta woods or a locksmith, thus being “closer to the truth.” However, he is not inhabited by mediocre anxieties. On the contrary, the alienated, always provocative moralist, scattering imprecations, has a passion for suffering. He runs away from his own biography (vague and inconclusive, he assures us), but he cannot fight memory itself. He meekly acknowledges a “longing for Sibiu” and claims, melancholically, his childhood paradise, a lost paradise; he accuses his nation (“worthless”), but praises its language (expressive, seductive), a language betrayed and rediscovered through the “luck” of Eminescu and the efforts of his friend Noica, who he read with delight. Finally, he admits (in Mon pays) that this is an “overturned love,” but never grows tired of assuring us that, living in a “provincial country”, we are condemned to a minor destiny, “sliding” on our own fate.
The philosophical content of his texts exploits the nihilist pulse, boredom, suffering, nothingness, the conscience of vainness. Because, for Cioran, “to be means to be in straits”. Thus, with horror for the system but love for fragmentism and aphorism, the lucid and fake cynic Cioran (inimitable, singular), haunted by great anxieties, perceives livelihood, life, and the lived; and proposes an existential meditation, being “the secretary of his own sensations” (see Écartèlement). Recognizing, bewildered, that we are all great jokers, surviving our problems, invoking the great excuse of existence; “having the conscience of nullity” while still breathing among our peers.
Let us remember that, in the eyes of contemporaries, from the barricade of the rationalists, young Cioran was categorized as “a cabotine of despair”, taking suffering “in his entrepreneurship”, as Serban Cioculescu wrote in the idyllic inter-war period; later he saw him as “a Nietzschean Bogomil” (see Gazeta literară, no. 20/1959). Nor were others gentler with this reluctant rhetor of suffering, anxious, paradoxical, shocking, scandalous, confusing, ambiguous, suspicious, memorable, agitated, categorical, contradictory, violating the reader. Alliterated, according to George Călinescu (see Contemporanul, no. 39/1958), in constant delirium, gongoric and catastrophic (as Mihail Sebastian said), the first Cioran slandered with anger, suspected of precocity and fanfaronade, but launching shimmering diatribes. The new critique speaks of an “aesthetic reconversion” (according to Alex Goldiş), the elegiac moralist redeeming his negationism (vital, excessive, energizing) through artistic activity, without being “a long-term ideologist,” as Eugen Simion noted. But young Cioran, already “Cioranian”, a “grandiloquent depressive” (Lucian Blaga) and a “legionary existentialist” (Lucreţiu Pătrăşcanu) will undergo a demonic trial, punished for the bad words directed toward a “useless nation” living in an invertebrate country as a “summary of nothingness”. Later, he will shily try to explain: it was a love that, through his desperate writings, he “did not dare confess”.
Should not Cioran have the right to repentance? Do these “prehistoric” books (as the author himself labelled them) express the views of a “spoiled young man”? Are they carrying an excessive foundation, a juvenile charge, are they the sincere burden of a crisis? Undoubtedly. In fact, On the heights of despair encloses a primordial intuition: “all I would write afterwards”, Cioran admitted, “was already in it.” And then the catastrophic style, as valid today as it was yesterday, contaminates problematic temperaments already corrupted by a vital minus. Cioranian radicalism, transparent in these youthful views, aimed at a regenerative solution. Some exegetes, like Vincent Piednoir, speak of the history of a transfiguration (see Cioran avant Cioran, 2013), separating the Romanian period from the French one; certainly, starting with Précis de décomposition (1949) Cioran, now signing EM Cioran, becomes another author, praising - with force - “decomposition,” the ruin of progress, the collapse, the fatigue of the future. He lives, between exaltation and exasperation, the inconvenience of the impasse and offers, as a “poisoned heritage,” lessons for the spirit. He is, beyond any doubt, a provocateur, invaded by vital scepticism. If the feverish Romanian period was “noisy”, Cioran the French is more fluid, expressing, in a despondent and refined West, a disdain reaching formal perfection. The man in the attic (from the Rue de l'Odeon), entering the gate of universality, is haunted by melancholy.
If, during the totalitarian years, Cioran, forbidden in Romania but read in secret, as Ion Dur suggests, offered a resistance lesson contrasting with propaganda-declared happiness, today, in a pragmatic, depressive, sickly-utilitarianism era Cioran is equally necessary, transfiguring despair. Even submerged, fragmentarily “divided”, under the play of paradoxes, stylistic seduction and corrosive scepticism, Cioran reminds us that man, a deficient of life, having a lucid and tragic consciousness of life, may be happy, capable of ecstatic feelings. Cioran saw himself as a Privat Denker, indebted to the inner experience, rejecting scholastic, fastidious philosophy (as long as boring erudition always perverted him), inspired - as he testified - by the spectacle of decadence, fallen into a false “naive”, dubitative contemplation. Back home, recuperated, the renegade Cioran, unknown and uncommented in the dogmatic climate of former times, “sedated”, castrated even in the Essays interpreted by Modest Morariu (1988) enjoins us to cast off our “belts of prejudices”. The superfluity of style masks the depth of thought, always shifting, caught in the vice of contradictions. In fact, the insomnia experience, considered capital for his long career of illness, forces him to live his ideas first, disease being, as he said in the Notebooks, “the greatest invention of life”. Faced with an impersonal, detached philosophy taking refuge in abstraction Cioran is, in the words of Ion Dur, an organic thinker.
We also note that, by examining his correspondence, by analysing previously unknown writings, by identifying the numerous amputations, adjustments and retractions, by delicately polemising with various exegetes, especially from the French-speaking space (which set the tone for a miasmatic “procès posthume”), Ion Dur enlightens, with unbeatable arguments, many litigious issues; from the philosopher's “obscure nationalist past,” an obsessive subject, wilfully liberating to Cioran himself, to the reproaches of Pierre-Yves Boissau, who considered that the French texts would mask “an (almost) original sin.” Cioran's work, voluptuously passed through the shredders of various critics, targeted by some as just a collection of aphorisms, is - concludes Boissau - a palimpsest, forcing us to oscillate, under the spectrum of negationist fury, between disguise and atonement.
Ion Dur's book offers a thorough review of the “Cioran file”. In contrast to so many Romanian cultural export proposals, reported triumphantly at home (despite their modest echoes abroad), the volume published by Vernon Press, dedicated to this “Dionysiac with the voluptuousness of doubt”, intervenes correctively and thus becomes an impossible to avoid landmark for the army of Cioranologists, bringing to light and settling numerous controversial issues.
Adrian Dinu Rachieru, literary critic and essayist,
Tibiscus University of Timisoara, Romania
Since its inception philosophical thought has been fixated by death. Death, as much as life, has been the unrelenting driving force behind some of history’s greatest thinkers. Yet, for Emil Cioran, a Romanian-French philosopher, even philosophy cannot attempt to understand nor contain the inevitable unknown.
Considered to be an anti-philosopher, Cioran approached and reflected on the human experience with a despairing pessimism. His works are characterised by a brooding, fatalistic temperament that reveals and defines itself in his irony, black humour and inimitable style. Although Cioran’s later works have received much scholarly recognition, little attention has been paid to the texts he wrote in his adolescent.
Grounded in the historical context of interwar Romania, this book presents for the first time an analysis of the little-known works of this pioneering Romanian thinker. Deeply affected by his upbringing, this book offers a glimpse into Cioran’s first attempts to delve into philosophical enterprise, before turning its attention to his later works, On the Heights of Despair (1934), The Transfiguration of Romania (1936) and Twilight of thoughts (1940; written in France). Using both the French and Romanian editions of these works, but also their original manuscripts, this volume seeks to provide a re-reading that takes language rather than a social or political critique as its focal point. As an important and provocative contribution to the existing literature on Cioran, this book will be an essential point of reference for students and researchers, alike.
Part I According to the original
Chapter 1 Shortcuts
Chapter 2 The ambiguity of the epistolary self
Chapter 3 The erotic adolescence of a septuagenarian
Chapter 4 Impervious to the “French spirit”
Chapter 5 The tragic overture
Chapter 6 Bouts of insomnia
Chapter 7 The irrational, symbolic culture and a eulogy of madness
Chapter 8 Between falling in time and falling into the temporal
Chapter 9 Against “national drowsiness” – Cioran versus Cioran –
Chapter 10 Waiting for Cioran's reply
Part II Restitutions
Nationalism, Socialism, Judaism
About the Author
Index of Proper Names
Professor Ion Dur, PhD, teaches in the Doctoral School of Philosophy at the Baia Mare Northern University Centre, Romania. During his academic career, he has been the recipient of numerous literary awards including the “Mircea Florian” prize for philosophy awarded by the Romanian Academy and seven awards for published books from the National Writers Union of Romania. Professor Dur has published extensively in his field including The Third Meaning (2014), Cioran. According to the original (2016), Critique of Judgement of Taste (2017) and Domestic journal. Note of an in-former (2018). He has also produced translations of Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (Humanitas Publishing House, 1994; a collaboration with Mircea Ivănesc) and The Crisis of the Republic, (Humanitas Publishing House, 1999; a collaboration with D.-I. Cenuşer). His areas of research interest are the History of Philosophy the History of Romanian Culture, Aesthetics, Literary and Philosophy Criticism, Media Critique, and Romanian Media and Collective Mentality in the 19th and 20th centuries.