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Cioran on Litterature and Music (Interview)

Extract from :

Wakefulness and Obsession: An Interview with E.M. Cioran

by Michel Jakob

Source : Salmagundi, No. 103 (SUMMER 1994)


X: When one considers the way you read yourself, it appears that you are always searching for the "subterranean voice."

X: As a rule, we know only the surface from our actions, only that which is formulated. But what is far more important is just that which cannot be formulated, the implicit, the secret behind an utterance, what is hidden therein. On that account, all judgments of others as well as those about the self are partially wrong. For the deepest part is hidden, but it is the more actual, the essential in humans and at the same time the most difficult of access. Novels often give one the best possibility to transpose oneself, to express without explaining oneself. The truly great writers are, in my view, those who have a feel for the subterranean; I am thinking above all of Dostoïevski. He is interested in everything that is deep and apparently lowly, though it is not lowly, but tragic. The great novelists are the true psychologists.

I know many people who have writte novels and have failed at it. Even Eliade wrote several novels and he failed. Why ? Because he could only reproduce superficial phenomena, without translating them from the depths, from the source. The source of an emotion is very difficult to grasp, but it comes to just that. That holds for all phenomena, for faith, etc. Why did it begin, how did it develop ? and so forth - only he who has the gift of divination can perceive where it really comes from. But it is not accessible to reflection. Dostoïevski is the only one who has pushed forward to the source of human dealings. One sees why his character does this or that, though one does not notice it right away. Because most novels ignore this dimension, I cannot read them; they simply do not interest me. They treat only of the surface of things, of the surface of human dealings and say nothing about the deeper levels.

That has nothing to do with a psychoanalytical interest; it is something quite different: the psychoanalyst wants to heal, but I seek for something quite different. I want to grasp the daemonic in mankind. What the secret of one's life is, one does not know oneself. This very secrecy, on the other hand, creates meaning in life, out of the communication between people. And if this were not the case, it would merely be a perpetual dialogue between marionettes. I would say that it revolves around the right tone; each person has a certain tone in everything that he does. Not only the musician has it; but sometimes that tone is lacking. It is something truly mysterious and actually, one cannot define it; one feels it, rather.

One opens a book, reads a page that is quite cleverly written, and in spite of that, the whole thing says nothing, albeit it has something to say and is not exactly a zero. One does not know what it is a consequence of. There is a sort of unreality that reigns here in everything that literature is; one could perhaps describe it as a lack of necessity. How might one explain this lack of necessity ? In daily life it is like this: one meets someone whom one has not seen for a long time, converses for an hour or so, and absolutely nothing comes of it; it is completely empty. And in another case one returns home from such an encounter completely overpowered. Therein lies the true originality of a man, which remains hidden within him yet influences him.

XI: Is it the same with music ?

XI: Exactly the same. A person who tells me that music means nothing to him is straight-away liquidated for me. It is something very serious for me, for music stirs that most intimate region in human beings. I cannot have anything in common with someone who does not feel that; it is the heaviest of failings in my eyes, almost a curse, which - without knowing it clearly himself - overburdens such a person.

XII: The music that speaks to you most particularly is that of Johann Sebastian Bach ?

XII: Bach is a god to me. Someone who does not understand Bach is lost; it is actually unimaginable, though it does happen. I believe that music is the only branch of art that has the capacity to construct a deep complicity between two human beings. Not poetry, only music. Someone who is insensitive to music suffers from an enormous handicap. That is simply the case and it is completely normal for music to construct a bond between people. It is unthinkable that they hear anything by Schumann or Bach, anything that they love, without being stirred. But I can understand how someone might dislike this or that poet.

XIII. When do you usually listen to music ?

XIII. I listen to music all the time, especially now that I have stopped writing. I don't feel that it is worth the effort to continue, and music more than makes up for this dryness. To live without music would be a torment for me, an absurdity. One can very well not write. One ought not to write, because one desires, without admitting it, to bring about through words what only music can accomplish. An emotion whose origin is musical gets lost in verbal transposition, whereas in the music it reveals its sense directly. Why should one write anymore, in that case, and why write at all, why always want to add to the immense number of books, why want to become an author at any price ?

These days, too much has already been written. We live in a period of absurd and completely unnecessary overproduction. The whole world writes these days, especially in Paris. I myself originally thought that I would write only a little, but one allows oneself, unfortunately, to be seduced. Nevertheless, I now understand that I can no longer play out this comedy. Earlier on it had nothing to do with comedy; it was a kind of necessity for me. It offered me the possibility of acquitting myself, for the only way to simplify everything is to express oneself.

As soon as one has written something down, it loses its secret at once, it gets lost, is killed: one has "killed" the thing and oneself. But writing has precisely this function. I have noticed, by the way, that those who do not write have more resources, because they store up everything within themselves. To have written something down means to have dragged it out of oneself, to have uttered definitively everything that came from inside. A writer is someone who gives away that which is most original to him, finally losing, in this manner, his whole substance. That is why writers are so uninteresting as a rule and I mean that quite seriously : writers are people who have exhausted themselves. Only the dregs of themselves still exist; they are pitiful marionettes.


XXVII. You said that you no longer want to write; do you think you can keep this "promise" ?

XXVII. I don't know, but it's very likely that I won't write any more. All these books that come out constantly disgust me; the fact that each author publishes at least one book a year is unhealthy, false. I prefer not to write anymore, would like to be able to give it up, and now it pleases me less and less to write than it did earlier. In order to write, one needs a indispensable minimum of enthusiasm; one requires a certain expectation. When one

approaches writing a book, there is a kind of complicity: the book is, as it were, "outside" of oneself and a certain conspiracy is necessary between the two. I have no interest in that anymore and I am also fed up with cursing at the world, at God; the whole thing is simply not worth it.

XXVIII. But in secret, in your thoughts, do the criticism and the cursing go on ?

XXVIII. Much less, of necessity. The kind of resignation that is the result of age and weariness is now a very real fact. And then, one ought not want to say everything, to write everything down ! One can certainly always write, but when one must obey no inner need to do it, then it is merely a question of literature. And I don' t want that. I have always believed in what I wrote - it is perhaps naivete on my part - and it is not very good for me and actually stands in contradiction tomy Weltanschauung, so be it, that's the way it is now. One should not betray oneself, although, regarded absolutely, self-betrayal or not-betraying-oneself doesn't signify much. Understand that one is indeed able to live in the consciousness of nothingness, and in spite of it, one cannot foresee all the consequences.

When one believes in nothing, it is naturally completely absurd and even ridiculous to write a book - write a book on whose account ? And for whom ? There are certainly inner needs that have nothing to do with this perception, needs of another, more intimate and secret kind, irrational, if you like. The consciousness of nothingness can be reconciled, of course, with nothing else at all, with no gesture; even the idea of authenticity signifies nothing. Every utterance becomes meaningless. But there is still this secret vitality that drives one to do something. And perhaps this proves true for life altogether, about which one usually uses so many big words : that one does things without really believing in them - something like that."

☆ ☆ ☆


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