“In Search of a Not-Man”: Nihilism, Antihumanism, and Dark Mysticism. An insightful approach to Cioran – Interview with Ştefan BOLEA

Ştefan Bolea is the author of Internal Conflict in Nineteenth-Century Literature. Reading the Jungian Shadow (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020). He is currently working as a researcher within the Faculty of Letters of the Babeș-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca, Romania, and as an editor of the literary magazine Apostrof. He is also the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the cultural e-zine EgoPHobia (www.egophobia.ro).

He has received his second doctorate summa cum laude in Comparative Literature in September 2017 (after a first one in Philosophy in 2012) with an interdisciplinary investigation on the archetype of the shadow in the literature. He has won research fellowships in Oslo, Munich, Paris and Vienna. He also has two BA’s in Philosophy and European Studies and one MA in American Studies. He is the recipient of twenty-one national and international awards and distinctions of literature and selections from his texts were translated into German, French, Portuguese and Ukrainian. He has published twelve books (of poetry, essays, and prose) in Romanian.

His activity encompasses a remarkable number of articles in both Romanian and English published with journals such as Philosophy NowRevue Roumaine de Philosophy, Philobiblon, Studia Philosophia, Caietele Echinox and others. He maintains active profiles on ResearchGate and Academia.edu as well as the website www.stefanbolea.ro

RODRIGO MENEZES – Dear Ştefan Bolea, it’s been a few years since I first got hold of your academic production, while searching on-line about Cioran, and I since then became a reader of yours. It’s quite a privilege to do an interview with you, and I would like to begin by thanking you for the generosity of sharing with us some of your knowledge concerning Cioran, in connection with other authors, works, and themes. It is inevitable to place Cioran amidst a modern Romanian constellation of intellectuals that includes great philosophers such as Lucian Blaga and Constantin Noica. How do you regard Cioran, and how is he usually regarded in Romania, in comparison with such authors? Is he considered just as great as Blaga and Noica (even if Cioran refused to elaborate a systematic body of work)? Is Cioran equally sought for when Romanian Philosophy students have to choose authors and themes for their post-graduation theses? By the way, it is often discussed in Academia, in philosophical departments worldwide, whether Cioran is (and should be deemed) a philosopher, or if he’s nothing but a “thinker”, and a writer… Is that even a topic of debate among Romanian readers of Cioran?

ŞTEFAN BOLEA – Dear Rodrigo Menezes, thank you for having me. I too am an admirer of your work and the wonderful job you do with Portal Cioran Brasil. I have learned many things from your work, and I intend to use them in my next Cioran book. I’m also glad that I have found in you a friend and a kindred soul.  

I must begin by introducing some historical and literary facts about my country – some may be new to you and your readership. Let me first tell you that Romania didn’t formally exist until 1877, when Romania joined forces with the Russian Empire in the Russian-Turkish war and eventually won her independence. Of course, the so-called Little Union (the unification of Moldavia and Wallachia) took place in 1859, but Romania wasn’t an internationally recognized state before 1877. And until 1918, Transylvania was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. For instance, Cioran was born in 1911 not in Romania but in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in Hungary basically! If the Great Union (the unification of Moldavia, Wallachia, and Transylvania from 1918) hadn’t happened, Cioran would have probably studied in Budapest and Vienna, not in Bucharest, Berlin, and Paris, and he would have probably written in Hungarian or German.

The Romanian culture is nothing short of a miracle. Exaggerating a bit, our first huge writer was Mihai Eminescu (b. 1850), who wrote his masterpieces in the 1870’s. His place in Romanian literature is mythical because he created the Romanian literary language. Before Eminescu, Hungarian historians claimed that Transylvanians do not deserve to be represented in the Budapest Parliament and shouldn’t have more rights, because Romanian culture is inferior. Romanticism is the Romanian Renaissance. Of course, around 1870, Romanticism was dead in Europe, but Eminescu’s sensibility responded to it, and he considered himself to be the last Romantic. It is a pity that his poems are untranslatable – and if you read him in French or Portuguese, he seems pale. But if you read him in Romanian, he is spectacular: one has the feeling of ultimate perfection (he wrote even more than 10 versions of his poems), the complete harmony between rhyme, rhythm, and idea. I had the same feeling while reading Shakespeare, Goethe, and Baudelaire in the original. It is interesting that Eminescu is also a nihilist, and he may be likened to his contemporaries Nietzsche and Mainländer. He was a big fan of Schopenhauer, discovering him early in his Vienna and Berlin studies.

So, we are in 1870 in Iași and Bucharest: Eminescu writes his Romantic stuff. Fast forward to 1882: Alexandru Macdeonski published his Poezii, and suddenly the whole of Romania discovers and writes Symbolism. Again, a little late: Baudelaire published his Les Fleurs du Mal in 1857. But fast forward again to the 1900-1910’s: Urmuz writes his Pagini bizarre, one of the first pre-Surrealist pieces in the world. Tristan Tzara goes to Zürich and invents Dada. And we all know the story from here. Quick recap of the chronology:

  • Novalis, Hymnen und die Nacht (1800) – Eminescu, Memento mori (1871)  //
  • Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal (1857), Macedonski, Poezii (1882) //
  • Jacques Vaché, Lettres de guerre (1919), Breton, The Surrealist Manifesto (1924), Urmuz, Pagini bizare (1907-1908), Tristan Tzara invents Dada (1915).

Not only synchronism, but also co-invention! I don’t mean to brag, but I guess we Romanians are fast learners…

Now, when Cioran began writing in the late 1920’s and publishing in the early 1930’s, he was part of the so-called 1927 Generation, along with Mircea Eliade, Eugen Ionescu, Constantin Noica and many other lesser known, but great writers. Lucian Blaga (b. 1895) was a little older, publishing his Poemele luminii in 1919 and his first philosophical works in the 1920’s. For Cioran’s generation, the Unification of Romania was no longer an issue, as it had been the case for Blaga’s generation: you must understand, we were obsessed with the Unification in the 1910’s because around a third of the Romanians lived practically in Hungary/Transylvania. In WW1, a great deal of the Romanian ethnics fought against their home country as Austro-Hungarian citizens! This is the theme of a great pre-Existentialist novel, Pădurea spânzuraților / “Forest of the Hanged” (1922) written by Liviu Rebreanu, which I recommend to you and to your readers. Nevertheless, Cioran, Eliade and Noica didn’t care anymore for the Greater Romania, while the earlier generation of Blaga and Rebreanu was thrilled the realization of a long-awaited and seemingly impossible dream. The younger writers wanted to make a name for themselves and adapted to the political and cultural European zeitgeist. They studied abroad, read, and studied what was fashionable in Paris, London, and Berlin, and it wasn’t unaccustomed for them to write and publish in French, English or German. The dark side of this is that the main authors of the 1927 Generation were legionari (a mystical local brand of fascism that was even more radical and murderous than their Italian and German counterparts).

To answer your question specifically, Cioran was banned in Romania until the late 1980’s because of his fascist history and more specifically because of his horrible pages about Romania from The Temptation To Exist (1956): “I believed, and I was perhaps not mistaken, that we had sprung from the lees of the Barbarians, from the scum of the great Invasions, from those hordes which, unable to pursue their march West, collapsed along the Carpathians and the Danube, somnolently squatting there, a mass of deserters on the Empire’s confines, daubed with a touch of Latinity. With that past, this present. And this future. What an ordeal for my young arrogance! ‘How can one be a Rumanian?’ was a question I could answer only by a constant mortification. Hating my people, my country, its timeless peasants enamored of their own torpor and almost bursting with hebetude, I blushed to be descended from them, repudiated them, rejected their sub-eternity, their larval certainties, their geologic reverie. No use scanning their features for the fidgets, the grimaces of revolt: the monkey, alas! was dying in them. In truth, did they not sprout from the very rock? Unable to rouse them, or to animate them, I came to the point of dreaming of an extermination.”[1]

I don’t mind the Romanian criticism, there are plenty of facts I too hate about my country, but take a second and think about the historical context: we are in the 1950’s, Romania is practically conquered and ruled by the Soviet Union (and the Western Europe and the US sold us out, not like in nowadays Ukraine, because they were scared of Stalin), the greatest minds of the country are either exiled, tortured or murdered in prison, no one is allowed to speak their mind without risking their lives or the ones of their families, Resistance fighters (“waiting for the Americans”) are hunted in the mountains like beasts (For more on this, watch this movie: Portrait of the Fighter as a Young man (2010) by Constantin Popescu: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1727532), and Cioran writes from the heart of the free world that Romanians ‘had sprung from the lees of the Barbarians, from the scum of the great Invasions’. This is a fascist (and opportunistic)  trait of Cioran’s thinking which I personally abhor: abusing a victim, hitting someone in the head when (s)he is down. When the victim is down, stop! If you cannot help – and you always can, but you prefer to lie to yourself that it is beyond your powers – at least do no more harm! Romania was at her lowest historical point and didn’t deserve another blow… It’s almost like he said that we deserve being trampled over by the Russian barbarians.

However, in the 1990’s, due to Gabriel Liiceanu’s magnificent efforts, Cioran’s body of work was published completely by Humanitas Publisher House. I have first read Cioran as a pupil (I was just 14) and I remember there was a Cioran fashion in those years (1992-96). Cioran is disliked in Romania for two reasons. The first one I have covered above: he was an anti-nationalist – while he loved the Romanian language (a unique combination between Latin and Slavic extremely fit for poetry – objectively speaking, some the Romanians poets from the 20th century are among the best in the world) and the lovely Romanian landscape, he hated Romanian history and considered it too humble for his ambitions. The second reason is religious: after more than a century of juridical existence, my country is not entirely secularized. The Romanian Orthodox church is practically a ruler of its own in Romania and still holds outdated opinions: it speaks, for instance, against cremation, against gay rights, against the legalization of prostitution. Because a huge part of the population identifies itself as religious, the church can even influence the voting process. Moreover, it is extremely rich and powerful. I recommend this movie if you want to know more about this: One Step Behind the Seraphim (2017) by Daniel Sandu (https://www.netflix.com/ro-en/title/81149228). Clearly, an anti-nationalist and blasphemical like Cioran can only be marginal in a country like mine.  

R.M. – What differences do you see between Cioran’s Romanian and French writings? Not only in terms of style, but of thinking as well. Cioran himself used to say, in the interviews he gave, that all his books “stem from one and the same vision of life, one and the same feeling of existence, if you will. […] Such vision hasn’t left me. What has changed is the way of translating it.”[2] Do you see the link between Cioran’s Romanian and French works more in the sense of rupture and discontinuity, more in that of a displaced and subtle continuity, or a combination of both?

Ş. B. – There is a sort of discontinuity between the Romanian and French works, but as Marta Petreu has argued in her An Infamous Past (I’m speaking mainly about her Romanian edition), his first book in French Précis de decomposition (1949) can still be considered a ‘Romanian’ work. Why? Because thematically it is still the early Cioran, the angry nihilist, and not the crypto-Sceptic-Stoic from the 1970’s. The early work is Schopenhauerian-Nietzschean-Spenglerian, the late one has the bittersweet weariness of Marcus Aurelius. Marta Petreu’s insight is brilliant and keep in mind that it was conceived before everybody knowing about Exercices négatifs![3] (In fact, I do believe that Marta Petreu deserves more credit, because a bunch of Romanian and French intellectuals copy from her works and make the same observations afterwards as if what she has written is ‘common knowledge’. And it is not!) You cannot understand Cioran if you don’t read his early books. Pe culmile disperării (1934) starts where Nietzsche Ecce homo (1888) ends, as I write in my Internal Conflict (https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781793607126/Internal-Conflict-in-Nineteenth-Century-Literature-Reading-the-Jungian-Shadow) . Cioran begins with the end, as he assures us. Pe culmile disperării has the same Nietzschean intensity and vibration and I think that it is a ‘mental bomb’, almost the work of a psychotic: it can make you go mad if you take it seriously! The English translations of Cioran’s Romanian books are lovely, but heavily cut – many fragments, important for me as a philosopher, are missing. So, you must learn Romanian if you really want to know what Cioran really is.  

R. M. – For those who want to understand Cioran in depth, how important is it, in your opinion, to get acquainted with his Romanian writings? How important is it to get to know the young Cioran, “on the heights of despair”, to fully understand the second Cioran, the French author? Furthermore, to what extent is it important to be familiarized with Cioran’s native language, even if superficially, in order to grasp his mentality, his peculiar outlook on a variety of themes? For instance, Cioran writes a lot in French about ennui, a term which has a considerable history of philosophical usage, dating back to Pascal, but then again he had already written in Romanian about the same experience, the same feeling, namely plictiseală. I wonder how some special Romanian words such as dor, zădărnicie, and razne, among others used by the early Cioran, shape and reflect the topology of his Romanian soul, how he carries them in his mind him even as a French writer, after abandoning his native language…[4] Is it correct to assume that Écartèlement is a notion already present in Cioran’s early writings, as Sfîrtecare (“to be torn apart”, “drawn and quartered”), which happens to be the title of this French book in Romanian? If it’s the same notion present in Cartea amăgirilor (“The Book of Illusions”, 1936), where he writes that “Solo dolore este, pentru noi ceilalţi, calea sfîşierilor”, “cred în sfîşieri”,[5] then it could be argued that Écartèlement is an idea already contained in Cioran’s Romanian writings (he only gave it a new utterance, almost as if he translated himself from one language to another, from plictiseala to ennui, from sfîşieri to écartèlement).

Ş. B. – Yes, precisely. You cannot be a specialist of Heidegger if you don’t know German. You cannot write authentically about Rimbaud if French is unknown to you. The same applies to Cioran and to his excessive ‘Romanian soul’. Regarding specific Romanian words: I wrote something about this: “In the original Romanian sfîrşeală (translated here as weariness) comes from sfîrşit, which means end. Sfîrşeală denotes not only exhaustion ordisgust but could be interpreted phenomenologically as an affect whichexplores the state of mind of one who anticipates death, more exactly thenausea and boredom of one who is sick with life and has nothing else tohope than his or her destruction. This weariness is reminiscent of Kierkegaard’s description of mortification (a death which one lives and dies) from the Sickness unto Death. Cioran defines agony as a battle [frămîntare] between life and death. In Romanian, frămîntare is only a metaphor of the battle and has a more visceral meaning: unrest, torture, anxiety, agitation, concern. It is better to understand agony as a territory between life and death, where one cannot live and cannot die either, whereone must despair.” (Death without Death: Kierkegaard and Cioran about Agony. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/332267384_Death_without_Death_Kierkegaard_and_Cioran_about_Agony). Furthermore, regarding ennui/ plictiseală, we have in Romanian an even cooler word: urât. If you use it as an adjective, it means “(really) ugly”, “(almost) hideous”. When used as a noun, it means: “boredom”, “cafard”, “spleen”, but not only that. It is boredom combined with anxiety, depression, nausea, not far from acedia. We have the Romanian expression: mi-e urât de mor, which can translate as: “I’m so sick/bored/disgusted that I think I will die/I wish I died”. Lucian Blaga in his Spațiul mioritic argued that there are three original Romanian words which cannot be translated: dor, jale and urât.

R. M. – In your article about Cioran’s “nihilist as a not-man: an analysis of psychological inhumanity”,[6] you articulate the concepts of nihilism and antihumanism around Cioran, placing him in a post-metaphysical (post-Nietzschean), existential, hermeneutic framework. Could you elaborate a little on Cioran’s antihumanism? Do you acknowledge an impotent, helpless sense of (metaphysical) revolt in his negative stance (in the Camusian sense[7])? I wonder if Cioran actually believed and hoped for that posthuman condition[8] to be possibly fulfilled… He also knew for a fact that “on the long run, life without utopia becomes unbreathable”.[9] In Drawn & Quartered (Écartèlement, 1979), meditating about the “urgency of the worst”, he writes: “Not that we may not conceive this new humanity, transfigured on the brink of the horrible; yet who can assure us that, its goal once achieved, it would not fall back into the miseries of the old one? […] Let us then renounce all prophecies, those frantic hypotheses, let us no longer allow ourselves to be deceived by the image of a remote and improbable future; let us abide by our certitudes, our indubitable abysses.[10] Having said this, do you think Cioran’s gloomy, dystopic picture of future mankind may carry an ambivalence (a duality) that makes it both a wishful thinking (say, out of antinatalist principles) and a rejection by anticipation (out of a tragic love for the sleepless and ecstatic animal), therefore not simply an expression of misanthropic nihilism? Can’t it be a radical and subversive form (a broader, less anthropocentric strain) of humanism just as much (not in an essentialist way, but one that is based on a negative anthropology of emptiness[11])? “A fi cu adevărul împotriva lui nu este o formulă paradoxală, fiindcă oricine înţelege riscurile şi revelaţiile lui nu se poate să nu iubească şi să nu urască adevărul”.[12] If so, isn’t Cioran’s antihumanism (as his nihilism) virtually reversible to its opposite? By the way, Franco Volpi argued that “in Heidegger’s philosophy two incompatible, extreme stances seem to touch and go along: on the one hand, a radical nihilism; on the other, the calling to an inspired vision, maybe even mysticism”.[13] Do you think the same is true when it comes to Cioran?

Ş. B. – You give me food for thought: I suspect that your question will be the starting point of one of my future articles. Right now, I can tell you what I mean by antihumanism. I was puzzled – even in my first book from 2004, which is based on my graduation thesis – by Cioran’s concept of the not-man. “There are among men some who are not far above plants or animals, and therefore aspire to humanity.But those who know what it means to be Man long to be anything but … If the difference between Man and animal lies in the fact that the animal can only be an animal whereas man can also be not-man – that is, something other than himself – then I am not-man”, Cioran wrote, as you well know, in his Pe culmile disperării. I also have been always feeling like a not-man. Of course, I’m a human being, and not an alien nor a computer generated algorhythm (I hope!), but I also have felt there is a distance between me and the other people, as I were ontologically alone, as Edgar Allan Poe has put it in his splendid poem:

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were – I have not seen 
As others saw – I could not bring 
My passions from a common spring –
From the same source I have not taken 
My sorrow – I could not awaken 
My heart to joy at the same tone –
And all I lov’d – I lov’d alone –

Starting from this autobiographical vision of inhumanity (only human from a biological view), I argue in my next book (which will be published in English in 2024, if things go according to plans) that Cioran’s antihumanism, which – in contrast’s to Foucault’s more neutral and more famous brand of antihumanism – includes misanthropy, is prefigured by various authors from the 19th century such as Nietzsche, Maupassant, Lautréamont, Stirner, Mainländer, and others. As you can see, I take Cioran’s antihumanism very personally and I don’t mind if critics will claim that it is one of my projections. As Orwell have splendidly put it, I’m accustomed to being a “minority of one”. Or, if you prefer Sábato’s version: “In any case, there was only one tunnel…, mine”.

R. M. – I was happy to discover your article about Cioran and Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818). It’s a text with a very striking title: “Of Hatred and Solitude in the Works of Mary Shelley and E. M. Cioran”.[14] I was wondering if the same notion of “psychological inhumanity” applies here.[15] If so, is it correct to assume that Cioran’s antihumanism amounts to an antipromethean attitude of sorts? If it is licit to posit a symbolic equivalence between Prometheus and Adam, in terms of hýbris, foolhardiness, or titanism, do you acknowledge a duality (and an ambivalence) in Cioran’s works between prometheism and antiprometheism, adamism and antiadamism? In History and Utopia (1960) and in The Fall Into Time (1964), he curses the “promoters of our race”,[16] “responsible for all of our misfortunes”,[17] for casting us “by knowledge into time”,[18] “driving us out of the eternal present”, but on the other hand Cioran is himself, in his own way, a “titanic” (Promethean) type of thinker (pretty much like Nietzsche), perpetuating, with his Odyssey of Lucidity, “the infidelity to the gift of ignorance our Creator had bestowed upon us”.[19] Cioran curses consciousness as “a dagger in the flesh”,[20] and yet he considers “awakening” a spiritual imperative, claiming for himself the mission to “awaken” his readers[21]. Finally, Cioran’s “Verbal Demiurgy”,[22] as a self-proclaimed “expert in counter-Creation”,[23] his stubbornness “to rival God, even to exceed Him by the mere virtue of language”, which is “the feat of the writer, an ambiguous specimen, torn and infatuated, who, having forsaken his natural condition, has given himself up to a splendid vertigo, always dismaying, sometimes odious[24] – doesn’t all this amount to a peculiar kind of (maybe Gnostic, Luciferian) titanism?

Ş. B. – I must study this before commenting on your deep question. What can I briefly say is that Cioran, like Kierkegaard (and against Hegel), thinks that the Fall from Eden was a disaster. We were better off as apes – I think he would argue. Consciousness is a curse (Bewusstsein als Verhängnis), because the smarter you are, the more you suffer. This bionegative thesis is, I believe, Cioran in a nutshell.

R. M. – In still another one of your articles, you approach Cioran and Mainländer together, “toward the never-born”.”[25] Admitting that Cioran is undeniably a philosopher, one of a kind, and, as such, must be rightfully placed within the long history and tradition of Western philosophy, from the pre-Socratics to the post-structuralists and the existentialists, from Plato to Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, how do you regard Cioran’s philosophical position amidst this constellation of authors, theories, ideas, and styles? Is Cioran both a skeptic and a pessimist? How do you interpret the concurrence of negation and doubt in Cioran’s logos? According to your criteria, are skepticism and pessimism even compatible? After all, the Skeptic should refrain from judging the world “pessimum” (or a “failed Creation”). In your opinion, does Cioran come closer to Schopenhauer and far from Nietzsche when it comes to philosophical temperaments or moods, a pessimistic outlook on life and the world (widespread evil, pointless suffering), negative ontology and negative ethics?[26] By the same coin, do you think Cioran comes even closer to Mainländer than to Schopenhauer? In this sense, maybe Cioran’s so-called “vitalism” could be arguably deemed a “mortalism” (the Wille zum Leben turns out to be a Wille zum Tode[27])?

Ş. B. – Cioran is a Schopenhauerian for sure. I recommend you Marta Petreu’s article on this from Filosofii paralele, translated into French. Practically, the nihilistic battle is between Schopenhauer-Nietzsche 1-Cioran-“Buddha” and Nietzsche 2 (and probably Rosset – I haven’t read him yet, I confess) (Jung also is in line with Nietzsche 2). We can categorize him as a para-philosopher, as Hannay calls Kierkegaard, but, wether you like it or not, he’s still a philosopher.

What if this is true philosophy? A combination of poetry, music, and life? I dislike the philosophers who write badly. I agree, of course, that Kant is the greatest philosophical mind, and I have had my fair share of spending hours on a single page of The Critique of Pure Reason as a student, but I cannot emotionally invest in Kant or Hegel. If Kant and Hegel were the only philosophers (and thank God we have Schopenhauer for dismissing Hegel!), I wouldn’t be a philosopher: I’d rather chain-smoke while staring at the sunset!

And yes, I think you can be a skeptic and a nihilist at the same time. Nihilism can be understood as radical skepticism (noi nu credem în nimic / “we believe in nothing”, as Eminescu as put it in his Epigonii, although in a different context). Furthermore, I believe you can be a nihilist and an anti-nihilist at the same time. And I think that we nihilists can rescue religion, even God. Some esoteric traditions claim that if you love God, you will receive initiation in “ten years” (not to be taken literally, I think it refers to Karma: more like than lives). But if you hate him, you will receive it in “one year”. What if this is true and nihilists are saints and martyrs on the altar of Deus otiosus?

R. M. – You wrote an article about “Sartre’s Violent Man as a Gnostic Nihilist”, a very thought-provoking theme. Violence plays a significant role in Cioran’s therapeutic writing, in an unusual, paradoxical way: “The idler who loves violence safeguards his savoir vivre by confining himself in an abstract hell. Abandoning the individual, he frees himself of names and faces, deals with the imprecise, the general, and, orienting his thirst for exterminations to the impalpable, conceives a new genre: the pamphlet without object.”[28] Cioran acknowledges a great deal of violence in him, but he would rather redirect it to “the impalpable”, choosing God, or the “evil Demiurge”, as the ultimate metaphysical aim of his bitter vengeance, “the most useful god there ever was”.[29] Is Cioran Sartre’s “Gnostic Nihilist”?

Ş. B. – I think the good (and somehow “bad”, “inauthentic” also) thing about nihilism is that, compared to anarchism, it does not require action. Otherwise, I would certainly be in prison, and Cioran would have been “drawn and quartered”.

R. M. – You wrote a book titled Ontology of Negation: Essay on Nihilism (2004). Could you give us an overview of the book? Speaking of nihilism, would you agree with Philippe Tiffreau when he states that Cioran is “an anarchist on the borders, a nihilist in the middle, and a mystic at the core”?[30]

Ş. B. –It is my first book in Romanian published while I was still a student at my second Faculty. I have just revised it for a second edition and, while I thought that it was a stylistic mess (I was still learning to write), the ideas were good. It is a study on 19th century nihilism following the works of two philosophers (Kierkegaard and Nietzsche), two poets (Rimbaud and Lautréamont), and two political philosophers (anarchists) (Stirner and Bakunin). To make a long story short, I began my writing career being a nihilist and a theoretician of nihilism at the same time, not unlike one of my (anti-)models, Nietzsche.

Regarding Tiffreau’s statement, I think that it is not only true, but it reflects the essence of Cioran’s work. He is a failed mystic: a combination between Stavrogin and Alyosha Karamazov. “I was benevolent; my soul glowed with love and humanity”, writes Mary Shelley’s unnamed monster. This is the starting point. We all know the follow-up: “Evil be thou my good” (Satan’s famous line from Paradise Lost). We don’t know the end though. From here there are many routes: either John Doe’s dark opus from Se7en, or Rust Cohle’s method from True Detective… And our “human all too human” quests in-between… Thank you for your wonderful questions and I really hope we will meet in person somewhere on Cioran’s planet…


[1] CIORAN, “A Little Theory of Destiny”, The Temptation to Exist. Transl. by Richard Howard. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1968, p. 70

[2] CIORAN, Interview with Gerd Bergfleth, Entretiens. Paris: Gallimard, 1995, p. 150.

[3] The early draft version that would later become the Précis de decomposition (A Short History of Decay in Richard Howard’s translation). The manuscripts belong to the Jacques Doucet Foundation, which granted them to be published by Gallimard. The early version of the Précis ws published in 2005, in a critical edition with comments and a postface by Ingrid Astier: CIORAN, Exercices négatifs: en marge du Précis de decomposition. Paris: Gallimard, 2005.

[4] “I have inherited from my country the deep-rooted nihilism, its fundamental trait, its sole originality. Zădărnicie, Nimicnicie – these extraordinary words, no, they are not words, they are the realities of our blood, my blood.” CIORAN, Cahiers: 1957-1972. Paris: Gallimard, 1997, p. 685.

[5]Solo dolore is, for us, the path of lacerations. […] I believe in lacerations.” CIORAN, Cartea amagirilor. Bucureşti: Humanitas, 1991, p 191 (our translation). In French: “Pour nous autres, solo dolore est la voie des déchirements. […] Je crois aux déchirements.” CIORAN, Le Livre des leurres. Trad. de Grazyna Klewek et Thomas Bazin. In: Oeuvres. Paris: Gallimard, 1995, p.253. In Portuguese: “Solo dolore é para nós a via das dilacerações. […] Eu creio nas dilacerações.” ID., O Livro das ilusões. Trad. de José Thomaz Brum. Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 2014, p. 190. “Solo dolore es para el resto de nosotros la vía de los desgarros. […] Yo creo en los desgarros.” ID., El Libro de las quimeras. Trad. de Joaquín Garrigós. Barcelona: Tusquets, 1996, p. 218.

[6] BOLEA, Ştefan, “The Nihilist as a Not-Man: An Analysis of Psychological Inhumanity”, Philobiblon – Transylvanian Journal of Multidisciplinary Research in Humanities, vol. 1, no. 1, January 2015. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/285610429_The_nihilist_as_a_not-man_An_analysis_of_psychological_inhumanity

[7] In The Myth of Sisyphus, after criticizing what he calls the “tradition of humiliated thought”, represented by existential thinkers with a mystic tendency toward irrationality (he names Kierkegaard, Chestov, and Jaspers), Camus thematizes the “philosophical suicide”. In A Short History of Decay, after prescribing himself an “Abstract Venom” of sorts (maybe to avoid having to resort to an actual one), Cioran goes on to say “Farewell to Philosophy”. CIORAN, A Short History of Decay, p. 28, 47.

[8] “Cynics are not super- neither sub-men, but rather post-men. You can come to understand and even to love them, when a confession addressed to you or to no one escapes from the torment of your absence: I was once human but no longer am one. When there is no longer no one in you, not even the very Diogenes, and you are empty even of emptiness itself, and your ears no longer ring with nothingness…” CIORAN, Amurgul gândurilor. Bucureşti: Humanitas, 1991, p. 127.

[9] CIORAN, Interview with Branka Bagavac Le Comte, Entretiens, p.267.

[10] CIORAN, “Urgency of the Worst”, Drawn & Quartered, p. 60.

[11] “Forever different, we are ourselves only insofar as we depart from our definition, man in Nietzsche’s phrase being das noch nicht festgestellte Tier, the animal whose type is not yet determined, fixed.” CIORAN, “The Tree of Life”, The Fall into Time. Transl. by Richard Howard. Chicago: Quadrangle, 1970, p. 44.

[12]To be all in for truth against it is not a paradoxical proposition, for those who understand its risks and revelations cannot but love and hate truth altogether. Whoever believes in truth is naïve; whoever doesn’t, a fool. The only straight path is by the razor’s edge.” CIORAN, Cartea amăgirilor. Bucureşti: Humanitas, 1991, p. 195.

[13] VOLPI, Franco, O Niilismo [Il Nichilismo]. Transl. by Aldo Vannucchi. São Paulo: Loyola, 1999, p. 97.

[14] BOLEA, Ştefan, “Of Hatred and Solitude in the Works of Mary Shelley and E. M. Cioran”, Philobiblon. Transylvanian Journal of Multidisciplinary Research In Humanities, XXII, 2 (2017), pp. 105-116. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Stefan-Bolea/publication/321879270_Of_Hatred_and_Solitude_in_the_Works_of_Mary_Shelley_and_E_M_Cioran/links/5a3ab573458515a77aa8bdc9/Of-Hatred-and-Solitude-in-the-Works-of-Mary-Shelley-and-E-M-Cioran.pdf

[15] Cioran sometimes indulges in “Frankensteinian” fabulations of psychological and anthropological inhumanity, such as in “The Automaton” (A Short History of Decay), or when he declares to be “an “elegiac robot”, endowed with an “automatic melancholy”. CIORAN, A Short History of Decay. Transl. by Richard Howard. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1998, p. 104-105. IDEM, The Trouble With Being Born. Transl. by Richard Howard. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1998, p. 84.

[16] According to Cioran, “the story of the Fall hints that even in Eden the promoter of our race must have felt a certain malaise, otherwise we cannot explain the facility with which with which he yielded to temptation. Yielded? He called for it. Already Adam showed signs of that inaptitude for happiness, that incapacity to endure it which we have all inherited.” CIORAN, « L’Arbre de vie », La Chute dans le temps. In: Œuvres. Paris: Gallimard, 1995, p. 1072.

[17] CIORAN, « L’Âge d’or », Histoire et utopie, Op. cit., p. 1049.

[18] Ibid, p. 1050.

[19] CIORAN, “The Tree of Life”, The Fall into Time, p. 35.

[20] “Consciousness is much more than the thorn, it is the dagger in the flesh.” CIORAN, The Trouble with Being Born, p. 48.

[21] At the end of an interview with Fernando Savater, in 1977, Cioran says: “Don’t forget to tell them [Spaniards] that I’m nothing but a misfit who writes to awaken. Tell them: my books are supposed to awaken”. CIORAN, Entretiens, p. 30.

[22] CIORAN, « Démiurgie verbale », La Tentation d’exister, Op. cit., 942.

[23] CIORAN, « Odyssée de la rancune », Histoire et utopie, Op. cit., p. 1030.

[24] CIORAN, “Foreshortened Confession”, Anathemas & Admirations. Transl. by Richard Howard. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1991, p. 249.

[25] BOLEA, Ştefan, “Toward the Never-Born: Mainländer and Cioran”, Revue Roumaine de Philosophie, no 65, 1, Bucureşti, 2021, p. 145–155. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/79896648/Toward_the_Never_Born_Mainl%C3%A4nder_and_Cioran

[26] “The whole pose of ‘man against the world’, of man as a ‘world-negating’ principle, of man as the measure of the value of things, as judge of the world who in the end places existence itself upon his scales and finds it wanting—the monstruous insipidity of this pose has finally come home to us and we are sick of it. We laugh as soon as we encounter the juxtaposition of ‘man and world’, separated by the sublime presumption of the little world ‘and’.” NIETZSCHE, Gay Science, § 346. Transl. by Walter Kaufmann.  New York: Vintage Books, 1974, p. 286. See some of the titles of On The Heights of Despair, such as “How Distant Everything Is!”, “I and the World”. “Nobility is only in the negation of existence, in a smile that surveys annihilated landscapes. […] There is a vulgarity which makes us admit anything in this world, but which is not powerful enough to make us admit this world itself. […] We can live the way the others do and yet conceal a ‘no’ greater than the world: that is melancholy’s infinity…” CIORAN, A Short History of Decay, p. 7, 60.

[27] “We cling to the days because the desire to die is too logical, hence ineffective. […] Life is what decomposes at every moment; it is a monotonous loss of light, an insipid dissolution in the darkness, without scepters, without halos.” CIORAN, A Short History of Decay, p. 52. “The assent to death is the greatest one of all. It can be expressed in many different ways…” CIORAN, La Tentation d’exister, Op. cit., p. 959.

[28] CIORAN, Histoire et utopie, Op. cit., p. 991.

[29] CIORAN, Le mauvais démiurge, Op. cit., p. 1171.

[30] TIFFREAU, Philippe, Cioran ou la dissection du gouffre. Paris: Henri Veyrier, 1991, p. 28.