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


An interesting interview that captures the inner toils that speak to the fervent authenticating experience of writing – eunoia. He writes: “A writer who is not in some way ill is for me almost automatically a writer of the second rank.” He shrank from philosophy in early life finding there was nothing of use to him to be found in their works. Eliade, had written scathingly of his first publication. Ceaselessly adept to crises of spirit, faith, or a crisis of faith, never found him as such. But it would not be arguments that would ever change his comportment, alter his ways, move him, but exhaustion.

He says: “I am actually less a passionate than a possessed type. In all things I must go to the end of possibility and it is not, finally, arguments that convince me to change my mind, but only exhaustion, that which is exhausted by passion. (This has connections with faith.) Because of this, personal encounters, seemingly small things in my life were full of decided significance. I was always very receptive to them; I have always, for example, spoken to strangers and many an encounter has given me a great deal. I have above all a weakness for people who are slightly disturbed. In Rumania, in Sibiu, a city with at least 60,000 inhabitants, I knew in one way or the other all the knocked-about people. The poets, too, who of course belong with them! The morbid attracts me, but morbid, what does that mean, anyway? ”

Failure, hopelessness, the disturbed, all seemed to come to his mortal wake not to console but to disrupt until all would fall to the hillside; negation then. And he speaks of that man, who had a tremendous impact on him: “He was not at all an evil man, no scoundrel, absolutely not, but someone to whom it was plainly impossible to have even the smallest illusion about anything whatsoever. This is also a form of knowing, for what is knowing finally but putting something in question? That kind of knowing, that understanding that pushes too far, is dangerous. Basically – I speak of life as it is and not of abstract philosophical constructs – life is only bearable because one does not go to the end; doing something is only possible when one has particular illusions and that holds also for friendships, for everything. The most perfect consciousness, absolute lucidity, is nothingness. And this fellow was driven to that point.”

It is then in that subterranean voice, negligent to the philosopher of abstract ideas, as well as formulae, and articulations of grand speaking truths. For he says: “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 written 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.” And further: “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.”

He is not a puppet to positivity and whatever trending, consoling, modalities sought to explain away human suffering. He marvelled at the exasperating destitute of lived life, perhaps a marvel is more fitting, for he feared not to look without complacencies into that ontic mirror that might restore him from inevitable self-destruction. He is not for or of the feeble simple-minded, nor still the seekers of Truth in composure, quietude, and self-containment. It is the whirly winds of Aeolus that twist, garble, and undercut the Word from which we, as with Sisyphus, shall crawl out from beneath bearing a weight of perpetual struggle.

“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.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.”

My mother, as a music therapist, would have appreciated this. That inter-dialogical affair mobilized musically amidst kindred spirits verbosely denied is omnipresent when heard.

The Best of Bach

Wakefulness and Obsession: An Interview with E. M Cioran

Wakefulness and Obsession: An Interview with E.M. Cioran Author(s): MICHEL JAKOB, E.M. Cioran and Kate Greenspan Source: Salmagundi, No. 103 (SUMMER 1994), pp. 122-145 Published by: Skidmore College

7 thoughts on ““Wakefulness and Obsession: An Interview with E. M Cioran”

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  1. Interesting that Mircea Eliade and Dostoevsky are noted. I’ve been trying to sort out Jordan Peterson lately, listening to many of his interviews and talks, and he cites both of these as personal heroes in terms of exponents of a religious or spiritual worldview. Agree about the music. Some might be inherently visual however, and operate more naturally in that mode, finding transcendent depth within the visual tableau of nature.

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      1. What specifically, what? Not sure what you’re asking.
        I’m not a fan of JP either, nor am I a non-fan. I’m trying to understand him. Some of his thinking I find on track and beneficial to the cultural discourse. Others I am less sure about. I’ve also found quite a few of his detractors to be not understanding him or his positions fairly.

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        1. I meant what specifically does Peterson say about Dostoevsky and Eliade? Heroes in what sense? As for Peterson, and it has been some time since I last listened/read anything of pertinence, but his latest book, 12 Rules for Life, is probably the best example of what I have in mind. Gross simplifications (and he is often not as simplistic in his thinking) often packaged in philosophical insights that have long (since Aristotle) been around short of nuance and citation (from what I’ve gleaned).

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        2. Ah, ok. He cites Dostoevsky, Eliade, Tolstoi, and a few others as more appropriate exemplars of religious thought – in the context of finding the arguments of vocal, avid athiest exponents (he calls them ‘celebrity athiests’ I think) to be superficial, He says that if one wants to contend in this realm, those are the sorts of figures one needs to be contending with.

          I’ve not read any of Peterson’s written stuff, though I may if my interest in him persists. It seems my intro to him has started via filmed lectures, talks, interview and debates. I’ve not found his thinking simplistic there, rather perceptive, and refreshing in its individuality, its refusal to adhere to pre-framed ideologies.


        3. Well none of us are always on our game. But I have seen some interviews that left me totally appalled (see him with Camille Paglia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-hIVnmUdXM&t=2s). But also his latest book as I previously mentioned. Otherwise, he is a good speaker, and is often quite articulate and nuanced. In his interview on Channel 4 News much he says is simplistic in my mind, often generalizations, but she completely fails at debunking him, often putting words in his mouth (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMcjxSThD54) and missing the point he is making. Still, her failure is not his victory. 🙂


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