By Daniel Deleanu
Emil Cioran’s “new” book, Carnetul unui afurisit (The Notebook of an Anathema, Bucharest: Humanitas Press, 2021) is in reality not new at all, even though the aphorisms it comprises have never been published before. By stating that the book is, in fact, not new, I imply that the textual material it contains was written a few decades ago, as the reader may find out from the preface, whose author, Constantin Zaharia, is also the compiler of the pieces collected in this superb volume. This is Cioran’s last book written in Romanian, and is arguably a rough draft for the first version of his famous Précis de décomposition (A Short History of Decay). According to Zaharia, the book was written most likely in the fall of 1946. Since Cioran had left the manuscript, which was then bequeathed to Jacques Doucet Library in Paris, untitled, Zaharia and the editor chose the phrase Carnetul unui afurisit (The Notebook of an Anathema) as a title for this book, based on a fragment from the original manuscript and the double entendre of the word “afurisit,” which in Romanian signifies both an “anathema,” hence a person who has been cursed by a priest and subsequently excommunicated, and, respectively, a “rascal.”
Besides his old obsessions – such as despair, sorrow, suffering, failure, suicide, decay, chronic insomnia, demiurgic Gnosticism, music, or the sublime – the Romanian philosopher attempts to approach new and more difficult ones – for example, love. Sometimes, he tackles the above-mentioned themes in a novel, kaleidoscopic way, revealing each time a new facet to the problem that is being analyzed. His reflections on temporality, for instance, gain not only an unexpected scope in this book, but also an eroticized ontological dimension, as one can figure out by oneself from the following excerpt: “Time is the extension of existence by means of a tenet which wipes it out. Its role, if placed before one’s character, is comparable to that of love, when placed before the individual. All that is not sheer existence or nothingness is equivocal; time, first and foremost, is eternally equivocal, for out of it manifest themselves the facets of the world and everything that is unable to preserve its primordial appearance. Each moment thus adds to beingness some negative beingness. And that is due to the fact that time is the negative development of existence.”
Carnetul unui afurisit (The Notebook of an Anathema) is thus a book about feeling overcome. It is a collection of aphoristic quips about the experience of falling into time and dwelling in a place bereft of memories, a place with indeterminate ontological and especially meontological boundaries, which ultimately proves to be a devastating experience: “My entire life I’ve been striving to transfigure myself in the light of something that might lie above this endlessly dying soul, of a permanence that is not nothingness – yet, all that I have hitherto been able to achieve was to grind my feelings and to tumble down through ephemerality, drifting away purposelessly and with no direction.” The meaninglessness of life becomes here a central theme, and the influence of the Existentialist philosophers who were his contemporaries – Camus and Sartre, particularly – becomes salient, even though Cioran openly loathed them, mostly because of their Leftist sympathies or outright political engagement, as it was the case of the author of Being and Nothingness, who had repeatedly praised Stalin in such gauchiste publications as Libération and Les Temps modernes, which, incidentally, he himself had founded. According to Cioran, this existential senselessness begets not only an emotional void, but also a black transcendence which can no longer acknowledge the psyche as being superior to the soma, and subsequently immanence will prevail over the numinous: “The soul shrinks in the same proportion with the increase of our embarrassment at living sublimely when old”; or, “This word – soul – is ostensibly the hollowest concoction of language; nevertheless, a single whisper of its unverifiable reality signifies more than the entire earth and all the stars in the sky.” Likewise, “The only exercise I still hope to one day indulge my senses in is the fathoming of the magical spectacle of vacuity” and “My destiny is to become the hero of my innermost voidness.” The Cioranian void, however, cannot be likened to the Buddhist conception of nothingness, i.e. the soteriological realm of Nirvana, and that is because the Romanian philosopher views vacuity through the lens of an existential overload of negative emotion, which ultimately leads to anxiety. This fear is therefore a direct illustration of the faulty nature of the Universe wherein we all live, and which is the result of an evil demiurge’s creative sickness. The only antidote against this panic-stricken ailment is a strengthening of one’s character and will, a piece of advice that bears the mark of Nietzsche, whom the philosopher born in Rășinari held in high esteem: “Fear represents the densest and most concentrated gist of selfness. The pride we take in our uniqueness and our most basic physiological reactions join forces in their protest against this primal fear. And that is because fear is the expression of an aggressive defense of the spirit and its instincts against all extraneous powers that invade our innermost space and individuality. The Universe is thus structured in such a way that its forces may threaten the feeble constitution of any individual. Subsequently, even a slight softening of one’s selfness is enough for some inimical elements to weaken the energy of individualized existence.” It is as though Cioran were trying to crack man open, without knowing that inside this man, just as in a Matryoshka nesting doll, there is none other than himself, a fractal homunculus philosophizing about the import of sorrow in an individual’s progress towards the full realization of the meaninglessness of existence: “What makes sorrow such a special state of being is its excess in rigorousness and its deductive features. No particular cases can therefore stir it into action, and that is because they are part and parcel of their premises. Sorrow is thus a poison which operates via syllogisms. In its logical universe, sorrow is aware of the fact that the real universe grants it help and justification: sorrow thereby experiences the heresy of happiness, the lack of generalities and its own inability to prove anything at all.”
There is a sapiential quality to these condensed descriptions which read like poems, and this is not due only to their aphoristic brevity, but also to their linguistic quirkiness and stylistic merit. Of varying lengths, the texts in this volume can be taken at face-value or revisited and fathomed for deeper, archetypal truths, as is the case with love, which to Cioran signifies more than the profane routine of some libidinal drives, namely, a spiritual exercise that evinces the unnerving verve, rather than the pure joy, of being alive. For Cioran, Eros thus becomes the archenemy of Theoria, or contemplation, and that is mainly because of the former’s fits of cerebral jealousy: “Love comes in between us and the things that surround us. Love has therefore need of so much attention that it abates the vitality required by a truly rewarding exercise of the spirit. And there is so much focus on a single person, an energy which we might have channeled towards an Idea! Love steals the very sap that feeds the spirit and keeps it alive; love is thereby theory’s greatest forfeiture. How many energies we waste for its intimate sublimity – a veritable crisis of intellectual hygiene!” The author, however, is not a bystander: he participates in the spectacle of the world, and that is why for him the only measuring rod of the authenticity of our existence is music, which becomes as such the only onto-epistemological instrument that can display a beautified version of it by means of an aesthetic of the Absolute: “Out of all of man’s creations, music alone can induce a taste of the absolute – of a fugitive Absolute, to be more precise. For the Absolute slips away, and we cannot make it remain in one place, no matter what we might endeavour to do. For the absolute is Unconditional – regardless of all the attributes of its weathering…”
Though fragmentary, as all of Cioran’s books are in fact, each text in this volume flows right into the next as naturally as days flow into nights. Carnetul unui afurisit (The Notebook of an Anathema) is dark and loud, at times perhaps even disconcerting, but, no doubt about it, pure gold. To put it otherwise, it makes one ask germane questions about the world around them and ultimately admit that harmony cannot exist without a chunk of chaos attached to it.
About the author:
Daniel Deleanu is a Romanian-Canadian writer and academic who sways between Toronto and his native town of Sibiu.
He has published articles, reviews and critical studies in cultural journals and academic journals from Romania and abroad (USA, Canada and Great Britain).
He has also published more than 1,300 academic books (critical studies of universal and comparative literature, studies of philosophy of literature, theory of literature, etc.) in English language, most of them in Canada.