Emil Cioran On the Heights of Despair
From disgust to passion, Emil Cioran goes through all the contradictions that constitute him and that his nightly vigils have revealed, similar to the flashes of lucidity of the enlightened man. If he was able to climb the peaks of despair rather than lead the more classical existence of a Parisian student working on theses and limiting himself to intellectual digressions in three parts -thesis- antithesis, synthesis-, Emil Cioran owes it to his illness: insomnia. It doesn’t matter that no one really considers it an evil. Illness has captious charms that it is enough to desire, even partially, to be touched by it.
“There is no one who, after having triumphed over pain or illness, does not feel, in the depths of his soul, a regret — however vague, however pale. [When pain is an integral part of one’s being, its overcoming necessarily gives rise to regret, as if it were something that had disappeared. What I have of better in me, as well as what I lost, it is to suffering that I owe it. Therefore, one can neither love it nor condemn it. I have a particular feeling for it, difficult to define, but which has the charm and the attraction of a twilight".
Emil Cioran’s writing activity then appears as a way to overcome his terrible insomnia that kept him away from any conventional existence and made him know the lonely or marginal nights of Paris. The overcoming of this sickly state constitutes an attitude that Nietzsche would not have disowned, yet Emil Cioran deviates from the conclusions of his predecessor and chooses not to exalt pure power but its disenchanted form: melancholy.
“The aesthetic elements of melancholy envelop the virtualities of a future harmony that organic sadness does not offer. The latter necessarily leads to the irreparable, while melancholy opens on the dream and the grace".
Emil Cioran remains all too human in accepting his floundering. If it is probable that Nietzsche knew an apathy as virulent as him, his fight against the compassionate feelings will have refused him to relate the least personal account of it. As for Emil Cioran, he claims no such will. Outside himself, evil and good do not exist. The only real thing is the contradictory struggles that are going on in his soul, both exalted and tired. The short paragraphs alternate voices that do not always seem to emanate from the same individual, if the author’s taste for disenchanted transcendence were not the haunting refrain of their variations. Emil Cioran recognizes a most fatal apathy, translating the interior of a devitalized man — sick of insomnia, and sick of refusing it.
“At this moment, I don’t believe in anything at all and I have no hope. Everything that makes up the charm of life seems empty to me. I have neither a sense of the past nor of the future; the present seems to me only poison. I do not know if I am desperate, because the absence of all hope is not necessarily despair".
He also recognizes the vertigo that seizes the man intoxicated by his ascent, the one who, having surpassed most other men in a journey of loneliness and despair, realizes that threatening abysses that surrounded him had never been a threat to his invincible soul.
“I feel at this moment an imperious need to shout, to push a howl that frightens the universe. I feel an unprecedented roar rising within me, and I wonder why it doesn’t explode, to annihilate this world, which I would swallow in my nothingness. I feel the most terrible being that has ever existed in history, an apocalyptic brute overflowing with flames and darkness.”
It doesn’t matter that these two attitudes exclude each other -except in the extreme character of their descriptions- because they may not convince whoever refuses the chaos in itself, but will know how to make the one who accepts to know it or the one who has already known it abdicate.
“Those who have few moods and are unaware of the experience of the confines cannot contradict themselves, since their reduced tendencies cannot be opposed. Those who, on the contrary, feel intensely hatred, despair, chaos, nothingness or love, whom every experience consumes and precipitates towards death; those who cannot breathe outside the peaks and are always alone, all the more so when they are surrounded — how could they follow a linear evolution or crystallize into a system?”
Nietzsche feared to exalt vital fatigue by relaxing the authority that padlocked in him any compassionate instinct; Emil Cioran, on the contrary, recognizes this pity as a tender laxity that restores confidence to a soul that fatigue would never allow itself to spare anyway. Emil Cioran’s captivating ardor then seems to be the epic breath that accompanies and enchants the one who is heading towards the peaks of despair.
“How can one still dare to speak of life when one has destroyed it in oneself? I have more esteem for the individual with thwarted desires, unhappy in love and desperate, than for the impassive and proud sage.”