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Emil Cioran : Man, that dissatisfied animal...

Excerpts from:

E. M. Cioran

On the Heights of Despair


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 should 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.


Total Dissatisfaction

Why this curse on some of us who can never feel at ease anywhere, neither in the sun nor out of it, neither with men nor without them ? Ignorant of good humor, an amazing achievement ! 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 permanent 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 dissatisfied animal suspended 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. Besides, I might become an animal who knows the history of philosophy.

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 consciousness, anxiety, agony, in a sphere of life where access to eternity would no longer be pure myth ?

As far as I am concerned, I 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 system, make a girl miserable ? Hunt for weaknesses in philosophical systems, fight for moral and esthetic ideals ? It's all too little. I renounce my humanity even though I may find myself alone.

But am I not already alone in this world from which I no longer 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 immaterial as nonbeing.


Not to Be a Man Anymore

I am more and more persuaded that man is an unhappy 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 natural existence. Not surprisingly, he often longs to be a flower 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 despair of humanity. But why shouldn't I exchange places with a flower ? I already know what it means to be man, to live in history, 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 human means to live in a totally different way, more complex and more dramatic than natural existence. Life's tragic character gradually disappears as you go down the scale toward the inanimate 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 humanity. 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 cast by the shore, or mountain whipped by winds; bird of prey, a croaking bird, or a bird with melodious song; beast of the forest or tame animal. Let me live the life of every species, wildly and unselfconsciously, let me try out 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 kind, a series of metamorphoses in the plant and animal realms, would reawaken in me the desire to become Man again. ...


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 with triumphs and failures, engrossed in inner drama — such is the fate of the solitary.

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 unhappy ? He who feels his own loneliness or he who feels the loneliness 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 ?


Irony and Self-Irony

Once you've negated everything and done away completely with all forms of existence, once nothing can 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 life's contents. I'm not speaking here of elegant, refined irony, born of a sense of superficial pride and superiority — the irony some use to show off their detachment from the world — but of the tragic, bitter irony of despair.

Genuine irony replaces tears, convulsions, 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 consciousness.

Irony betrays an inner convulsion, a deepening of wrinkles, the absence of spontaneous love, of human communion and understanding. 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. Enormously proud and therefore unable to show openly his admiration for simplicity, 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; 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.


Nothing Matters

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 faith 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 absurd, splendid and insipid. There is nothing worth more than anything else, 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 unhappiness and hate your happiness, mix everything up, scramble it all ! Be a snowflake 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.

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