Thursday, September 15, 2005

Emile Cioran says: "Wake up, O sleeper!"

Psychologist Erich Fromm called it the flight from freedom. Philosopher Martin Heidegger called it inauthenticity, and a denial of the nothing. Philosopher Emile Cioran calls it the desire for lyricism and the desire for sleep. Whatever it is, it is the state in which one accepts a certain kind of determinism as the framework or guiding principle of one’s life. It is a terrified giving over of one’s subjectivity, with its accordant freedom, in exchange for a psychological protection from choice and for the illusion of certainty. But back to Emile Cioran.

Emile Cioran (1911-1995) did not sleep well. French by nationality, he was Romanian by birth, and spent a good deal of his youth struggling with insomnia. Many sleepless nights were passed wandering around the hollow streets of an obscure Romanian city. Cioran moved to Paris in 1937 and began writing aphorisms after the style of Friedrich Nietzsche. The aphoristic method, clumps of sentences separated from each other by the negative space of abyssal blanks, suited him perfectly. After all, sleeplessness is a kind of subjectivity, where subjectivity is the state of struggle of one who is alive within time; one is oneself forever and knows it. Sleeplessness is like the bare and violent introspection of the aphorism. "Three in the morning. I realize this second, then this one, then the next: I draw up the balance sheet for each minute.” This is the opposite of lyricism.

Emile Cioran, with Theodore Adorno, understood lyricism, the comfortable explanatory arc of the novel of plot of cadence, as a kind of sleep. The Volk of post-war Germany wanted sleep in a way similar to the worship of celebrity and the pageant in our own day. Lyricism denies subjectivity. It denies the raw experience of “three in the morning.” It wants to smile and turn over in its bed, blissful and unmolested. When one is caught up, asleep, in the plot, poem, or play, there is no awareness of uncertainty. Sleep is subdued in dreams. Awareness is undermined, making subterranean the living self. Sleep is what everyone wants, even as Erich Fromm said that people fear freedom. Yet, according to Cioran, even in the narrative parabola of the novel something is left out. It is that something to which he goes.

Emile Cioran is in opposition just a an aphorism demands opposition – the silent space demanding us to judge, to agree, to disagree, to oppose. The noisy facts of life narrated lyrically one after the other mask silence. Cioran points incessantly to the silence behind the noise, the silence of that white space between the clumps of sentences. Students study, reviewers review, writers write, and readers read in the hope of avoiding this, but Cioran does not want to avoid it. "Insomnia sheds a light on us which we do not desire but to which, unconsciously, we tend. We demand it in spite of ourselves, against ourselves."

What is needed is not the lyrical comfort of sleep, but the cold brace of the challenging aphorism. Novels have long lost the ability to mask the metaphysical poverty of the West. What is needed is waking up into lucidity and the intensity of lucid consciousness. "The ideally lucid, hence ideally normal, man should have no recourse beyond the nothing that is in him." What is needed is to go forward anyway, to walk maimed, to admit illness.

Cioran's use of the dualistic awareness which attends illness is quite interesting. He made a connection between the polarities of lyricism/aphorism & sleep/awake with that which exists between sickness and health. The healthy, he said, keep a certain distance from "contradictory and intense" states, while the sick realize their quarantine. They are tangibly aware of the separation between the hyper-active mind and the feeble abilities of the body, yet remain one in their person. They coincide with themselves, despite the inner contradiction. They brood and fuss over the contradiction, but in so doing become aware in the moment and choose vitality. Sickness increases self preservation, and this is exactly the way the West must go.

The West, and, for the purpose of this post, the human beings within it, must go sick into daily life. It must go lamed. It must go in opposition. It must go awake and aphoristic in the absence of any comfortable narrative arc. Naivete must dissolve into complexity, a complexity which does not extinguish joy (lyricism and aphorism can neither one be wholly accepted or abandoned) but makes it exist in irony, in tragedy, in, perhaps, wisdom. Cioran wrote: “Illusion begets and sustains the world; we do not destroy one without destroying the other. Which is what I do every day. An apparently ineffectual operation, since I must begin all over again the next day."

What Cioran does, then, along with many others, including those cited in the opening paragraph of this article, is point the way forward toward the nakedness of freedom. Unlike materialists, like Fromm, Heidegger, or Cioran, Christians trust a God of promise and providence. Yet, we cannot use faith as an excuse for sleeping. We, too, are called to be awake. We, too, are called to be maimed and sick. We, too, are called to be children of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, even as we begin to taste the firstfruits of the tree of life.
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The above depends to an incredible degree on the following article: Stephen Mitchelmore, “To Infinity and BeyondSpike Magazine Accessed September 15, 2005. Other websites for Emile Cioran are Wikipedia's entry on Emile Cioran and Planet Cioran.

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