‘A Short History of Decay’ By E.M. Cioran (New Year’s Resolution, Book Twenty-Seven)

9781611457360What a disappointment.

I’d read so much about this book the Romania-born, French-writing Cioran, but all I read was a shallow combination of a Nietzsche wannabe and a Camus wannabe. And it was translated by Richard Howard, whose poetry collection, Inner Voices, has to rank as one of the most boring books I have tried to read.

Listen to this:

And this nothing, this everything, cannot give life a meaning, but it nonetheless makes life persevere in what it is: a state of non-suicide.

The book is series of aphoristic segments, between half a page and two pages, usually. That bit I quoted above, from a segment entitled Coalition Against Death, sounds to me like little more than someone who decided to write some stuff within minutes of glancing at the first page of Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus.

But mostly, it is warmed over Nietzschean aphorisms. Except that Friedrich’s aphoristic bits were sandwiched between much better scholarly writing. No, he wasn’t usually a rigorous philosopher, but there is some real stuff in there (think The Birth of Tragedy).

I am going to include one longish quote just because it was damn near the only bit that stuck with me.

(The implicit plural of ‘one’ and the avowed plural of ‘we’ constitute the comfortable refuge of false existence. Only the poet takes responsibility for the ‘I,’ he alone speaks in his own name. He alone is entitled to do so. Poetry is bastardized when it becomes permeable to prophecy or doctrine: ‘mission’ smothers music, idea shackles inspiration. Shelly’s [sic] ‘generous’ aspect cripples most of his work; Shakespeare, by a stroke of luck, never ‘served’ anything.

And a paragraph later…

How then to fail to turn to poetry? It has, like life, the excuse of proving nothing.)

He’s very taken by the idea of art for art’s sake. And his idea of prophecy (insofar as he has consistent ideas) seems to be more about political engagement than anything else. He is very much an interior writer, to the extent of rejecting the exterior. Let’s just say that he was never in danger of becoming a civic activist.

Anyway. It’s off my list. I can now saw I’ve read Cioran.


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