Wednesday, February 01, 2006

E.M. Cioran

Ah, so it comes out that E.M. Cioran was a pro-Nazi anti-Semite in his youth! Why do I fear that people who have never read Cioran will suddenly know who he was and hold him up as proof that intellectuals just can't be trusted?

Cioran's work is almost entirely a collections of aphorisms and paragraphs that are so bleak and despairing that you're almost disappointed to discover that he never committed suicide. The anti-semitic revelation isn't exactly a revelation though. His 1936 book The Transfiguration of Romania was strongly pro-fascist and anti-Jew. And, unlike Heidegger, Cioran owned up to his past and actually dealt with it later in life. Well... or sort of...

From the Chronicle of Higher Ed:
"I used to feel an inferiority complex that bordered on madness... ," Cioran confessed at one point about his analysis of Jews in Romania's Transformation. "It is impossible not to see in these pages a secret passion for the Jews." Elsewhere he blamed the book on "delirium," echoing Nietzsche that "we are the victims of our temperaments." In 1946 he wrote that he had become "immune to any belief." (his biographer) Petreu sees his first Parisian book — A Short History of Decay (1949) as a sideways apology.

I'm guessing he wasn't the only ex-Nazi sympathizer to consider himself "immune to any belief" later in life. A Short History of Decay is a fascinating book, but I'm not sure I see the sideways apology there.

In some ways, I'm unsurprised by Cioran's early fascination with Nazism. To quote again: "Hostile to Enlightenment reason, intolerant of tolerance, morose about the decline of European civilization, a decadent with an amoral slant on life, Cioran combined the idiosyncratic qualities and paradoxical prose outsiders often seek in bringing a French intellectual to international fame." This is an accurate description of Cioran's work, and again, it's not terribly shocking to see fascism, that non-belief for people who can believe in nothing, appealing to the young Cioran. It's tragic. But, again, there's something in that post-Enlightenment gloom that seems particuarly vulnerable to the lure of fascism.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Cioran site...

http://www.geocities.com/PlanetCioran

Rufus said...

Merci!