Cioran, E. M. — On the Heights of Despair (Chicago, 1992)


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On the
Heights of Despair
E. M. Cioran
Translated and with an Introduction by
Ilinca Zarifopol
Johnston
The University of Chicago Press Chicago & London
THE UNIVERSITY OF CH
ICAGO PRESS
CHICAGO
THE UNIVERSITY OF CH
ICAGO PRESS
LTD
LONDON
1992 by The University of Chicago
All rights reserved. Published 1992
Printed in the United States of America
ISBN (cloth): 0
Originally published as
Pe culmile disper
rii
by the Funda
ia Pentru Literatur
Art
"Regele Carol II," 1934.
Library of Congress Cataloging
Publication Data
Cioran, E. M. (Emile M.), 1911
[Pe culmile disper
rii. English]
On the heights of despair / E.M. Cioran ; translated and with an
int
roduction by Ilinca Zarifopol
Johnston.
p. cm.
Translation of: Pe culmile disper
rii.
1. Philosophy. I. Title.
B99.R652C5613 1990
dc20
CIP
Contents
Acknowledgments vii
The Monopoly of Suffering 54
Introduction: Imagining
Absolute Ly
ricism 57
Cioran ix
The Meaning of Grace 59
The Vanity of Compassion 61
On Being Lyrical 3
Eternity and Morality 62
How Distant Everything Is! 6
Moment and Eternity 64
On Not Wanting to Live 8
History and Eternity 66
The Passion for the Absurd 10
Not to Be
a Man Anymore 68
The World and I 14
Magic and Fatality 70
Weariness and Agony 16
Unimaginable Joy 72
Despair and the Grotesque 18
The Ambiguity of Suffering 73
The Premonition of Madness 20
All Is Dust 74
On Death 22
Enthusiasm as a Form of
Melancholy 29
Love 75
Nothing Is Important 33
Light and Darkness 79
Ecstasy 35
Renunciation 81
The World in Which Nothing Is
The Blessings of Insomnia 83
Solved 37
On the Transubstantiation of
The Contradictory and the
Love 84
Inconsequential 39
Man, the Insomniac Anima
l 85
On Sadness 41
Truth, What a Word! 87
Total Dissatisfaction 43
The Beauty of Flames 88
The Bath of Fire 45
The Paucity of Wisdom 89
Disintegration 46
The Return to Chaos 90
On the Reality of the Body 48
Irony and Self
Irony 91
I Do Not Know 49
On Pover
ty 93
On Individual and Cosmic
The Flight from the Cross 95
Loneliness 50
The Cult of Infinity 98
Apocalypse 52
Transfiguration of Banality 101
Contents
The Burden of Sadness 103
Nothing Matters 116
Degradation through Work 104
The Sources of Evil
The
Sense of Endings 106
Beauty's Magic Tricks 119
The Satanic Principle of
Man's Inconsistency 120
Suffering 108
Capitulation 122
An Indirect Animal
Facing Silence 123
Impossible Truth 112
The Double and His Art 124
Subjectivity 113
Nonsense 126
Homo . .
. 114
E. M. Cioran: A Short
Love in Brief 115
Chronology 127
Acknowledgments
I thank E. M. Cioran for entrusting me with this book, Matei
Calinescu for bringing us together, Mme. Simone Bou
and Jen
nie Lightner for their very helpful editorial suggest
ions, my
cousin, Pedro Pidal Nano, for the peace of his house by the sea
where most of this translation was completed, and last but not
least, my husband, Kenneth R. Johnston, whose fine sense of the
English language shines forth through the book and helpe
d bring
it to life
second time.
This translation was made possible by grants from Indiana
University (Office of Research & Graduate Development and
Russian & East European Institute) and the Andrew W. Mellon
Foundation.
Ilinca Zarifopol
Johnston
Introdu
ction:
Imagining Cioran
Imagining the author is part of any reading experience. For the
translator, even more than for the ordinary reader, the author, or
that fiction named Author, is a personal obsession. Like Jacob
who wrestled a mysterious being all ni
ght long, the translator
struggles silently with the author until he blesses him or lets him
go. Like Jacob, he wants to know his opponent, to see him face to
face, is haunted physically and spiritually by the author's face, his
name, his strength, his sty
le. So I struggled with Cioran, and for a
long time I imagined him like a spirit conjured up from the lines
of his text as from a witch's brew: a leonine head, Zarathustra's
voice, dramatic poses alternating between those of a biblical
prophet and a Wester
n dandy. Above all, I saw him as frightfully
young and precocious, with an uncanny affinity for suffering and
a diabolical propensity for self
torture, an enfant terrible full of
somber and cruel vitality, dangerously playing at philosophy,
toying with poi
sonous and lethal thoughts.
But my Cioran has a historical dimension still recoverable
from a not
too
distant past. He is a young intellectual from Ro
mania's politically troubled interwar period. Along with Eugene
lonesco, the absurdist playwright and me
mber of the Acad
mic
fran
aise, and Mircea Eliade, the philosopher and historian of re
ligions, he participated in Romania's cultural Renaissance during
the 1930s. He belonged to Romania's "Young Generation," her
"angry young men," who, in Matei Calinescu
's words, repre
sented "a generation whose creed was based on the primacy of
youth over old age
youth being equated with spiritual fervor,
authenticity, creativity, idealism, while old age symbolized rou
Introduction: Imagining Cioran
tine, inertia, pol
itical corruption and petty materialism." As
Calinescu points out, 1934, the year when
On the Heights of De
spair
was first published, was one of the high points of the 1930s
in Romania. Eliade published five books, among them a study in
religious anthrop
ology which contains the main ideas of
The
Forge and the Crucible
(1962), and lonesco published his only ma
jor Romanian book, a volume of deconstructive literary criticism
titled
No.
Though younger than either Eliade or lonesco, Cioran was
no less intere
sting. His intense personality invited fictionalizing
early in his life. Calinescu, for example, recognizes an early por
trait of the young Cioran in the character of
tefan P
rlea (the
name suggests conflagration) from Mihail Sebastian's 1934novel,
For T
wo Thousand Years,
where he is the author of an essay provoca
tively titled, "Invocation for an Invasion of the Barbarians as Soon
as Possible." He embodies "the nihilistic
apocalyptic sensibilities
of the young generation of Romanian intellectuals."
It w
as hard for me to reconcile my fictional Cioran with his
historical origins. The voice which in
On the Heights of Despair ve
hemently
denounces Christianity, and the man who wrote the
startling essay "The Flight from the Cross," clash with the image
of th
e real
life Cioran, son of a Romanian Orthodox priest. He
was born in the Transylvanian mountain village of R
inari, fa
mous in Romania not only for its natural beauty but also as the
home and the final resting place of other cultural figures of na
tion
al renown, the poet Octavian Goga and the enlightened Or
thodox bishop
scholar of Transylvania, Andrei
aguna. As a
young teenager, I once passed through Cioran's village. The idyl
lic village, with its stone
paved, uneven streets and ancient peas
ant h
ouses, was like a place out of time, an enchanted, mythical
site. A mysterious richness hung about it, entrancing, heavy, and
luminous like the golden glow of the silent summer afternoon I
spent in its gardens and orchards. And I know now that on my
way to
the cemetery to visit Bishop
aguna's tomb I passed
Cioran's family house. It was my first unwitting encounter with
him, who has been for the last few years my private obsessive fic
Introduction: Imagining Cioran
tion, and to whom, in my linguistic struggle, I have clung like
Jacob
to his angel.
I am no Jacob, and Cioran is no angel, except perhaps a sly
one of the devil's party. But for as long as I have known of his
existence, he has been hard to grab hold of and impossible to pin
down. When I was a student in Romania in the 1960s
and 1970s,
he was a mysterious, almost mythological, presence. One would
hear that such a person existed, but it was impossible to read him.
His French books were neither sold nor published in translation,
and his Romanian books had disappeared without a t
race, the
rarest of rare books. Although he had departed his homeland
some ten years before the war and the Communist takeover, he
was as invisible as the most unspeakable, or unnameable, of
nonpersons. When I came to America in the late 1970s, I found
tha
t he was well known in elite intellectual circles, though he re
mained as elusive and mysterious as ever. His Romanian books
are still literally rare, available only from special collections. The
present book is the first translation of Cioran from his na
tive lan
guage into English. At last, I have got hold of him, and for at least
the space of one translation
that most provisional of arts
have pinned him down for others to see and read. Granted, he is a
specialized taste, too sharp and bitter for many
palates and, para
doxically, too lyrical and funny for some others. Yet Sartre has
always had a large following in English, and Cioran is in my es
timation a better pure writer than Sartre or any of the postwar
French existentialists. His stylistic incis
iveness has led some
French critics to put him in the same class as Paul Val
ry, an ulti
mate accolade of linguistic purity. But the shocking, bracing
verve of his existential despair
and good humor
admits his
philosophical prose to the company of Nietzsc
he and Kierke
gaard.
As I tried to imagine my Cioran, I kept replaying in my mind
that day of long ago when I first brushed by his invisible pres
ence, and I wondered how I could relate my "nihilistic
apoca
lyptic" Cioran to the details I still remember
ed so well: the
mountain air shimmering with hues of gold and green and blue,
Introduction: Imagining Cioran
the still, heavy, yet happy torpor of a slumbering summer day in a
remote village where the only sign of activity was the buzz of lazy
drones on l
eaves of grass. And was it my Cioran that I had almost
touched, or just a ghost he had long left behind, whose name was
only secretively whispered in Romania for the past twenty
five
years? Instead of an answer to my puzzlement, I found in
Cioran's own wri
ting a confirmation of the irredeemable incom
patibility I sensed between the place and the man. In
The Tempta
tion to Exist
(1956), he writes about his origins:
The paradox of being . . . [a Romanian] is a torrent one
must know how to exploit. . . . Hat
ing my people, my
country, its timeless peasants enamoured of their own
torpor and almost bursting with hebetude, I blushed to
be descended from them. . . . Unable to shove them
aside, or to animate them, I came to the point of dream
ing of an exterminati
In a lighter vein, when I first visited him last summer, he also re
called, as a confirmation of this incompatibility between himself
and his origins, a humorous family anecdote concerning the
scandal stirred up in his remote native region by his firs
t nihilistic
book,
On the Heights of Despair.
His father, a priest, and his mother,
head of the Christian Women's League, kept a very low profile,
and weathered the storm by hiding in the house with the lights
off and going to bed very early for weeks on e
A reader of Cioran's entire oeuvre easily gets caught up in the
game of making and unmaking authorial fictions, for the real
life
Cioran has two lives, two identities, two authorial voices. In
1937 he won a student fellowship and left Romania for Paris
never to return. He wrote only in French thereafter. As I have al
ready said, Cioran is little known in Romania outside intellectual
circles, which have kept his name alive underground. While his
fame grew steadily in the West from the moment his first
French
book,
cis de d
composition,
was published in 1949, a quarter
century of Romania's Communist cultural policies managed to
erase all the traces he had left behind in his native country, where
he published several works. The recent Romanian revolut
ion has
Introduction: Imagining Cioran
allowed a Cioran revival, toward which Cioran himself has
mixed feelings. Modest and unassuming, though winner of the
Prix Combat and acclaimed as "the greatest French writer to
honor our language since the death of
Paul Val
ry" (St. John
Perse) and "the most distinguished figure in the tradition of
Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Wittgenstein" (Susan Sontag),
Cioran has always shunned fame. He regards it as an ambiguous
blessing and prefers anonymity as a guarantor of fre
edom, even
when the freedom he seems to aspire to most is that of walking
undisturbed in the Luxembourg gardens.
The Romanian Cioran of the 1930s is different from but re
lated to the French
and much better known
Cioran of the
later decades. By reading th
e younger Romanian Cioran, we dis
cover, as another of his translators put it, "what he has kept and
what he has discarded, the old man of his youth and the new
man he became after his encounter with the French language."
The themes of Cioran's work are t
he themes of modern and post
modern Western civilization: despair and decay, absurdity and
alienation, futility and the irrationality of existence, the need for
total lucidity and self
awareness, and consciousness as agony.
the Heights of Despair,
Cior
an's first published work, foreshadows
the main themes of his later philosophical essays and is highly
significant as the original source
spring of this modern philo
sophical writer's thought.
The French Cioran is a Nietzsche distilled through Chamfort,
"Job tamed at the school of the moralists," an elegant and
ironic stylist who has curbed the fiery lyricism of his youth with
moral aphorisms, because he knows that "a moralist's first duty is
to depoetize his prose"
(Le mauvais demiurge,
135). My Cioran,
by
contrast, at the time he was writing
On the Heights of Despair
1934, is only twenty
two years old, a Nietzsche still complete
with his "Zarathustra, his poses, his mystical clown's tricks, a
whole circus of the heights"
(Syllogismes de I'amertume,
4). His
display of hysteria, his confession of failure, his despair and lucid
suffering also echo Dostoyevsky's man from underground, re
vealing Cioran as a young iconoclast from Europe's eastern
margins, spitefully spouting fire and brimstone from his Ba
lkan
Introduction: Imagining Cioran
hole
the
ground, a visionary of apocalypse, a "lover of parox
ysms," a theoretician of despair, an untamed Job, similar to the
one he portrayed in his last Romanian book,
Tears and Saints:
"Job, [is] cosmic lamentat
ions and weeping willows . . . open
wounds of nature and of the soul . . . and a human heart, God's
open wound."
The existence of a real
life author complicates the game of
authorial fiction
making. As I fashioned my Cioran, I longed to
meet the real
life
Cioran because, like Jacob, I wanted his bless
ing but also because I felt that he would not be complete until I
met him in flesh and blood. I knew that the real
life eighty
year
old Cioran would be very different from my youthful authorial
fiction, but
I looked forward to the clash of images as something
essential and fulfilling, in line with all the contradictions im
pishly cultivated in Cioran's work. Whenever I imagined my
Cioran, I hoped that the real
life Cioran, though close to eighty,
would be a
young old man. I was not disappointed.
In his modest Paris apartment, imaginatively improvised out
of the attic of an old building on the Left Bank, where until re
cently there was no elevator, he emerged from an enormous clut
ter of towering books, and
led me through a narrow passage with
a low ceiling and an uneven floor to an unexpectedly sunny
room with a cheerful garden suspended from its terrace. Cioran
looked frail, but misleadingly so, as I discovered when he told
me that he preferred to ignore th
e new elevators in his building,
or when, stepping out briskly, he took me on his favorite walk
through the Luxembourg gardens. When he talked, his clear
green eyes flashed from under thick eyebrows, their penetrating
glare transfixing me to the chair, whi
le his jaw pushed forward
with youthful determination, and the old man was miraculously
transformed into the young man I knew, my Cioran. But the fas
cinating contradiction remained, for the young man spoke like
an old man, and when I asked what he was wr
iting, he answered
that he no longer wrote, because "I don't want to slander the uni
verse anymore; I've done it long enough, don't you think so?"
Yes, this seemed to be the "new" Cioran, professing that he is
through with writing and that he has exhauste
d calumny, so dif
Introduction: Imagining Cioran
ferent from my young Cioran whose first book was brimming
over with blasphemy. And yet, hearing him talk, humorously
and vivaciously
another contradiction coming from a "writer
of gloomy aphorisms"
I could
not help feeling that I may not
have been dealing with the real
life Cioran as much as with an
other fiction, a new persona, and that he will soon take us by sur
prise yet another time, for he is a master of dramatic effects who
has been described as bo
th "candid and diabolical" by the Italian
writer Pietro Citati and as "the last dandy" by the Spanish phi
losopher Fernando Savater.
If fictionalizing the author is part of any reading experience,
an exercise of the imagination which varies in degrees of
impor
tance depending on the book, it becomes a central issue in read
ing
On the Heights of Despair,
where the author deliberately
invents a fictional self through rhetorical artifices and theatrical
gestures, in order to save his real self. Written in a
moment of cri
sis, when he was helplessly and desperately insomniac, the book
is a substitute for suicide and represents its cure. Its title makes a
direct allusion to suicide notices placed in contemporary Roma
nian newspapers of the period which invar
iably opened with the
same formula: "On the heights of despair, young so
and
so took
his life. . .
."A
rather pompous sounding phrase, "on the heights
of despair" thus came to be recognized as a sort of generic ration
ale for all suicides. Using the clich
e ironically, Cioran casts him
self in the role of what I would call "the young barbarian" or the
"beast" of the Apocalypse, who, with a blood
and tear
stained
face, uttering a savage cry of revolt and despair from the heart of
his semi
Oriental Balkans,
hangs over the abyss of existential
nausea. By casting himself in this character, Cioran commits sui
cide metaphorically while managing to survive the call of death
by releasing through his invented character the surplus of lyrical
energy surging in him:
"The terrifying experience and obsession
of death, when preserved in consciousness, becomes ruinous. If
you talk about death, you save part of yourself. But at the same
time, something of your real self dies, because objectified mean
ings lose the actual
ity they have in consciousness."
The impulse to write in order to free himself of his obsessions
Introduction: Imagining Cioran
has always motivated Cioran's work. As he put it in a recent in
terview with Savater, "Writing is for me a form of therapy, no
ing more." Like the young Goethe of the
Sturm und Drang
period,
who invented the suicidal Werther in order to survive a personal
crisis, Cioran also creates a character out of his anguished self.
But unlike Goethe, for whom Werther was a private demon
managed to exorcise "so well that he did not suffer at all," a mere
accident in a career so "limpid," and devoid of "sublime or sordid
secrets" that it is "discouraging," Cioran, who confesses he has
"no organ of feeling for Goethe"
(Syllogismes de I'am
ertume,
22),
sees his destiny as inextricably linked to the sufferer who first
comes to life in
On the Heights of Despair:
I hate wise men because they are lazy, cowardly and pru
dent. . . . So much more complex is the man who suffers
from limitless anxie
ty. The wise man's life is empty and
sterile, for it is free from contradiction and despair. An
existence full of irreconcilable contradictions is so much
richer and creative.
On the Heights of Despair
is a Romantic crisis poem in prose
whose main topic is
the self at grips with itself, God, and the uni
verse. The self's personal obsessions, predilections, and manias
become clear from a glance at some of the chapter titles: "The
Passion for the Absurd," "The Blessings of Insomnia," "Weari
ness and Agony,"
"The Premonition of Madness," "On Death,"
"On Sadness," "Nothing Is Important," "Total Dissatisfaction,"
"The Monopoly of Suffering," "Not to Be a Man Anymore,"
"Man, the Insomniac Animal," "Degradation through Work,"
"The Flight from the Cross," "Absolut
e Lyricism," "Nonsense."
Though not poetry,
On the Heights of Despair
is a very lyrical
work, a "song of myself" in which the confessional mood be
comes a philosophical meditation and where the great philo
sophical topics like death, God, infinity, time,
eternity, history,
truth, good, and evil are no longer abstract but acquire an organic
reality, a living meaning:
There are experiences and obsessions with which one
Introduction: Imagining Cioran
cannot live. Isn't it then salvation to confess them? . .
To be lyrical means you cannot stay closed up inside
yourself. The need to externalize is the more intense, the
more the lyricism is interiorized, profound, and concen
trated. . . . The deepest subjective experiences are also
the most universal, becaus
e through them one reaches
the original source of life.
The origin of this song, part cry from the heart, part reflective
meditation, lies in suffering from a real organic affliction
insomnia
and from the crisis of despair that it induced. When
Cioran wri
tes that "the lyricism of suffering is a song of the blood,
the flesh, and the nerves," he gives us a basic definition of his
writing, in this book as well as in subsequent works (despite their
more subdued lyrical effusions): a writing in which tears turn
into thoughts. Writing and philosophizing are for Cioran
organically related to suffering. A running theme throughout
the Heights of Despair
is that sickness and suffering have "lyrical
virtues" which alone lead to "metaphysical revelations." "To suf
fer is to
generate
knowledge," he will write later in
Le mauvais de
miurge.
His life and his work are the metamorphosis of tears:
"They ask you for facts, proofs, works, and all you can show them
are
transformed
tears"
(Le mauvais demiurge,
131).
The lyri
cal state being "beyond forms and systems," Cioran's
writing is grotesque, formless. The chapters of his book are like a
chart of his lyrical fevers, monitoring the rise and fall of his in
tense inner life, faithfully tracing the course of his "dispersion
of
subjectivity." They are unequal both in length and in tone. Long
meditations on philosophical themes are interspersed with brief
lyrical outbursts, repetitive to the point of being obsessive, often
comical and humorous even though the prevalent mood is
one of
despair. At other times, especially in the second half of the book,
they tend increasingly toward aphorism and paradox, the trade
mark of his later writing. The style of the book, by turns lyrical
and ironical, poetical and paradoxical, rejects th
e technique of
dry philosophical argument in favor of suggestive and vivid im
agery, and reveals the intellectual and spiritual agony of the phi
Introduction: Imagining Cioran
losopher's mind in playful yet gripping ways, anticipating the
later Cioran's
unique combination of elegant style and pro
foundly felt thought.
This kind of "grotesque" writing self
consciously sets itself
against a whole tradition of "civilized" writing and, with its em
phasis on death, suffering, and chaos, situates itself outs
ide the
domain of the aesthetic: "Compared to the refined culture of
forms and frames, which mask everything, the lyrical mode is ut
terly barbarian in its expression. Its value resides precisely in its
savage quality: it is only blood, sincerity, and fir
e." The young
barbarian's horror of the refinements of sclerotic cultures is a
theme that will reappear in Cioran's portrayal of the French in
The Temptation to Exist.
But another, more fundamental aspect of
Cioran's philosophy is present here in his profe
ssion of faith in
the resources of "absolute lyricism," namely, his lucidity as a
thinker who discovers and mercilessly exposes the hollowness of
all philosophical systems.
On the Heights of Despair
is a drama enacted between the
suffering problematic man,
that is, the organic and lyrical thinker
who is Cioran's sufferer, and his archenemy, the philoso
pher or the sage, the abstract man, a distinction reminiscent of
Nietzsche's Dionysian and Socratic man. Thus Cioran writes that
"Out of the shadow of the a
bstract man, who thinks for the plea
sure of thinking, emerges the organic man, who thinks because
of a vital imbalance, and who is beyond science and art." The
organic or lyrical thinker is the man who turns his tears into
thoughts and whose thoughts are
obsessions. Here is his confes
sion: "I like thought which preserves a whiff of flesh and blood,
and I prefer a thousand times an idea rising from sexual tension
or nervous depression to an empty abstraction." In the clutches
of utter despair, that state
of heightened lucidity which is the
"negative equivalent of ecstasy," the lyrical thinker con
temptuously rejects the intellectual optimism of the abstract
man:
Despair is the state in which anxiety and restlessness are
immanent to existence. Nobody in d
espair suffers from
Introduction: Imagining Cioran
"problems," but from his own inner torment and fire. It's
a pity that nothing can be solved in this world. Yet there
never was and there never will be anyone who would
commit suicide for this reason. So m
uch for the power
that intellectual anxiety has over the total anxiety of our
being! That is why I prefer the dramatic life, consumed
by inner fires and tortured by destiny, to the intellectual,
caught up in abstractions which do not engage the es
sence o
f our subjectivity. I despise the absence of risks,
madness, and passion in abstract thinking. How fertile
live, passionate thinking is! Lyricism feeds it like blood
pumped into the heart!
Nietzsche, in
The Birth of Tragedy,
criticizes the optimism or
"Gre
ek cheerfulness" that goes with the Platonic ideal of the
"dying Socrates, as the human being whom knowledge and rea
son have liberated from the fear of death." Those who pursue this
ideal ultimately discover that "logic coils up at the boundaries [of
ence] and finally bites its own tail," whereupon "a new form
of insight breaks through,
tragic insight. "
Similarly, Cioran attacks
"those who try to eliminate the fear of death through artificial
reasoning . . . because it is absolutely impossible to canc
el an
organic fear by way of abstract constructs." For Cioran, not only
is the philosopher's attempt to found
system an impossible en
deavor; it is also a sterile one, since the source of genuine human
creativity lies precisely in suffering, blood, tear
s, and the agony of
death. "All important things bear the sign of death:"
Haven't people learned yet that the time of superficial in
tellectual games is over, that agony is infinitely more im
portant than syllogism, that a cry of despair is more
revealin
g than the most subtle thought, and that tears al
ways have deeper roots than smiles?
In this spirit, an attitude which characterizes his later works as
well
(Val
ry face
ses idoles),
Cioran rejects philosophical systems
which only manage to reduce the
profound to the expressible:
Those who write under the spell of inspiration, for
whom thought is an expression of their organic nervous
Introduction: Imagining Cioran
disposition, do not concern themselves with unity and
systems. Such concerns, contradict
ions, and facile para
doxes indicate an impoverished and insipid personal life.
Only great and dangerous contradictions betoken a rich
spiritual life because only they constitute a mode of real
ization for life's abundant inner flow.
Savater calls Cioran
's philosophical discourse "antipedagog
ical." It tackles major philosophical themes but deliberately re
sists taking shape as an informative and constructive discourse. It
does not aspire to produce anything "new" on the subject, thus
renouncing all fal
se pretensions to originality. "It never recom
mends anything except the horrible and the impossible and even
that only ironically." Cioran never tires of saying that he believes
in nothing. His "destructive" discourse, going against the grain of
traditio
nal philosophical practice, unremittingly seeks to expose
the contradictions inherent in any philosophical system and
cultivates with relish all contraries, conferring upon them equal
value and equally little significance:
Everything is possible, and yet n
othing is. All is permit
ted, and yet again, nothing. No matter which way we go,
it is no better than any other. . . . There is an explanation
for everything, and yet there is none. Everything is both
real and unreal, normal and absurd, splendid and in
ipid. There is nothing worth more than something else,
nor any idea better than another.
All gain is a loss,
and all loss is a gain. Why always expect a definite
stance, clear ideas, meaningful words? I feel as if I should
spout fire in response to all
the questions which were
ever put, or not put, to me.
In
Syllogismes de I'amertume,
Cioran recalls in a short anec
dote how, as a young and ambitious philosophy student, he
wanted to write a thesis on an extremely original topic and
chose, to his profess
or's dismay, a "general theory of tears." It
may be that
On the Heights of Despair
was written in lieu of this
proposed "theory of tears." It received the prize of the King Carol
II Foundation for Literature and Art. My young Cioran is a phi
Introduction
: Imagining Cioran
losopher who could not or would not philosophize abstractly
and systematically and who, in a dramatic turnabout of which
On the Heights of Despair
is the painstaking record, became a poet.
As a poet, he continued to philosophize
poetical
ly.
NOTE ON THE TEXT
This translation aims at capturing the lyrical, whimsical spirit
of Cioran's original Romanian, not a literal, word
for
word accu
racy. Principally, this has meant a trimming of Cioran's youthful
prose, mainly those passages that soun
d florid or redundant in
English. All such cuts, changes, and revisions were either made
by or approved by the author, who has also cut additional pas
sages and sections that were conceptually repetitive.
WORKS CITED
Calinescu, Matei. "Reflections on Miha
il Sebastian's
For Two
Thousand Years
(1934): Reading, Fiction, History."
Forthcoming in
Salmagundi,
Cioran, E. M.
Des larmes et des saints,
trans. Sanda Stolojan.
Paris: L'Herne, 1986.
Le mauvais demiurge.
Paris: Gallimard, 1969.
Syllogismes d
e l'amertume.
Paris: Gallimard, 1952.
La tentation d'exister.
Paris: Gallimard, 1952.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. "The Birth of Tragedy." In
The Birth of
Tragedy and the Case of Wagner,
ed. Walter Kaufmann. New
York: Vintage, 1967.
Savater, Fernando.
Ensayo s
obre Cioran.
Madrid: Taurus, 1974.
. "El Ultimo Dandi."
El Pais,
October 25, 1990.
Ilinca Zarifopol
Johnston
On Being Lyrical
Why can't we stay closed up inside ourselves? Why do we chase
after expression and form, trying to deliver ourselves of our pre
cious contents or "meanings," desperately attempting to orga
nize what is after all a rebellious and chaotic process? Wouldn't it
be more creative simply to surrender to our inner fluidity without
any intention of objectifying it, intimately and voluptuo
usly
soaking in our own inner turmoil and struggle? Then we would
feel with much richer intensity the whole inner growth of spir
itual experience. All kinds of insights would blend and flourish in
a fertile effervescence. A sensation of actuality and spir
itual con
tent would be born, like the rise of a wave or a musical phrase. To
be full of one's self, not in the sense of pride, but of enrichment, to
be tormented by a sense of inner infinity, means to live so in
tensely that you feel you are about to di
e of life. Such a feeling is
so rare and strange that we would live it out with shouts. I feel I
could die of life, and I ask myself if it makes any sense to look for
an explanation. When your entire spiritual past vibrates inside
you with a supreme tensio
n, when a sense of total presence res
urrects buried experiences and you lose your normal rhythm,
then, from the heights of life, you are caught by death without
the fear which normally accompanies it. It is a feeling similar to
that experienced by lovers
on the heights of happiness, when
they have a passing but intense intimation of death or when a
Premonition of betrayal haunts their budding love.
Only a few can endure such experiences to the end. There is
always a serious danger in repressing something
which requires
objectification, in locking up explosive energy, because there
On Being Lyrical
comes a moment when one cannot restrain such overwhelming
power. And then the fall is from too much plenitude. There are
experiences and obsessions one cannot l
ive with. Salvation lies
in confessing them. The terrifying experience of death, when
preserved in consciousness, becomes ruinous. If you talk about
death, you save part of your self. But at the same time, something
of your real self dies, because objectif
ied meanings lose the actu
ality they have in consciousness. This is why lyricism represents a
dispersion of subjectivity; it is a certain quantity of an individual's
spiritual effervescence which cannot be contained and needs
constant expression. To be l
yrical means you cannot stay closed
up inside yourself. The need to externalize is the more intense,
the more the lyricism is interiorized, profound, and concen
trated. Why is the suffering or loving man lyrical? Because such
states, although different in
nature and orientation, spring up
from the deepest and most intimate part of our being, from the
substantial center of subjectivity, as from a radiation zone. One
becomes lyrical when one's life beats to an essential rhythm and
the experience is so intens
e that it synthesizes the entire meaning
of one's personality. What is unique and specific in us is then real
ized in a form so expressive that the individual rises onto a uni
versal plane. The deepest subjective experiences are also the most
universal,
because through them one reaches the original source
of life. True interiorization leads to a universality inaccessible to
those who remain on the periphery. The vulgar interpretation of
universality calls it a phenomenon of quantitative expansion
rather t
han a qualitatively rich containment. Such an interpreta
tion sees lyricism as a peripheral and inferior phenomenon, the
product of spiritual inconsistency, failing to notice that the lyrical
resources of subjectivity show remarkable freshness and depth.
There are people who become lyrical only at crucial mo
ments in their life; some only in the throes of death, when their
entire past suddenly appears before them and hits them with the
force of a waterfall. Many become lyrical after some decisively
critic
al experience, when the turmoil of their inner being reaches
paroxysm. Thus people who are normally inclined toward objec
tivity and impersonality, strangers both to themselves and to re
On Being Lyrical
ality, once they become prisoners of love, experi
ence feelings
which actualize all their personal resources. The fact that almost
everybody writes poetry when in love proves that the resources
of conceptual thinking are too poor to express their inner in
finity; inner lyricism finds adequate objectifica
tion only through
fluid, irrational material. The experience of suffering is a similar
case. You never suspected what lay hidden in yourself and in the
world, you were living contentedly at the periphery of things,
when suddenly those feelings of suffering
which are second only
to death itself take hold of you and transport you into a region of
infinite complexity, where your subjectivity tosses about in a
maelstrom. To be lyrical from suffering means to achieve that inner
purification in which wounds cease
to be mere outer manifesta
tions without deep complications and begin to participate in the
essence of your being. The lyricism of suffering is a song of the
blood, the flesh, and the nerves. True suffering begins in illness.
Almost all illnesses have ly
rical virtues. Only those who vegetate
in a scandalous insensitivity remain impersonal when ill, and thus
miss that deepening of the personality brought about by illness.
One does not become lyrical except after a total organic af
fliction. Accidental lyr
icism has its source in external factors;
once they have disappeared, their inner correspondent also dis
appears. There is no authentic lyricism without a grain of interior
madness. It is significant that the beginnings of all mental psy
choses are marke
d by a lyrical phase during which all the usual
barriers and limits disappear, giving way to an inner drunken
ness of the most fertile, creative kind. This explains the poetic
productivity characteristic of the first phases of psychoses. Con
sequently, m
adness could be seen as a sort of paroxysm of lyri
cism. For this reason, we should rather write in praise of lyricism
than in praise of folly. The lyrical state is a state beyond forms and
systems. A sudden fluidity melts all the elements of our inner li
one fell swoop, and creates a full and intense rhythm, an ideal
convergence. Compared to the refined culture of sclerotic forms
and frames, which mask everything, the lyrical mode is utterly
barbarian in its expression. Its value resides precisely in
its savage
quality: it is only blood, sincerity, and fire.
How Distant Everything Is!
I don't understand why we must do things in this world, why we
must have friends and aspirations, hopes and dreams. Wouldn't
be
better to retreat to a faraway corner
of the world, where all
its noise and complications would be heard no more? Then we
could renounce culture and ambitions; we would lose every
thing and gain nothing; for what is there to be gained from this
world? There are people to whom gain is unimpor
tant, who are
hopelessly unhappy and lonely. We are so closed to one another!
And yet, were we to be totally open to each other, reading into
the depths of our souls, how much of our destiny would we see?
We are so lonely in life that we must ask ourselves
if the loneli
ness of dying is not a symbol of our human existence. Can there
be any consolation at the last moment? This willingness to live
and die in society is a mark of great deficiency. It is a thousand
times preferable to die somewhere alone and a
bandoned so that
you can die without melodramatic posturing, unseen by anyone.
I despise people who on their deathbed master themselves and
adopt a pose in order to impress. Tears do not burn except in soli
tude. Those who ask to be surrounded by friends
when they die
do so out of fear and inability to live their final moments alone.
They want to forget death at the moment of death. They lack infi
nite heroism. Why don't they lock their door and suffer those
maddening sensations with a lucidity and a fear
beyond all
limits?
We are so isolated form everything! But isn't everything
equally inaccessible to us? The deepest and most organic death is
How Distant Everything Is!
death in solitude, when even light becomes a principle of death.
In such moments you
will be severed from life, from love, smiles,
friends and even from death. And you will ask yourself if there is
anything besides the nothingness of the world and your own
nothingness.
On Not Wanting to Live
There are experiences which one cannot survive,
after which one
feels that there is no meaning left in anything. Once you have
reached the limits of life, having lived to extremity all that is of
fered at those dangerous borders, the everyday gesture and the
usual aspiration lose their seductive charm
. If you go on living,
you do so only through your capacity for objectification, your
ability to free yourself, in writing, from the infinite strain. Cre
ativity is a temporary salvation from the claws of death.
I feel I must burst because of all that lif
e offers me and be
cause of the prospect of death. I feel that I am dying of solitude, of
love, of despair, of hatred, of all that this world offers me. With
every experience I expand like a balloon blown up beyond its
capacity. The most terrifying intens
ification bursts into nothing
ness. You grow inside, you dilate madly until there are no bound
aries left, you reach the edge of light, where light is stolen by
night, and from that plenitude as in a savage whirlwind you are
thrown straight into nothingn
ess. Life breeds both plenitude and
void, exuberance and depression. What are we when confronted
with the interior vortex which swallows us into absurdity? I feel
my life cracking within me from too much intensity, too much
disequilibrium. It is like an ex
plosion which cannot be con
tained, which throws you up in the air along with everything
else. At the edge of life you feel that you are no longer master of
the life within you, that subjectivity is an illusion, and that un
controllable forces are seethi
ng inside you, evolving with no rela
tion to a personal center or a definite, individual rhythm. At the
edge of life everything is an occasion for death. You die because of
On Not Wanting to Live
all there is and all there is not. Every experience is in
this case a
leap into nothingness. When you have lived everything life has
offered you to a paroxysm of supreme intensity, you have
reached the stage at which you can no longer experience any
thing, because there is nothing left. Even if you have not ex
hausted all the possibilities of these experiences, it is enough to
have lived the principal ones to their limit. And when you feel
that you are dying of loneliness, despair, or love, all that you have
not experienced joins in this endlessly sorrowful proc
ession.
The feeling that you cannot survive such whirlwinds also
arises from a consummation on a purely inner plane. The flames
of life burn in a closed oven from which the heat cannot escape.
Those who live on an external plane are saved from the outset:
but do they have anything to save when they are not aware of any
danger? The paroxysm of interior experience leads you to re
gions where danger is absolute, because life which self
consciously
actualizes its roots in experience can only negate itself. Lif
e is too
limited and too fragmentary to endure great tensions. Did not all
the mystics feel that they could not live after their great ecstasies?
What could they expect from this world, those who sense, be
yond the normal limits, life, loneliness, despair
, and death?
The Passion for the Absurd
There are no arguments. Can anyone who has reached the limit
bother with arguments, causes, effects, moral considerations,
and so forth? Of course not. For such a person there are only un
motivated motives for livi
ng. On the heights of despair, the pas
sion for the absurd is the only thing that can still throw a demonic
light on chaos. When all the current reasons
religious, social, and so on
no longer guide one's life, how can
one sustain life wit
hout succumbing to nothingness? Only by a
connection with the absurd, by love of absolute uselessness, lov
lates an illusion of life.
live because the mountains do not laugh and the worms do no
sing.
The passion for the absurd can grow only in a man who has
exhausted everything, yet is still capable of undergoing awesome
transfigurations. For one who has lost everything there is noth
ing left in life except the passion of the absurd. What else
in life
could still move such a person? What seductions? Some say: self
sacrifice for humanity, the public good, the cult of the beautiful,
and so forth. I like only those people who have done away with
all that
even for a short time. Only they have live
d in an abso
lute manner. Only they have the right to speak about life. You can
recover love or serenity. But you recover it through heroism, not
ignorance. An existence which does not hide
great madness has
no value. How is it different from the existe
nce of a stone, a piece
of wood, or something rotten? And yet I tell you: you must hide a
great madness in order
to want
to become stone, wood, or rot.
Only when you have tasted all the poisoning sweetness of the ab
The Passion for the Absurd
surd are y
ou fully purified, because only then will you have
pushed negation to its final expression. And are not all final ex
pressions absurd?
THERE ARE PEOPLE
who are destined to taste only the poison in
things, for whom any surprise is a painful surprise and an
y expe
rience a new occasion for torture. If someone were to say to me
that such suffering has subjective reasons, related to the individ
ual's particular makeup, I would then ask; Is there an objective
criterion for evaluating suffering? Who can say wit
h precision
that my neighbor suffers more than I do or that Jesus suffered
more than all of us? There is no objective standard because suf
fering cannot be measured according to the external stimulation
or local irritation of the organism, but only as it
is felt and re
flected in consciousness. Alas, from this point of view, any hier
archy is out of the question. Each person remains with his own
suffering, which he believes absolute and unlimited. How much
would we diminish our own personal suffering if
we were to
compare it to all the world's sufferings until now, to the most hor
rifying agonies and the most complicated tortures, the most cruel
deaths and the most painful betrayals, all the lepers, all those
burned alive or starved to death? Nobody is c
omforted in his suf
ferings by the thought that we are all mortals, nor does anybody
who suffers really find comfort in the past or present suffering of
others. Because in this organically insufficient and fragmentary
world, the individual is set to live
fully, wishing to make of his
own existence an absolute. Each subjective existence is absolute
to itself. For this reason each man lives as if he were the center of
the universe or the center of history. Then how could his suffering
fail to be absolute? I
cannot understand another's suffering in or
der to diminish my own. Comparisons in such cases are irrele
vant, because suffering is an interior state, in which nothing
external can help.
But there is a great advantage in the loneliness of suffering.
What
would happen if a man's face could adequately express his
suffering, if his entire inner agony were objectified in his facial
expression? Could we still communicate? Wouldn't we then
The Passion for the Absurd
cover our faces with our hands while talking
? Life would really
be impossible if the infinitude of feelings we harbor within our
selves were fully expressed in the lines of our faces.
Nobody would dare look at himself in the mirror, because a
grotesque, tragic image would mix in the contours of his
face
with stains and traces of blood, wounds which cannot be healed,
and unstoppable streams of tears. I would experience a kind of
voluptuous awe if I could see a volcano of blood, eruptions as red
as fire and as burning as despair, burst into the midst
of the com
fortable and superficial harmony of everyday life, or if I could see
all our hidden wounds open, making of us a bloody eruption for
ever. Only then would we truly understand and appreciate the
advantage of loneliness, which silences our suffer
ing and makes
it inaccessible. The venom drawn out from suffering would be
enough to poison the whole world in a bloody eruption, bursting
out of the volcano of our being. There is so much venom, so
much poison, in suffering!
TRUE SOLITUDE
is the feeling o
f being absolutely isolated between
the earth and the sky. Nothing should detract attention from
these phenomena of absolute isolation: a fearfully lucid intuition
will reveal the entire drama of man's finite nature facing the infi
nite nothingness of the
world. Solitary walks
extremely fertile
and dangerous at the same time, for the inner life
must take
place in such a way that nothing will obscure the solitary's medi
tation on man's isolation in the world. Solitary walks are pro
pitious to an intense p
rocess of interiorization especially in the
evening, when none of the usual seductions can steal one's inter
est. Then revelations about the world spring from the deepest
corner of the spirit, from the place where it has detached itself
from life, from th
e wound of life. To achieve spirituality, one must
be very lonely. So much death
life and so many inner con
flagrations! Loneliness negates so much of life that the spirit's
blooming in vital dislocations becomes almost insufferable. Isn't
it significa
nt that those who have too much spirit, who know the
deep wound inflicted on life at the birth of the spirit, are the ones
who rise against it? Healthy, fat people, without the least intui
The Passion for the Absurd
tion of what spirit is, who have never
suffered the tortures of life
and the painful antinomies at the base of existence, are the ones
ho rise up in defense of the spirit. Those who truly know it
either tolerate it with pride or regard it as a calamity. Nobody can
really be pleased at the bot
tom of his heart with spirit, an acquisi
tion so damaging to life. How can one be pleased with life with
out its charm, naivet
, and spontaneity? The presence of the
spirit indicates a want of life, great loneliness, and long suffering.
Who dares talk of
salvation through the spirit? It is by no means
true that life on the immanent plane creates an anxiety from
which man escapes through the spirit. On the contrary, it is much
more true that through spirit man achieves disequilibrium, anx
iety as well as
grandeur. What do you expect those who don't
know the dangers of life to know of the dangers of the spirit? To
argue the case for spirit is a sign of great ignorance, just as to
make a case for life is a sign of great disequilibrium. For the nor
mal man,
life is an undisputed reality; only the sick man is de
lighted by life and praises it so that he won't collapse. And what
about the man who cannot praise either life or the spirit?
The World and I
I am: therefore the world is meaningless.
What meaning i
s there in
the tragic suffering of a man for whom everything is ultimately
nothing and whose only law in this world is agony? If the world
tolerates somebody like me, this can only mean that the blots on I
the so
called sun of life are so large that in tim
e they will obscure
its light. Life's beastliness trampled me under foot and oppressed
me, clipped my wings in full flight and stole all my rightful joys.
The enthusiastic zeal and mad passion I put into becoming a bril
liant individual, the demonic cha
rm I adopted to gain an aura in
the future, and the energy I spent on an organic, glamorous, in
ner rebirth, all proved weaker than the beastly brutality and irra
tionality of this world, which poured into me all its reserves of
negativity and poison. Li
fe is impossible at high temperatures.
That's why I have reached the conclusion that anguished people,
whose inner dynamism is so intense that it reaches paroxysm,
and who cannot accept normal temperatures, are doomed to 1
fall. The destruction of those wh
o live unusual lives is an aspect of
life's demonism, but it is also an aspect of its insufficiency, which
explains why life is the privilege of mediocre people. Only medi
ocrities live at life's normal temperature; the others are con
sumed at temperatur
es at which life cannot endure, at which
they can barely breathe, already one foot beyond life. I can
not contribute anything to this world because I only have one
method: agony. You complain that people are mean, vengeful,
ungrateful, and hypocritical? I
propose the agony method to rid
you of all these imperfections. Apply it to every generation and its
The World and I
effects will soon be evident. Maybe in this way I too could be
come useful to mankind!
Bring every man to the agony of life's last momen
ts by whip,
fire
, or injections, and through terrible torture he will undergo
the great purification afforded by a vision of death. Then free him
and let him run in a fright until he falls exhausted. I warrant you
that the effect is incomparably greater th
an any obtained through
normal means. If I could, I would drive the entire world to agony
to achieve a radical purification of life; I would set a fire burning
insidiously at the roots of life, not to destroy them but to give
them a new and different sap,
a new heat. The fire I would set to
the world would not bring ruin but cosmic transfiguration. In
this way life would adjust to higher temperatures and would
cease to be an environment propitious to mediocrity. And maybe
in this dream, death too would ceas
e to be immanent in life.
(These lines written today, April 8, 1933, when I turn twenty
two. It is strange to think that I am already a specialist in the
question of death.)
Weariness and Agony
Are you familiar with the frightening sensation of melting,
the
feeling of dissolving into a flowing river, in which the self is an
nulled by organic liquidization? Everything solid and substantial
in you melts away in a wearisome fluidity, and the only thing left
is your head. I'm speaking of a precise painful se
nsation, not a
vague and undetermined one. As in a hallucinatory dream, you
feel that only your head is left, without foundation and support,
without a body. This feeling has nothing to do with that vague
and voluptuous weariness by the seaside or in melan
choly
dreamy musings; it is a weariness which consumes and destroys.
No effort, no hope, no illusion can satisfy you any longer.
Shocked witless by your own catastrophe, unable to think or to
act, caught in cold and heavy darkness, solitary as in moments o
profound regret, you have reached the negative limit of life, its
absolute temperature, where the last illusions about life freeze.
The true meaning of agony, which is not a struggle of pure pas
sion or gratuitous fantasy, but life's hopeless struggle i
n the claws
of death, is revealed in this feeling of great weariness. One cannot
separate the thought of agony from that of weariness and death.
Agony as struggle? But with whom and for what? The interpre
tation of agony as an ardor exalted by its own fut
ility, or as a bat
tle whose aim is itself, is absolutely false. In fact, agony means a
battle between life and death. Since death is immanent in life, al
most all of life is an agony. I call agonic only those dramatic mo
ments in the battle between lif
e and death when the presence of
death is experienced consciously and painfully. True agony oc
curs when you pass into nothingness through death, when a feel
Weariness and Agony
ing
of weariness consumes you irrevocably and death wins. In
very true ago
ny there is a triumph of death, even though you
may continue to live after those moments of weariness.
There is nothing imaginary in this turmoil. Every agony
bears a conclusive stamp. Isn't agony similar to an incurable sick
ness which torments us interm
ittently? Agonic moments chart
the progress of death in life, revealing a drama in our conscious
ness caused by the disruption of the balance between life and
death. Such moments are not possible except in that sensation of
weariness which brings life dow
n to its absolute negative value.
Frequency of agonic moments is an indicator of decomposition
and ruin. Death is something disgusting, the only obsession
which cannot become voluptuous. Even when you want to die,
you do it with an implicit regret for your
own desire. /
want to die,
but I am sorry that I want to die.
This is the feeling experienced by
those who abandon themselves to nothingness.
The most perverse
feeling is the feeling of death.
Imagine that there are people who
cannot sleep because of thei
r perverse obsession with death!
How I wish I did not know anything about myself and this world!
Despair and the Grotesque
Among the many forms of the grotesque, I find the one whose
roots are steeped in despair more unusual and complex. The
other forms h
ave less intensity. It is important to note that the
grotesque is inconceivable without intensity of feeling. And what
intensity is deeper and more organic than despair? The grotesque
appears only in very negative states, when great anxiety arises
from a l
ack of life; the grotesque is an exaltation in negativity.
There is a mad launch toward negativity in that bestial, ago
nizing grimace when the shape and lines of the face are contorted
into strangely expressive forms, when the look in one's eyes
changes
with distant light and shadow, and one's thoughts follow
the curve of similar distortions. Truly intense and irrevocable de
spair cannot be objectified except in grotesque expressions, be
cause the grotesque is the absolute negation of serenity, that sta
of purity, transparence, and lucidity so different from the chaos
and nothingness of despair. Have you ever had the brutal and
amazing satisfaction of looking at yourself in the mirror after
countless sleepless nights? Have you suffered the torment of i
somnia, when you count the minutes for nights on end, when
you feel alone in this world, when your drama seems to be the
most important in history and history ceases to have meaning,
ceases to exist? When the most terrifying flames grow in you and
your
existence appears unique and isolated in a world made only
for the consummation of your agony? You must have felt those
moments, as countless and infinite as suffering, in order to have a
clear picture of the grotesque when you look at yourself in the
mirr
or. It is a picture of total strain, a tense grimace to which is
Despair and the Grotesque
added the demonically seductive pallor of a man who has strug
gled along horrible, dark precipices. Isn't this grotesque expres
sion of despair similar to a prec
ipice? It has something of the
abysmal maelstrom of great depths, the seduction of the all
encompassing infinite to which we bow as we bow to fatality.
How good it would be if one could die by throwing oneself into
an infinite void! The complexity of the
grotesque born out of de
spair resides in its capacity to indicate an inner infinity and to
produce a paroxysm of the highest tension. How could this in
tense agony manifest itself in pleasant linear curves and formal
purity? The grotesque essentially ne
gates the classic, as well as
any idea of style, harmony, and perfection.
It is evident to anyone who understands the multiple forms
of inner drama that the grotesque hides secret tragedies, indi
rectly expressed. Whoever has seen his face grotesquely dis
figured can never forget it, because he will always be afraid of
himself. Despair is followed by painful anxiety. What else does
the grotesque do if it does not actualize fear and anxiety?
The Premonition of Madness
We generally find it hard to understa
nd that some of us must go
mad. But sliding into chaos, where moments of lucidity are like
short flashes of lightning, is an inexorable fatality. Inspired pages
of absolute lyricism, in which you are the prisoner of a total
drunkenness of being, can only b
e written in a state of such ex
alted nervous tension that any return to equilibrium is an illu
sion. One cannot live normally after such efforts. The intimate
springs of being can no longer sustain normal evolution, and inner
barriers lose all reality.
The premonition of madness appears only
after such capital experiences. One loses one's sense of security
and the normal sensation of the immediate and the concrete, as if
one were soaring to heights and suffering from vertigo. A heavy
load weighs on the b
rain, compressing it to an illusion, although
the frightening organic reality from which our experiences spring
can only be revealed through such sensations. An indefinable ter
ror arises from this oppression, throwing you to the ground or
blowing you up
in the air. It is not just the suffocating fear of death
that obsesses man; it is another terror, occurring rarely but in
tensely like flashes of lightning, like a sudden disturbance which
forever eliminates the hope of future serenity.
It is impossible t
o pinpoint and define this strange premoni
tion of madness. The truly awful thing in madness is that we
sense a total and irrevocable loss of life while we are still living. I
continue to eat and drink, but I have lost whatever consciousness
I bring to my
biological functions. It is only an approximate
death. In madness one loses the specific individual traits which
single one out in the universe, the personal perspective and a cer
The Premonition of
tain orientation of consciousness. In death one loses
everything,
by a fall into nothingness. That is why the fear of death is per
istent and essential, but actually less strange than the fear of
madness, in which our semipresence creates an anxiety more
complex than the organic fear of the total nothingness
of death.
t wouldn't madness be an escape from the misery of life? This
question has only a theoretical justification, since, practically
speaking, for the anguished man the problem appears in a differ
ent light, or, rather, in a different shadow. The
premonition of
madness is complicated by the fear
of lucidity
in madness, the fear
of the moments of return and reunion, when the intuition of di
saster is so painful that it almost provokes a greater madness.
There is no salvation through madness, becaus
e no man with a
premonition of madness can overcome his fear of possible mo
ments of lucidity.
One would welcome chaos if one were not afraid of
lights in it.
The specific form of one's madness is determined by organic
and temperamental conditions. Since
the majority of madmen
are depressive, depressive madness is inevitably more common
than pleasant, gay, manic exaltation. Black melancholy is so
frequent among madmen that almost all of them have suicidal
tendencies, whereas for sane people suicide appears
a very prob
lematic solution.
I would like to go mad on one condition, namely, that I
would become a happy madman, lively and always in a good
mood, without any troubles and obsessions, laughing senselessly
from morning to night. Although I long for lumi
nous ecstasies, I
wouldn't ask for any, because I know they are followed by great
depressions. I would like instead a shower of warm light to fall
from me, transfiguring the entire world, an unecstatic burst of
light preserving the calm of luminous eternit
y. Far from the con
centrations of ecstasy, it would be all graceful lightness and smil
ing warmth. The entire world should float in this dream of light,
in this transparent and unreal state of delight. Obstacles and
matter, form and limits would cease t
o exist. Then let me die of
ght in such a landscape.
On Death
There are questions which, once approached, either isolate you
or kill you outright. Afterward you have nothing more to lose.
From then on, your erstwhile "serious" pursuits
your spiritual
est for more varied forms of life, your limitless longing for inac
cessible things, your elevated frustration with the limits of
empiricism
all become simple manifestations of an excessively
exuberant sensibility, lacking the profound seriousness which
ous mysteries. I'm not talking here of the spiritual calm and
empty solemnity of so
called serious people but of a mad tension
that puts every moment of your life on the plane of eternity. This
ofound seriousness cannot be achieved by confronting purely
formal problems, no matter how difficult, because they are gen
erated exclusively by our intelligence, not by the total organic
structure of our being. Only the organic and existential thinker is
capable of this kind of seriousness, because truth for him is alive,
born from inner agony and organic disorder rather than useless
speculation. Out of the shadow of the abstract man, who thinks
for the pleasure of thinking, emerges the organic man, who
hinks because of a vital imbalance, and who is beyond science
and art. I like thought which preserves a whiff of flesh and blood,
and I prefer a thousand times an idea rising from sexual tension
or nervous depression to an empty abstraction. Haven't people
learned yet that the time of superficial intellectual games is over,
that agony is infinitely more important than syllogism, that a cry
of despair is more revealing than the most subtle thought, and
that tears always have deeper roots than smiles? Why don
't we
On Death
want to acknowledge the exclusive value of
live truths,
of truths
born in us and revealing a reality proper only to us?
Why don't we want to accept that one can entertain lively
meditations on death, the most dangerous issue existing? De
ath
is not something from outside, ontologically different from life,
because there is no
death
independent of life. To step into death
does not mean, as commonly believed, especially by Christians,
to draw one's last breath and to pass into a region quali
tatively
different from life. It means, rather, to discover in the course of
life the way toward death and to find in life's vital signs the imma
nent abyss of death. For Christianity and other metaphysical be
liefs in immortality, the passing into death
is a
triumph,
opening toward other regions metaphysically different from life.
Contrary to such visions, the true sense of agony seems to me to
lie in the revelation of death's immanence in life. But why is the
experience of agony so rare? Can it be th
at our hypothesis is en
tirely false and that sketching a metaphysics of death is possible
only by accepting death's transcendental nature?
Healthy, normal, mediocre people cannot experience either
agony or death. They live as if life had a definitive cha
racter. It is
an integral part of normal people's superficial equilibrium to take
life as absolutely independent from death and to objectify death
as a reality transcending life. That's why they perceive death as
coming from the outside, not as an inner fa
tality of life itself. One
of the greatest delusions of the average man is to forget that life is
death's prisoner. Metaphysical revelations begin only when
one's superficial equilibrium starts to totter and a painful struggle
is substituted for naive spon
taneity. The premontion of death is
so rare in average people that one can practically say that it does
not exist. The fact that the presentiment of death appears only
when life is shaken to its foundations proves beyond doubt the
immanence of death in lif
e. An insight into these depths shows us
how illusory is the belief in life's integrity and how well founded
the belief in a metaphysical substratum of demonism.
If death is immanent in life, why does awareness of death
make living impossible? The average
man is not troubled by this
awareness because the process of passing into death happens
On Death
simply through a diminution of vital intensity. For such a man
there is only the agony of the last hour, not the long
lasting ag
ony related to the very prem
ise of life. From a grave perspective,
every step in life is a step into death and memory is only the sign
of nothingness. The average man, deprived of metaphysical un
derstanding, does not have this consciousness of progressive ad
vance into death, thou
gh neither he nor anyone else can escape
its inexorable destiny. But when consciousness becomes inde
pendent of life, the revelation of death becomes so strong that its
presence destroys all naivet
, all joyful enthusiasm, and all natu
ral voluptuousness
. To have the consciousness of death is some
thing perverse and extremely corrupt. The naive poetry of life, its
seductions and charms, appear empty of content. Equally empty
are man's finalizing projects and his theological illusions.
To see how death sp
reads over this world, how it kills a tree
and how it penetrates dreams, how it withers a flower or a civiliz
ation, how it gnaws on the individual and on culture like a de
structive blight, means to be beyond tears and regrets, beyond
system and form. W
hoever has not experienced the awful agony
of death, rising and spreading like a surge of blood, like the chok
ing grasp of a snake which provokes terrifying hallucinations,
does not know the demonic character of life and the state of inner
effervescence
from which great transfigurations arise. Such a
state of black drunkenness is a necessary prerequisite to under
standing why one wishes the immediate end of this world. It's
not the luminous drunkenness of ecstasy, in which paradisal vi
sions conquer you
with their splendor and you rise to a purity
that sublimates into immateriality, but a mad, dangerous,
ruinous, and tormented black drunkenness, in which death ap
pears with the awful seduction of nightmarish snake eyes. To ex
perience such sensat
ions and images means to be so close to the
essence of reality that both life and death shed their illusions and
attain within you their most dramatic form. An exalted agony
combines life and death in a horrible maelstrom: a beastly satan
ism borrows tear
s from voluptuousness. Life as a long agony on
the road to death is nothing but another manifestation of life's
demoniacal dialectics, in which forms are given birth only to be
On Death
destroyed. The irrationality of life manifests itself in this over
elming expansion of form and content, in this frenetic im
lse to substitute new aspects for old ones, a substitution,
however, without qualitative improvement. Happy the man who
ould abandon himself to this becoming and could absorb all the
possibiliti
es offered each moment, ignoring the agonizingly
problematic evaluation which discovers in every moment an in
surmountable relativity. Naivet
is the only road to salvation. But
for those who feel and conceive life as a long agony, the question
of salvati
on is a simple one. There is no salvation on their road.
The revelation of death's immanence in life occurs during ill
nesses and long depressive states. There are, of course, other
ways, but they are accidental and individual, and do not have the
same po
tential for revelation as illness or depression.
If illnesses have a philosophical mission in the world, then it
can only be to prove how illusory is the feeling of life's eternity
and how fragile its illusion of finality. In illness, death is always
alrea
dy in life. Genuine ailment links us to metaphysical reali
ties which the healthy, average man cannot understand. Young
people talk of death as external to life. But when an illness hits
them with full power, all the illusions and seductions of youth
disa
ppear. In this world, the only genuine agonies are those
sprung from illness. All others bear the fatal mark of bookish
ness. Only those who truly suffer are capable of genuine content
and infinite seriousness. The others are born to harmony, love,
dance,
and gracefulness. And there are many who would gladly
give up metaphysical revelations, obtained through despair, ag
ony, and death, in exchange for a naive love or the voluptuous
unconsciousness of dance. And there are many who would re
nounce glory ac
quired through suffering for an anonymous
happy existence.
All illnesses are heroic, but with a heroism of resistance, not
of conquest. The heroism of illness defends life's lost redoubts.
The losses are irrevocable not only for sick people but also for
ose who suffer frequently from depressive fits. This explains
why current psychological interpretations find no adequate justi
fication for the fear of death common in some types of depres
On Death
sion. The structure of depressive states holds the key
to their
fundamental understanding. These states, in which separation
from the world steadily and painfully increases, bring man closer
to his inner reality and cause him to discover death in his own
subjectivity. A growing interiority progresses toward th
e essential
center of subjectivity, overcoming all the social forms which usu
ally mask it. Once beyond this center, progressive interiority dis
covers the region where life mingles with death, where man has
not yet detached himself from the primary sour
ces of existence,
where the demonic rhythm of life works with complete irra
tionality. In cases of depression, the awareness of death's imma
nence in life creates an atmosphere of constant dissatisfaction
and restlessness that can never be appeased.
The
presence of death in life introduces into one's existence
an element of nothingness. One cannot conceive of death with
out nothingness, nor of life without a principle of negativity. The
fear of death, which is nothing but the fear of the nothingness
into
which death throws us, proves that death presupposes noth
ingness. The immanence of death in life is a sign of the final tri
umph of nothingness over life, thus showing that the presence of
death has no other meaning than to open progressively the way
oward nothingness.
Even though belief in eternity is necessary as historical man's
unique consolation, the catastrophic ending of this tragedy of life
and of man in particular will demonstrate the illusion of such
naive faith.
The only fear is, in fact, th
e fear of death. Different kinds of
fears are merely a manifestation of the same fundamental psy
chological reality in its various aspects. Those who try to elimi
nate the fear of death through artificial reasoning are totally
mistaken, because it is imp
ossible to cancel an organic fear by
way of abstract constructs. Whoever seriously considers the
question of death must be afraid. Even those who believe in eter
nity do so because they are afraid of death. There is in their faith a
painful effort to save
even without an absolute certitude
the
world of values in which they live and to which they contribute,
an effort to defeat the nothingness inherent in the temporal and
On Death
attain the universal in eternity. Death met without religious
faith
leaves n
othing standing. Universal category and form be
rne illusory and irrelevant when confronted with the irrevers
ible an
nihilation of death. Never will form and category grasp the
timate meanings of life and death. Could idealism or rational
m countera
ct death? Not at all. Yet other philosophies and doc
trines say
almost
nothing about death. The only valid attitude is
absolute silence or a cry of despair.
Some people maintain that the fear of death does not have a
deeper justification, because as long
as there is an I there is no
death, and once dead there is no / any longer. These people have
forgotten about the very strange phenomenon of gradual agony.
What comfort does this artificial distinction between the / and
death offer a man who has a strong p
remonition of death? What
meaning can logical argument or subtle thought have for some
one deeply imbued with a feeling of the irrevocable? All attempts
to bring existential questions onto a logical plane are null and
void. Philosophers are too proud to c
onfess their fear of death
and too supercilious to acknowledge the spiritual fecundity of ill
ness. Their reflections on death exhibit a hypocritical serenity; in
fact, they tremble with fear more than anyone else. One should
not forget that philosophy is
the art of masking inner torments.
The feeling for the irreversible and the irrevocable, which al
ways accompanies the awareness of agony, can achieve a painful
acceptance mixed with fear, but there is no such thing as love or
sympathy for death. The art
of dying cannot be learned, because
there is no technique, there are no rules. The irrevocability of ag
ony is experienced by each individual alone, through infinite and
intense suffering. Most people are unaware of the slow agony
within themselves. For
them there is only one kind of agony, the
one immediately preceding the fall into absolute nothingness.
Only such moments of agony bring about important existential
revelations in consciousness. That is why they expect everything
from the end instead of tr
ying to grasp the meaning of a slow rev
elatory agony. The end will reveal too little, and they will die as
ignorant as they have lived.
Since agony unfolds in time, temporality is a condition not
On Death
only for creativity but also for death, for t
he dramatic phenome
non of dying. The demonic character of time, in which both life
and death, creation and destruction, evolve without convergence
toward a transcendental plane, is thus made manifest.
The feeling of the irrevocable, which appears as an i
neluct
able necessity going against the grain of our innermost ten
dencies, is conceivable only because of time's demonism. The
conviction that you cannot escape an implacable fate and that
time will do nothing but unfold the dramatic process of destruc
tion is an expression of irrevocable agony. Isn't nothingness,
then, salvation? But how can there be salvation in nothingness?
If salvation is nearly impossible through existence, how can it be
possible through the complete absence of existence?
Since the
re is no salvation either in existence or in nothing
ness, let this world with its eternal laws be smashed to pieces!
Melancholy
Every state of the soul adopts its own external form or transforms
the soul according to its nature. In all great and profoun
d states
there is a close correspondence between the subjective and the
objective level. Overflowing enthusiasm is inconceivable in a flat
and closed space. Men's eyes see outwardly that which troubles
them internally. Ecstasy is never a purely internal co
nsumma
tion; it externalizes a luminous inner intoxication. It would suf
fice simply to look at the face of an ecstatic to grasp fully all the
elements of his inner tension.
Why does melancholy require exterior infinity? Because it is
boundless and void
expansion. One can cross boundaries either
positively or negatively. Exuberance, enthusiasm, fury, are posi
tive slates of overflowing intensity which break restrictive barriers
and go beyond normal states. They spring from an excess of life,
vitality, an
d organic expansion. In such positive states, life goes
beyond its normal boundaries not to negate itself but to liberate its
smoldering energies, which would otherwise unleash a violent
conflagration. Crossing boundaries has a totally different mean
ing
for negative spiritual states since it does not happen from an
overflow of plenitude but from quite the contrary. A void origi
nates in the depths of being, spreading progressively like a cancer.
The sensation of expansion toward nothingness present in
lancholy has its roots in a weariness characteristic of all nega
ve states. This weariness separates man from the world. Life's
tense rhythm, its organic inner pulse, weakens. Weariness is
the first organic determinant of knowledge. Because it creates
the
ecessary conditions for man's differentiation from the world,
Melancholy
weariness leads one to the perspective which places the world in
front of man. Weariness also takes one below life's normal level,
allowing only a vague premonition of vital si
gns. Melancholy
therefore springs from a region where life is uncertain and prob
lematic. Its origin explains its fertility for knowledge and its ster
ility for life.
Whereas in ordinary states of mind one is in close contact
with life's individual aspec
ts, in melancholy, being separated
from them produces a vague feeling of the world. Solitary experi
ence and a strange vision melt the substantial forms of the world.
They take on an immaterial and transparent garb. Progressive de
tachment from all that
is particular and concrete raises one to a
vision which gains in size what it loses in substance. No melan
choly state can exist without this ascent, this flight toward the
heights, this elevation above the world. Neither pride nor scorn,
despair nor any
impulse toward infinite negativity, but long med
itation and vague dreaminess born of weariness lead to this kind
of elevation. Man grows wings in melancholy not in order to en
joy the world but in order to be alone. What is the meaning of
loneliness in
melancholy? Isn't it related to the feeling of interior
and exterior infinity? The melancholy look is expressionless,
without perspective. The interior infinitude and vagueness of
melancholy, not to be confused with the fecund infinity of love,
demands a s
pace whose borders are ungraspable. Melancholy is
without clear or precise intentions, whereas ordinary experience
requires concrete objects and forms.
Melancholy detachment removes man from his natural sur
roundings. His outlook on infinity shows him to
be lonely and
forsaken. The sharper our consciousness of the world's infinity,
the more acute our awareness of our own finitude. In some
states
this awareness is painfully depressing, but in melancholy it is less
tormenting and sometimes even rather volupt
uous.
The disparity between the world's infinity and man's finitude
is a serious cause for despair; but when one looks at this disparity
in states of melancholy, it ceases to be painful and the world ap
pears endowed with a strange, sickly beauty. Real so
litude im
plies a painful intermission in man's life, a lonely struggle with
Melancholy
the angel of death. To live in solitude means to relinquish all ex
pectations about life. The only surprise in solitude is death. The
great solitaries retreated
from the world not to prepare them
selves for life but, rather, to await with resignation its end. No
messages about life ever issue forth from deserts and caves.
Haven't we proscribed all religions that began in the desert? All
the illuminations and drea
ms of the great solitaries reveal an
apocalyptic vision of downfall and the end rather than a crown of
lights and triumphs.
The solitude of the melancholic man is less profound. It even
has sometimes an esthetic character. Don't we talk of sweet mel
ancho
ly or of voluptuous melancholy? Melancholy is an esthetic
mood because of its very passivity.
The esthetic attitude toward life is characterized by con
templative passivity, randomly selecting everything that suits its
subjectivity. The world is a stage,
and man, the spectator, pas
sively watches it. The conception of life as spectacle eliminates its
tragic element as well as those antinomies which drag you like a
whirlwind into the painful drama of the world. The esthetic ex
perience, where each moment
is a matter of impressions, can
hardly surmise the great tensions inherent in the experience of
the tragic, where each moment is a matter of destiny. Dreami
ness, central to all esthetic states, is absent from tragedy. Passivity,
dreaminess, and voluptuou
s enchantment form the esthetic ele
ments of melancholy. Yet, due to its multifarious forms, it is not
purely esthetic. Black melancholy is also fairly frequent.
But first, what is sweet melancholy? On summer afternoons
haven't you experienced that sensat
ion of strange pleasure when
you abandon yourself to the senses without any special thought
and when intimations of serene eternity bring an unusual peace
to your soul? It is as if all worldly worries and all spiritual doubts
grow dumb in front of a displa
y of overwhelming beauty, whose
seductions render all questions superfluous. Beyond turmoil and
effervescence, a quiet existence enjoys the surrounding splendor
with discreet voluptuousness. Calm, the absence of intensity of
any kind, is essential to melan
choly. Regret, also inherent in mel
ancholy, expands its lack of intensity. But though regret may be
Melancholy
persistent, it is never so intense as to cause deep suffering. Regret
expresses affectively a profound phenomenon: the advance
through life in
to death. It shows us how much has died in us.
regret something which died in me and from me. I bring back to
life only the ghost of past experiences. Regret reveals the de
monic significance of time: while bringing about growth, it im
plicitly trigger
s death.
Regret makes man melancholy without paralyzing or cutting
short his aspirations, because in regret the awareness of the irre
deemable focuses on the past and the future is still left somewhat
open. Melancholy is not a state of concentrated, close
d serious
ness brought forth by an organic affliction, because it lacks the
terrible sense of irrevocability so characteristic of states of genuine
sadness. Even black melancholy is only a temporary mood, not a
constitutional feature. Its dreamy character
never completely ab
sent, black melancholy can never be a true illness. Sweet and vo
luptuous melancholy, as well as black melancholy, exhibits similar
traits: interior void, exterior infinity, vagueness of sensations,
dreaminess, sublimation. Their dif
ferentiation is apparent only
from the point of view of affective tonalities. It may be that the
multipolarity of melancholy derives more from the structure of
subjectivity than from its own nature. Not particularly intense, it
fluctuates more than other s
tates. Endowed with more poetic than
active virtues, it possesses a certain subdued gracefulness totally
absent from tragic and intense sadness.
The same gracefulness marks melancholy landscapes. The
wide perspective of Dutch or Renaissance landscape, with
its
eternity of lights and shadows, its undulating vales symbolizing
infinity, its transfiguring rays of light which spiritualize the mate
rial world and the hopes and regrets of men who smile wisely
the whole perspective breathes an easy melancholy gra
ce. In
such a landscape, man seems to say regretfully and resignedly:
"What can we do? It's all we have!" At the end of all melancholy
there is a chance of consolation or resignation. Its esthetic aspect
holds possibilities for future harmony which are abs
ent from pro
found organic sadness. The latter ends in the irrevocable, the for
mer in graceful dream.
Nothing Is Important
How important can it be that I suffer and think? My presence in
this world will disturb a few tranquil lives and will unsettle th
unconscious and pleasant naivet
of others. Although I feel that
my tragedy is the greatest in history
greater than the fall of
empires
I am nevertheless aware of my total insignificance. I
am absolutely persuaded that I am nothing in this universe; yet
I feel
that mine is the only real existence.
If I had to choose between the
world and me, I would reject the world, its lights and laws, un
afraid to glide alone in absolute nothingness. Although life for
me is torture, I cannot renounce it, because I do
not believe in the
absolute values in whose name I would sacrifice myself. If I were
to be totally sincere, I would say that I do not know why I live and
why I do not stop living. The answer probably lies in the irra
tional character of life which maintai
ns itself without reason.
What if there were only absurd motives for living? Could they
still be called motives? This world is not worth a sacrifice in the
name of an idea or a belief. How much happier are we today be
cause others have died for our well
eing and our enlightment?
Well
being? Enlightment? If anybody had died so that I could be
happy, then I would be even more unhappy, because I do not
want to build my life on a graveyard. There are moments when I
feel responsible for all the suffering in hi
story, since I cannot un
derstand why some have shed blood for us. It would be a great
irony if we could determine that they were happier than we are.
Let history crumble into dust! Why should I bother? Let death
pear in a ridiculous light; suffering, l
imited and unrevealing;
enthusiasm, impure; life, rational; life's dialectics, logical rather
Nothing Is Important
than demonic; despair, minor and partial; eternity, just a word;
the experience of nothingness, an illusion; fatality, a joke! I se
riously
ask myself, What is the meaning of all this? Why raise
questions, throw lights, or see shadows? Wouldn't it be better if I
buried my tears in the sand on a seashore in utter solitude? But I
never cried, because my tears have always turned into thoughts.
nd my thoughts are as bitter as tears.
Ecstasy
I do not know what the skeptic, for whom this world is a world in
which nothing is solved, thinks of ecstasy
the richest and most
dangerous ecstasy, the ecstasy of life's ultimate origins. You do
not gain exp
licit certainty or definite knowledge by it; yet the
feeling of essential participation is so intense that it surpasses all
limits and categories of common knowledge. A gate opens from
this world of toil, pain, and suffering to the inner sanctum of life,
here we apprehend a most simple vision in a glorious meta
physical trance. Superficial and individual layers of existence
melt away, revealing original depths. I wonder whether a truly
metaphysical feeling is even possible without the disappearance
of sup
erficial forms? One reaches the center of life only by purify
ing it of contingent and accidental elements. A metaphysical ex
istential feeling is by definition ecstatic, and all metaphysical
systems have roots in forms of ecstasy. There are many other
orms of ecstasy which, given a certain spiritual or temperamen
tal configuration, do not necessarily lead to transcendence. Why
shouldn't there be an ecstasy of pure existence? Metaphysical ex
istentialism is born out of ecstasy in front of the world's p
rimor
dial origins; it is the ultimate intoxication, ecstatic bliss in the
contemplation of essence. Ecstasy
exaltation in immanence, il
lumination, a vision of this world's madness
such is the basis of
any metaphysics, valid even in the final moments of
life. Any true
ecstasy is dangerous. It resembles the last stage of initiation in the
gyptian mysteries when, instead of the ultimate knowledge,
is told, "Osiris is a black divinity." The absolute remains un
lovvable. I see a form of madness, not of
knowledge, in the ec
Ecstasy
stasy of life's ultimate origins. You cannot experience it except in
solitude, when you feel as if you were floating above the world.
Solitude is the proper milieu for madness. It is noteworthy that
even the skeptic can expe
rience this kind of ecstasy. Does not the
madness of ecstasy reveal itself through this odd combination of
certitude and essence with doubt and despair?
Nobody will experience ecstasy without having experienced
despair beforehand, because both states presu
ppose equally radi
cal purifications, though different in kind.
The roots of metaphysics are as complex as those of exis
tence.
The World in Which Nothing
Solved
Is there anything on earth which cannot be doubted except
death, the only certainty in t
his world? To doubt and yet to live
this is a paradox, though not a tragic one, since doubt is less in
tense, less consuming, than despair. Abstract doubt, in which
one participates only partially, is more frequent, whereas in de
spair one participates
totally and organically. Not even the most
organic and serious forms of doubt ever reach the intensity of de
spair. In comparison with despair, skepticism is characterized by
a certain amount of dilettantism and superficiality. I can doubt
everything, I m
ay very well smile contemptuously at the world,
but this will not prevent me from eating, from sleeping peace
fully, and from marrying. In despair, whose depth one can
fathom only by experiencing it, such actions are possible only
with great effort. On th
e heights of despair, nobody has the right
to sleep. Thus a genuinely desperate man cannot forget his own
tragedy: his consciousness preserves the painful actuality of his
subjective torment. Doubt is anxiety about problems and things,
and has its origins
in the unsolvable nature of all big questions. If
such questions could be solved, the skeptic would revert to more
normal states. The condition of the desperate man in this respect
is utterly different: if all problems were solved, he would not be
y less
anxious, since his anxiety arises out of his own subjective
existence. Despair is the state in which anxiety and restlessness
are
immanent to existence. Nobody in despair suffers from
Problems," but from his own inner torment and fire. It's a pity
hat no
thing can be solved in this world. Yet there never was and
here never will be anyone who would commit suicide for this
The Word in Which Nothing Is Solved
reason. So much for the power that intellectual anxiety has over
the total anxiety of our being!
That is why I prefer the dramatic
life, consumed by inner fires and tortured by destiny, to the intel
lectual, caught up in abstractions which do not engage the es
sence of our subjectivity. I despise the absence of risks, madness
and passion in abstract
thinking. How fertile live, passionate
thinking is! Lyricism feeds it like blood pumped into the heart! It
is interesting to observe the dramatic process by which men,
originally preoccupied with abstract and impersonal problems,
so objective as to forget
themselves, come to reflect upon their
own subjectivity and upon existential questions once they expe
rience sickness and suffering. Active and objective men do not
have enough inner resources to make an interesting problem of
their own destiny. One must
descend all the circles of an inner
hell to turn one's destiny into a subjective yet universal problem.
If you are not burned to ashes, you will then be able to philoso
phize lyrically. Only when you do not deign even to despise this
world of unsolvable
problems will you finally come to achieve a
superior form of personal existence. And this will be so not be
cause you have any special value or excellence, but because
nothing interests you beyond your own personal agony.
The Contradictory and the
Incons
equential
Those who write under the spell of inspiration, for whom
thought is an expression of their organic nervous disposition, do
not concern themselves with unity and systems. Such concerns,
contradictions, and facile paradoxes indicate an impoverished
and insipid personal life. Only great and dangerous contradic
tions betoken a rich spiritual life, because only they constitute a
mode of realization for life's abundant inner flow. People who
know only a few spiritual states and never live on the edge d
o not
have contradictions, because their limited resources cannot form
oppositions. But how can those who violently experience hatred,
despair, chaos, nothingness, or love, who burn with each passion
and gradually die with each and in each, those who can o
nly
breathe on heights, who are always alone, especially when they
are with others
how can they grow in linear fashion and crys
tallize into a system? All that is form, system, category, frame, or
plan tends to make things absolute and springs from a lack
of in
ner energy, from a sterile spiritual life. Life's great tensions verge
on chaos and the madness of exaltation. Rich spiritual life must
know chaos and the effervescent paroxysm of illness, because in
them inspiration appears to be essential for cre
ation and con
tradictions become expressions of high inner temperatures. No
body who does not love chaos is a creator, and whoever is
contemptuous of illness must not speak of the spirit. There is
value only in that which bursts forth from inspiration, w
hich
rings up from the irrational depths of our being, from the secret
center of our subjectivity. The fruit of labor, effort, and endeavor
worthwhile noticing how the domain of esthetics narrows gradually
as it approaches serious reality and crucial
life events. Death, suffer
ing, and sadness negate esthetics. Death and beauty are totally op
posed notions. I know nothing more disgusting than death, nothing
more serious and more sinister! How could some poets find beautiful
this ultimate negation wh
ich cannot even wear the mask of the gro
tesque? It is ironic that one fears it the more one admires it. I must
confess that I admire death's negativity. It is the only thing I can ad
mire and yet not love. Its grandeur and infinity impress me, but my
spair is so vast that I don't even harbor the
hope
of death. How could
I love death? One can only write about it in contradictory ways.
Whoever says that he knows something definite about death shows
that he has not even a premonition, although he bears it
within him
self.
Every man bears with him not only his life but also his death.
Life is
just a long, drawn
out agony.
It seems to me that sadness partakes of this agony. The
writhings of sadness, don't they express agony? These contor
tions, negations o
f beauty, betray so much solitude that one must
ask oneself if the physiognomy of sadness is not a mode of objec
tifying death in life. Sadness is a way into a mystery, a mystery so
rich that sadness never ceases to remain enigmatic. If there were
a scale
for mysteries, sadness would belong to a group of infinite
mysteries, mysteries without limit, inexhaustible.
AN OBSERVATION
which, to my great regret, is always verifiable:
only those are happy who never think or, rather, who only think
about life's bare
necessities, and to think about such things
means not to think at all. True thinking resembles a demon who
muddies the spring of life or a sickness which corrupts its roots.
To think all the time, to raise questions, to doubt your own des
tiny, to feel t
he weariness of living, to be worn out to the point of
exhaustion by thoughts and life, to leave behind you, as symbols
of your life's drama, a trail of smoke and blood
all this means
you are so unhappy that reflection and thinking appear as a curse
causin
g a violent revulsion in you. There are many things on
could regret in this world in which one shouldn't regret any
thing. But I ask myself; Is the world worthy of my regrets?
Total Dissatisfaction
Why this curse on some of us who can never feel at eas
e any
where, neither in the sun nor out of it, neither with men nor
without them? Ignorant of good humor, an amazing achieve
ment! Those who have no access to irresponsibility are the most
wretched. To possess a high degree of consciousness, to be always
aware of yourself in relation to the world, to live in the perma
nent tension of knowledge, means to be lost for life.
Knowledge is
the plague of life, and consciousness, an open wound in its heart.
Is it
not tragic to be man, that perpetually dissatisfi
ed animal sus
pended between life and death? I'm weary of being a man. If I
could, I would renounce my condition on the spot, but what
would I become then, an animal? I cannot retrace my steps. Be
sides, I might become an animal who knows the history of
losophy. As to becoming superman, that seems to me utter and
ridiculous folly. Could there be a solution, approximate of
course, in a sort of superconsciousness? Couldn't one live
beyond
(not just on this side, toward animality) all complex forms of
onsciousness, anxiety, agony, in a sphere of life where access to
eternity would no longer be pure myth? As far as I am concerned,
resign from humanity. I no longer want to be, nor can still be, a
man. What should I do? Work for a social and political sy
stem,
make a girl miserable? Hunt for weaknesses in philosophical
systems, fight for moral and esthetic ideals? It's all too little. I
nounce my humanity even though I may find myself alone.
But
am I not already alone in this world from which I no longer
Total Dissatisfaction
expect anything? Beyond present
day common ideals and
forms, one might breathe in a superconsciousness where the
intoxication of eternity would do away with the qualms of this
world, and where being would be just as pure and immater
ial as
nonbeing.
The Bath of Fire
There are so many ways to achieve the sensation of immateriality
that it would be difficult, if not futile, to make a classification.
Nevertheless, I think that the bath of fire is one of the best. The
bath of fire: your
being ablaze, all flashes and sparks, consumed
by flames as in Hell. The bath of fire purifies so radically that it
does away with existence. Its heat waves and scorching flames
burn the kernel of life, smothering its vital elan, turning its ag
gressivene
ss into aspiration. To live in a bath of fire, transfigured
by its rich glow
such is the state of immaterial purity where one
is nothing but a dancing flame. Freed from the laws of gravity, life
becomes illusion or dream. But this is not all: at the end, a
most
curious and paradoxical sensation occurs, the feeling of dreamy
unreality gives way to the sensation of becoming ash. The bath of
fire invariable ends thus: when the inner conflagration has
scorched the ground of your being, when all is ashes, what e
lse is
there left to experience? There is both mad delight and infinite
irony in the thought of my ashes scattered to the four winds,
sown frenetically in space, an eternal reproach to the world.
Disintegration
Not everybody loses his innocence: therefore
not everybody is
unhappy. Those who live naively, not out of stupidity
innocence is a pure state which excludes such deficiencies
out of instinctive and organic love for nature, whose charm inno
cence is always quick to discover, those are the ones
who achieve
harmony, an integration with life, much coveted by those who
struggle on the heights of despair. Disintegration implies total
loss of innocence, that lovely gift destroyed by knowledge, life's
enemy. Rich ground for love and enthusiasm, innocen
ce is de
light in the natural charm of being and the unconscious experi
ence of contradictions which no longer have a tragic character. To
attain the virginal joy of innocence, one must not live contra
dictions consciously, or know tragedy and thoughts
of death,
because such knowledge is baffling, complex, and requires dis
junction. Innocence resists tragedy but welcomes love, because
the innocent, never troubled by inner contradictions, have gen
erous impulses. For the man who has cut himself off from
life,
tragedy is intensely painful because contradictions arise not only
inside himself but also between him and the rest of the world.
There are only two fundamental attitudes: the naive and the he
roic. All the others partake of them. One must choose b
etween
these two in order to avoid idiocy. But for the man who has come
to make such a choice, innocence is no longer an option, so there
remains only heroism. The latter is both a privilege and a curse
for those severed from life, incapable of fulfillment
and happi
ness. To be a hero
in the most universal sense of the word
means to aspire to absolute triumph. But such triumphs come
Disintegration
only through death. Heroism means transcending life; it is a fatal
leap into nothingness, even though the
hero may not be aware
that his energy springs from a life deprived of its normal supports.
All that is innocence, and does not lead to it, belongs to nothing
ness. Can one speak of the seductions of nothingness? If we do,
we must add that they are much t
oo mysterious to penetrate.
On the Reality of the Body
I can never understand why so many have called the body an il
lusion, just as I will never understand how they could imagine
spirituality outside the drama of life, with all its contradictions
and sh
ortcomings. It must be that they were never aware of the
flesh, the nerves, each organ in itself. But while I do not under
stand this lack of awareness, I believe it is a necessary condition
for happiness. Those still attached to life's irrationality, and
still
enthralled by its organic rhythms prior to the birth of conscious
ness, are ignorant of the state in which the reality of the body is
ever
present to consciousness. This presence denotes a funda
mental existential illness. Is it not an illness to
be constantly
aware of your nerves, your feet, your stomach, your heart, every
single part of your being? With this awareness, haven't the
organs abandoned normal functions? The reality of the body is
one of the most terrible realities. What would the spir
it be with
out the torments of the flesh, and consciousness without a great
nervous sensibility? How could one imagine life without the
body, as a free and unconditional existence of the spirit? Only
healthy and irresponsible men who have no spirit could
think
this.
The spirit is the offspring of an existential illness, and Man is a sick
animal.
Spirit in life is an anomaly. I have renounced so much,
why should I not renounce spirit as well? But besides being an
illness of life, is not renunciation first a
nd foremost an illness of
the spirit?
Do Not Know
do not know what is right and what is wrong; what is allowed
and what is not; I cannot judge and I cannot praise. There are no
valid criteria and no consistent principles in the world. It sur
prises m
e that some people still concern themselves with a theory
of knowledge. To tell the truth, I couldn't care less about the rela
tivity of knowledge, simply because the world does not deserve
to be known. At times I feel as if I had total knowledge, exhaust
ing the content of this world; at other times the world around me
does not make any sense. Everything then has a bitter taste, there
is in me a devilish, monstrous bitterness that renders even death
insipid. I realize now for the first time how hard it i
s to define this
bitterness. It may be that I'm wasting my time trying to establish a
theoretical basis for it when in fact it originates in a pretheoretical
zone. At this moment I do not believe in anything and I have no
hope. All forms and expressions th
at give life its charm seem to
me meaningless. I have no feeling either for the future or for the
past, while the present seems to me poison. I do not know
whether I am desperate or not, since lack of hope does not auto
matically imply despair. I could be
called anything because I
stand to lose nothing. I've lost everything! Flowers are blooming
and birds are singing all around me! How distant I am from
everything!
On Individual and Cosmic
Loneliness
One can experience loneliness in two ways: by feeling
lonely in
the world or by feeling the loneliness of the world. Individual
loneliness is a personal drama; one can feel lonely even in the
midst of great natural beauty. An outcast in the world, indifferent
to its being dazzling or dismal, self
consumed wit
h triumphs and
failures, engrossed in inner drama
such is the fate of the soli
tary. The feeling of cosmic loneliness, on the other hand, stems
not so much from man's subjective agony as from an awareness
of the world's isolation, of objective nothingness
. It is as if all the
splendors of this world were to vanish at once, leaving behind the
dull monotony of a cemetery. Many are haunted by the vision of
an abandoned world encased in glacial solitude, untouched by
even the pale reflections of a crepuscular
light. Who is more un
happy? He who feels his own loneliness or he who feels the lone
liness of the world? Impossible to tell, and besides, why should I
bother with a classification of loneliness? Is it not enough that
one is alone?
LEAVE IT
in writing
for those who will come after me that I do not
believe in anything and that forgetfulness is the only salvation. I
would like to forget everything, to forget myself and to forget the
world. True confessions are written with tears only. But my tears
would
drown the world, as my inner fire would reduce it to
ashes. I don't need any support, encouragement, or consolation
because, although I am the lowest of men, I feel nonetheless so
strong, so hard, so savage! For I am the only man who lives with
out hope,
the apex of heroism and paradox. The ultimate mad
On Individual and
Cosmic Loneliness
ness! I should channel my chaotic and unbridled passion into
forgetfulness, escaping spirit and consciousness. I too have a
hope: a hope for absolute forgetfulness. But
is it hope or despair?
Is it not the negation of all future hopes? I want not to know, not
to know even that I do not know. Why so many problems, argu
ments, vexations? Why the consciousness of death? How much
longer all this thinking and philosophizing?
Apocalypse
How I would love one day to see all people, young and old, sad or
happy, men and women, married or not, serious or superficial
leave their homes and their work places, relinquish their duties
and responsibilities, gather in the streets and ref
use to do any
thing anymore. At that moment, let slaves to senseless work,
who have been toiling for future generations under the dire delu
sion that they contribute to the good of humanity, avenge them
selves on the mediocrity of a sterile and insignif
icant life, on the
tremendous waste that never permitted spiritual transfiguration.
At that moment, when all faith and resignation are lost, let the
trappings of ordinary life burst once and for all. Let those who
suffer silently, not even uttering a sigh
of complaint, yell with all
their might, making a strange, menacing, dissonant clamor that
would shake the earth. Let the waters flow faster and the moun
tains sway threateningly, the trees show their roots like an eternal
and hideous reproach, the birds
croak like ravens, and the ani
mals scatter in fright and fall from exhaustion. Let ideals be de
clared void; beliefs, trifles; art, a lie; and philosophy, a joke. Let
everything be climax and anticlimax. Let lumps of earth leap into
the air and crumble
besques, frightful and distorted shapes, in the sky. Let wildfires
spread rapidly and a terrifying noise drown out everything so
that even the smallest animal would know that the end is near.
Let all form become fo
rmless, and chaos swallow the structure of
the world in a gigantic maelstrom. Let there be tremendous com
motion and noise, terror, and explosion, and then let there be
Apocalypse
eternal silence and total forgetfulness. And in those final mo
ments,
let all that humanity has felt until now, hope, regret, love,
despair, and hatred, explode with such force that nothing is left
behind. Would not such moments be the triumph of nothingness
and the final apotheosis of nonbeing?
The Monopoly of Suffering
ask myself; Why is it that only some people suffer? Why are
only some selected from the ranks of normal people and put on
the torture rack? Some religions maintain that God is trying us
through suffering, or that we expiate evil and unbelief through it.
such an explanation can satisfy the religious man, it is not suffi
cient for anyone who notices that suffering is arbitrary and un
just, because the innocent often suffer most. There is no valid
justification for suffering. Suffering has no hierarchy of
values.
The most interesting aspect of suffering is the sufferer's belief
in its absoluteness. He believes he has a monopoly on suffering. I
think that I alone suffer, that I alone have the right to suffer, al
though I also realize that there are modalit
ies of suffering more
terrible than mine, pieces of flesh falling from the bones, the body
crumbling under one's very eyes, monstrous, criminal, shameful
sufferings. One asks oneself, How can this be, and if it be, how
can one still speak of finality and o
ther such old wives' tales? Suf
fering moves me so much that I lose all my courage. I lose heart
because I do not understand why there is suffering in the world.
Its origin in life's bestiality, irrationality, and demonism explains
the
presence
of sufferi
ng in the world but does not justify it. Or
maybe suffering has no more justification than life. Was life nec
essary? Or is its rationale purely immanent? Why should we not
reconcile ourselves to the final triumph of nonbeing, to the
thought that existenc
e advances toward nothingness and being
toward nonbeing? Isn't nonbeing the last absolute reality? This is
as challenging a paradox as that of the world.
Although suffering moves me and sometimes even delights
The Monopoly of Suffering
me, never could I w
rite the apologia of suffering, because long
lasting suffering
and all genuine suffering is long
lasting
though purifying in its first phases, unhinges the reason, dulls the
senses, and finally destroys. Facile enthusiasm for suffering is
professed only
by esthetes and dilettantes of suffering, those who
mistake it for entertainment and who do not understand that
there is in suffering both poison, a formidable destructive energy,
and a rich fertility, dearly paid for. To have the monopoly of suf
fering i
s to live suspended above the abyss. All suffering is an
abyss.
THOSE WHO MAINTAIN
that suicide is an assertion of life are
cowards. They invent explanations and excuses to mask their im
potence and lack of daring, for in fact there can be no willed or
tional decision to commit suicide, only organic, secret causes
which predetermine it.
Those who commit suicide have a pathological attraction for
death, which they try to resist consciously but which they cannot
totally suppress. Life in them is so unbalan
ced that no rational
argument could set it right. There are no rational suicides, follow
ing to a logical conclusion a meditation on nothingness and the
futility of life. If one argues that there were wise men in antiquity
who committed suicide in solitud
e, I reply that they could do so
only because they had already stifled life in themselves. To medi
tate on death and on similar dangerous topics is to deal life a
mortal blow, for the mind contemplating so many agonizing
questions must already have been w
ounded. No one commits
suicide for external reasons, only because of inner disequilib
rium. Under similar adverse circumstances, some are indifferent,
some are moved, some are driven to suicide. To be obsessed with
suicide, there must be such inner agony
that all self
imposed bar
riers break and nothing is left but a catastrophic dizziness, a
strange and powerful whirlwind. How could suicide be an asser
tion of life? They say that it is caused by disappointments, which
implies that you have desired life,
that you had expectations
which it did not fulfill. A false dialectic! As if the suicide did not
live before he died, did not have hopes, ambitions, pain. Essential
The Monopoly of Suffering
to suicide is the belief that you can no longer live, not becau
se of
whim but because of a terrifying inner tragedy. Is the inability
live an assertion of life? Any suicide is impressive. So I wonder
why people still look for reasons and justifications, why the
even deprecate it. Nothing is more ridiculous than to mak
e a hi
vulgar. Taking one's life is sufficiently impressive to forestall any
petty hunt for motives. I despise those who scoff at suicides com
mitted for love, because they do not understand t
hat, to the lover
unfulfilled love is the cancellation of his being, a destructive
plunge into meaninglessness. Unrealized passions lead to death
faster than great failures. Great failures are slow agony, but great
passions that are thwarted kill like a bo
lt of lightning. I admire
only two types of people: the potentially mad and the potential
suicide. Only they inspire me with awe, because only they are
capable of great passions and great spiritual transfigurations.
Those who live positively, full of self
assurance, content with
their past, present, and future, have only my respect.
Why don't I commit suicide? Because I am as sick of death as
I am of life. I should be cast into a flaming caldron! Why am I on
this earth? I feel the need to cry out, to utter
a savage scream that
will set the world atremble with dread. I am like a lightning bolt
ready to set the world ablaze and swallow it all in the flames of
my nothingness. I am the most monstrous being in history, the
beast of the apocalypse full of fire and
darkness, of aspirations
and despair. I am the beast with a contorted grin, contracting
down to illusion and dilating toward infinity, both growing and
dying, delightfully suspended between hope for nothing and de
spair of everything, brought up among pe
rfumes and poisons,
consumed with love and hatred, killed by lights and shadows.
My symbol is the death of light and the flame of death. Sparks die
in me only to be reborn as thunder and lightning. Darkness itself
glows in me.
Absolute Lyricism
I would l
ike to explode, flow, crumble into dust, and my disin
tegration would be my masterpiece. I would like to melt in the
world and for the world to melt orgasmically in me and thus in
our delirium to engender an apocalyptic dream, strange and
grandiose like a
ll crepuscular visions. Let our dream bring forth
mysterious splendors and triumphant shadows, let a general
conflagration swallow the world, and let its flames generate cre
puscular pleasures as intricate as death and as fascinating as
nothingness. Lyric
ism reaches its ultimate form of expression
only through delirium.
Absolute lyricism is the lyricism of last mo
ments.
In it, expression becomes reality, ceasing to be a partial,
minor, and unrevealing objectification. Not only your intelli
gence and you
r sensitivity, but your entire being, your life, and
your body participate in it. Absolute lyricism is destiny which has
reached absolute self
knowledge. Such lyricism will never take
an objective and separate form, for it is your own flesh and blood.
It o
nly emerges at those crucial moments when experience is ex
pression. Death's only form is its experience. Thus lyricism is a
juxtaposition of act and reality, because the act is no longer a
manifestation of reality but reality itself. Absolute lyricism is
be
yond poetry and sentimentalism, and closer to a metaphysics of
destiny, in general, it tends to put everything on the plane of
death. All important things bear the sign of death.
THE FEELING OF
utter confusion! Not to be able to differentiate,
clarify, understand, or appreciate! Such a feeling would make
any philoso
pher a poet, but not all philosophers experience it
HE FEELING OF
utter confusion! Not to be able to differentiate,
clarify
, understand, or appreciate! Such a feeling would make
any philosopher a poet, but not all philosophers experience it
Absolute Lyricism
with significant and durable intensity, for if they did, they could
no longer philosophize abstractly and rigidly. How a philosopher
becomes a poet is like a drama. You fall from a worl
d of ab
stractions into a whirlwind of feelings, into all the fantastic
shapes and figures entangled in the soul. How could the actor of a
complicated drama of the soul in which, all at once, erotic antic
ipation clashes with metaphysical anxiety, fear o
f death with de
sire for innocence, total renunciation with paradoxical heroism
despair with pride, forebodings of madness with longings for
anonymity, screams with silence, aspiration with nothingness
how could he still go on philosophizing in a systema
tic way?
There are men who started in the world of abstract forms and
ended in absolute confusion. Therefore they can only philoso
phize poetically. In the state of absolute confusion, only the de
lights and torments of madness still matter.
The Meanin
g of Grace
There are many ways to transcend our blind attachment to life,
but only through
grace
do we not break with its irrational forces;
it alone is a futile leap, a disinterested elan which does not spoil
life's naive charm. Grace is the joy of soarin
g upward.
The undulations of graceful movements bespeak light and
immaterial flight. They have the spontaneity of wings beating in
the air, of smiles, of pure young dreams. Isn't dance grace's best
form of expression? In grace, life is a flux of pure vital
ity, never
breaking the harmony of its own rhythms. Life becomes dream,
disinterested play, expansion contained in its own borders. Thus
it creates a pleasant illusion of freedom, spontaneous abandon,
dreams wrought in sunlight. Despair is the paroxysm of
indi
viduation, a painful and unique interiorization. Grace, on the
other hand, leads to harmony and naive fulfillment, and the
graceful being never experiences feelings of loneliness and isola
tion. Grace is an illusory state in which life negates its a
ntinomies
and transcends its demonic dialectic, in which contradictions, fa
tality, and the consciousness of the irrevocable temporarily van
ish. Light and airy, grace sublimates but never purifies, because it
never reaches the heights of the sublime. Or
dinary experiences
never carry life to heights of delirious tension or to the edge of
ner abyss, nor do they free it from that symbol of death, the law
gravity. Grace, however, is
emancipation
from the law, eman
cip
ation from subterraneous temptation
s, from life's demonic
aws, its negative tendencies. Transcending negativity is the es
senti
al characteristic of grace. It is not surprising, then, that in a
state
of grace, life appears more luminous, draped in sparkling
The Meaning of Grace
rays. By
transcending all negatives and demons through har
mony and lightness of being, grace ascends to a state of well
being faster than religious faith, which attains it through suffer
ing and strife. What diversity there is in this world, for right next
to
grace there is permanent fear, the torture of many. . . .He who
has not experienced absolute fear, universal anxiety, cannot un
derstand struggle, the madness of the flesh and of death. He who
has known only grace cannot understand the anxiety of the sick
Only sickness gives birth to serious and deep feelings. Whatever
is not born out of sickness has only an esthetic value. To be ill
means to live, willingly or not, on the heights of despair. But such
heights presuppose deep chasms, fearful precipices
to
live on
the heights means to live near the abyss. One must fall in order to
reach the heights.
But grace is a state of contentment, even happiness, and it
knows neither abyss nor agony. Why are women happier than
men? Is it not because in them grace and in
nocence are more
common than in men? They too are affected by sickness and dis
satisfaction, but grace predominates. Their naive grace confers on
them a state of superficial equilibrium, which never leads to
tragic and dangerous tensions. Women are safe o
n the spiritual
plane because in them the dualism between life and the spirit is
less intense than in men. A graceful sense of existence does not
lead to metaphysical revelations, to a vision of truth, to the sense
of an ending which poisons every moment o
f life. Women are ci
phers: the more you think about them, the less you understand
them. In front of women one is silent just as one is silent in con
templation of the world's secret essence. But where the latter is
unfathomable infinity, the former is s
imple
mystery,
in other
words, void. Not greatly disjoined from life, woman is a tempo
rary salvation for those on the heights of despair, because
through her a return to life's unconscious and innocent pleasures
is still possible. Grace, if it has not sa
ved the world, has saved its
women.
The Vanity of Compassion
How can one still have ideals when there are so many blind, deaf,
and mad people in the world? How can I remorselessly enjoy the
light another cannot see or the sound another cannot hear? I feel
like a thief of light. Have we not stolen light from the blind and
sound from the deaf? Isn't our very lucidity responsible for the
madman's darkness? When I think about such things, I lose all
courage and will, thoughts seem useless, and compassion, vain
For I do not feel mediocre enough to feel compassion for anyone.
Com
passion is a sign of superficiality: broken destinies and unrelent
ing misery either make you scream or turn you to stone. Pity is
not only inefficient; it is also insulting. And besi
des, how can you
pity another when you yourself suffer ignominously? Compas
sion is as common as it is because it does not bind you to any
thing!
Nobody in this world has yet died from another's suffering.
And
the one who said that he died for us did not
die; he was killed.
Eternity and Morality
Even today nobody can tell what is right or what is wrong. It will
be the same in the future. The relativity of such expressions
means little; not to be able to dispense with their use is more sig
nificant. I
don't know what is right and what is wrong, and yet I
divide actions into good and bad. If anyone asked me why I do so,
I couldn't give an answer. I use moral criteria instinctively; later,
when I reconsider, I do not find any justifications for having do
so. Morality has become so complex and contradictory because
its values no longer constitute themselves
in the order of life
have crystallized in a transcendental region only feebly con
nected to life's vital and irrational forces. How does one go
about
founding a morality? I'm so sick of the word "good"; it is so stale
and vapid! Morality tells you to work for the triumph of good
ness! And how? Through the fulfillment of one's duties, respect,
sacrifice. These are just empty words: in front of nak
ed reality,
moral principles are void, so much so that one wonders whether
life without them would not be preferable. I would love a world
free of forms and principles, a world of absolute indeterminacy. I
like to imagine a world of fantasy and dream, wher
e talk of right
and wrong would no longer make sense. Since reality is essen
tially irrational, why set rules, why distinguish the right from the
wrong? Morality cannot be saved; it's a mistake to believe other
wise. Yet there are those who maintain that
in this world pleasure
and sin are minor satisfactions which enjoy only a brief triumph
and that only good deeds partake of eternity. They pretend that
at the end of this world's misery, goodness and virtue will win
but they have failed to see that, if et
ernity obliterates superficial
Eternity and Morality
pleasures, it does the same with virtue, good deeds, and moral
actions. Eternity does not lead to the triumph of either good or
evil; it ravages all. It is silly to condemn the Epicureans in the
name of
eternity. How is suffering rather than pleasure going to
make me immortal? From a purely
objective
point of view, is there
any significant difference between one man's agony and an
other's pleasure? Whether you suffer or not, nothingness will
swallow you
forever. There is no objective road to eternity, only a
subjective feeling experienced at irregular moments in time.
Nothing created by man will endure. Why this intoxication with
moral illusions when there are other illusions even more beauti
ful? Those
who speak of moral salvation in the face of eternity
refer to the moral action's indefinite echo in time, its unlimited
resonance. Nothing could be less true, since so
called virtuous
men are actually cowards who will disappear from the world's
consciousn
ess faster than those who have wallowed in pleasure.
And even so, supposing the opposite were true, would a dozen or
more years really count? Any unsatisfied pleasure is a loss of life.
I shall not be the one to preach against pleasure, orgy, and excess
the name of suffering. Let the mediocre speak of the
conse
quences
of pleasure: are not those of suffering even greater? Only
the mediocre want to die of old age. Suffer, then, drink pleasure
to its last dregs, cry or laugh, scream in despair or with joy
, sing
about death or love, for nothing will endure! Morality can only
make life a long series of missed opportunities!
Moment and Eternity
Eternity can be understood only as subjective
experience.
It can
not be conceived objectively, because man's tempo
ral finitude
prevents him from grasping the concept of infinity as an un
limited process in time. The experience of eternity therefore de
pends on intensity of subjective feeling, and the way to eternity
is to transcend the temporal. One must fight hard
against time so
that
once the mirage of the succession of moments is overcome
one can live fully the instant one is launched into eternity.
How does the instant become a gate to eternity? A sense of be
coming results from the moment's insufficiency and r
elativity:
those with a keen consciousness of temporality live every mo
ment thinking of the next one. Eternity can be attained only if
there are no connections, if one lives the instant totally and abso
lutely. Every experience of eternity presupposes a
leap and a
transfiguration, and few and far between are those capable of the
tension necessary to arrive at the blissful contemplation of the
eternal. It is not the length but the intensity of contemplation that
matters. The return to normal will not impa
ir the richness of this
fertile experience. On the other hand, the frequency with which
such contemplations occur matters greatly: only through fre
quent repetition can one experience the intoxication of eternity,
the delights of its luminous, extraterres
trial transcendence. By
isolating the moment from its successions, you confer upon it,
subjectively, an absolute value. From the point of view of eter
nity, time with its long train of individual moments is, if not un
real, irrelevant.
There are no hopes
or regrets in eternity. To live each mo
Moment and Eternity
ment in itself is to escape the relativity of taste and category, to
break free from the immanence in which time has imprisoned us.
Immanent living is impossible without simultaneous living in
time: without temporality, life loses its dramatic character. The
more intense the life, the more revealing its time. Moreover, life
consists of a great number of directions, of goals and intentions
which can only be achieved in time. When speaking of life
, you
say
moments;
of eternity,
moment.
The experience of eternity is
void of life, a conquest of time, a victory over the moments of life.
Those with an inborn contemplative sense of eternity, uncon
taminated as we are by temporality, as for example in c
ertain Ori
ental cultures, know nothing of our dramatic struggle to conquer
time. Still, the contemplation of eternity is for us a source of con
quering visions and strange delights. One cannot love eternity
the way one loves a woman, one's destiny, or o
ne's despair, for
there is in the love of eternity the attraction of the peace of side
real light.
History and Eternity
Why should I live in history, or worry about the social and cul
tural problems of the age? I am weary of culture and history; I
can n
o longer bring myself to embrace its torments and its aspira
tions. We must outstrip history, and we can do so only when past,
present, and future cease to be important, when
where and when
we live
becomes a matter of indifference. Am I much better off be
cause I live today rather than four thousand years ago in Ancient
Egypt? It is silly to pity those who lived in times we don't like,
who did not know Christianity or the discoveries of modern sci
ence. Since there is no hierarchy of life
styles, everybo
dy and no
body is right all at the same time. Each historical epoch is a world
in itself, closed off and certain of its principles, until the dialectic
movement of historical life creates a new, equally limited and de
ficient form. I am surprised that so
me people study the past when
the whole of history strikes me as null and void. Of what interest
are the ideals and beliefs of our ancestors? Mankind's achieve
ments could very well be great, but I do not care to know them.
I take greater comfort in the c
ontemplation of eternity. In this
world not worth so much as a breath, the only valid relation is
that between man and eternity, not between man and history. No
one negates history out of a passing whim, but only under the
impact of harrowing and unsuspect
ed tragedies. Such negations
spring from great sadness, not from merely abstract meditations
on history. Now that I no longer want to take part in history and I
negate the past of humanity, a deadly sadness, painful beyond
imagination, preys upon me. Has i
t been long dormant and just
now awakened by these thoughts? There is in me the bitter taste
History and Eternity
of death, and nothingness is burning within me like a strong poi
son. How could I still speak of beauty, and make esthetic re
marks, whe
n I am so sad, sad unto death?
I do not want to know anything more. By outstripping his
tory, one acquires superconsciousness, an important ingredient
of eternity. It takes you into the realm where contradictions and
doubts lose their meaning, where you f
orget about life and death.
It is the fear of death that launches men on their quest for eter
nity: its only advantage is forgetfulness. But what about the re
turn from eternity?
Not to Be a Man Anymore
I am more and more persuaded that man is an unh
appy animal,
abandoned and forced to find his own way in life. Nature has
never known anything like him. He suffers a thousandfold more
from his so
called freedom than from his imprisonment in natu
ral existence. Not surprisingly, he often longs to be a f
lower or
some other plant. When you come to a point where you want to
live like a plant, fully unconscious, then you have come to de
spair of humanity. But why shouldn't I exchange places with a
flower? I already know what it means to be man, to live in h
tory, have ideals: what else is in it for me? To be a man is, of
course, a great thing! But it is mainly a tragedy because to be hu
man means to live in a totally different way, more complex and
more dramatic than natural existence. Life's tragic char
acter
gradually disappears as you go down the scale toward the inani
mate realm. Man tends to monopolize tragedy and suffering in
the world: that's why salvation for him is a burning insoluble
question. I am not proud to be a man, because I know only too
well what it is to be man. Only those who have not experienced
this state intensely are proud of it, because they intend to become
men. Their delight is natural: there are among men some who
are not far above plants or animals, and therefore aspire to hu
manity. But those who know what it means to be Man long to be
anything but. If I could, I would choose every day another form,
plant or animal, I would be all flowers one by one: weed, thistle,
or rose; a tropical tree with a tangle of branches, seaweed ca
st by
the shore, or mountain whipped by winds; bird of prey, a croak
ing bird, or a bird with melodious song; beast of the forest or
Not to Be a Man Anymore
tame animal. Let me live the life of every species, wildly and un
self
consciously, let me try o
ut the entire spectrum of nature, let
me change gracefully, discreetly, as if it were the most natural
procedure. How I would search the nests and caves, wander the
deserted mountains and the sea, the hills and the plains! Only a
cosmic adventure of this k
ind, a series of metamorphoses in the
plant and animal realms, would reawaken in me the desire to be
come Man again. If the difference between Man and animal lies
in the fact that the animal can only be an animal whereas man
can also be
man
that is, s
omething other than himself
then I
am not
man.
Magic and Fatality
It is hard for me to imagine the joy of people with magical sen
sitivity, those people who feel that everything is within their
power, for whom there are no obstacles. Magical sensitivity
leads
only to joy; it knows nothing of the irrevocability and fatality of
existence. To feel that you can do anything, that you can hold the
absolute in the palm of your hand, that your exuberance is one
with the world's, that you are the world, and that i
ts heart beats
in you frenetically
these are the ingredients of an unimaginable
joy, the exclusive monopoly of those possessed of magical sen
sitivity. Magic knows nothing of illnesses, or if it does, they are
never incurable ones. Magical optimism finds
equivalences in
everything. Magic rejects the negative, demonic essence of life.
He who has this kind of sensitivity cannot understand the tri
umphs of pain, misery, destiny, death. The illusions of magic
negate the irrevocable, reject the inevitability a
nd universality of
death. Subjectively, magic is very important because it leads to a
state of euphoric exaltation. In it, man lives as if he were never to
die. The question of death consists of nothing but the subjective
consciousness of death. For those
who do not have it, it is totally
irrelevant that, through death, they will fall into nothingness. We
reach the climax of consciousness through incessant contempla
tion of death.
Infinitely more complex are those who are conscious of fa
tality, for whom
the insoluble and the irrevocable are real, who
feel that effort is vain, and regret, impossible. Essential reality un
folds under the sign of fatality, life's inability to overcome its lim
ited condition. Magic is useful for small and inessential things
Magic and Falality
but powerless when confronted with metaphysical reality, which
requires, most of the time, silence, something magical sensitivity
is incapable of. To live with an acute consciousness of fatality, of
one's own impotence in the face of
life's great problems, which
you cannot even pose without tragically implicating yourself in
existence, means to engage directly the capital question of life,
that of inaccessible and unknowable infinity.
Unimaginable Joy
You pretend that despair and agon
y are only preliminaries, that ide
ally one should overcome them if one is not to become an automa
ton. You think joy is the only means of salvation and you despise all
others? You call the obsession with agony selfishness and find gen
erous impulses on
ly in joy? You offer us this
joy;
but how can we
receive it from the outside? As long as it does not spring from our
inner resources, help from the outside is quite useless. How easy it is
to recommend joy to those who cannot be joyful! How can one
haunted
by madness be joyful? Do all those who are so eager to
promote joy realize what it means to feel and fear madness closing in,
to live all your life with the tormenting presentiment of madness, to
which is added the even more persistent and certain conscio
usness of
death? Joy may very well be a state of bliss, but it can only be reached
naturally. There may be an end to our agony, and we may still be
destined to attain peaceful and serene bliss. Should the gates of Eden
be closed to me forever? I have not y
et found their key.
Since we cannot be joyful, there only remains the road of
agony, of mad exaltation. Let us live the agony fully; let us live
our inner tragedy absolutely and frenetically to the very end! All
we have left is paroxysm, and when it subsid
es, there will be just
one wisp of smoke . . . our inner fire will ravish all. Pure and
generous, in no need of praise or justification, joy is unwarranted
in the face of despair. It does not do anything for the organically
desperate while for others it is
so seductive that it needs no ex
cuses. The complexity of absolute despair is infinitely greater
than that of absolute joy. Is it for this reason that the gates of Eden
are forbidden to those who have lost hope?
The Ambiguity of Suffering
There is no on
e who, after having endured pain or sickness, does
not experience the slightest, vaguest twinge of regret. Although
longing to recover, those who suffer intensely for a long time
sense an irreparable loss in their improvement. If pain is part of
your being
, overcoming it is like a loss and causes a pang of re
gret. I owe to suffering the best parts of myself as well as all that I
have lost in life. Therefore I cannot either curse or love suffering.
My feeling for it is hard to describe; it is strange, elus
ive and has
the mysterious charm of twilight. Beatitude through suffering is
an illusion, since it requires a reconciliation to the fatality of pain
in order to avoid total annihilation. Life's last resources smolder
under this illusion. The only concessio
n to suffering hides in our
regret of potential recovery, but it is so vague and elusive a feeling
that it cannot stamp itself on anyone's consciousness. All disap
pearing pains carry with them this vague discomfort, as if the re
turn to equilibrium forb
ade the path to alluring yet tormenting
realms from which one cannot part without a final backward
glance. Since suffering has not revealed Beauty to us, what lights
still attract our eye? Are we drawn by the gloom of suffering?
There are so m
any reasons to reject life that it would be impos
sible to enumerate them all: despair, death, and infinity are only
the most obvious. But there are also an equal number of inner,
subjective causes, for, where life is concerned, there is no true or
false,
only our spontaneous reactions. One might call it subjectiv
ism. What does it matter? Isn't intense subjectivity the way to at
tain universality, exactly as one enters eternity through the
instant? Men value solitude so little! They condemn the sterilit
of all that it has produced and give praise exclusively to social
values, for they cherish the illusion that they have all contributed
to their creation. They all aspire to great achievements through
which they hope to attain immortality. As if they will
not crum
ble into dust!
AM DISPLEASED
with everything. If they made me God, I would
immediately resign, and if the world were just me, I would sun
der myself apart, burst into tiny pieces, and disappear. How can
there be moments when I feel as if I un
derstand it all?
Enthusiasm as a Form
of Love
There are pure, limpid forms of life undisclosed to those living
under the sign of despair. Those whose life flows without ob
stacles reach a stage of delightful contentment in which the world
appears charmin
g and full of light. Enthusiasm casts a bewitch
ing light over the world; it is a specific form of love, a way of for
getting oneself. Love has so many faces, so many aspects, and so
many deviations that it is hard to find a typical form for it. Any
scie
nce of love will look first for love's original manifestation. As
one speaks of love between the sexes, love of God, for nature or
for art, one can also speak of enthusiasm as a form of love. Which
form is the essential one from which all others derive? Th
eolo
gians maintain that it is the love of God and that all other man
ifestations are but pale reflections of this fundamental love.
Pantheists with esthetic tendencies believe that it is the love of
nature, and pure esthetes, the love of art. Similarly,
for biologists
it is pure sexuality without affection and for metaphysicians it is
the feeling of universal identity. Yet not one of them will be able
to prove that the form he defends is the most typical, because in
the course of history that form has va
ried so much that nobody
today could define it with any certainty.
As for me, I believe that the quintessential form of love is that
between a man and a woman, not only sexuality but a rich net
work of affective states. Has anyone ever committed suicide i
the name of God, nature, or art? Love grows in intensity when it
fastens on the concrete; one loves a woman for what makes her
different, unique in the world: nothing can replace her at the
height of passion. All other forms of love, though tending towar
Enthusiasm as a Form of Love
autonomy, participate in this essential form. Thus one generally
does not place enthusiasm in the realm of love, when in fact its
roots penetrate deep into the very substance of love, its eman
cipating tendencies notwithsta
nding. There is in the enthusiastic
man a universal receptivity, an ability to gather everything with a
surplus of energy which spends itself just for the pleasure of act
ing. The enthusiast heeds no criteria, makes no calculations; he is
all abandon, res
tlessness, and devotion. The joy of achieving and
the ecstasy of efficiency are the essential characteristics of the
man for whom life is a leap toward heights where destructive
forces lose their negative intensity. We all have moments of en
thusiasm, but
they are too rare to stamp us permanently. I am
referring to people in whom enthusiasm is predominant and
constitutes the essential mark of their personality. They do not
know defeat, because it is not the goal but the initiative and plea
sure of acting
that attracts them; they throw themselves into ac
tion not because they have meditated upon its consequences but
simply because they cannot help it. Although not altogether im
pervious to success, the enthusiast is neither stimulated by it nor
defeated b
y its absence. He is the last one to fail in this world. Life
is more mediocre and fragmentary than we think: isn't this the
reason for our decline, the loss of our vivacity, the hardening of
our inner rhythms, the gradual slowing down of our vital flow?
his process of waste destroys our receptivity and our willingness
to embrace life generously and enthusiastically. The enthusiast
alone preserves his energy until old age; all others, if not already
born dead like most people, die before their time. How ra
re the
true enthusiast! Can we imagine a world in which everybody will
love everything, a world of enthusiasts? Such an image is even
more alluring than the image of paradise, because its excesses of
generosity surpass any of those in Eden. The enthusiast'
s ability
to be constantly reborn raises him above life's demoniacal temp
tations, the fear of nothingness, and the torments of agony.
His life has no tragic dimension, because enthusiasm is the only
form of life totally opaque to death. Even grace
so sim
ilar to
enthusiasm
has less of this irrational ignorance of death. Grace
Enthusiasm as a Form of Love
is full of melancholy charm; not so enthusiasm. My tremendous
admiration for enthusiasts stems from my inability to com
prehend how there can be such me
n in a world where death,
nothingness, sadness, and despair keep sinister company. It
makes one wonder, to see people who are never desperate. How
can the enthusiast be indifferent to success? How can he act by
virtue of excess only? What kind of strange a
nd paradoxical form
does love take in enthusiasm? The more intense love is, the more
individualized. Men who love truly and passionately cannot love
several women at once: the more intense the love, the more im
portant its object. Let us imagine a passion
ate love without an
object, a man without the woman on whom to concentrate his
love: what would it be but the plenitude of love? Are there men
with a great potential for love but who have never loved in this
primordial, original way? Enthusiasm is love wit
h an unspecified
object. Instead of orienting itself toward others, enthusiastic love
expends itself lavishly in generous actions, with a sort of univer
sal receptivity.
Enthusiasm is a superior child of Eros. Of all the forms of
love, enthusiasm is the m
ost free of sexuality, much more so than
mystic love, which cannot shed its sexual symbolism. Thus en
thusiasm is spared the anxiety which makes sexuality play an
important part in the human tragedy. The enthusiast is preemi
nently an unproblematic perso
n. He understands many things
without ever knowing the agonizing doubts and the chaotic sen
sitivity of the problematic man. The latter cannot solve anything,
because nothing satisfies him. You will find in him neither the
enthusiast's gift of abandon, hi
s naive irrationality, nor the
charming paradox of love in its purest state. The biblical myth of
knowledge as sin is the most profound myth ever invented. The
enthusiast's euphoria is due to the fact that he is unaware of the
tragedy of knowledge. Why not
say it?
True knowledge is the most
tenebrous darkness.
I would gladly exchange all the harrowing
problems of this world for sweet, un
self
conscious naivet
The
spirit does not elevate; it tears you apart.
In enthusiasm, as in grace
and magic, the spirit
does not oppose life. The secret of happiness
Enthusiasm as a Form of Love
lies in this original nondivision of an impenetrable unity. If you
are an enthusiast, you do not know that poison, duality. Life usu
ally preserves its fecundity and productivene
ss through the
tensions and oppositions of agnostic struggle. Enthusiasm over
comes it, and accedes to a life without tragedy and a love without
sexuality.
Light and Darkness
The falsity of all philosophical and historical systems is best illus
trated b
y the erroneous interpretation of the dualism of light and
darkness in Oriental and mystical religions. Thus some have
claimed that men, having noticed the regular alternation of day
and night, equated the former with life and the latter with mys
tery and
death, raised light and darkness to the rank of meta
physical principles. This interpretation is natural but, like all
external explications, insufficient. The question of light and
darkness is linked to the question of ecstasy. Their dualism ac
quires
an explanatory value only for one who, successively en
slaved by the forces of light and darkness, has known both
obsession and captivity. Ecstasy mingles shadows and sparks in a
weird dance; it weaves a dramatic vision of fugitive glimmers in
mysterious
obscurity, playing with all the nuances of light
through total darkness. Nevertheless, this gorgeous display is not
as important as the mere fact that it holds and fascinates you. The
height of ecstasy is the final sensation, in which you feel you are
dyin
g because of all this light and darkness. Especially weird is
the fact that ecstasy wipes out surrounding objects, familiar
forms of the world, until ail that is left is a monumental projec
tion of shadow and light. It is hard to explain how this selectio
and purification takes place, why these immaterial shadows hold
such sway over us. Demonism is inherent in any ecstatic exalta
tion. How can we help attributing an absolute character to light
and darkness when they are all that is left of the world's ec
stasy?
The frequency with which ecstasy occurs in Oriental religions, as
well as in other forms of mysticism at all times, proves the right
Light and Darkness
ness of our hypothesis. The absolute is inside oneself, not out
side, and ecstasy, this par
oxysm of interiority, reveals only inner
shadows and glimmers of light. Next to them, the charm of light
and day fades quickly. Ecstasy partakes of essence to such an ex
tent that it gives an impression of metaphysical hallucination.
Pure essences, graspe
d through ecstasy, are immaterial, but their
immateriality causes vertigo and obsession from which you can
not free yourself except by converting them into metaphysical
principles.
Renunciation
So you witnessed old age, pain, and death and told yourself
that
pleasure is an illusion and that the pleasure seekers do not under
stand the inconstancy of things. Then you shunned the world,
persuaded that nothing will endure. "I will not return," you
proclaimed, "before I have escaped birth, old age, and death.
There is much pride and suffering in every renunciation. In
stead of retreating discreetly, without a big show of revolt and
hatred, you denounce, emphatically and haughtily, others' igno
rance and illusions; you condemn their pleasures. The ascetics,
who renounced life and fled into the desert, were convinced that
they had overcome all human weaknesses. The belief that they
had access to a subjective eternity gave them the illusion of total
liberation. Nonetheless, their condemnation of pleasure and
eir contempt for humanity betray their inability to actually free
themselves. Were I to withdraw into the most fearsome desert,
renounce everything, and live in absolute solitude, still I would
never dream of despising men and their pleasure. Since I canno
really enter eternity through renunciation and solitude, since I
shall die like the rest, why despise them, why call my way the
only true one? All the great prophets lack discretion and human
understanding. I witness pain, old age, death, and I know that
they cannot be overcome; but why should I spoil another's en
joyment with my knowledge? Suffering and the consciousness of
its inescapability lead to renunciation; yet nothing would induce
me, not even if I were to become a leper, to condemn another's
y. There is much envy in every act of condemnation. Buddhism
and Christianity are the revenge and the spite of those who suffer.
Renunciation
Were I in the throes of agony, I would still praise and celebrate orgy.
I do
not recommend renunciation, because
only a few can overcome
the thought of life's inconstancy. In society, as much as in the wil
derness, inconstancy will preserve its bitter flavor. Just think how
much greater were the illusions of great solitaries than those of
the innocent and the naive!
The thought of renunciation is so bitter that it is hard to
imagine how man ever came to conceive of it. He who in a mo
ment of despair has not experienced a cold shiver, a sensation of
ineluctable abandonment, cosmic death, and individual noth
ingness,
has not experienced the terrifying preliminaries of re
nunciation.
Renounce? But how? Where should you go in order not to
renounce it all at once although that is the only genuine renun
ciation? Actual deserts are not readily available to us in our land
and our climate; we lack the adequate milieu. Not living under
the fierce desert sun, with just that one thought about eternity,
are we to become saints with roofs over our heads? Not to be able
to renounce except through suicide is a strictly modern dra
ma.
Were our inner desert to materialize, wouldn't its immensity
crush us?
WHY NOT EXPLODE
Isn't there enough energy in me to shake the
world, enough madness to do away with light? Isn't chaos my
only joy, and isn't the elan which will cause my downfall m
y only
pleasure? Are not my flights falls, and is not my explosion my
love? Can I only love through self
destruction? Could it be that I
am totally forbidden knowledge of the pure states? Can there be
so much poison in my love? Have I not fought death long
enough? Should Eros also be my enemy? Why is it that, when
love is reborn in me, I become so afraid that I am ready to swal
low the entire world in order to stop my love from growing? My
predicament: I want to be disappointed in love so that I will have
more reasons to suffer. Only love reveals to you your true degra
dation. Can the man who has looked death in the face still love?
Can he still die of love?
The Blessings of Insomnia
Just as ecstasy purifies you of the particular and the contingent,
leavi
ng nothing except light and darkness, so insomnia kills off
the multiplicity and diversity of the world, leaving you prey to
your private obsessions. What strangely enchanted tunes gush
forth during those sleepless nights! Their flowing tones are be
witch
ing, but there is a note of regret in this melodic surge which
keeps it short of ecstasy. What kind of regret? It is hard to say,
because insomnia is so complex that one cannot tell what the loss
is. Or maybe the loss is infinite. During wakeful nights, th
e pres
ence of a single thought, or feeling, reigns supreme. It becomes
the source of the night's mysterious music. Thus transformed, the
thoughts of wakeful nights are mild enough to stir depths of uni
versal anxiety in man's soul. Death itself, althoug
h still hideous,
acquires in the night a sort of impalpable transparency, an il
lusory and musical character. Nevertheless, the sadness of this
universal night is like the sadness of Oriental music, in which the
mystery of death is more dominant than that
of love.
On the Transubstantiation
of Love
Irrationality presides over the birth of love. The sensation of melt
ing is also present, for love is a form of intimate communion and
nothing expresses it better than the subjective impression of
melting, the
falling away of all barriers of individuation. Isn't love
specificity and universality all at once? True communion can
only be achieved through an individual. I love someone, but
since she is the symbol of everything, I partake of the essence of
everything
, unconsciously and naively. Love's universality pre
supposes the specificity of the object of love; the individual is a
window on the universal. Exaltation in love arises from the
growth of love's irrationality to a climax of intensity. All true love
is
a peak which sexuality cannot dwarf.
Sexuality too has its unique peaks. However, although one
cannot conceive of love without sexuality, the strange phenome
non we call love displaces sexuality from the center of our con
sciousness. Obsessively purified
, the beloved acquires an aura of
both transcendence and intimacy which makes sexuality margi
nal, if not in fact, at least subjectively. There is no spiritual love
which the beloved identifie
s herself so much with her lover that
she creates an illusion of spirituality. Only then does the sensa
tion of melting occur: the flesh trembles in a supreme spasm,
ceases resistance, burning with inner fires, melting and flowing,
unstoppable lava.
Man,
the Insomniac Animal
Whoever said that sleep is the equivalent of hope had a penetrat
ing intuition of the frightening importance not only of sleep but
also of insomnia! The importance of insomnia is so colossal that I
am tempted to define man as the ani
mal who cannot sleep. Why
call him a rational animal when other animals are equally rea
sonable? But there is not another animal in the entire creation
that
wants
to sleep yet cannot. Sleep is forgetfulness: life's drama,
its complications and obsessions
vanish completely, and every
awakening is a new beginning, a new hope. Life thus maintains a
pleasant discontinuity, the illusion of permanent regeneration.
Insomnia, on the other hand, gives birth to a feeling of irrevo
cable sadness, despair, and agony.
The healthy man
the animal
only dabbles in insomnia: he knows nothing of those who
would give a kingdom for an hour of unconscious sleep, those as
terrified by the sight of a bed as they would be of a torture rack.
There is a close link between insomnia
and despair. The loss of
hope comes with the loss of sleep. The difference between para
dise and hell: you can always sleep in paradise, never in hell. God
punished man by taking away sleep and giving him knowledge.
Isn't deprivation of sleep one of the m
ost cruel tortures practiced
in prisons? Madmen suffer a lot from insomnia; hence their de
pressions, their disgust with life, and their suicidal impulses. Isn't
the sensation, typical of wakeful hallucinations, of diving into an
abyss, a form of madness?
Those who commit suicide by throw
ing themselves from bridges into rivers or from high rooftops
onto pavements must be motivated by a blind desire to fall and
the dizzying attraction of abysmal depths.
Man, the Insomniac Animal
MY SOUL
is chaos, how can
it
be
at all? There is everything in me:
search and you will find out. I am a fossil dating from the begin
ning of the world: not all of its elements have completely crystal
lized, and initial chaos still shows through. I am absolute
contradiction, clim
ax of antinomies, the last limit of tension; in
me anything is possible, for I am he who at the supreme moment,
in front of absolute nothingness, will laugh.
Truth,
What a Word!
The idea of liberation through the suppression of desire is the
greatest f
oolishness ever conceived by the human mind. Why cut
life short, why destroy it for so little profit as total indifference
and the illusion of freedom? How dare you speak of life after you
have stifled it in yourself? I have more respect for the man with
hwarted desires, unhappy and desperate in love, than for the
cold and proud philosopher. A world full of philosophers, what a
terrifying prospect! They should be all wiped out so that life could
go on naturally
blindly and irrationally.
I hate the wisdom o
f these men unmoved by truths, who do
not suffer with their nerves, their flesh, and their blood. I like
only vital, organic truths, the offspring of our anxiety. Those
whose thoughts are alive are always right; there are no argu
ments against them. And e
ven if there were, they would not last
long. I wonder how there can still be men searching for
the truth.
Do wise men not yet understand that truth
cannot
be?
The Beauty of Flames
The beauty of flames lies in their strange play, beyond all propor
tion
and harmony. Their diaphanous flare symbolizes at once
grace and tragedy, innocence and despair, sadness and volup
tuousness. Their burning transparence has something of the
lightness of great purifications. I wish the fiery transcendence
would carry me
up and throw me into a sea of flames, where,
consumed by their delicate and insidious tongues, I would die an
ecstatic death. The beauty of flames creates the illusion of a pure,
sublime death similar to the light of dawn. Immaterial, death in
flames is li
ke a burning of light, graceful wings. Do only but
terflies die in flames? What about those devoured by the flames
within them?
The Paucity of Wisdom
I hate wise men because they are lazy, cowardly, and prudent. To
the philosophers' equanimity, which mak
es them indifferent to
both pleasure and pain, I prefer devouring passions. The sage
knows neither the tragedy of passion, nor the fear of death, nor
risk and enthusiasm, nor barbaric, grotesque, or sublime hero
ism. He talks in proverbs and gives advice.
He does not live, feel,
desire, wait for anything. He levels down all the incongruities of
life and then suffers the consequences. So much more complex is
the man who suffers from limitless anxiety. The wise man's life is
empty and sterile, for it is free
from contradiction and despair. An
existence full of irreconcilable contradictions is so much richer
and creative. The wise man's resignation springs from inner void,
not inner fire. I would rather die of fire than of void.
The Return to Chaos
Let us ret
urn to original chaos! Let us imagine the primordial din,
the original vortex! Let us throw ourselves into the whirlwind
which has preceded the creation of form. Let our being tremble
with effort and madness in the fiery abyss! Let everything be
wiped out
so that, surrounded by confusion and disequilibrium,
we participate fully in the general delirium, retracing our way
back from cosmos to chaos, from form to swirling gyres. The dis
integration of the world is creation in reverse: an apocalypse up
side do
wn but sprung from similar impulses. Nobody desires to
return to chaos without having first experienced an apocalyptic
vertigo.
How great my terror and my joy at the thought of being
dragged into the vortex of initial chaos, that pandemonium of
paradoxical
symmetry
the unique geometry of chaos, devoid of
sense or form!
In every whirlwind hides a potential for form, just as in chaos
there is a potential cosmos. Let me possess an infinite number of
unrealized, potential forms! Let everything vibrate in me wit
the universal anxiety of the beginning, just awakening from
nothingness!
I can only live at the beginning or the end of this world.
Irony and Self
Irony
Once you've negated everything and done away completely with
all forms of existence, once nothing ca
n survive in the path of
your negativity, who can you turn to, laughing or crying, if not
your own self? Once you have witnessed the fall of the entire
world, there is nothing left but for you to fall too. The infinite
character of irony cancels all of lif
e's contents. I'm not speaking
here of elegant, refined irony, born of a sense of superficial pride
and superiority
ment from the world
but of the tragic, bitter irony of despair.
Genuine irony replaces tears, c
onvulsions, or even a grotesque
and criminal grin. There is a great difference between the irony of
sufferers and that of lazy, superficial people. That of the former is
the sign of a chronic inability to live innocently, connected with a
sense of the loss
of vital forces, whereas that of the latter knows
nothing of this irrevocable loss and does not reflect it in con
wrinkles, the absence of spontaneous love, of human commu
nion and understand
ing. It is a veiled contempt, despising naive,
spontaneous gestures, because it is beyond the irrational and the
naive. Nonetheless, this irony is envious of naive people. Enor
mously proud and therefore unable to show openly his admira
tion for simplici
ty, the ironic man, envious and poisonous,
shrinks with spite. This bitter, tragic irony seems to me more
genuine than lighthearted, skeptical irony. The fact that self
irony is always tragic and agonic is quite revealing. Self
irony is
made up of sighs,
not of smiles, even though its sighs are stifled.
Self
irony is an expression of despair. You've lost the world;
Irony and Self
Irony
you've lost yourself. Henceforth a sinister, poisonous burst of
laughter haunts your actions at every step, and above
the ruins of
smiling innocence rises the hideous ghost of an agonic grin, more
contorted than those of primitive masks and more rigid than
those on Egyptian statues.
On Poverty
Persuaded that poverty is the human lot, I can no longer believe
in any doctri
ne of reform. All such doctrines are equally stupid
and futile. There is no poverty among animals, because they live
on their own, ignorant of hierarchy and exploitation. This phe
nomenon is exclusively human, for man alone made his equals
his slaves. Man
alone is capable of so much
self
contempt.
All the charitable endeavors in this world only manage to
bring poverty into greater relief; they show it to be more terrible
and unintelligible than utter dereliction. Poverty, like ruins, hurts
by an absence of
humanity and makes one regret that men are
unwilling to change that which is well within their power to
change. Knowing full well that men could abolish poverty, you
are nevertheless aware of its eternity and you feel a bitter anxiety
in which man appears
in all his petty inconsequence. Poverty in
social life is only a pale reflection of man's infinite inner poverty.
Whenever I think of poverty, I lose my desire to live. I should
throw away my pen and move into the slums, where I could re
lieve poverty be
tter and more efficiently than with a poisonous
book. Whenever I think of man's abject poverty, his rot, his
spreading gangrene, I am gripped by mortal despair. Instead of
constructing theories and ideologies to deal with poverty, man,
this rational animal
, should simply give the coat off his back in a
gesture of fraternal understanding. Poverty in the world com
promises man more than anything else and will no doubt bring
about the downfall of such a megalomaniac animal. In front of
poverty, I'm even asham
ed of music.
The essence of social life is in
On Poverty
justice.
How, then, should one support any social or political doc
trine?
Poverty destroys everything in life; it makes it ghastly, dis
gusting. Alongside aristocratic paleness there is the pa
leness of
poverty: the former, a consequence of refinement, the latter, of
mummification, for poverty turns you into a ghost, makes
shadows out of life, twilight creatures like survivors of a cosmic
holocaust. The convulsions of poverty bear no trace of pu
rifica
tion; they are all hatred, bitterness, and flesh gone evil. Poverty
does not engender a pure, angelic soul or an immaculate humil
ity any more than sickness does; its humility is venomous, evil,
and vengeful.
There cannot be a
relative
rebellion i
n the face of injustice.
There can only be eternal rebellion, because human poverty is
eternal.
The Flight from the Cross
I do not like prophets any more than I like fanatics who have
never doubted their mission. I measure prophets' value by their
abil
ity to doubt, the frequency of their moments of lucidity.
Doubt makes them truly
human,
but their doubt is more impres
sive than that of ordinary people. Everything else in them is
nothing but absolutism, preaching, moral didacticism. They
want to teach o
thers, bring them salvation, show them the truth,
change their destinies, as if their truths were better than those of
the others. Only doubt can distinguish prophets from maniacs.
But isn't it too late for them to doubt? The one who thought he
was the son
of God only doubted at the last moment. Christ really
doubted not on the mountain but on the cross. I am convinced
that on the cross Jesus envied the destiny of anonymous men
and, had he been able to, would have retreated to the most ob
scure corner of t
he world, where no one would have begged him
for hope or salvation. I can imagine him alone with the Roman
soldiers, imploring them to take him off the cross, pull out the
nails, and let him escape to where the echo of human suffering
would no longer reach
him. Not because he would suddenly
have ceased to believe in his mission
he was too enlightened to
be a skeptic
but because death
for others
is harder to bear than
one's own death. Jesus suffered crucifixion because he knew that
his ideas could triumph on
ly through his own sacrifice.
People say: for us to believe in you, you must renounce ev
erything that is yours and also yourself. They want your death as
The Flight from the Cross
a warranty for the authenticity of your beliefs. Why do they ad
mire wor
ks written in blood? Because such works spare them
any suffering while at the same time preserving the illusion of
suffering. They want to see the blood and tears behind your lines.
The crowd's admiration is sadistic.
Had Jesus not died on the cross, Chris
tianity would not have
triumphed. Mortals doubt everything except death. Christ's
death was for them the ultimate proof of the validity of Christian
principles. Jesus could have easily escaped crucifixion or could
have given in to the Devil! He who has not
made a pact with the
Devil should not live, because the Devil symbolizes life better
than God. If I have any regrets, it is that the Devil has rarely
tempted me . . . but then neither has God loved me. Christians
have not yet understood that God is farthe
r removed from them
than they are from Him. I can very well imagine God being bored
with men who only know how to beg, exasperated by the triv
iality of his creation, equally disgusted with both heaven and
earth. And I see him taking flight into nothingne
ss, like Jesus es
caping from the cross. . . . What would have happened if the Ro
man soldiers had listened to Jesus' plea, had taken him off the
cross and let him escape? He would certainly not have gone to
some other part of the world to preach but onl
y to die, alone,
without people's sympathy and tears. And even supposing that,
because of his pride, he did not beg for freedom, I find it difficult
to believe that this thought did not obsess him. He must have
truly believed that he was the son of God. Hi
s belief notwith
standing, he could not have helped doubting or being gripped by
the fear of death at the moment of his supreme sacrifice. On the
cross, Jesus had moments when, if he did not doubt that he was
the son of God, he
regretted
it. He accepted d
eath uniquely so that
his ideas would triumph.
It may very well be that Jesus was simpler than I imagine
him, that he had fewer doubts and fewer regrets, for he doubted
his divine origin only at his death. We, on the other hand, have so
many doubts and reg
rets that not one among us would dare
dream that he is the son of a god. I hate Jesus for his preachings,
The Flight from the Cross
his morality, his ideas, and his faith. I love him for his moments of
doubt and regret, the only truly tragic ones in hi
s life, though nei
ther the most interesting nor the most painful, for if we had to
judge from their suffering, how many before him would also be
entitled to call themselves sons of God!
The Cult of Infinity
I cannot speak of infinity without experiencin
g a double vertigo,
both external and internal
as if, suddenly abandoning a well
ordered existence, I threw myself into a whirlwind and began to
move through space at the speed of thought. My trajectory tends
toward an eternal and inaccessible point. The
farther this point
moves into inconceivable distance, the faster the giddy gyrations
of the whirlwind. Neither bright nor graceful, they have the intri
cate pattern of cosmic flames. The world is shaking and trem
bling, spinning at an infernally maddenin
g speed as if the apoc
alypse were approaching. One cannot grasp the meaning of
infinity without experiencing this strange vertiginous feeling of
the End. This is the paradox of infinity: it makes the sensation
of the end more real while at the same time
making it ever more
impossible, for infinity, both in time and space, leads to nothing.
How can we accomplish anything in the future when we have
behind us an eternity in which nothing was accomplished? If the
world had had any meaning, it would have been
revealed to us
by now and we would know it. How can I continue to believe
that it will be disclosed in the future when it has not been made
manifest yet? But the world has no meaning; irrational at the
core, it is, moreover, infinite. Meaning is conceivabl
e only in a
finite world, where one can
reach
something, where there are
limits to stop our regression, clear points of reference, where his
tory moves toward a goal envisioned by the theory of progress.
Infinity leads to nothing, for it is totally provis
ional. "Everything"
is too little when compared to infinity. Nobody can have the ex
perience of infinity without spells of dizziness, a profound and
The Cult of Infinity
unforgettable anxiety. How can one help being anxious when all
is equally infinite?
Infinity renders impossible any solution to the problem of
meaning. It gives me demonic pleasure to think that the world
lacks meaning because of infinity. What's the use of "meaning,"
after all? Can't we live without it? Universal meaninglessness
gives wa
y to ecstatic inebriation, an orgy of irrationality. Since
the world has no meaning, let us live! Without definite aims or
accessible ideals, let us throw ourselves into the roaring whirl
wind of infinity, follow its tortuous path in space, burn in its
ames, love its cosmic madness and total anarchy! One must
bear within oneself the germs of this cosmic anarchy in order to
grasp its meaning. To live infinity, as well as to meditate a long
time upon it, is the most terrifying lesson in anarchy and revolt
one can ever learn. Infinity shakes you to the roots of your being,
disorganizes you, but it also makes you forget the petty, the con
tingent, and the insignificant.
How fortunate that, having lost all our hopes, we can still
leap into infinity, dive into
boundlessness, participate in the uni
versal anarchy of its whirlwind! What happiness to be carried
away by the madness of this incessant movement and to think
less of our death than of our insanity, to fulfill a dream of cosmic
barbarity and boundless e
xaltation! Let our falling out of this
whirlwind not mean gradual extinction, but sustain our agony in
the chaos of the original maelstrom. Let the pathos and drama of
infinity come to us once more in the loneliness of death so that
our passing away into n
othingness will resemble an illumination
amplifying the mystery and the meaninglessness of this world.
One of the principal elements of infinity is its negation of
form.
Absolute becoming, infinity destroys anything that is
formed, crystallized, or finishe
d. Isn't music the art which best
expresses infinity because it dissolves all forms into a charmingly
ineffable fluidity? Form always tends to complete what is frag
mentary and, by individualizing its contents, to eliminate the
perspective of the universa
l and the infinite; thus it exists only to
remove the content of life from chaos and anarchy. Forms are il
lusory and, beyond their evanescence, true reality reveals itself as
The Cult of Infinity
an intense pulsation. The penchant for form comes from lo
ve of
finitude, the seduction of boundaries which will never engender
metaphysical revelations. Metaphysics, like music, springs from
the experience of infinity. They both grow on heights and cause
vertigo. I have always wondered why those who have produce
masterpieces in these domains have not all gone mad. Music
more than any other art requires so much concentration that one
could easily, after creative moments, lose one's mind. All great
composers ought to either commit suicide or become insane at
the h
eight of their creative powers. Are not all those aspiring to
infinity on the road to madness? Normality, abnormality, are no
tions that no longer mean anything. Let us live in the ecstasy of
infinity, let us love that which is boundless, let us destroy f
orms
and institute the only cult without forms: the cult of infinity.
Transfiguration of Banality
Since I will not die right away, nor regain my innocence, going
through the same routine motions every day is sheer madness.
Banality must be overcome at all
costs and the way cleared for
transfiguration. How sad to see men bypass themselves, neglect
their own destiny instead of rekindling the light they carry within
them or getting drunk on their abysmal darkness! Why not
wrench from suffering all that it can
yield, why not tend a smile
until we have reached all the way back to its vital springs? We all
have hands, yet no one thinks of using them to convey absolute
expression through their delicate movements. We admire hands
in paintings, we love to talk about
their meaning, but if they must
express our own inner tragedy, they remain stiff and awkward. To
have a spectral hand, transparent like an immaterial reflection,
nervous, tense as if in a final spasm . . . ! Or, if not, then a heavy,
threatening hand, cru
el and hard! Hands should tell us more
than words or sighs, a smile or a prayer. The gift of absolute ex
pression, offspring of continuous transfiguration, will transform
us into a center of light more powerful than the sun itself if not
only our hands bu
t also our face and everything else that is
stamped with our individuality will participate in it. The pres
ence of some people means for others overexcitement, lassitude,
or illumination. Such people know neither void nor discon
tinuity, but only the co
mmunion through which heights become
equally pleasurable and vertiginous.
FEEL IN ME
a strange restlessness, growing and dilating like a re
gret, taking roots like sadness. Is it fear of my problematic future,
Transfiguration of Banality
or is it f
ear of my own anxiety? I am overcome by anxiety about
my own fatality. Could I go on living with these obsessions? Is all
of this life or an absurd dream? In me is wrought the grotesque
fantasy of a demon. The demonic character of this world is con
centra
ted in my anxiety
a mingling of regrets, twilight dreams,
sadness, and unreality. It will not be the perfume of flowers
that I scatter on the earth, but smoke and dust as after a great
cataclysm!
The Burden of Sadness
Is there another sadness besides
that of death? Definitely not, be
cause true sadness is black, devoid of charms, and dreamless.
There is greater weariness in sadness than in melancholy, and it
drives one to disgust with life, to acute depression. The difference
between sadness and pain:
the former is dominated by reflexivity
while the latter is weighed down by the fatal materiality of sensa
tion. They both lead only to death, never to love or erotic exalta
tion. Eros means
unmediated
living in the secret necessity of life
which
given t
he essential innocence of any erotic experience
creates the illusion of liberty. To be sad or suffering, on the other
hand, means to be incapable of participating directly and
organically in the flux of life. Sadness as well as suffering reveals
existence
for us, for only through them do we acquire conscious
which confers a tragic character upon our existence.
Degradation through Work
Men generally work too much to be themselves. Work is a
curse
which man has turned into pleasure. To work for work's sake, to
enjoy a fruitless endeavor, to imagine that you can fulfill yourself
through assiduous labor
all that is disgusting and incompre
hensible. Permanent and uninterrupted work dulls, trivi
alizes,
and depersonalizes. Work displaces man's center of interest from
the subjective to the objective realm of things. In consequence,
man no longer takes an interest in his own destiny but focuses on
facts and things. What should be an activity of perm
anent trans
figuration becomes a means of exteriorization, of abandoning
one's inner self. In the modern world, work signifies a purely ex
ternal activity; man no longer makes himself through it, he
makes
things.
That each of us must have a career, must
enter upon a cer
tain form of life which probably does not suit us, illustrates
work's tendency to dull the spirit. Man sees work as beneficial to
his being, but his fervor reveals his penchant for evil. In work,
man forgets himself; yet his forgetfulness
is not simple and naive,
but rather akin to stupidity. Through work, man has moved from
subject to object; in other words, he has become a deficient ani
mal who has betrayed his origins. Instead of living for himself
not selfishly but growing spirituall
man has become the
wretched, impotent slave of external reality. Where have they all
gone; ecstasy, vision, exaltation? Where is the supreme madness
or the genuine pleasure of evil? The negative pleasure one finds
in work partakes of the poverty and bana
lity of daily life, its petti
ness. Why not abandon this futile work and begin anew without
repeating the same wasteful mistake? Is subjective consciousness
Degradation through Work
of eternity not enough? It is the feeling for eternity that the fren
tic activity and trepidation of work has destroyed in us. Work is
the negation of eternity. The more goods we acquire in the tem
poral realm, the more intense our external work, the less acces
sible and farther removed is eternity. Hence the limited p
erspec
tive of active and energetic people, the banality of their thought
and actions. I am not contrasting work to either passive con
templation or vague dreaminess, but to an unrealizable trans
figuration; nevertheless, I prefer an intelligent and obs
ervant
laziness to intolerable, terrorizing activity. To awaken the modern
world, one must praise laziness. The lazy man has an infinitely
keener perception of metaphysical reality than the active one.
AM LURED
by faraway distances, the immense void I pr
oject
upon the world. A feeling of emptiness grows in me; it infiltrates
my body like a light and impalpable fluid. In its progress, like a
dilation into infinity, I perceive the mysterious presence of the
most contradictory feelings ever to inhabit a huma
n soul. I am
simultaneously happy and unhappy, exalted and depressed,
overcome by both pleasure and despair in the most contradictory
harmonies. I am so cheerful and yet so sad that my tears reflect at
once both heaven and earth. If only for the joy of my
sadness, I
wish there were no death on this earth.
The Sense of Endings
I can only speak about the sadness and the joy of the end. I love
only what reveals itself without reserve or compromise; you will
never find it anywhere but in the convulsions of hea
rending
sadness, the inebriation and excitement of last moments. Is not
everything
final?
What is the anxiety of nothingness if not the
perverse joy of our final sadness, our exalted love for the eternity
of nothingness and the transience of existence?
Can it really be
that for us existence means exile, and nothingness, home?
I must struggle against myself, fly into a rage at my destiny,
blow up all resistance to my transfiguration; let there be only my
desire for light and darkness! Let each one of my a
ctions be either
triumph or fall, flight or failure! Let life grow and die in me with
the speed of a lightning bolt! Let not the pettiness and rationality
of commonplace existence spoil the pleasures and torments of
my inner chaos, the tragic delights of m
y final despair and joy!
To survive moments of extreme organic tension is not a merit
but a mark of imbecility. Survive, only to return to the banality of
existence? Survival is equally meaningless after the experience of
nothingness and after the paroxysm
of sexual pleasure. I can't
understand why people do not commit suicide during orgasm,
why they don't think survival commonplace and vulgar. Such an
intense though brief quiver should reduce us to ashes in seconds.
But if it does not kill us, we should ki
ll ourselves. . . .There are so
many kinds of death. Yet no one has the courage or the originality
to attempt sexual suicide, a death no less absolute than the others
but in which the passage into nothingness is made from heights
of pleasure. Why not take
this path? A flash of bitter lucidity in
The Sense of Endings
the forgetfulness of sexual pleasure would suffice for sexual
death no longer to appear as mere illusion.
When men can no longer bear the monotony and the ba
nality of ordinary existence,
they will find in each experience of
the absolute an opportunity to commit suicide. The impossibility
of surviving such extraordinary states of exaltation will destroy
existence. No one will then doubt that it is possible to long for
death after having lis
tened to certain symphonies or admired a
unique landscape.
Animal banished from life, man's condition is tragic, for he
no longer finds fulfillment in life's simple values. For animals, life
is all there is; for man, life is a question mark. An irreversibl
question mark, for man has never found, nor will ever find, any
answers. Life not only has no meaning; it can
never
have one.
The Satanic Principle
of Suffering
If there are happy people on this earth, why don't they come out
and shout with joy, proclai
m their happiness in the streets? Why
so much discretion and restraint? If I were exuding permanent
joy, serenity, and contentment, I would not hold it all inside me. I
would generously share it with others. I would let myself be
swept away by the buoyant
energy that animates me.
If there is happiness, then it must be shared and communi
cated. But maybe truly happy people are not aware of their hap
piness. Then we could lend them some of our consciousness in
exchange for part of their infinite unconscious
ness. Why is suf
fering all tears and screams, and pleasure, all quivers? Were man
as conscious of his pleasures as he is of his pains, he would not
have to redeem the former. Wouldn't the distribution of joy and
sorrow in the world be more equitable then
If pain is not easily forgotten, it is precisely because it oc
cupies an important place in consciousness. The only people who
must forget a lot are those who have suffered a lot. Normal
people are the only ones with nothing to forget.
While pains have
character, pleasures vanish, melting away
like forms with indistinct contours. It is hard to remember plea
sure and the circumstances surrounding it, while the memory of
pain is poignant and that of its circumstances makes it even more
so. Pleasure cannot
be totally forgotten
the man of pleasure in
his old age will be only slightly disabused while the sufferer will,
at best, arrive at bitter resignation. To assert that pleasures are
selfish and cut man off from life is as shameful a prejudice as the
one wh
ich asserts that pains bring us closer to it. The frivolity
The Satanic Principle of Suffering
of such prejudices is revolting. Their bookish origin indicts all
libraries and proves the value of real experience carried out to
the end.
The Christian concep
tion of suffering as a path to love, if not
its main gate, is fundamentally false. But isn't Christianity mis
taken on more than just this point? To speak of suffering as the
path to love means to know nothing of suffering's satanic es
sence. You don't c
limb up the steps of suffering; you climb down.
They do not lead to heaven but to hell. The darkness at the bot
tom of the ladder of suffering is less eternal or infinite than the
blinding light at the top of the ladder of joy.
Suffering separates and dis
sociates; like a centrifugal force it
pulls you away from the center of life, the hub of the universe
where all things tend toward unity. The divine principle distin
guishes itself by an effort toward cosmic synthesis and participa
tion in the essence of
everything. The satanic principle, on the
other hand, is a principle of dislocation and duality which
characterizes all suffering.
Through joy, spiritual or sensual, you naively partake of life;
unconsciously you join in the dynamism of existence, each pa
ticle of your body vibrating with the irrational pulsations of the
Whole.
Disjunction from the world through suffering leads to exces
sive interiorization and, paradoxically, to such a high level of
consciousness that the world, with all its splendors
and glooms,
becomes exterior and transcendent. Thus deeply sundered from
the world, so irredeemably lonely, how can we forget anything?
We want to forget only what made us suffer. However, through
some cruel and paradoxical twist, memories vanish when we
ant to remember but fix themselves permanently in the mind
when we want to forget.
Men generally belong to two categories: those for whom the
world offers opportunities for interiorization and those for whom
the world remains external and objective. For tr
ue interioriza
tion, objective existence is only a
pretext.
Only as such can it have
any meaning at all, because an objective teleology cannot be
elaborated and justified without a number of illusions, whose
The Satanic Principle
of Suffering
main defect
is that they can easily be detected by a penetrating
eye. All men see fires, storms, explosions, or landscapes; but how
many feel the flames, the lightnings, the whirlwinds, or the har
mony? How many have an inner beauty that tinges their melan
choly? F
or the indifferent, to whom nature offers an insipid and
cold objectivity, life even when fully enjoyed is a sum of missed
opportunities.
However painful my agony, however great my isolation, the
distance separating me from the world does nothing but rende
r it
more accessible. Although I cannot find in it either objective
meaning or transcendental finality, existence, with its multi
plicity of forms, has never ceased to be a source of both delight
and sadness. At times, the beauty of a flower is enough to
justify
in my eyes the principle of universal finality while at others, the
smallest cloud troubling the serenity of the sky rekindles my
somber pessimism. Those who interiorize excessively discover
symbolic meanings in the most insignificant aspects of na
ture.
Is it possible that I carry within me all that I've seen in my
life? It is frightening to think that all those landscapes, books,
horrors, and sublimities could be amassed in one single brain. I
feel as if they have been transferred into me as
realit
ies
and that
they weigh heavily upon me. Sometimes I am overcome and I
would prefer to forget all. Interiorization leads to inner collapse,
because the world
penetrates
you and crushes you with its over
bearing weight. Is it surprising, then, that some wo
uld have
recourse to anything
from vulgarity to art
in order to forget?
HAVE NO
ideas, only obsessions. Anybody can have ideas. Ideas
have never caused anybody's downfall.
An Indirect Animal
All men have the same defect: they
wait
to live, for they have
not
the courage of each instant. Why not invest enough passion in
each moment to make it an eternity? We all learn to live only
when we no longer have anything to expect, because we do not
live in the living present but in a vague and distant future. We
hould not wait for anything except the immediate promptings of
the moment. We should
wait without the consciousness of time.
There's no salvation without the immediate. But man is a being
who no longer knows the immediate. He is an indirect animal.
Imposs
ible Truth
When should our happiness begin? When we have persuaded
ourselves that there is no truth. All salvation comes thenceforth,
even salvation through nothing. He who does not believe in the
impossibility of truth, or does not rejoice in it, has only
one road
to salvation, which he will, however, never find.
Subjectivity
For those deprived of faith, an excess of subjectivity leads either
to megalomania or self
denigration, to too much love or too
much self
hatred. Either way, you spend yourself ahead
of time.
Subjectivity makes you either God or Satan.
Homo
Man should stop being
or becoming
a rational animal. He
should become a lunatic, risking everything for the sake of his
dangerous fantasies, capable of exaltations, ready to die for all
that the w
orld has as well as for what it has not. Each man's ideal
should be to stop being a man. This can only be attained through
absolute arbitrariness.
Love in Brief
Love of mankind springing from suffering resembles wisdom
sprung from misfortune. In both case
s, the roots are rotten and
the sources poisoned. Only spontaneous love flowing with
sincere generosity and self
abnegation can fertilize the soul of
others. Love born in suffering hides too many tears and sighs not
to have its rays stained by
bitter cla
rity. There is too much
torment, renunciation, and anxiety in this love for it to be any
thing but infinite forbearance. You forgive everything, you accept
everything, you justify everything. But is this still love? How can
one love when one is removed fr
om everything? This kind of love
reveals the void of a soul suspended between all and nothing just
as becoming a Don Juan is the only remedy for a broken heart. As
for Christianity, it knows no love: it only knows forbearance or
compassion, allusions to lo
ve rather than love itself.
Nothing Matters
Everything is possible, and yet nothing is. All is permitted, and
yet again, nothing. No matter which way we go, it is no better
than any other. It is all the same whether you achieve something
or not, have fait
h or not, just as it is all the same whether you cry
or remain silent. There is an explanation for everything, and yet
there is none. Everything is both real and unreal, normal and ab
surd, splendid and insipid. There is nothing worth more than
anything e
lse, nor any idea better than any other. Why grow sad
from one's sadness and delight in one's joy? What does it matter
whether our tears come from pleasure or pain? Love your un
happiness and hate your happiness, mix everything up, scramble
it all! Be a s
nowflake dancing in the air, a flower floating down
stream! Have courage when you don't need to, and be a coward
when you must be brave! Who knows? You may still be a winner!
And if you lose, does it really matter? Is there anything to win in
this world?
All gain is a loss, and all loss is a gain. Why always
expect a definite stance, clear ideas, meaningful words? I feel as if
I should spout fire in response to all the questions which were
ever put, or not put, to me.
The Sources of Evil
How can we fi
ght unhappiness? By struggling with ourselves, for
unhappiness comes from within, not from without. If we could
constantly remind ourselves that everything is nothing but a re
flection in our consciousness, more or less sharp, depending on
the acuity of o
ur senses, we could then attain a state of lucidity in
which reality would resume its true proportions. We cannot as
pire to happiness, only to less unhappiness.
To live in despair is a mark of great endurance, whereas to
grow dull and stupid after a grea
t unhappiness is a mark of
deficiency. Self
control and sustained inner effort are required in
order to diminish unhappiness. All efforts to attain happiness, on
the other hand, are entirely futile. You cannot retrace your steps
once you've taken the path
to unhappiness; it is the path
of no return. From being happy, one can become unhappy, so
there are more unpleasant surprises in happiness than in unhap
piness. The world seems right to us when we are happy; when
unhappy, we wish the world were anything b
ut what it is.
Though fully aware that the source of unhappiness is in us, we
ciency.
Unhappiness will never be sufficiently generous to acknowl
edge its own darkness in the world. Substituting
for our subjec
tive plight an objective one, we hope to lighten our burden and
avoid the reproaches which we should in fact address to our
selves. But such objectification actually deepens our unhappi
The Sources of Evil
ness and, presenting it as cos
mic fatality, shuts off any possibility
of lessening it or of making it more bearable.
The discipline of unhappiness causes less anxiety and fewer
painful surprises; it abates agony and confines suffering. It is a
disguise for an inner drama, the discreet
mask of agony.
Beauty's Magic Tricks
Man's sensitivity to beauty grows as he gets closer to happiness.
In beauty, all things find their justification, their raison d'
tre. We
conceive a beautiful thing such as it is. A painting or a landscape
delights us
to such an extent that we can not imagine them in any
other way but what they are. To place the world under the sign of
beauty is to assert that it is as it should be. Then all is glorious
harmony, and even the negative aspects of existence do nothing
but
increase its glory and its charm. Beauty will not bring us sal
vation, but it will bring us closer to happiness. In a world of anti
nomies, can beauty be spared? Its specific nature and attraction
lie in the fact that it is
paradoxical
only from an objec
tive point of
view. The esthetic expresses this paradox: to
represent the absolute
through form,
to give infinity objective, finite shape. The absolute
the
form, that is, embodied in limited expressions, reveals it
self only to him who is overcome by
esthetic emotion; from any
other point of view it is a
contradictio in adjecto.
For this reason,
there is an incalculable amount of illusion in any ideal of beauty.
But even worse is the fact that the fundamental premise of any
ideal beauty
that the world
is the way it should be
does not
hold up under investigation. The world could be any way except
the way it is.
Man's Inconsistency
Why do men insist on achieving something? Would it not be better
if they stood still under the sun in calm and silent immobi
lity?
What is there to accomplish? Why so much effort and ambition?
Man has forgotten the meaning of silence. Although conscious
ness is the offspring of a vital deficiency, it is not a cause for
inadaptability in every individual; in some it has, on the
contrary,
produced an exacerbation of their vital instincts. Unable to live in
the present, man amasses things which weigh and subjugate
him; the feeling of the future is a calamity to him. Consciousness
has divided men into two categories, equally unbalan
ced and
unhappy: those bent on interiorization, self
torment, and trag
edy, and those possessed by the imperialistic urger to acquire and
to own.
Consciousness made animal, man, and man, demon, but it
has never made anyone God,
no matter how proud the wor
ld is to
have killed one on the cross.
Shun men impervious to vice, for their insipidity is tiresome.
For what would their conversation be about if not morality?
Whoever has not ventured beyond morality has not fully explored
life's opportunities and has n
ever transfigured his sins. Genuine
existence begins where morality ends; only after that can it ex
periment with everything, risk everything, even if obstacles block
the road to achievement. Only through innumerable transfigura
tions can one reach the r
egion where all is permitted, where the
soul can fling itself without remorse into vulgarity, sublimity, or
grotesqueness to such an extent that no direction or form of life
remains unexplored. The tyranny governing ordinary existence
vanishes and is repla
ced by the absolute spontaneity of unique
Man's Inconsistency
existence, which carries its own law in itself. Could morality still
serve such a being
probably the most generous because also
the most absurd, capable of renouncing the whole world, and
conse
quently giving away all that can be given? Generosity is in
compatible with morality, that rationalization of customs, that
mechanization of life. Any generous act is absurd, a renunciation
unheard of in the ordinary man, who drapes himself in morality
order to hide his vulgar nullity. All that is truly moral begins
when we have done with morality. The pettiness of its laws is
never more evident than in its condemnation of vice, the expres
sion of carnal tragedy born from the presence of the spirit in
the
flesh. Vice is the tragedy of the flesh, the flesh bursting out of its
own fatality, attempting to break the shackles imprisoning its
passionate impulses. An organic weariness drives the nerves and
the flesh to a despair that only an exploration of all
forms of plea
sure can alleviate. In vice, the attraction of the abnormal creates a
troubling anxiety: the spirit seems to have become blood and stirs
in the flesh like an immanent force. Exploration of the possible
cannot take place without the particip
ation of the spirit. Vice is
the triumph of the individual; how could flesh represent the indi
vidual without outside intervention? The mingling of flesh and
spirit, blood and consciousness, creates an extremely rich effer
vescence for the man ensnared b
y vice. Nothing is worse than
vice which is learned, aped, or borrowed; thus a rational extenu
ation of vice is unjustified: at best, one must single out its fecun
dity for those who know how to transfigure it, who can deviate
its deviation. To practice
it in criminal and vulgar ways is to ex
ploit its scandalous materiality and ignore the immaterial frisson
which constitutes its excellence. To attain certain heights, inti
macy cannot dispense with the anxieties of vice. No man of vice
can be condemned
unless he ceases to look upon vice as a pretext
and turns it into a goal.
Capitulation
How does one become a pessimist? An organic fatality, rising
from deep inner turmoil and without any external stimulus,
causes incessant depressions which stifle the el
an, attacking life
at its roots. It is wrong to surmise that a pessimist has an organic
deficiency or weak vital instincts. In fact, none but those who
love life passionately, though maybe unconsciously, become
pessimists. The devitalizing process takes pl
ace later, as a conse
quence of depressions, for only in passionate, visionary men do
depressions have such capacity for erosion that they devour life
as waves swallow up the shore. In the weak man, depressions
cause neither tension, crises, nor excess; t
hey lead to apathy and
slow death. The pessimist represents an organic paradox whose
insurmountable contradictions generate an intense efferves
cence. Is not this combination of frequent depressions with
equally frequent elans a paradoxical situation? It
goes without
saying that depressions weaken and exhaust vitality, for depres
sions are assaults on life. There is no efficient way to fight them:
they can subside temporarily through intense work and amuse
ments. Only one endowed with restless vitality i
s susceptible
to pessimism. You become a pessimist
a demonic, elemental,
bestial pessimist
only when life has been defeated many times
in its fight against depression. Then destiny emerges in man's
consciousness as a form of the irreparable.
Facing Silenc
Once you have come to set great store by silence, you have hit
upon a fundamental expression of life in the margins. The rever
ence for silence of great solitaries and founders of religions has far
deeper roots than we think. Men's presence must have be
en un
endurable and their complex problems disgusting for one not to
care about anything except silence.
Chronic fatigue predisposes to a love of silence, for in it
words lose their meaning and strike the ear with the hollow
sonority of mechanical hammers
; concepts weaken, expressions
lose their force, the word grows barren as the wilderness. The ebb
and flow of the outside is like a distant monotonous murmur un
able to stir interest or curiosity. Then you will think it useless to
express an opinion, to t
ake a stand, to make an impression; the
noises you have renounced increase the anxiety of your soul.
After having struggled madly to solve all problems, after having
suffered on the heights of despair, in the supreme hour of revela
tion, you will find tha
t the only answer, the only reality, is silence.
The Double and His Art
One does not learn the art of psychology, one lives and experi
ences it, for no science will give you the key to the mysteries of
the soul. One cannot become a good psychologist with
out turn
ing oneself into an object of study, evincing daily interest in the
complexity of one's own case. To be initiated into the mysteries of
the Other, you must first be initiated into your own. In order to be
a psychologist, you must be sufficiently
unhappy to understand
happiness, so refined that you could become a barbarian at any
moment, and so intensely desperate that you do not know
whether you live in a desert or in the midst of a fire. Protean,
equally centripetal and centrifugal, your ecstasy
will have to be
esthetic, sexual, religious, and perverse.
Fine psychological understanding is the product of a
life of self
contemplation, a life which sees itself in other lives as if
in so many mirrors; for a psychologist, all men are fragments
of himse
lf. The psychologist's contempt for others contains a
grain of secret and unlimited self
irony. No one practices psy
chology out of love: it is rather a form of sadism, a desire to
annihilate the other by taking possession of his intimate being,
by stripp
ing him of his mysterious aura. Quickly exhausting men
and their limited resources, the psychologist is easily bored, for
he is not naive enough to have friends and is too self
conscious
to have lovers. Skepticism is not the beginning but the nat
ural end
of psychology. It is nature's punishment for this
violator of mysteries, this supremely indiscreet person who, hav
The Double and His Art
ing invested too few illusions in knowledge, ends in dis
illusion.
A little knowledge is delightful; a lot, disgus
ting. The more
you know, the less you want to know. He who has not suffered
from knowledge has never known anything.
Nonsense
When the ticking of a watch breaks the silence of eternity, arous
ing you out of serene contemplation, how can you help rese
nting
the absurdity of time, its march into the future, and all the non
sense about evolution and progress? Why go forward, why live
in time? The sudden revelation of time at such moments, confer
ring upon it a crushing preeminence otherwise nonexistent,
is
the fruit of a strong contempt for life, an unwillingness to go on. If
this revelation happens at night, the sensation of unutterable
loneliness is added to the absurdity of time, because then, far
from the crowd, you face time alone, the two of you ca
ught in an
irreducible duality. Time, in this nocturnal desolation, is no
longer populated with actions and objects: it becomes an ever
growing nothingness, a dilating void, a threat from beyond. Si
lence resounds then with the mournful clamor of bells k
nelling
for a dead universe. Only he who has separated time from exis
tence lives this drama: fleeing the latter, he is crushed by the for
mer. And he feels how time, like death, gains ground.
E. M. Cioran: A Short
Chronology
E. M. Cioran is born A
pril 8 in Rasinari, near the
city of Sibiu in Southern Transylvania, then still
part of the Austro
Hungarian empire. His father is
a Romanian Orthodox priest.
28 He attends high school in Sibiu.
31 He studies philosophy at the Univer
sity of
Bucharest, where he writes a thesis on Henri
Bergson.
On the Heights of Despair,
his first book, is
published in Bucharest by the King Carol II
Foundation for Art and Literature. It is awarded
the foundation's prestigious prize for young
autho
rs.
He earns his Teaching Certificate in philosophy.
Cartea am
girilor (The Book of Delusions).
Schimbarea la fa
a Rom
niei (Romania's
Transfiguration).
He wins a fellowship from the
French Institute in Bucharest and leaves for Paris,
where he has lived ever since, as a stateless
person, a status he calls "most app
ropiate for an
intellectual."
Lacrimi
i Sfin
i (Tears and Saints),
his
last Romanian work, appears in Bucharest after
his departure.
49 Living in Paris like a perennial student, he applies
for grants, lives in cheap hotel rooms, and eats in
universit
y cafeterias.
He submits to the Gallimard publishing house the
manuscript of his first French book,
cis de
decomposition.
It is accepted, but he retrieves it and
E. M. Cioran: A Short Chronology
rewrites it entirely four times. Writing in French
as "the most difficult task of my life," something
akin to putting on a "straitjacket."
cis de d
composition
is published.
90 He lives modestly in Paris, working part time as
translator and manuscript reader, and continues
his writing. H
e describes his life in the following
words: "I don't make a living, I eke one out. I
don't wish to be well off."
PRINCIPAL WORKS IN F
RENCH
Syllogismes de I'amertume,
Gallimard, 1952
La tentation d'exister,
Gallimard, 1956
Histoire et utopie,
Gallimard, 19
60, winner of the Prix Combat
La chute dans le temps,
Gallimard, 1964
La mauvais demiurge,
Gallimard, 1969
Val
ryface
ses idoles,
L'Herne, 1970
De l'inconv
nient d'
tre n
Gallimard, 1973
Exercises d'admiration,
Gallimard, 198

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