“Zen pessimism: on E. M. Cioran and non-being” – Brad BAUMGARTNER

CYCLOPS JOURNALA journal of Contemporary Theory, Theory of Religion and Experimental Theory, no. 1, London, 2016, p. 10-26. [Pdf]

Shock to the System

Unlike systematic philosophers, many of whom spend large swaths of time grappling with the fastidious organization of their ideas, pessimist philosopher E. M. Cioran gained a reputation for dismantling the so-called systematic utility of philosophy in favor of  a fragmented, disintegrative one. As Eugene Thacker suggests in an  interview entitled “The Sight of a Mangled Corpse,” paying  consideration to Cioran necessitates a corollary counter-analysis of philosophy itself. Thus, he indicates that

there is something in Cioran’s work that mitigates against philosophy in the key of philosophy. That is a good definition of “pessimism” to me—the philosophy of the futility of philosophy.  Cioran takes up this thread from other thinkers to be sure—Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Lichtenberg, Leopardi, Pascal, the French moralists. His writing itself works against the presuppositions of grand, systematic philosophy, composed as it is of fragments, aphorisms, stray thoughts. It is refreshing to read his work today, especially against the mania for systematicity in philosophy textbooks or the so-called speculative realist treatises. (2013, 386)

Thacker’s analysis continues, pointing out that there is ‘subtractive  rigour to this kind of pessimism, what Nietzsche called the rigour of the “unfinished thought.” Cioran appeals to the secret voice inside all our heads when we read philosophy, or science, or psychology, or self-help: “Really? You really think we can just figure it all  out?”’(Ibid)… [+]


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