“Only from the heart do we know when something changes”: interview with Simona Constantinovici about the Dictionary of Cioranian terms

“The Dictionary of Cioranian Terms intends to be a sort of invitation to read the philosopher in a different way, to put him in a light that extracts its fascicles from the substance of the words, from their uninterrupted story, impacting a future that stands, as a prey, lurking it.”

Simona Constantinovici

Simona Constantinovici (born 1968) is a Romanian writer, intellectual, and professor of lexicology, poetic lexicography, stylistics, interpretive semantics and creative writing at the Faculty of Letters, History and Theology of the Universitatea de Vest din Timișoara. She is the author of 15 books. Her poems and short stories have appeared in several anthologies and literary publications, both in Romania and abroad. She has been granted several literary awards for them.

Rodrigo Menezes: Dear Simona Constantinovici, first of all I would like to thank you for granting us this unique interview. You are the coordinator of a recently published lexicographical work (a dictionary) of Cioranian terms, something that places the Romanian author in the hall of philosophers who have their own dictionaries (Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, Sartre, and so many others). How did the project originate? How was the making of it?

Simona Constantinovici: The spark of this lexicographical project came to life completely by chance, on a Spring afternoon, in Timișoara, at a good friend’s house. While invoking Stéphane Mallarmé, his famous poem published in 1897, I uttered: a coup de dés n’abolirai jamais le hasard… A few years ago, I had published a Dictionary of Arghezian terms.[1] A friend of mine, Ciprian Vălcan, thought it would an interesting idea to offer it to Mr. Giovanni Rotiroti.[2] He was then in Timișoara, promoting a book of his about Cioran.

You said that major philosophers, such as Kant, Hegel, Heidegger or Sartre, have their conceptual dictionaries. Poets and writers of prose, big references and names of the universal culture as a whole, also have their dictionaries: from Stendhal to Marcel Proust, from Giacomo Leopardi to Eugenio Montale, and so on. Solomon Marcus, a mathematician who is among the last encyclopedists of our country, believed in these tools, which he considered to be indispensable for a culture that respects itself.

Going back to the meaning of the question, philosophical lexicography is still fragile in Romania. I would cite very few publications within this genre, while remarking that they do not make up for the absence of other equally important dictionaries. This is the only way to draw up a relevant picture of Romanian philosophy, and to make comparisons between different concepts, systems of thought, terminologies. We have a dictionary by Marta Petreu, being the result of a research project focused on the philosophy of D. D. Roșca.[3] Another one, by Amalia Lumei, focuses on the conceptual core of Mircea Eliade’s works, stemming from her doctoral thesis. There is also a dictionary with the key-terms of Lucian Blaga’s philosophy,[4] edited by Florica Diaconu and Mircea Diaconu. Maybe there are others, but I haven’t heard of them. In general, works that fall within this perimeter, namely literary or philosophical lexicography, have a special status. Not being widely distributed, these dictionaries risk becoming extinct as quick as they appear.

R.M.: Could you tell us about the method adopted? What were the criteria for sorting out the significant terms? I assume it was not only a quantitative criterion, I mean, the frequency of terms…

S.C.: The method – which initially made some of the participants in the project a bit uptight – was basically lexicographic. Therefore, the criteria derived from this particular approach. The quantitative criterion was not the only one. It came somehow naturally, as a result of the organization of the linguistic material in different pieces of articles, the so-called decoupage [decupaje]. It’s the result of observing a given lexical dynamism. The first criterion was then to identify the dominant concepts with which Cioran’s philosophy operates. The twelve contributors invited to the project came up with the dictionary articles, based on a model sheet. Along the way, depending on the material selected, some particular notes appeared. The dictionary articles are not like pieces of cloth to be cut and sown all together, as in some patchwork quilt. Each of the authors read the Cioran’s texts in very different ways. From this first act is then born the process of sorting out the key-terms and the contexts in which they occur. Of course, that homogeneity has been preserved, broadly speaking, without which such a project would not be justified.

R.M.: Are there footnotes and/or explanatory texts? Does it show the number of occurrences of each term?

S.C.: I opted not to use a footnote system. Instead, I found it appropriate to preface the volume to show which ways Cioran’s letter [litera] leads to, and by extension the spirit of the letter, how we moved from the conceptual/terminological structure to the general content structure, the revelations we had along the way as a reflection of this searching/probing exercise in the vast field of words.

The frequency of the terms is important, as an index of the semantics of a discourse, be it philosophical or otherwise. It is not just a matter of stating the fact that the author excessively employs a given term, in an obsessive manner, or that such and such terms are never used at all. An author’s lexicon accounts for the profile of his discourse, for its semantics. We mustn’t ignore such a criterion. It is a relevant one, inasmuch as it often discloses new dimensions of the text that could as well never have been thought of. Dictionaries also have this purpose, to drill deeply, to dig lexemes and meanings out to the surface. The work of the lexicographer resembles, here, that of the archaeologist. Once the elements have been sorted out from the texts, we are amused by them [le amușinăm], looking at them fixedly as if they were actual objects, before placing them in one of the dictionary entries. Words are weighed, especially when dealing with philosophical discourses. In the case of Cioran, a very poetic one, by the way.

R.M.: In your review of the Dictionary,[5] you highlight two special entries: eternitate [eternity] and esență [essence]. Cioran shared with Saint Theresa and other mystics the obsession for “God’s epoch”, meaning eternity. One of the texts in A Short History of Decay (a very important one, I’d say), titled “Obsession of the Essential” [Hantise de l’Essentiel], returns – in a new linguistic framework – to an issue that had been approached in his 1936 book, Cartea amăgirilor [The Book of Illusions], namely in the section titled Gustul amagirilor [The taste of illusions], in which Cioran opposes, and then mixes, the essences on the one hand, and illusions on the other. Isn’t it surprising that Cioran undertakes a passionate apologetic defense of the vital importance of illusions? How relevant are these two terms – esență, eternitate – in Cioran’s Romanian discourse and semantic profile?

S.C.: Eminently philosophical, abstract terms such as essence and eternity may be regarded as conceptual vehicles alongside life, death, God, being, absolute and other terms with which those two maintain a relation of concatenation and relative intimacy. They lead to a semantic nucleus so to speak, a conceptual space around which Cioran’s philosophical visions and conceptions stem from. For example, eternity [eternitate] appears in 258 different contexts, outlining a true syntagmatic constellation: “luminous eternity” [eternitate luminoasă], “aromas of eternity” [arome de eternitate], “eternity of life” [eternitatea vieții], “quarters of eternity” [sferturi de eternitate], “faded eternity of history” [eternitatea fadă a istoriei], equivocal eternity [eternitate echivocă], “serene eternity” [eternitate senină], “drunkenness with eternity” [beţie a eternităţii], “entrance into eternity” [intrarea în eternitate], “tendency towards regions of eternity” [tendinţa spre regiunile eternităţii], “the ecstasy of an eternity” [extazul unei eternităţi], “the experience of eternity” [experiența eternității] / “the full experience of eternity” [experiența integrală a eternității], “the negation of eternity” [negaţia eternităţii], “eternities of ice” [eternități de gheață], the wings of eternity [aripile eternităţii], “the meandering atmosphere of an eternity” [atmosfera învăluitoare a unei eternităţi], “the leap into eternity” [saltul în eternitate], “the shadows of eternity” [umbrele eternității], “the temporal icon of eternity” [icoana temporală a eternităţii], “error exiled in eternity” [eroare exilată în eternitate], “reporters of eternity” [reporteri ai eternității],[6] “the indiscretions of the eternity of the flesh [indiscreţii de eternitate ale cărnii], “the mourning spring of eternity” [primăvară funebră a eternităţii], “the dimension of eternity” [dimensiunea eternității], “fixed and immovable eternity” [eternitate fixă şi imobilă], “formal eternity” [eternitatea formalului], “eternity in time” [eternitate în timp], “eternity beyond time” [eternitate dincolo de timp], “the feeling of eternity of life” [sentimentul eternităţii vieţii], “eternity of the night” [eternitate de noapte], “to sneak into an eternity of night” [şerpuire într-o eternitate de noapte], “negative eternity” [eternitate negativă],[7] “bad eternity” [eternitate rea], the eruption of eternity [irupţia de eternitate], “the consciousness reflected in eternity” [conştiinţa reflectată a eternităţii], “whole experience of eternity” [experienţă integrală a eternităţii], among others.

Cioran writes in Pe culmile disperarii [On the Heights of Despair]: “Eternity cannot be loved with the same passion with which one loves a woman, or with which one loves one’s own destiny, or one’s despair. But there is in the tendency towards the regions of eternity an attraction that resembles a flight towards a clear summer sky, or an ascent towards the discretion of a stellar light. The blue and the shining of the starts are symbols of eternity, in which you no longer want or regret anything.”[8]

The whole Cioranian discourse is rooted in an abstract semantic substance, deeply baroque in its rhetoric. Therefore, these two terms esență, eternitate are important throughout all his texts, inescapable even, as they link the axes of temporality, the past of the present [trecutul de prezent] and, to some extent, if we may transgress what is natural [firescul], the present of the future [prezentul de viitor].

In Cuvânt împreună despre rostirea românească, Constantin Noica intends to demonstrate that some Romanian words do have such a power (dor, întru, fire, sinele/sinea, rost/rostire, and other) to project their very contents in the future, to generate in addition to the known, activated meanings a suite of adjacent meanings that are on standby. Which makes them extraordinary semantic vehicles. Noica’s book is not one of philosophy, stricto sensu, but rather a textbook of philosophical linguistics, or philosophy of language, although it does not remind the masters of this branch of philosophy, such as Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell , John R. Searle, W.O. Quine, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and others.

I was captivated by the questions that Noica is constantly asking: “Are languages simple positive phenomena? Should it be registered only when manifested? Wouldn’t its inquiry enter the realm of the possible? It seems to us that a language, alive and unfolding, embeds what can no longer be expressed, and what has not yet been expressed (…) It is a question, however, of whether it would be up to the specialist, or not, to explore the capabilities of a given language, and to talk about virtual meanings, just as one talks about the current ones.”

Moving forward in a periphrastic regime, I’d say that many of the terms used by Cioran should not be understood in such a way, punctually, restrictively, solely by reference to the context from which they were extracted, but rather as bearers of virtual meanings that are recoverable through interpretive effort. The beauty of such a lexicographical project lies precisely in that resourcefulness. The Dictionary of Cioranian Terms intends to be a sort of invitation to read the philosopher in a different way, to put him in a light that extracts its fascicles from the substance of the words, from their uninterrupted story, impacting a future that stands ahead of them as a lurking beast of prey.

R.M.: I’m interested in the topic of polarity. It seems appropriate to place it at the very heart of Cioran’s writing and thinking (logos). It is linked to the inherent duality of Cioran’s logos, deeply Romantic the way I read it: I think of his poetically formulated, tragicomical internal division; such a (paradoxically) fertile condition, at least from a philosophical (and poietic) point of view. According to the lexical balance drawn up in the Dictionary, could you pinpoint the main semantic polarities building Cioran’s discourse?

S.C.: I think so, too. Through the eyes of a linguist and a lexicologist, I could see that Cioran’s discourse stands a perpetual balance between semantic poles, a rotation in the dual space of words with opposite meanings. Such inexhaustible search, such apparent instability imprints the discourse from start to finish. It’s a permanently induced poeticity [poeticitate indusă permanent], a breath that runs through the entire text. I still believe, and I am not the only one who found this, that Cioran, in his youth at least, let himself be carried away by this lyrical wave, probably providing him with the combustion, those tones of fertile energy that are so necessary for writing. In the texts published later, in French there’s a softening, a cooling down of the [Romanian] poetic essence of his writing. The French language no longer allows him to move in the volutes of sensitivity. The phrases are corseted, cut differently, lucidly. Of course, his style has nothing to gain from this twist on a discursive level.

The main field of semantic polarity is contained in the ontological pair life-death [viață-moarte]. I deem it as an engine of polarity of the entire Cioranian discourse. From that doublet, such an indestructible pair, others derive, such as happiness-unhappiness [fericirenefericire]. I also wrote an article in which I attempt to show that the classical antonym relationship turns out to be distorted in the case of this pair, by the permanent positioning of Cioran’s discourse in a rhetoric of contrasts that come close to inversion –  in a semantic circuit with which we have become accustomed to– of their order.

Speaking of philosophical terms, Constantin Noica wrote, in the foreword to the volume Cuvânt împreună despre rostirea românească: “Philosophical thinking does not seem to have had or to need symbolic language and codes; in other words, it relies not on language [limbaj], but rather on the tongue [limba[9]]. Philosophy is better off based on terms carrying a certain tension in them, while languages  [limbajele] ​​and codes unfold in the safety and relaxation of univocal meanings. Moreover, philosophical thinking rejoices, as Hegel said, when it encounters words in the languages [limbi] not only with special distinguished meanings, but also opposite ones.”

R.M.: Are there significant Romanian words in the Dictionary that are hardly translatable in other languages, whatever they may be? I think, for instance, of the Romanian dor (neutral noun), which happens to be an interesting false friend in Portuguese, as ‘dor’ (feminine noun) for us is durere [pain] in Romanian. But Portuguese may have an equivalent to it, at least Cioran thinks so: Saudade. Is the Romanian noun Dor one of the entries in the Dictionary of Cioranian Terms?

S.C.: Indeed, dor is an untranslatable word. It encapsulates such fructiferous content in it that it would be rather difficult to reduce it to one simple translation. This is why it is said that some Romanian poets, such as Mihai Eminescu, remain untranslatable. The mystery surrounding the Romanian language and culture, their specificity, is usually stored in the writers of the 19th century, in whose writings Eminescu is captured, in a domain that is difficult to describe, of a “vague nonsense” [vag nerost].[10]

Look, to give you an idea, the term Dor, which is so Romanian, appears 98 times in Cioran’s youth texts. I find it interesting to order it in discursive proximities, lexical associations, such as: ‘the longing for being’ [dorul de ființă],[11] ‘divine yearning’ [dor divin], ‘longing for death’ / ‘the longing to die’ [dor de moarte/ dorul de a muri], ‘[the] death wish’ [dorul muririi] , ‘the longing for the end’ [dorul de sfârșit], ‘intense longing for infinite space’ [dor intens după spaţiul infinit], illusory yearning [dor amăgitor], our longing [dorul nostru], ‘the infinity of this yearning’ [infinitul din acest dor], ‘monotonous outpouring/effusion/flow of this longing’ [revărsarea monotonă a acestui dor], ‘the negative infinity of longing’ [infinitul negativ al dorului], ‘desire of wandering away/exile’ [dor de pribegie], ‘the only yearning’ [singurul dor], ‘the longing for other murmurs’ [dorul după alte înmărmuriri], ‘hidden yearning’ [dor ascuns], ‘the immense longing for desolation’ [dorul imens de dezolare], ‘the ‘vegetable longing’ [dorul vegetal,], ‘the longing for the absolute’ [dorul după absolut], ‘the longing for another self’ [dorul după un alt eu], ‘the mortal longing for a woman’ [dor mortal de femeie], ‘the burning desire not to survive emotions’ [dorul arzător de a nu supravieţui emoţiei], ‘the longing to sink in the unbounded/limitless’ [dorul de scufundare în nemărginit], ‘the longing for prolonged suffering’ [dorul suferințelor prelungi], ‘the immanent longing for nature’ [dor imanent firii], ‘the longing for Him’ [dorul de El], ‘the longing for astral fainting/fainting like a star’ [dor de leșin astral], ‘desires filled with sweet alienations and blissful lands’ [doruri pline de dulci înstrăinări şi de meleaguri norocoase], ‘the urge to lead’ [dorul de ducă], ‘the bridge between longing and nature’ [puntea între dor și fire], and so many others. Perhaps all these communicate more properly the semantic profile of the word dor. To establish its discursive substance. That is the reason why I tried to follow the lexicographical discourse with the last section, the Syntagmatic Index [Indice sintagmatic]. In my opinion, the Dictionary can be read thoroughly or otherwise browsed through these syntagmatic entries, in the rhythm of some vocabulary associations out of which any inquiry or interpretation becomes possible.

I would also mention dorí here, with 140 occurrences, a verb intimately related to dor by its very formal structure. It is a derivative of the neutral noun dor. It traces back to the Latin root dol-, from dolus. Let’s only take the last entry in the syntagmatic series above, ‘the bridge between dor and nature’ [puntea între dor și fire]. We are going to realize how fragile that ‘bridge’ is, how illusory, thin. It is as though a relationship of quasi-synonymy was created between dor and nature. Longing/yearning [dor]and nature become, for a fulgurous moment, superposable terms.

In several articles dedicated to the lexeme dor, the Latinist G. I. Tohăneanu proposed as partial synonyms: alean[12] [yearning/longing], amar [bitter], jale [wailing], jind [jealousy] greed [nesaț], etc., and as “terms of import”, melancholy and nostalgia. Even though the term has a diffuse meaning, almost impossible to grasp in a rigorous definition, we can say, metaphorically speaking, that the “equation” of dor is the result of the sum of durere [pain] and dorință [desire]. In the linguistic consciousness of our people – reflected in the semantic depths of the noun dor – the eternal suffering has always been alleviated at the hearth of hope, placed under the window of the future.”[13]

The monosyllabic noun dor has the power of a torrent of senses. Therein resides the semantic mystery, the vortex of contents. The renowned French lexicographer Alan Rey concludes, in an interview: « il se cache toujours quelque chose derrière les mots, quelque chose de précis et d’infini à la fois » [Something always conceals itself behind the words, something precise and infinite all at once].

I’m not sure, maybe I’m wrong, but I think that the noun zădărnicie,[14] a derivative [of dor], would be a difficult one to translate. It is taken from the Slavic zadar. Illusion [amăgire], bitterness [amărăciune], may also be invoked at this point. This was one of the criteria from which I set out to compile the initial list of Cioranian terms: its belonging to an ancient reservoir of the Romanian language. However, I came to discover that Cioran’s discourse follows the linguistic path of neological words. In some terms, I did not find any contexts that were relevant enough, or else was faced with their complete absence. Probably, if the Dictionary was translated into other neo-Latin languages,[15] it would be a good thing to see such dual frameset: the ancient words on the one hand, more difficult to translate, and the new ones on other, the latter being easily transferable to the lexical matrix of other languages, by translation.

Noica metaphorically remarks in the aforementioned text: “A word is a tree. Whether it is born in its own land or it has fallen like a seed from other worlds, a word is always, after all, a specific creature. It has been rooted in the humus of its country, it has fed on its rains, it has grown and breathed under a sun that is nowhere the same, and, as such, it cannot be easily moved, transplanted, translated.” In fact, Noica devises in certain Romanian words the history of our country, for instance the phenomenon of transhumance,[16] which is the pastoralism embedded in the fibers of old Romanian words. What becomes suggested is that attempting to translate them would amount to uprooting them, to annihilating their ancestral potential to motivate the language, a way of being of a people, to feel deeply. Words have a biography and the destiny of beings, they are born, they live, and then they die.

R.M.: The other way round, I was wondering if there are any terms used by Cioran in his French writings that would turn out to be hardly translatable to the Romanian language. I think for instance of ennui, ‘boredom’ in English, often translated into Portuguese as tédio (from Latin taedium) or fastio, aburrimiento  or hastío in Spanish, noia in Italian. Would it be plictiseala in Romanian? Is plictiseala one of the entries in the Dictionary?

S.C.: Plictiseala is indeed the Romanian equivalent of ennui. It is featured in the Dictionary. In fact, it could not be absent since it composes the scenography [recuzita] of dominant concepts when it comes to Cioran’s discourse. It appears in 186 contexts. In Tears and Saints, we find welded, in a web of meanings, true poetic definitions of boredom [plictiseala]: “Plictiseala este forma cea mai elementară de suspendare a timpului, precum extazul este ultima şi cea mai complicată. De câte ori ne plictisim, se opreşte timpul în ţesuturi; uneori îi auzim oprirea şi-i savurăm cu chin tăcerea. Organismul este atunci un ceas care stă şi care ştie că stă. În orice plictiseală există conştiinţa stagnării temporale, cu atât mai mult cu cât, din ce ne plictisim mai mult, din aceea suntem mai puţin inconştienţi.[17]

It is interesting to see, in a fragment connected to what has just been cited, how he conceives of boredom as a possible criterion for classifying people: “Melancolia, tristețea, disperarea, groaza și extazul se ramifică din trunchiul masiv al plictiselii; de aici nediferențierea și originarul acesteia. Există flori ale melancoliei și tristeții; îmi place să mă gândesc la rădăcini, când e vorba de plictiseală. (…) Astfel, orice plictiseală adâncă sfârșit prin a deveni stare în sine și, scoțând-ne din lupta cu obiectele, nu plasează în fața ei, folosind oamenii se mai împărtășesc după modul în care se plictisesc și încearcă să se salveze din plictiseală.” (I, 733)[18] In fact, there is in Cioran an entire typology of the human. His man is multiple: abstract, active, ancient, attenuated, sick of eternity, sick of the City, ordinary, concrete, contemporary, Christian, desperate, enthusiastic, erudite, independent, indigenous [indic], intelligent, free, organic, measured, mediocre, melancholic, modern, moral, naive, unhappy, immortal, normal, objective, passionate, (irremediably) lost, political, ready/fierce [pornit], posthuman, private, (deeply) religious, Renaissance-like, superficial, superhuman, subhuman, arid, visual, etc. An impressive range caught in 2617 occurrences. So many men, so many worlds interwoven in a kaleidoscopic fashion. Many of the definitions proposed by Cioran are memorable, impregnated with the substance of a caustic poeticity, when it comes to describing the human being: “Omul e cerşetor de existenţă. Un salahor ridicol în irealitate, un cârpaci al firii.[19]

As we have shown in the accompanying word [cuvântul însoțitor], the term life has 2816 occurrences. It is the semantic vortex of Cioranian discourse. The other lexemes are magnetically attached to it. One of these, a predominant one, is man [om]. “Even in death I seek life, and my purpose is only to discover it in all that it is not”, Cioran writes in Amurgul gîndurilor.[20] Still in this book, with reference to the way of relating words to the heart [inima[21]]: “Say to a delicate soul despărţire [separation] and you will awaken the poet in them. The same word does not inspire an ordinary man. And not just separation, any other word. The difference between people can be measured by their affective resonance to words. Some fall sick out of ecstatic faiblesse just by listening to a trivial expression, and others remain stone-cold before a proof of futility. For the former, there is not a single word in the dictionary that does not hide a suffering, whereas the latter they do not even have any at all in their vocabulary. Too few people can turn their minds – at any given time – to sorrow.”[22]

R.M.: For those who might be in doubt about the relevance of a Dictionary of Cioranian terms (which is not my case), as if it were just a summary of the philosopher’s essential lexicon (Richard Rorty would say ‘fundamental vocabulary’), what could be said as a counterargument? It is a rather rhetorical question, as I expect an affirmative answer to the following question: does it provide the reader with more than a list of words used by Cioran? Do you think it is possible, with the aid of this lexicographical resource, to come up with philosophical insights, to grasp Cioran’s logos more deeply, even when it comes to his French writings?

S.C.: Yes, I think that a dictionary also has this purpose, to make someone understand the writings of a certain author. It does not work like a textbook, but it has a great power to suggest lines of interpretation. It is not just for philosophers. We can take as an example any type of dictionary drawn up on a given author’s lexicon to see that this is actually the case. It has, above all, the ability to bring to the table a certain kind of lexicon, to incite its semantic matter, thus being able to realize the ability of a writer to master a language in innovative ways. I think that the Dictionary shows us more clearly the Romanian Cioran, an Emil Cioran impregnated by the living echoes of the culture within which he was formed. Such a dictionary displays the changes taken place in his style, compared to the following [French] period.

French lexicographer Alain Rey, who passed away in December 2020, thus defined the dictionary: “It is an aviary where butterflies evolve that are always more beautiful alive than dead and pinned.” About words as such, he says: “Words are migratory birds.” I really like this freedom of the words that no dictionary means to restrict, the dynamics of the words contained in the dictionary articles, though never denied.

R.M.: If it is correct to understand the Romanian preposition întru in the ambivalence of standing or being situated (at a given position/place/horizon) and moving toward (a given position/place/horizon), would it be correct to say that the semantic polarity in Cioran’s discourse is somehow linked to the polyvalent virtues of this preposition? For instance, let’s say that Cioran posits together “the fall” [căderea] and “ecstasy” (or “apotheosis”: it does not imply a sheer mindless contradiction, but rather the conscientiously crafted paradox of identifying those antithetical term in an essential level of understanding; the paradox of being întru (in) a “fallen state” (ordinary existence as such) and yet to experience it in a passionate, enthusiastic, even ecstatic way, as if the philosopher found himself in heaven (or an “eternal present”) without believing it;[23] from the Fall întru an ineffable sort of ecstatic bliss, and vice-versa, from such ecstatic apotheosis întru ordinary existence filled with boredom. Is that a proper reasoning?

S.C.: At this point, I would bring again into discussion maestrul Constantin Noica, for whom this very preposition – which is now a preposition just like any other, a simple junction, a screw of speech and of phrasing, so to speak – once meant much more. I bring Noica into discussion because he constantly refers to the material in the dictionaries of the Romanian language, restoring the philosophical being [ființa filosofică] of Romanian words, their very spirit, by resorting to the multiple meanings camouflaged in the expressions and phrases featured in those lexicographical works. A fine observer and interpreter of the words of the Romanian language, Noica fully understands that a philosophical discourse inevitably feeds on the strength or else on the lability/caducity of words.

Of course, there are the grouchy types [cârcotași] who could always attack the way of relating to a philosophical text. But it is equally true that they will not be able to overcome the force of the semantic torrents of these words which offer resistance. In the preface to Cuvânt împreună despre rostirea românească, the Romanian philosopher remarks “the joy of seeing in the preposition ‘întru’ one of the most suggestive keywords of our philosophical foundation [întemeierea filosofică]”. Further on, in the chapter devoted to this preposition, he says that întru “retains – it is true, even more within locutions than isolated – its dialectical virtue of bringing contradictory meanings together.”

Now I would like to enter the vortex [vârtejul] opened by your question. Here we reach contradictions, paradoxes, the unreality behind words that collide and sound stridently, like the brass in an orchestra. Naturally, the power of a discourse does not lie in a single preposition, but this index can guide us through the semantic mechanisms of the phrases, or it can otherwise lead the entire linguistic material, the syntactic mechanisms, the meaning of the text. It is like a phrasal compass [busolă frastică]. Especially întru, from the Latin intro, very close to another Romanian junction, între, the latter with the etymological doublet inter-. If we take into account the fact that întru retains in its inmost fabric the archaic meaning of the Latin root, then what you say would stand, it would be justified. Întru also has an archaic scent, in such a way that its use brings that patina of time in the phrasing.

If it is between [între] positions, in the middle, à mi chemin (French for ‘midway’), întru creates and strengthens alloys of meanings [aliaje de sens].[24] Dintre and printre are also prepositions formed from între (between), in these cases combined with other prepositions. This indexical network of the Romanian language is important inasmuch as it contributes to the understanding of some adjacent layers of meaning: “To the local meaning or meanings – the fundamental ones, in which it is a matter of being in/at [a fi în], but also to work in/at [a lucra în], to unfold in [a se desfășura în], moving on to: to go in(to)/to enter [a pătrunde în], to sit in [a se așeza în], to sit on [a se așeza pe], to tend to [a tinde către], to spring from [a izvorî din], to limit (oneself) to [a se limita la] –, others are added that are instrumental, temporal, causal, final, relative, modal, even meanings of equivalence, measurement and analogic affinities [raportare analogică].

Almost the entire universe of circumstances is prefigured here, so that everything you say with întru has a permanent rest. Mathematical logics, set theory, or a Hilbert type of axiomatics would fail if they dared to formalize the preposition întru. Or they would crush a creature as alive as this particle.”

Întru is among the words that give an account of the complexity and suppleness of a Romance language such as Romanian. This polysemic preposition reveals the archaic profile of our words, the past captured in the spokes [spițele][25] of meanings/significations. I would circle the answer to your question, again appealing to Noica: “Therefore, întru carries in its content the fundamental contradictions that arise at the heart of being [sânul ființei]; in its movement, it has something of the fundamental approach of thought and its opening fields of logical horizon. And formally, întru represents the circle, the orientation, the moving horizon, the limitation that does not bound. If it wasn’t but a preposition, it could be said that it is a system of philosophy.” I don’t think there’s anything more to add. The end takes our breath away

R.M.: What advice would you give to those starting to read Cioran and who wish to carry out academic research on his works? Do you think it is essential to understand Emil Cioran properly before E. M. Cioran, not only through his Romanian texts (such as On the Heights of Despair, The Book of Illusions, Tears and Saints, Transfiguration of Romania, The Twilight of Thoughts, but also through a comprehensive biographical approach?

S.C.: Any writer should be known like this, not in fragments, but in its entirety if possible. Or, to put it differently, a fragment should always be placed in comparison with the other parts of the work, in order to ultimately extract the network of significations [rețeaua de semnificație], the active substance, the genome, that identifying DNA. But just as only in fragments can we explore the planets with a telescope, in all their beauty, the same goes with reading the texts of an author – in our case Cioran, a philosopher. If we use the Dicţionar as a telescope, a linguistic one, we will enjoy the enlarged landscape of his style. Optics are part of the realia that could lead to the entirety. Pars pro toto.[26] By moving toward or away from the source, the unraveling will take place, truly entering the magma of a phenomenon that continues to arouse the interest of so many intellectuals, and not just philosophers. Dicţionarul could also be an invitation to sit at a common table, even if one comes from a different domain of ​​interest. Dictionaries coagulate, they do not divide. That is how I would characterize them, not otherwise.

R.M.: What is Cioran’s deep Romanianness [românitate]? Does Orthodox Christianity play a major role in this Romanianness, different from Roman Catholicism?

S.C.: It depends on what we mean by this term, românitate.[27] Belonging to the Romanian people? The pride of saying out loud: “Sunt roman” [I am Romanian]? The way in which, throughout your whole life, you struggle not to give up your origins?[28] Like any abstract term, this one, românitate, suffers from a semantic scattering, as it tends to camouflage its content. There are undoubtedly points of tangency between Orthodox Christianity and Romanianness. Names of Romanian rulers or prelates (Orthodox priests, metropolitans, theologians, or Greek Catholic bishops), martyrs of faith who have defended, throughout history, the destiny of Orthodoxy, of faith in general, might as well be discussed. Figures who spent years in prison and yet did not abdicate their beliefs, who kept alive the flame of religiosity, of such românitate ultimately. Constantin Brâncoveanu, Andrei Șaguna, Dumitru Stăniloae, Constantin Galeriu, Arsenie Papacioc, Iustin Pârvu, Gh. Calciu Dumitreasa… Hundreds of them died in communist prisons…

What Cioran wrote in Thye Transfiguration of Romania (1936) is still valid, extremely actual: “Romania’s evolutionary defects are not of a religious nature. If we haven’t advanced for so long, it’s not Orthodoxy’s fault; it’s ours. All it did was to enclosure us and watch over our silence or grief. The destiny of our Orthodoxy has all the characters of the destiny of Romania. (…) In Romania there are many people who believe in God; In our past, I don’t think anyone has doubted it. But the Romanian religiosity is a minor, impassive one, and above all non-aggressive. How many have not made a merit out of our tolerance and turned an insufficiency into a virtue! (…) Nae Ionescu once said that the Romanian nation rests in Orthodoxy.”[29] The times we are living now, amidst this pandemic, only exacerbates the feeling of the inability to understand the religious feeling, to be truly Orthodox in faith, so repressed, denied, humiliated in the past.

R.M.: Dear professor Simona, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your generosity in giving us such an enriching interview. There is much more to learn here than just about Cioran’s thinking and writing style, lexicon, and so forth. I give you the last word to leave some final remarks if you wish.

S.C.: I thank you, in turn, from the bottom of my heart, for inviting me to answer this set of questions. I am very glad to know that there are in Brazil, so far from the country of Emil Cioran and my own, intellectuals who weave soulful connections [legături de suflet] between kindred cultures, between words that stem from the same trunk, the Latin language. Dear Rodrigo, the Portal you have created is unique! I’d like to cordially conclude, as from one beating heart to another, with this fragment from Tears and Saints: “Only the heartbeat reminds us that there was once a Time… Its purpose is not physiological, but metaphysical: marking time. Only through the heart do we know that something has changed, and without this organ of becoming we would have long ago frozen in a desolate ecstasy.”[30]

Sao Paulo, Brazil – Timișoara, Romania
January 2021

[1] Tudor Arghezi (1880-1967) was a Romanian writer, best known for his unique contribution to poetry and children’s literature. Born Ion N. Theodorescu in Bucharest, he explained that his pen name was related to Argesis, the Latin name for the Argeș River.

[2] Associate Professor of Romanian Language and Literature at the Università degli studi di Napoli L’Orientale, in Italy. His academic research and courses revolve around Lingua e letteratura romena, incrementando notevolmente il numero degli studenti, a partire dallo studio delle opere di Mihai Eminescu, Ion Luca Caragiale, Urmuz, Tristan Tzara, Ion Vinea, Geo Bogza, Sasa Pana, Max Blecher, Ilarie Voronca, Benjamin Fundoianu, Tudor Arghezi, Bacovia, Ion Barbu, Lucian Blaga, Emil Cioran, Mircea Eliade, Petru Comarnescu, Constantin Noica, Dan Botta, Eugen Ionescu, Gherasim Luca, Gellu Naum, Paul Paun, Virgil Teodorescu, Nina Cassian, Paul Celan, Petre Solomon, Nichita Stanescu, Marin Sorescu, Marin Mincu, Norman Manea, Dumitru Tepeneag, Mircea Cartarescu, Marta Petreu, and studies on oral, traditional that traces back to a pre-Christian, mythic past such as I canti del morto, Mioriţa, Maestrul Manole, and Romanian magic fairy tales.

[3] Dumitru D. Roṣca (1895-1980) was a Romanian philosopher, professor and member of the Romanian Academy. He studied philosophy at Sorbonne. Best known for his doctoral thesis defended there in 1928: The Influence of Taine on Hegel. The book was later dedicated to Emile Bréhier. Dumitru Roşca translated Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s works into Romanian. He also translated Hegel’s “Life of Jesus” into French. D. Roṣca published in French Existénce tragique: An Attempt of Philosophical Synthesis. He contributed through his writings to the theory of existentialism. His works were influenced by Hegel and Søren Kierkegaard.

[4] Lucian Blaga (1895-1961) is perhaps the greatest Romanian systematic philosopher of all times, also a a university professor, diplomat, poet, playwright, and novelist. Acclaimed for his originality, Blaga is an author whose works have been translated in several different languages. He was a commanding personality of the Romanian culture of the interbellum period. His father being an Orthodox priest, like Cioran’s. He later described his early childhood, in the autobiographical The Chronicle and the Song of Ages, as “under the sign of the incredible absence of the word”.

[5] CONSTANTINOVICI, Simona, „Exaltarea unui naufragiat”. Marginalii la un dictionar de termeni cioranieni, Revista Transilvania, Sibiu, 7/2020. Available at: https://revistatransilvania.ro/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/06.-Simona-Constantinovici.pdf

[6] Pascal — dar mai cu seamă Nietzsche — par nişte reporteri ai eternităţii. “Pascalbut especially Nietzschegives the impression of being a reporter of eternity.” (Amurgul gîndurilor)

[7] It reoccurs in French: “But time is sealed off, time is out of reach; and it is the impossibility of penetrating it which constitutes this negative eternity, this wrong eternity.” (The Fall into Time, transl. by Richard Howard).

[8]Eternitatea nu poate fi iubită cu pasiunea cu care iubeşti o femeie, sau cu care-ţi iubeşti destinul tău, sau disperarea ta proprie. Este însă în tendinţa spre regiunile eternităţii o atracţie ce seamănă cu un zbor înspre un cer senin de vară sau cu avântarea înspre discreţia unei lumini stelare. Azurul şi lumina de stele sunt simboluri pentru această eternitate, în care nu mai doreşti şi nu mai regreţi nimic.” [Eternity cannot be loved with the same passion with which one loves a woman, or with which one loves one’s own destiny, or one’s despair. But there is in the tendency towards the regions of eternity an attraction that resembles a flight towards a clear summer sky, or an ascent towards the discretion of a stellar light. The blue and the shining of the starts are symbols of eternity, in which you no longer want or regret anything.] (Moment şi eternitate). Much shorter in the English translation by Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston: “One cannot love eternity the way one loves a woman, one’s destiny, or one’s despair, for there is in the love of eternity the attraction of the peace of sidereal light.” CIORAN, Emil, On the Heights of Despair (transl. by Ilinca-Zarifopol-Johnston).

[9] Any of the existing world languages, such as English, Romanian, and Portuguese (not in the sense of the formal structure and symbolic elements of human communication as such). Portuguese, like Romanian and other Latin languages, has two different nouns following the distinction made by Constantin Noica: limbaj, limba; in Portuguese, linguagem, língua.

[10] Cf. “Apotheosis of the Vague” in A Short History of Decay: “We might apprehend the essence of nations—even more than that of individuals—by their way of participating in the vague. The specifics in which they live reveal only their transitory character, their peripheries, their appearances. What a nation can express has only a historical value: its success in becoming; but what it cannot express, its failure in the eternal, is the unproductive thirst for itself: its effort to exhaust itself in expression being stricken with impotence, it fills the gap by certain words—allusions to the unspeakable… How many times, in our peregrinations outside the intellect, have we not rested our troubles in the shade of those Sehnsuchts, yearnings, saudades, those sonorous fruits grown for overripe hearts!” His French text has been translated in Romanian: Am putea înțelege esența popoarelor chiar mai bine decît esența indivizilor – prin felul lor de a participa la vag. Evidențele în care ele trăiesc nu le dezvăluie decît caractenil tranzitoriu, periferiile, aparențele lor. Ceea ce poate exprima un popor nu are decît o valoare istorică : e reușita lui în devenire ; dar ceea ce el nu poate exprima, eşecul său întru eternitate, este setea nerodnică de sine : strădania sa de a se secătui prin expresie fiind lovită de neputință, el o înlocuiește prin anumite cuvinte – aluzii la indicibil…” („Apoteoza vagului”, Tratat de descompunere).

[11] The termination -ul is the single (male or neutral) definite article in the Romanian language: the in the English language, which does not differentiate gender and number of definite articles. It does not compose the Romanian nouns, such as dor.

[12] Anelo in Portuguese; anhelo in Spanish.

[13] TOHĂNEANU, G. I. ; BULZA, Teodor, O seamă de cuvinte românești, Timișoara, Editura Facla, 1976, p. 52.

[14] Futility, vanity, uselessness (in the profound existential sense of the Ecclesiastes, vanitas in Latin; vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas). In his Notebooks (Cahiers), published in 1997, only two years after his passing thanks to the diligent transcription of his long-life companion, Simone Boué (who would pass the same year of its appearance), Cioran reminisces this Romanian term: « De mon pays j’ai hérité le nihilisme foncier, son trait fondamental, sa seule originalité. Zădărnicie, nimicnicie – ces mots extraordinaires, non ce ne sont pas des mots, ce sont les réalités de notre sang, de mon sang. » [I have inherited from my country the grassroot nihilism, its fundamental trait, its sole originality. Zădărnicie, nimicnicie – these extraordinary words, no, they aren’t words, they are the realities of our blood, of my blood.] As Simona Constantinovici points out, zădărnicie is etymologically related to dor.

[15] For example, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, and French.

[16] The seasonal migration of livestock, and the people who tend them, between lowlands and adjacent mountains. Source: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/transhumance#

[17] The Romanian version quoted by Simona Constantinovici: “Boredom is the most elementary form of the suspension of time, just as ecstasy is the last and most complicated. Whenever we get bored, time stops in our tissues; sometimes we can even hear it stopping and savor it in silent torment. The body is then a clock that stands and knows it stands. In every boredom lies the consciousness of temporal stagnation, all the more so because the less unconscious we become, the more bored we get.” The English version of this aphorism is different – shorter – and does not fully coincide with the original writing: “Boredom is the simplest way to abolish time, ecstasy the most complex. The more bored one is, the more self-conscious.” CIORAN, E.M., Tears and Saints, transl. by Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995, p. 88.

[18] “Melancholy, sadness, despair, horror and ecstasy grow out from the massive trunk of boredom; hence its non-differentiation and origin. There are flowers of melancholy and of sadness; I like to think of roots when it comes to boredom. (…) Thus, every profound boredom ends up being a state in itself and, removing us from the struggle with the objects, places us before them, in such a way that men could be divided according to how they get bored and try to escape boredom all at once.” Here too the English version is quite different from the Romanian text, a 2-page long aphorism not only shorter in the English edition, but also with some significant changes: “Melancholy, sadness, despair, terror, and ecstasy grow out of boredom’s thick trunk. […] There are flowers of melancholy and of sadness, but only boredom has roots. The secret is to know how to be bored in an essential way. Most people, however, never even scratch the surface of boredom. To live real boredom, one must have style.” CIORAN, E.M., Tears and Saints. Transl. by Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995, p. 89. And the Spanish edition, more loyal to the Romanian writing: “La melancolía, la tristeza, la desesperación, el horror y el éxtasis son ramificaciones nacidas del tronco masivo del aburrimiento; de ahí la indiferenciación y originalidad de éste. Hay flores de la melancolía y de la tristeza; pero me gusta pensar en las raíces cuando se trata del aburrimiento. Así, todo aburrimiento profundo acaba convirtiéndose en un estado en sí que, sustrayéndonos de la lucha con los objetos, nos sitúa frente a ellos, a tal punto que los hombres se dividen según el modo en que se aburren e intentan escapar del aburrimiento.” CIORAN, Emil, Lágrimas y santos. Transl. by Christian Santacroce. Madrid: Hermida, 2017, p. 136.

[19] “Man is the beggar of existence. A ridiculous bastard in unreality, a rag of nature.” An aphorism from Îndreptar pătimaş, literally “The Passionate Guide”, one of Cioran’s last writings still in his native language when already living in France (during the war years); Bréviaire des vaincus in French (“Handbook of the defeated”), Breviario de los vencidos in Spanish (idem).

[20] Book unpublished in English. The title translates as The twilight of Thoughts (one of Cioran’s last writings in Romanian, while already living in Paris). In the French edition: « Je cherche la vie même dans la mort, et n’ai d’autre but que de la découvrir en tout ce qui n’est pas elle. » [I seek life even in death, and I have no other goal than to find it in everything that is not itself.]

[21] It is worth noting that ‘heart’, in Romanian, meaning the organ of the body responsible for the circulating of blood through our bodies, shares its etymological root with the Latin word for ‘soul’, anima, which is in this case a metaphysical or theological (Christian) concept, rather than a material, biological piece of evidence. To say ‘heart’ in Romanian, one says ‘soul’.

[22] In the French edition: « Prononcez devant une âme délicate le mot « séparation », et vous réveillez en elle le poète. Le même mot n’inspire rien à l’homme moyen. Ainsi de n’importe quel autre terme. Ce qui différencie les hommes se mesure à la résonance affective des mots. Il y en a qui, à entendre une expression banale, tombent malades de faiblesse extatique, d’autres restent froids devant une preuve de vanité. Pour ceux-là, point de mot dans le dictionnaire qui ne cache une souffrance, quand les derniers ne l’ont même pas dans leur vocabulaire. Trop rares sont ceux qui peuvent – n’importe quand – tourner leur esprit vers la tristesse. » (Le crépuscule des pensées, Œuvres, Gallimard, 1995)

[23] « J’ai un pied dans le paradis ; comme d’autres en ont un dans la tombe. » [I have one foot in paradise, just as others have it in the tomb] (Cahiers, p. 13).

[24] The Romanian noun aliaj (pl. aliaje) designates a metallic product obtained by melting metal and/or metalloids together. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/alloy?s=t

[25] As in motorcycle or bicycle wheels.

[26] “A part (taken) from the whole”.

[27] STĂNISOR, Mihaela-Genţiana, « Petite introduction à la roumanité », HERRERA A., M. L. (org.). En torno a Cioran – Nuevos ensayos y perspectivas. Pereira: Universidad Tecnológica de Pereira, 2014. Available at: https://portalcioranbr.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/petite-intru-roumanite/

[28] “Ignored or misunderstood by others, the lives of these nations are even more intense. Their history, in addition to being tragic, is as if transfigured, so to speak, by a permanent divine presence. These people do not know the repose, the serenity, the joy of creating in time. Constantly attacked, they can only think of defending themselves. Their history is more than a series of struggles for independence or honor: it is a permanent war, centuries-long, for its very existence. In each of their battles they risk everything: their right to live, their religion, their language, their culture.” ELIADE, Mircea, Los rumanos (1992), in COTOFLEAC, Vasilica, “Dimensiones espirituales”, in: A parte rei. Revista de filosofía. Madri: 2005, nº 40, p. 1-2. Available at: http://serbal.pntic.mec.es/~cmunoz11/vasilica40.pdf

[29] From Schimbarea la faţă a României, “The Transfiguration of Romania” (1936), the cultural-political-philosophical pamphlet which testifies

[30] „Numai bătăile inimii ne mai aduc aminte că a fost cândva un Timp… Rostul lor nu este de ordin fiziologic, ci metafizic: marcarea timpului. Doar prin inimă ştim că se schimbă ceva, căci, fără acest organ al devenirii, am fi încremenit demult într-un extaz pustiu.” CIORAN, Emil, Lacrimi si sfinţi. Bucuresti: Humanitas, 1991, p. 130.


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