50 (IDENTICAL) SHADES OF BLACK: Cioran, pessimism, and the white-washing of worlds

Emil Cioran is one of the patron saints of the absurd association of lucidity and pessimism, supposedly embodying a “lucidity” that is greater than that of standard philosophy. This assumption of supra-philosophical lucidity is no spontaneous reaction to Cioran’s prose, but is contained within it as purportedly part and parcel of his de-mystification of all and sundry except for himself.

“I turned away from philosophy when it became impossible to discover in Kant any human weakness, any authentic accent of melancholy, in Kant and in all the philosophers”.

This is an interesting declaration. We know that Cioran was at first very enthusiastic for Adolf Hitler, even to the point of calling himself a “Hitlerist”, and then he “turned away”. His conversion (or de-conversion) away from Hitler was seemingly for the opposite reason than he had for turning away from Kant and from philosophy in general: Cioran turned away from Hitler because of Hitler’s “human weakness” (he lost).

For many he is a great writer, but Cioran is above all great in terms of auto-publicity in the name of a one-sided view. This one-sidedness is what gives him a unified homogeneous perspective and the perspicacity that goes with that, but blinds him to the rest. Cioran just goes on and on about how “lucid” he is and so has programmed people to repeat “Cioran is lucid” as if it were their own opinion. Cioran is a monist, and so not as “lucid” as all that.

One may be willing to acknowledge that Cioran is no model of lucidity, nor of resistance, but exculpate him in the name of his intensity. Once again, we must realise that Cioran’s intensities are very limited in range, and this repetetiveness and lack of differenciation are in fact a form of de-intensification.

Rather, Cioran is intensely hypocritical. He may be a useful intellectual guide in a dark period when one needs that sort of heroic intensity, but the repetition, montony, and one-sidedness quickly become boring.

I remember seeing Michel Tournier on TV, on a literary programme promoting one of his books. There was another guest who had published a book on Cioran. The host asked Tournier what he thought of Cioran’s works, and he replied that they were OK, but that he preferred works that did not limit themselves just to grey but ones that were full of all the colours of the rainbow.

Note: I am indebted to a facebook conversation with Artxell Knaphni and Adrian Martin for helping me to clarify my ideas.

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One Response to 50 (IDENTICAL) SHADES OF BLACK: Cioran, pessimism, and the white-washing of worlds


    I think that’s fair.
    I guess, the fact that I haven’t really gone on to read all of the Cioran works that I have, is due to my not sharing his particular stance & motives. But that doesn’t prevent me acknowledging & appreciating those moments of aphoristic power when Cioran breaks through his chosen contexts to utter well expressed insights of extremity & intensity, insights of an empiric spirituality that, at their best, have a ‘universal’ suggestiveness.

    That his “intensities are very limited in range” would be a natural corollary of the kind of concentrative intensity Cioran exemplifies. As we know, he has a strong ambivalence towards ascetic intensity, which it could be said, he somewhat & partially exemplifies. Unlike Nietzsche, who ranges beyond the psychological, Cioran could be said to wallow in psychology, to the extent that everything is psychologised, in an allegedly anti-spiritual way, & it is only in this tense, antithetical realm, where Cioran chooses, or is compelled, to dwell.


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