The Questions of Milinda and the Dangers of Wisdom – CIORAN

If we have laid violent hands on our desires, persecuted and smothered our attachments and our passions, we shall curse those who have encouraged us to do so, first of all the sage within ourselves, our most redoubtable enemy, guilty of having cured us of everything without having rid us of the regret for anything. Limitless is the confusion of the man who longs for his old enthusiasms and who, uncomforted for having triumphed over them, sees himself succumb to the venom of quietude. Once we have perceived the nullity of all desires, it requires an effort of superhuman obnubilation, it requires sanctity, in order to be able to experience them again and to give ourselves up to them without reservation. The detractor of wisdom, if he were a believer as well, would never stop repeating: “Lord, help me to fall, to wallow in every error and every crime, inspire me with words that scorch You and devour me, which reduce us both to ashes.” We cannot know what the nostalgia for failure is if we have not experienced that of purity to the point of disgust. When we have dreamed too much of Paradise and been a familiar of the Beyond, we reach the point of irritation and lassitude. The disgust for the other world leads to the amorous obsession with hell. Without this obsession, religions, in what is truly subterranean about them, would be incomprehensible. Aversion to the elect, attraction to the damned—a double movement of all those who dream of their former follies and who would commit any sin if they no longer had to mount “the path of perfection.” Their despair is to acknowledge the progress they have made in detachment, whereas their inclinations did not destine them to excel in it. In The Questions of Milinda, King Menander asks the ascetic Nagasena what distinguishes the man without passion from the passionate man: “The passionate man, O king! when he cats, enjoys the flavor and the passion of flavor; the man without passion enjoys the flavor, but not the passion of the flavor.”—The entire secret of life and of art, the whole of here-on-earth abides in that “passion of the flavor.” When we no longer experience it, there remains for us, in our destitution, only the resource of an exterminating smile.


CIORAN, E. M. “The Dangers of Wisdom”, The Fall into Time. Transl. by Richard Howard. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1970, pp. 158-159.