Mircea Eliade, historian of religions, playwright Eugen Ionescu and philosopher Emil Cioran are three outstanding Romanian personalities that influenced Western culture after 1945.
Mircea Eliade, historian of religions, playwright Eugen Ionescu and philosopher Emil Cioran are three outstanding Romanian personalities that influenced Western culture after 1945. All three of them went into exile after the communists seized power in Romania in 1945. The youngest of them, Emil Cioran, was born 110 years ago, on April 8, 1991 in the village of Rasinari, Sibiu county, and died on June 20, 1995 in Paris, aged 84. His father was a Christian Orthodox priest and his mother was the daughter of a notary public who had received the title of baron. He attended the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy of the Bucharest University where he met Petre Tutea and Constantin Noica. The two philosophers would become his friends.
Cioran was very interested in the works of Nietzsche, Balzac, Schopenhauer, and Dostoevsky. He became an agnostic, taking as an axiom "the inconvenience of existence". While a university student he was influenced by Georg Simmel, Martin Heidegger and Lev Shestov. He started suffering from insomnia in his 20s. Insomnia is an important detail of his biography, that would reflect on his work. Cioran saw himself more of an essay writer than a philosopher. His writings present him as a pessimistic thinker, dominated by the presence of sufferance, decadence and death. In his first book, On the Heights of Despair, published when he was 23, Cioran reveals his morbid thoughts. His dark reflections on human conditions were further presented in his next four books, written in Romanian.
In 1937 he went to France on a scholarship granted by the French Institute in Bucharest, which would be extended until 1944. He would never return to Romania. In Paris, he lived in the Latin Quarter, where he wrote nine more books. His first French book, A Short History of Decay, released in 1949, was awarded the Prix Rivarol in 1950 for the best book written by a non-French author. Cioran later refused every literary prize he was awarded. Obsessed with the issue of death and suffering, he was attracted to the idea of suicide, which he fully explored in his first book, On the Heights of Despair. He revisited suicide in depth in The New Gods, which contains a section of aphorisms devoted to the subject. Cioran's works also include themes like the tragic sense of history, the original sin, the end of civilization, the obsession with the absolute and life as an expression of man's metaphysical exile. He paid a lot of attention to the writing style and was regarded as one of the most important representatives of the French aesthetics in the second half of the 20th century.
In 1990, philosopher Gabriel Liiceanu made one of the first filmed interviews about Emil Cioran, in the Romanian language. One of the questions he asked him was about his work. Emil Cioran: ”My work is something of an obsession. I have written all my books for medical, therapeutic reasons. The same obsession, of uselessness and death. Everything else is unimportant. Everything that is formulated, becomes tolerable. Expressing things is the cure. What is the purpose of confessing to a priest? It makes you feel liberated. Everything that is expressed, formulated, looses in intensity. This is therapeutic, is the purpose of therapy. Without any doubt, the depression moods I have been through in life could have led me to complete madness or, even worse, to becoming a looser. The fact that I put them in words was extremely efficient. Had I not written, I am sure things would have ended badly for me.”
Extreme personal experiences are the ones that guide our existence, Cioran believed. This extreme thing in his case was insomnia, which marked his life and made him write remarkable books. Cioran explained to Liiceanu the impact that the lack of sleep has on human existence. Emil Cioran: ”Before I experienced insomnia I was an almost normal human being. I had this revelation when I lost my sleep. I realized that sleep is an extraordinary thing and that life is bearable only because of it. In the morning, you start a new adventure or resume an adventure after a temporary interruption. Insomnia is an extraordinary revelation because it suppresses unconsciousness. This means you spend 24 hours a day being awake. But the human being is too weak to bear it. This makes it a heroic act, because every day is a battle. When I suffered from insomnia, I despised absolutely everybody. I considered them animals. The lack of sleep pushes people to the limit”.
In his young years, Cioran felt attracted to fascism, an attraction he denounced in the early 1940s. In the 1970s, he said in an interview that having adhered to fascism was the greatest insanity of his youth. His writings have inspired not only philosophers and writers, but also pop singers. In 1991, French singer songwriter Mylene Farmer wrote the lyrics of her song Disenchanted, inspired by On the Heights of Despair. In March 2021, Cioran became the character of a comic book by French artist Patrice Reytier. (EE)