Today in Literary History – June 20, 1995 – Essayist Emil Cioran dies

Emil Cioran, the Romanian philosopher and author who lived most of his life in France died on June 20, 1995, at the age of eighty-four, from Alzheimer Disease.

Cioran had been obsessed by the idea of suicide his whole life. Many of his brief aphoristic essays wove themselves around what Cioran considered a paradox, at least for himself: why do people choose to live in a meaningless world full of suffering rather than simply “exit into nothingness?”

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Cioran had often written, with varying degrees of seriousness, that the only thing that kept him alive was the possibility of suicide – the idea that he could leave this world at any time and “in a second end all seconds.”

Ironically, Cioran was ultimately robbed of the possibility of ending his own life on his own terms by Alzheimers, living the last years of his life in a Paris hospital having lost all consciousness of his own selfhood.

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Cioran was born in Romania. His father was an Orthodox priest and Cioran struggled all his life with the concept of God. While studying at the University of Bucharest he met fellow students Eugène Ionesco (the avant-garde playwright later famous for works like The Bald Soprano and Rhinoceros ) and Mircea Eliade (the renowned historian of religion and mythology) who both remained life-long friends.

Like Eliade Cioran was seduced by the right-wing nationalist Iron Guard movement in Romania. While he was teaching at the University of Berlin in the early 1930s Cioran also wrote glowingly about Hitler. Cioran’s taste for fascism and authoritarian regimes would trouble his readers for decades.

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Cioran lived in France from the Second World War onward and his most famous books were written in French. He taught occasionally, but mostly supported himself by his writing. He lived a quiet life but had many close friends in Paris, including Samuel Beckett, and despite his gloomy aspect was famous for his sense of humour.

I have been reading Cioran for years. His exagerated despair is often funny and often painfully acute. Here are a few of his lines and asides:

One of the biggest paradoxes of our world: memories vanish when we want to remember, but fix themselves permanently in the mind when we want to forget.

I am displeased with everything. If they made me God, I would immediately resign.

The poor maidservant who used to say that she only believed in God when she had a toothache puts all theologians to shame.

Tell me how you want to die, and I’ll tell you who you are.

As long as I live I shall not allow myself to forget that I shall die; I am waiting for death so that I can forget about it.

Nothing surpasses the pleasures of idleness: even if the end of the world were to come, I would not leave my bed at an ungodly hour.

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