HTMLGIANT – The Internet Literature Magazine Blog of the Future, April 12th, 2013
Anathemas and Admirations
by E. M. Cioran
Arcade Publishing, Nov 2012
272 pages / $14.95
E.M. Cioran’s work indicates the caustic philosophical consequences of sleepless rumination upon insignificance and failure. It is thick with anxiety, but retains buoyancy, the sick humour of sneering into the abyss. For a generation allied by smug cynicism and chic nihilism, to encounter a space of understanding free of the sour stench of complaint might be palliative! It could correct the posture, provide iron to the will, destroy some friendships, and it might well be a taste of joy, a flicker of warmth… at the very least, it might mortify those prone to complaint…
Cioran was a Romanian born philosopher mystic who honed his craft in French, known for sharp edged aphorisms, fragments, recalling Nietzsche’s Daybreak. His was the bleak philosophy of insomnia, horrific laboring through late hours, candid lamentations of his very birth, his eyes drooping down his skull, a cigarette sizzling against an open sore. In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche states “the thought of suicide is a strong consolation; one can get through many a bad night with it.” Cioran’s entire oeuvre can be seen as exploring this sentiment.
In 2012, a number of his books were published in fine editions. Anathemas and Admirations collects two of his books, Exercise d’admiration and Aveux et anathèmes. The resulting combination allies a series of literary essays – the admirations of a wide range of writers including Borges, Beckett, Fitzgerald – alongside clusters of confessional aphorisms:
“To have nothing more in common with men than the fact of being a man!”
“One can imagine everything, predict everything, save for how long one can sink.”
Cioran’s admirations offer intimate curmudgeonly affection on other writers, and are exemplary accounts of his method and approach. For instance, in Some Meetings, Cioran offers moments of intimacy with Beckett which reveal as much about Beckett’s saintly detachment as Cioran’s brooding disgust: “he disparages no one, unaware of the hygienic function of malevolence.” For reference points on other literary admirations, Henry Miller’s love letter to himself in the guise of a study of Rimbaud and Nick Land’s deranged engagement with Bataille both come to mind in the sense that they eschew the deft theoretical engagement of masters like Blanchot for a biographical confession of obsession and ruin.
I’d like to discuss one of these admirations in depth, because it reveals much about Cioran’s work, because it is a timely reflection, because it is a great essay worth discussion. Fitzgerald: The Pascalian Experience Of An American Novelist would make a great companion piece to the recent Luhrmann production of The Great Gatsby. An indication of the decline in Fitzgerald’s interpretation and cultural value. A kind of how-to-read Fitzgerald, hardening the resolve of teens forced to endure limp scholastic interpretations. Imagine a generation of lit-thugs interpreting Gatsby through Cioran instead of Luhrmann! Cinemas ablaze, Dicaprio holed up in some secure locale offering daily apologies to the world via twitter, his fatwah anguish consoled by Rushdie. Given the resurgence in interest in Fitzgerald’s work, the publication of Anathemas and Admirations is fortuitous!
In 1955, when Cioran’s essay was written, Fitzgerald was dead 15 years. He’d drank himself to death after his wife, Zelda, was institutionalized as a schizophrenic. His degradation was preserved in intimate detail in a series of essays he wrote long before his death, between 1935-1936, collected as The Crack-Up. He was forty years old and experiencing his bout of lucidity, the consequence of a crash after seven years of alcoholic, hedonistic excess. In these essays, Fitzgerald attempts to locate his experience within the general tumult of his Lost Generation, dismissed by Cioran as a complacent gesture. Where Cioran finds value is precisely that very specific and very personal experience of ruin that Fitzgerald expresses: “they partake of an essence, of an intensity, that transcends contingencies and continents.”
Cioran’s admiration of Fitzgerald opens with a study of two experiences of lucidity: innate lucidity as graceful immanence, and lucidity developed as an affliction, experienced as a curse. Fitzgerald’s struggle with developed lucidity is established with a quote from The Crack-Up that presents failure as a response to trauma felt long after the event, a kind of corruptive cancer. Cioran expresses his regard for this Fitzgerald, and asserts that The Crack-Up is no mere curio of the degradation of a populist author, but the only piece of literature of Fitzgerald’s worth considering a success… [+]