Cioran began his philosophical life as an enthusiastic vitalist in the Nietzschean tradition, espousing a life-affirming ethos with little care for form or logical argumentation. Nevertheless, his preoccupations were still those of the more traditional philosophers whom he scorned, not least in his fixation with death. But whereas Socrates described philosophy as a form of training for the end and met death with a serene poise and grace, Cioran found that reason and wisdom are impotent in the face of annihilation, largely due to the same reasons that drove so much of 19th century anti-foundational thought: the primacy of biology, the destabilisation of language and the historicism of all ethical systems.
For Cioran, reason seemed a weak superstructure erected on the irrational force of life itself and to crown this unknowing was the inescapable approach of death and non-existence. If philosophy struggled to make sense of life, what could it possibly offer on death? Such anti-Enlightenment forces drove Cioran to feel himself divided from common humanity, due to his intense awareness of the inevitability of annihilation: “When consciousness becomes independent of life, the revelation of death becomes so strong that its presence destroys all naivete, all joyful enthusiasm, and all natural voluptuousness…Equally empty are all man’s finalizing projects and his theological illusions.” There was simply the raw experience of life itself and the mind’s weak and fumbling attempts to make sense of it, all in the knowledge that one day there would be no life and no mind and no thoughts.
Try as we might to maintain a dignified attitude in the face of death, for Cioran a genuine and unadorned contemplation of our mortality leaves us without motivation and meaning. Greek Naturalism and Roman Stoicism held no appeal, nor was a Nietzschean overcoming possible. After the war Cioran re-fashioned himself as a sardonic aphorist and cynical commentator on human affairs. In many ways he became the anti-Sartre. Whereas the latter preached freedom, possibility and emancipation, Cioran produced volume after volume that dwelt immovably on human bondage, entrapment and finitude. All ideologies were bankrupt, freedom a lie, violence and hatred the natural human condition, and to end it all was the blank cul de sac of death. Cioran had previously found all attempts to contain and neuter the fact of our dissolution to be highly suspect, but now he would relentlessly re-iterate the impotence of thought when faced with annihilation.
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Artiste, écrivain, Philosophe (1911 - 1995)
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