View Full Version : The Last Interview with Cioran (excerpts)

Saturday, January 14th, 2006, 10:22 PM
Irritated Philosophy –– The Last Interview with Cioran

Little before he died in Paris, in June 1995, the Romanian
philosopher Emile Michel Cioran gave this interview to the German
writer Heinz-Norbert Jocks, published in the number 5 of the
Kulturchronik magazine, edited in Bonn by InterNationes.

We present the most important extracts of this conversation, in which
the author of "Gall Is Divided", "A Short History of Decay"
and "History and Utopia", among others, speaks of death, tedium, his
youth, the writer Samuel Beckett, and the beginning of his bond with
philosophy. Cioran was one of the most corrosive and polemical
authors of the XX century, keeping in check the rationalistic and
technicistic pretensions of the Western civilization, just as the
religious dogmatisms. His books are written with fury and beauty,
many times falling into poetical language, through aphorisms.

Cioran was born in Rasinari, Romania, in 1911, but when he was a
young man he radicated in Paris. Considered to be a radical
nihilistic philosopher, he confronted in his texts, with insistence,
the themes of despair, solitude and the void that surrounds the
contemporaneous man. Normally, he is placed beside thinkers such as
Pascal, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.

Translation from Spanish: Reynaldo Damazio

What is the meaning of your life in Romania, of your childhood?

Cioran: Romania was an earthly paradise, isolated of all and
surrounded by slaves. I only went home to eat and sleep, otherwise I
would spend all the time outside, in the open air, very simple. Half
of the village lived in the mountains, the Carpathian. I maintained
friendship with shepherds and quite liked them. It was another world,
beyond civilization. Maybe because they lived in a no man's country,
always in good humour, as if every day were a feast day. The
beginning of Mankind must not have been so bad, according to them.

When was it over?

Cioran: In 1920, at ten years old, when I had to abandon my village
and move to Hermannstadt, to study in the elementary school. I shall
never forget this catastrope, my despair in that day. It seemed like
my end. In that time, there were no cars, so a peasant took my father
and I by horse. The primitive, that I experienced there, seemed, to
me, the only possible lifestyle. What matters is pre-history, that
is, the time prior to the entrance of consciousness, of history, the
unconscious life. Mankind must follow being what it is (laughter),
for History is only an error; consciousness, a sin; and the human
being, an unequaled adventure.

A religious reflection?

Cioran: I am not an atheist, although I do not believe in God and
do not pray. But, for me, there is an undefinable religious
dimension, beyond every faith. The believer identifies himself with
God, that he can comprehend, but, myself, I feel distant from all
this. I move in the divisive line. The great idea of the human
being's original sin is shared by me, but not in the way that one
officially thinks about the subject. History, just as man, are,
whether we want it or not, products of a catastrophe. The idea of the
human being's deviation is indispensable to understand the
development of History. According to this idea, the human being is
guilty, not in the moral sense, but for having taken part in this
adventure. When I abandoned my village, I was no longer primitive.
Before that, I had belonged to Creation, like the animals, with those
who had a personal relationship with me; now I found myself outside,
at distance.

You discoursed about saints, about the "miscarried Creation", and you
saw yourself in trouble?

Cioran: Yes. My mother was the president of the Orthodox Church in
Hermannstadt and my father –– a good priest, and also sincere, but in
no way a man of profound religiosity –– actually wanted to be a
lawyer. He was very sad when he read the text Tears and Saints, in
the end of 1937, little before my moving to Paris. When I sent the
manuscript to my Romanian editor, he called me, a month later, to
tell me that he could not print it. He himself had not read it, but
instead one of his linotypers, and told me he owed his patrimony to
the help of God, and that he could not publish such a book for
nothing in this world. On my part, in full preparation of travel to
France, I asked myself, desperately, what to do. In the occasion, I
met a Romanian who had collaborated with the Russian revolution and
had met Lenin. He asked me what was going on, I told him the story
and he owned a print-house. Thus, my book was released without an
editorial label, little before my moving to Paris. A few months
later, I received a letter from my mother, in which she spoke of the
disgrace that my book had provoked. Even though she was not a
religious person, she felt under strong pressure and begged me to
remove the book from circulation. I answered that it was the only
religious work written in the Balkans, because it was a Balkanic
confrontation with God. Almost all of my friends had a bad reaction,
most of all Mircea Eliade, who wrote an extraordinarily harsh
critique, while a girl whom I knew told me that it was the most sad
book she had ever read. It is evident that it dealt with an equivocal
religious experience. I had plunged in such a way in the life of
saints that, in truth, I should have prayed. But for that I lacked
the necessary gifts, even though I felt attracted to the great
mystics. However, religious faith is never the result of reflection,
but something too complicated. Religiosity may be foolish, but it has
very profound roots (laughter).

In your work shines through an eulogy of primitive life.

Cioran: In this Romanian village that I lived, we had a vegetable-
garden beside the cemetery, and, for that reason, since I was little
I became close friends with a grave-digger of about fifty years old.
He was a man who proceeded joyfully when he had to dig a tomb and
played soccer with skulls. I have always asked myself how could
he feel so happy day after day. I, myself, was not like Hamlet, I was
not tragic enough. Later, our close friendship suffered a change and
converted itself into a problem. I asked myself why we had to
experience all this in life. Only to end as a corpse? These
impressions remained as indelible marks. That man –– confronting
death everyday –– behaved as if he had never seen a dead person. I
quite liked him. He was always smiling.

Death is a theme to which you have been faithful.

Cioran: Since very early. It is a posture to which is bound another
type of intensity. I have lived together with death, since I was very
young. Even now that I have more reasons to think about it, I do not
associate any compulsive idea to death. In my youth, the idea which I
had of death was an obsession that took over me from morning to
night. As a nucleus of reality, it had an oppressive presence, very
distant from all literary influences. It all revolved around it,
beyond repugnance and fear, even if in a pathological way. This,
naturally, was also the consequence that I did not sleep well during
seven years of my youth, of which I was exhausted. In that time, I
wrote On the Heights of Despair. This persistent insomnia became my
perspective of the world and my attitude before it. The worst moment
of this situation happened in Hermannstadt, when I lived with my
parents. I wandered without destiny through the city, at night. My
mother wept in despair, and myself, who had just completed 21 years
of age, was about to commit suicide. Until today I do not know why I
did not do it. It is possible that I have tranquilized my will to
suicide by force of writing. I did not have the least concrete idea
of what was my life.

Have you changed your idea of death?

Cioran: It is not possible for one to change one's opinion of death.
It constitutes a problem in itself, the problem of existence. In
comparison to it, all the rest becomes evident as lacking in
importance. Curiously, there are many people who do not know the
feeling of death, they do not want or cannot think about it. Those
who comprehend what death means are the minority. The others lack
value and even philosophers avoid the problem.

But one philosophizes about death.

Cioran: Of course death is a theme in the history of philosophy
(laughter), but not as an intimate life-experience. In Baudelaire
there is death, in Sartre there is not. Philosophers have avoided
death by turning it into a question, instead of experiencing it as
something existent. They do not consider it as something absolute,
but among poets it is different. They fathom the phenomenon
profoundly, tracing it. A poet without the feeling of death is not a
great poet. It seems exaggerate, but thus it is.

In a series of essays about friends, you wrote about Samuel Beckett.
What pleases you in his work?

Cioran: The fact of not needing heroes, of having created an uncommon
human type and, with himself, having presented another genre of
humanity. His work, thus, is not bound to a determined time. It is
the singular work of a singular individual.

Doesn't the fascination for tedium also bring you close together?

Cioran: The experience of tedium, not the vulgar tedium, for lack of
company, but the absolute tedium, is very important. When someone
feels abandoned by one's friends, that is nothing. Tedium in itself
occurs without reason, without external causes. With it comes the
sensation of empty time, something like vacuity, a thing I have known
since forever. I can remember very well the first time, when I was
five years old. I lived, then, in Romania, with all my family. Then,
suddenly, I had the clear consciousness of what was nuisance, tedium.
It was around three in the afternoon, when I was taken by the
sensation of nothingness, of absolute dearth of substance. It was as
if, of a sudden, it all had disappeared, it all sank into nullity and
was the beginning of my philosophical reflection. This intense state
of solitude affected me in such a profound manner that I asked myself
what it really meant. Not being able to defend oneself, nor being
able to free oneself through reflection, just as the presentiment
that it would come back other times, it disconcerted me so much that
I accepted it as an orientation point.

On the heights of tedium one experiences the feeling of Nothingness, and, in that sense, it is not about a depressing situation, since, for a disbelieving person, it represents the possibility to experience the absolute, something like the ultimate instant.


See also , a Yahoo group dedicated to the life and works of Cioran: