King Midas goes into the forest. He wants to hunt, not an animal but wisdom. He pursues the wise man Silenus, the companion of Dionysus, the Greek god of ecstasy and debauchery. He wants to ask what is best for the human being. Silenus, finally trapped, answers the question: the best thing for you is not to have been born. Not to be. to be nothing The so-called “wisdom of Silenus” in chapter III of The Birth of Tragedy, by Friedrich Nietzsche. Matrix of an idea that exhales unease, like the aphorisms of Emil Cioran.
In 1952, seventy years ago, Cioran published Syllogisms of Bitterness, an example of his work in which he always returns to a single theme, expressed in the variations of his aphorisms: the curse of existing, of being born.
Disenchantment that also boils in Breviary of rot (1949); The temptation to exist (1972); Of the inconvenience of having been born (1973); The Fall in Time (1977); or That damned me (1986).
For Cioran, beyond the biblical image, the fall is awareness of the falsity of the great promises of religion or optimistic philosophy. He thus assures that “all beings die, only man is called to fall”.
As a writer of stubborn pessimism, Cioran represents the existential burden of the postwar period. In 1946, in Existentialism is a Humanism, Sartre intended to sculpt the person himself through freedom as an obligation to choose, as overcoming the meaninglessness of existence. Meanwhile, the Romanian Cioran, who arrived in Paris in 1937, denounced the emptiness of existence; and he devoted himself to writing from a life of Spartan austerity, and disinterest in the echo of his own words. For many years, he lived in a modest room near the Odeon theater.
Cioran was born in a village in Transylvania in 1911. The son of an Orthodox Christian father, in his childhood he lived happily with mountains and wild rivers, and winds impregnated with the flavor of herbs and rocks. Only in childhood memories of him did the dark clouds not riddle the light.
One of the sources of his pessimism stemmed from insomnia. Sleep deprivation led Borges to imagine The Circular Ruins; and for the Romanian, who ended up writing in French, and who admired the Argentine, and the same as for him: “life is only possible if there is forgetting”. Life is bearable through sleep because “every morning, after an interruption, a new adventure begins”; but “insomnia, however, suppresses unconsciousness, forces 24 hours a day of lucidity”, he said in a conversation with the also Romanian philosopher Gabriel Liiceanu.
Lucidity without sleep is the one that sees the reptiles out of nowhere injecting their poison everywhere. From there, the tireless pessimist, who was also a voracious reader, refined intellectual relationships with Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Dostoevsky, León Chestov, without neglecting Bergson, Hegel and Husserl, or Shakespeare; and others to whom he pays exquisite homage in Exercises of admiration and other texts (1986). And Cioran like the Stoics or the Epicureans, he valued the philia, the friendship, which he held especially with his compatriots Mircea Eliade, the great historian of religions, and Eugène Ionesco, the playwright of Rhinoceros and The Bald Singer.
In his youth, during his time in Bucharest and Berlin, some fascist gust brushed his shoulders, but only as a fleeting, spurious belief. Hence his statement that, in his maturity, he was already “immunized against all past creeds, against all future creeds.”
And if being born is a mistake, the best thing to do is deny reproduction. The Gnostic belief of him in The Ominous Demiurge (1974). The demiurge is the false god, identified with the biblical Yahweh, denounced by the Gnostics, a religion of the 1st century AD. The demiurge is the one who, from his wickedness, imprisons the human soul in the mud of matter and the body, unlike the Gnostic God who grants knowledge (gnosis) to free himself from this world of deceit and pain.
From the Gnostic mentality, Cioran encouraged his antinatalism, the philosophical, demographic and political position that is reluctant to procreation and the birth of new human beings destined, according to this position, to suffering and confusion.
For Cioran, lucid thinking is the nightmare that does not sing paradises. Therefore, his duty is to utter “syllogisms of bitterness.” The syllogistic here is not Aristotelian logical rigor; it is not the deductive link from premises to conclusions, but aphorisms that destroy comfortable illusions.
The bitterness that thinks is the one that does not pass by before the absurdity that pierces life. From that attitude, Camus appealed to Sisyphus. The Greek of the myth tries to climb up a slope a rock that always escapes him; and then he must start climbing it again. The mythical character continues, does not give up, although that insistence is absurd.
For his part, as a thinker of his time, Cioran represents the tiredness before the old idols, those of faith and the church, or those of the modern and secular cult of the “goddess of reason”. He insisted on extolling the fall. The ruins. The suffocation. Given this, the only way out would be suicide. But what freed him from that final decision was the paradox that his nihilistic disbelief did not prevent him from believing in the artistic expression of the word, and in the irresistible seduction of music. For the latter, in Syllogisms of Bitterness, Cioran dedicates a section to beautiful sounds.
Pasolini rebuked the materialist society of consumption, but from the desire for a lost spirituality. In his case, Cioran, he was screaming against emptiness and nothingness. But at the same time he perceived that some form of the spiritual subsists in musical power: “If anyone owes everything to Bach, it is undoubtedly God”; or “why reread Plato when a saxophone can also give us a glimpse of another world?
The spell of the musical does not suppress the feeling of living in loss, or locked in our language and its limits; but it returns to the Romanian essayist a sensation of the eternal, and of forgetting the fear of death. That is why “there was a time when, failing to conceive of an eternity that could separate me from Mozart, I did not fear death. The same thing happened to me with every musician, with all music.”
The wings of music do not break even for the hopeless existentialist. Doubt is suspicion of supposed truths, but when that doubt stains the flight of sound, it is guilt to be redeemed even by death; hence Cioran exclaims: “how I would like to die for music, for having doubted the sovereignty of its spells!”.
The idea of musical sovereignty, its being free from nothingness or despair. And even though today music can be composed and performed by artificial intelligence in the society of the fourth industrial revolution of digitization and automation, sound retains its other force. Which helped Cioran bear his bitterness, expressed by thoughts short and intense, like the flash of lightning.
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