Emil Cioran

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Emil Cioran
Cioran in Romania.jpg
Emil Mihai Cioran

(1911-04-08)8 April 1911
Resinár, Austria-Hungary (present-day Rășinari, Romania)
Died20 June 1995(1995-06-20) (aged 84)
Paris, France
Other namesE. M. Cioran
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Continental philosophy
Philosophical pessimism
Main interests
Suicide, nihilism, ethics, literature, aesthetics, poetry, religion, music

Emil Cioran (Romanian:  [eˈmil t͡ʃoˈran] ( Loudspeaker.svg listen ); 8 April 1911 – 20 June 1995) was a Romanian philosopher and essayist, who published works in both Romanian and French. His work has been noted for its pervasive philosophical pessimism, and frequently engages with issues of suffering, decay, and nihilism. Among his best-known works are On the Heights of Despair (1934) and The Trouble with Being Born (1973). Cioran's first French book, A Short History of Decay, was awarded the prestigious Rivarol Prize in 1950. The Latin Quarter of Paris was his permanent residence and he lived much of his life in isolation with his partner Simone Boué.

Romania Sovereign state in Europe

Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. It borders the Black Sea to the southeast, Bulgaria to the south, Ukraine to the north, Hungary to the west, Serbia to the southwest, and Moldova to the east. It has a predominantly temperate-continental climate. With a total area of 238,397 square kilometres (92,046 sq mi), Romania is the 12th largest country and also the 7th most populous member state of the European Union, having almost 20 million inhabitants. Its capital and largest city is Bucharest, and other major urban areas include Cluj-Napoca, Timișoara, Iași, Constanța, Craiova, and Brașov.

Philosopher person with an extensive knowledge of philosophy

A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. The term "philosopher" comes from the Ancient Greek, φιλόσοφος (philosophos), meaning "lover of wisdom". The coining of the term has been attributed to the Greek thinker Pythagoras.

Romanian language Romance language

Romanian is an Eastern Romance language spoken by approximately 24–26 million people as a native language, primarily in Romania and Moldova, and by another 4 million people as a second language. It is an official and national language of Romania and Moldova. In addition, it is also one of the official languages of the European Union.


Early life

Cioran was born in Resinár (Rășinari), Szeben County, which was part of Austria-Hungary at the time. His father, Emilian Cioran, was an Orthodox priest. His mother, Elvira (née Comaniciu), was originally from Veneția de Jos, a commune near Făgăraș.

Rășinari Commune in Romania

Rășinari is a commune in Sibiu County, Transylvania, Romania. It has a population of 5,280 inhabitants and is composed of two villages, Prislop (Priszloptelep) and Rășinari.

Szeben County county of the Kingdom of Hungary

Szeben was an administrative county (comitatus) of the Kingdom of Hungary. Its territory is now in central Romania. The capital of the county was Nagyszeben.

Austria-Hungary Constitutional monarchic union between 1867 and 1918

Austria-Hungary, often referred to as the Austro-Hungarian Empire or the Dual Monarchy, was a constitutional monarchy in Central and Eastern Europe between 1867 and 1918. It was formed when the Austrian Empire adopted a new constitution; as a result Austria (Cisleithania) and Hungary (Transleithania) were placed on equal footing. It dissolved into several new states at the end of the First World War.

Cioran's house in Rasinari Casa Cioran Rasinari06.jpg
Cioran's house in Rășinari

After focusing on Humanities at the Gheorghe Lazăr High School in Sibiu (Hermannstadt), Cioran, at age 17, entered the University of Bucharest, where he studied philosophy and immediately met Eugène Ionesco and Mircea Eliade, who became his friends. Future Romanian philosopher Constantin Noica and future Romanian thinker Petre Țuțea became his closest academic colleagues; all three studied under Tudor Vianu and Nae Ionescu. Cioran, Eliade, and Țuțea became supporters of Ionescu's ideas, known as Trăirism.

Gheorghe Lazăr National College (Sibiu)

Gheorghe Lazăr National College is a public day high school in Sibiu, in the Transylvania region of Romania, located at 1-3 Gheorghe Lazăr Street.

Sibiu City in Romania

Sibiu is a city in Transylvania, Romania, with a population of 147,245. Located some 275 km (171 mi) north-west of Bucharest, the city straddles the Cibin River, a tributary of the river Olt. Now the capital of Sibiu County, between 1692 and 1791 and 1849–65 Sibiu was also the capital of the Principality of Transylvania.

University of Bucharest University of Bucharest, Romania

The University of Bucharest, commonly known after its abbreviation UB in Romania, is a public university founded in 1864 by decree of Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza to convert the former Saint Sava Academy into the current University of Bucharest, making it the second oldest modern university in Romania. It is one of the five members of the Universitaria Consortium.

Cioran had a good command of German. His early studies revolved around Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer, and especially Friedrich Nietzsche. He became an agnostic, taking as an axiom "the inconvenience of existence". While at the University, he was influenced by Georg Simmel, Ludwig Klages and Martin Heidegger, but also by the Russian philosopher Lev Shestov, whose contribution to Cioran’s central system of thought was the belief that life is arbitrary. Cioran's graduation thesis was on Henri Bergson, whom he later rejected, claiming Bergson did not comprehend the tragedy of life.

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol in Italy, the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.

Immanuel Kant Prussian philosopher

Immanuel Kant was an influential German philosopher in the Age of Enlightenment. In his doctrine of transcendental idealism, he argued that space, time, and causation are mere sensibilities; "things-in-themselves" exist, but their nature is unknowable. In his view, the mind shapes and structures experience, with all human experience sharing certain structural features. He drew a parallel to the Copernican revolution in his proposition that worldly objects can be intuited a priori ('beforehand'), and that intuition is therefore independent from objective reality. Kant believed that reason is the source of morality, and that aesthetics arise from a faculty of disinterested judgment. Kant's views continue to have a major influence on contemporary philosophy, especially the fields of epistemology, ethics, political theory, and post-modern aesthetics.

Arthur Schopenhauer German philosopher

Arthur Schopenhauer was a German philosopher. He is best known for his 1818 work The World as Will and Representation, wherein he characterizes the phenomenal world as the product of a blind and insatiable metaphysical will. Proceeding from the transcendental idealism of Immanuel Kant, Schopenhauer developed an atheistic metaphysical and ethical system that has been described as an exemplary manifestation of philosophical pessimism, rejecting the contemporaneous post-Kantian philosophies of German idealism. Schopenhauer was among the first thinkers in Western philosophy to share and affirm significant tenets of Eastern philosophy, having initially arrived at similar conclusions as the result of his own philosophical work.


Berlin and Romania

In 1933, he received a scholarship to the University of Berlin, where he came into contact with Klages and Nicolai Hartmann. While in Berlin, he became interested in the policies of the Nazi regime, contributed a column to Vremea dealing with the topic (in which Cioran confessed that "there is no present-day politician that I see as more sympathetic and admirable than Hitler", [2] while expressing his approval for the Night of the Long Knives—"what has humanity lost if the lives of a few imbeciles were taken"), [3] and, in a letter written to Petru Comarnescu, described himself as "a Hitlerist". [4] He held similar views about Italian fascism, welcoming victories in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, arguing that: "Fascism is a shock, without which Italy is a compromise comparable to today's Romania". [5]

Nicolai Hartmann was a Baltic German philosopher. He is regarded as a key representative of critical realism and as one of the most important twentieth century metaphysicians.

Berlin Capital of Germany

Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,748,148 (2018) inhabitants make it the second most populous city proper of the European Union after London. The city is one of Germany's 16 federal states. It is surrounded by the state of Brandenburg, and contiguous with its capital, Potsdam. The two cities are at the center of the Berlin-Brandenburg capital region, which is, with about six million inhabitants and an area of more than 30,000 km², Germany's third-largest metropolitan region after the Rhine-Ruhr and Rhine-Main regions.

Nazi Germany The German state from 1933 to 1945, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler

Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state where nearly all aspects of life were controlled by the government. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

Cioran’s first book, On the Heights of Despair (literally translated: "On the Summits of Despair"), was published in Romania in 1934. It was awarded the Commission’s Prize and the Young Writers Prize for one of the best books written by an unpublished young writer. Successively, The Book of Delusions (1935), The Transfiguration of Romania (1936), and Tears and Saints (1937), were also published in Romania (the first two titles have yet to be translated into English).

Although Cioran was never a member of the group, it was during this time in Romania that he began taking an interest in the ideas put forth by the Iron Guard—a far right organization whose nationalist ideology he supported until the early years of World War II, despite allegedly disapproving of their violent methods.

Iron Guard political party

The Iron Guard is the name most commonly given to a fascist movement and political party in Romania founded in 1927 by Corneliu Zelea Codreanu as the Legion of the Archangel Michael or the Legionnaire movement. The League was ultra-nationalist, antisemitic, antiziganist, anti-communist, anti-capitalist and promoted Eastern Orthodox Christianity. In March 1930 Codreanu formed the "Iron Guard" as a paramilitary political branch of the Legion, and in 1935, the Legion changed its official name to the "Totul pentru Ţară" party. It existed into the early part of World War II. Its members were called "Greenshirts" because of the predominantly green uniforms they wore.

Nationalism is an ideology and movement characterized by the promotion of the interests of a particular nation, especially with the aim of gaining and maintaining the nation's sovereignty (self-governance) over its homeland. Nationalism holds that each nation should govern itself, free from outside interference (self-determination), that a nation is a natural and ideal basis for a polity, and that the nation is the only rightful source of political power. It further aims to build and maintain a single national identity—based on shared social characteristics such as culture, language, religion, politics, and belief in a shared singular history—and to promote national unity or solidarity. Nationalism, therefore, seeks to preserve and foster a nation's traditional culture, and cultural revivals have been associated with nationalist movements. It also encourages pride in national achievements, and is closely linked to patriotism. Nationalism is often combined with other ideologies, such as conservatism or socialism for example.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Cioran revised The Transfiguration of Romania heavily in its second edition released in the 1990s, eliminating numerous passages he considered extremist or "pretentious and stupid". In its original form, the book expressed sympathy for totalitarianism, [6] a view which was also present in various articles Cioran wrote at the time, [7] and which aimed to establish "urbanization and industrialization" as "the two obsessions of a rising people". [8] Marta Petreu's An Infamous Past: E.M. Cioran and the Rise of Fascism in Romania, published in English in 2005, gives an in-depth analysis of The Transfiguration.

His early call for modernization was, however, hard to reconcile with the traditionalism of the Iron Guard. [9] In 1934, he wrote, "I find that in Romania the sole fertile, creative, and invigorating nationalism can only be one which does not just dismiss tradition, but also denies and defeats it". [10] Disapproval of what he viewed as specifically Romanian traits had been present in his works ("In any maxim, in any proverb, in any reflection, our people expresses the same shyness in front of life, the same hesitation and resignation... [...] Everyday Romanian [truisms] are dumbfounding."), [11] which led to criticism from the far right Gândirea (its editor, Nichifor Crainic, had called The Transfiguration of Romania "a bloody, merciless, massacre of today's Romania, without even [the fear] of matricide and sacrilege"), [12] as well as from various Iron Guard papers. [13]


21 rue de l'Odeon (red point) Cioran a Paris3.jpg
21 rue de l'Odéon (red point)
from Coasta Boacii to the Rue de l'Odeon Cioran a Paris7.jpg
from Coasta Boacii to the Rue de l'Odéon

After returning from Berlin in 1936, Cioran taught philosophy at the Andrei Șaguna High School in Brașov for a year. In 1937, he left for Paris with a scholarship from the French Institute of Bucharest, which was then prolonged until 1944. After a short stay in his home country (November 1940 – February 1941), Cioran never returned again. This last period in Romania was the one in which he exhibited a closer relationship with the Iron Guard, which by then had taken power (see National Legionary State ). On 28 November, for the state-owned Romanian Radio, Cioran recorded a speech centered on the portrait of Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, former leader of the movement, praising him and the Guard for, among other things, "having given Romanians a purpose". [14]

He later renounced not only his support for the Iron Guard, but also their nationalist ideas, and frequently expressed regret and repentance for his emotional implication in it. For example, in a 1972 interview, he condemned it as "a complex of movements; more than this, a demented sect and a party", saying, "I found out then [...] what it means to be carried by the wave without the faintest trace of conviction. [...] I am now immune to it". [15]

Cioran started writing The Passionate Handbook in 1940 and finished it by 1945. It was the last book he wrote in Romanian, though not the last to deal with pessimism and misanthropy through delicate and lyrical aphorisms. Cioran published books only in French thereafter.

Portrait of Emil Cioran Emil Cioran, filosofo y escritor.jpg
Portrait of Emil Cioran
The tomb of Cioran and Simone Boue Cioran tombe.jpg
The tomb of Cioran and Simone Boué

In 1949, his first French book, A Short History of Decay, was published by Gallimard and was awarded the Rivarol Prize in 1950. Cioran later refused every literary prize he was given.

The Latin Quarter of Paris became Cioran’s permanent residence. He lived most of his life in isolation, avoiding the public, but still maintained contact with numerous friends, including Mircea Eliade, Eugène Ionesco, Paul Celan, Samuel Beckett, Henri Michaux and Fernando Savater.

Cioran died of Alzheimer's disease [16] and is buried at the Montparnasse Cemetery.

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",[ citation needed ] 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). [17]

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 On the Heights of Despair.

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 as a complete failure". [18] In an interview he stated that Bach had been a "kind of religion" for him. He mentioned that Bach and Dostoyevsky were the two great obsessions of his life, but that while his passion for Dostoyevsky ended up diminishing somewhat, his obsession with Bach "remained intact".

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." [19] 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). [ citation needed ]


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. A decision taken by the Court of Appeal of Paris stopped the commercial sale of the collection. However, in March 2011, the Court of Appeal ruled that the seller was the legitimate owner of the manuscripts. 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, [20] 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. [21] Stagings were organized in the Romanian city of Sibiu [20] [21] and in the Luxembourg, at Esch-sur-Alzette (both Sibiu and Luxembourg City were the year's European Capital of Culture). [20] In 2009, the Romanian Academy granted posthumous membership to Cioran. [22]

Major works



All of Cioran's major works in French have been translated into English by Richard Howard.

See also


  1. Robert Wicks. Schopenhauer's 'The World as Will and Representation': A Reader's Guide. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 156. ISBN   1441104348. "Cioran was impressed especially by Mainländer".
  2. Cioran, 1933, in Ornea, p.191
  3. Cioran, 1934, in Ornea, p.192
  4. Cioran, 1933, in Ornea, p.190
  5. Cioran, 1936, in Ornea, p.192
  6. Ornea, p.40
  7. Ornea, p.50-52, 98
  8. Cioran, in Ornea, p.98
  9. Ornea, p.127, 130, 137–141
  10. Cioran, 1934, in Ornea, p.127
  11. Cioran, 1936, in Ornea, p.141
  12. Crainic, 1937, in Ornea, p.143
  13. Ornea, p.143-144
  14. Cioran, 1940, in Ornea, p.197
  15. Cioran, 1972, in Ornea, p.198
  16. Bradatan, Costica (28 November 2016). "The Philosopher of Failure: Emil Cioran's Heights of Despair". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  17. Weiss, Jason (1991). Writing At Risk: Interviews Uncommon Writers. University of Iowa Press. ISBN   9781587292491.
  18. Cioran, 4 December 1989, in Newsweek
  19. Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston, Searching for Cioran (Indiana University Press), p.6
  20. 1 2 3 ‹See Tfd› (in Romanian) "Teatru românesc în Luxemburg", at HotNews.ro; retrieved 15 November 2007
  21. 1 2 Ioan T. Morar, "Cronică de lângă teatre. A făcut Emil Cioran karate?", in Academia Cațavencu , 45/2007, p.30
  22. ‹See Tfd› (in Romanian) Membrii post-mortem al Academiei Române, at the Romanian Academy site

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