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Aesthete of Despair

Emil Cioran

495 words

Translated by Guillaume Durocher

Translator’s Note:

The following is Alain Soral’s negative assessment of Emil Cioran, as contained in his “dictionary” of aphorisms. While this appraisal is not exactly fair, the text expresses some understandable frustration with the nihilist Cioran and gives one a sense of the oppressive atmosphere, for Right-wingers, of the postwar French literary scene. It also gives a sense of Soral’s impatient personality and vituperative style. Translated from Alain Soral, Abécédaires de la bêtise ambiante (Paris: Blanche, 2008 [a combination of two books originally published in 2002 and 2003], 64.

A writer who doggedly tries to show you, through an infinitely laborious work, that there is absolutely nothing to be done and that we must despair of everything, should seem to all to be a little incoherent and quite suspect.

I also felt quite hopeless for a very long time, and I remember that I did nothing, other than lie down on my bed and jerk off for fourteen hours per day!

I am afraid that despair with Cioran is a bit like death with Maurice Blanchot[1]: rentier’s literature and antiquarian’s philosophy.

As so often when something stinks, I decided to do some research on this champion of the paradox and, as is often the case, I discovered the skeleton in the closet:[2] as Heidegger had been a Nazi; as [Éric] Rohmer almost made Cahiers into a far-right magazine[3]; as Blanchot “the writer who has nothing to say but who must say this nothing,” is a former camelot du roi[4] . . . so I learn that the perpetually suicidal resident of the 7th arrondissement had been in his youth a humble Hitlerophile journalist, the author of particularly enthusiastic articles on the necessary and urgent Germanization of his native Romania!

This of course was known to all the initiates (intelligentsia, critics, editors . . .), but all waited until his death to reveal it, and grudgingly at that.

Lord, why are these ones, and only these ones, excused for everything?


[1] Like Cioran, Maurice Blanchot (1907-2003) was a Right-wing writer prior to the Second World War, working with Charles Maurras’ publications and attacking the fomenters of French decadence. During the war, he supported Marshal Philippe Pétain as dictator of the rump French State. In the postwar years he wrote a great deal on the theme of death and his work influenced “post-structuralist” writers such as Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida.

[2] Actually le pot aux roses, according to Wiktionnaire: “In the Middle Ages, the expression ‘pot aux roses’ designated the small box in which young wealthy women stored their perfumes and notably the rose with which they made themselves up. Often, they hid there their sweet or secret writings.”

[3] Éric Rohmer (1920-2010) was a film director and critic. He edited the influential film journal Cahiers du cinéma (1957-1963).

[4] A member of the Fédération nationale des Camelots du roi, the youth wing of Maurras’ Action française’s youth wing, which would notably sell their flagship newspaper and guarantee security at events.

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