“The Anti-Prophet” – CIORAN

In every man sleeps a prophet, and when he wakes there is a little more evil in the world. . . .

The compulsion to preach is so rooted in us that it emerges from depths unknown to the instinct for self-preservation. Each of us awaits his moment in order to propose something—anything. He has a voice: that is enough. It costs us dear to be neither deaf nor dumb. . . .

From snobs to scavengers, all expend their criminal generosity, all hand out formulas for happiness, all try to give directions: life in common thereby becomes intolerable, and life with oneself still more so; if you fail to meddle in other people’s business you are so uneasy about your, own that you convert your “self” into a religion, or, apostle in reverse, you deny it altogether; we are victims of the universal game. . . .

The abundance of solutions to the aspects of existence is equaled only by their futility. History: a factory of ideals . . . lunatic mythology, frenzy of hordes and of solitaries. . . refusal to look reality in the face, mortal thirst for fictions…

The source of our actions resides in an unconscious propensity to regard ourselves as the center, the cause, and the conclusion of time. Our reflexes and our pride transform into a planet the parcel of flesh and consciousness we are. If we had the right sense of our position in the world, if to compare were inseparable from to live, the revelation of our infinitesimal presence would crush us. But to live is to blind ourselves to our own dimensions. . . .

And if all our actions—from breathing to the founding of empires or metaphysical systems—derive from an illusion as to our importance, the same is true a fortiori of the prophetic instinct. Who, with the exact vision of his nullity, would try to be effective and to turn himself into a savior?

Nostalgia for a world without “ideals,” for an agony without doctrine, for an eternity without life . . . Paradise. . . . But we could not exist one second without deceiving ourselves: the prophet in each of us is just the seed of madness which makes us flourish in our void.

The ideally lucid, hence ideally normal, man should have no recourse beyond the nothing that is in him. . . . I can imagine him saying: “Torn from the goal, from all goals, I retain, of my desires and my displeasures, only their formulas. Having resisted the temptation to conclude, I have overcome the mind, as I have overcome life itself by the horror of looking for an answer to it. The spectacle of man—what an emetic! Love—a duel of salivas. .. . All the feelings milk their absolute from the misery of the glands. Nobility is only in the negation of existence, in a smile that surveys annihilated landscapes. Once I had a ‘self; now I am no more than an object .. . I gorge myself on all the drugs of solitude; those of the world were too weak to make me forget it. Having killed the prophet in me, how could I still have a place among men?”

CIORAN, “The Anti-Prophet”, A Short History of Decay. Transl. by Richard Howard. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2012.


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